Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Gun Nuts are Right

I've said the main aim of the gun control folks shouldn't be (yet) to worry too much about regulation; a great victory would be to de-legitimize the notion that the citizenry needs armaments to combat oppressive government (and many believe any government at all is oppressive). However, my objection to that line of thinking is more practical. Someone who holds that view should probably also be a big fan of cuts to defense spending, because, at current rates, the citizenry will be severely outgunned for the foreseeable future. As a matter of practicality, I'd be fine with the notion of citizen militias if it meant we could cut 90% or so out of the defense budget; that's a trade-off we can all embrace.

I don't think the theory of oppressive government should be overthrown though, because it's wrong. The gun nuts are absolutely right. Government is our example of empire in this day and age - it's a large power center, using dominant force to exact its will. If anyone's wrong, it's the folks who believe government is a force for good in the world. It may be necessary and our scriptures might indicate it's purpose is to do good, but that's simply not the reality.

Those with power will use it in oppressive ways. That's a historical fact 99.9% of the time. Shoot, many a scholar has said the main story line of the Bible is the faithful resistance of empire. It's the exact trajectory of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Identifying the problem is not the issue. Those gun nuts have it right all the way.

The problem comes in the solution. Armed resistance has generally been the course of things. Sure, Canada and Australia had a more diplomatic approach to freedom, but it was really only after both sides recognized the alternatives. Gandhi had great success with non-violence, but economic factors were far more prevalent in the decision of Britain to excise itself from the sub-continent.

Of course, that doesn't invalidate the idea or it's affect on the process. This faithful resistance those biblical scholars talk about is not the same thing as taking up arms to surprise a violent power with a counter-violence they didn't expect. The gospel provides an alternative. Faithful resistance in the way of Christ is simply to take up your cross and follow Jesus, which literally means an execution for treason. It's not a court battle or an actual battle, but a commitment to love in ways that may only make a difference after we're dead (or maybe after our children's children's children's robot children have been decommissioned).

It's not super attractive and it's not entirely logical. No, the way of faithful resistance in love really only comes into view after we've tried out the other options and found them wanting - not always in effectiveness, but certain in overall satisfaction. Violent resistance - even stubborn non-violent resistance - often gets us what we want, but what we want in that scenario is power of our own and inevitably we use it terribly (even if slightly less terribly than those we overthrow - which had lower odds than a coin flip, if we're taking history into account). In the end, it doesn't get us across the finish line; it just perpetuates the problem (albeit in a more palatable way, short term).

So, in short: the gun nuts are right in identifying the situation in which we find ourselves; they're just typically (and by that I mean indicative of typical) off on how to address it.

It's not really any different to solutions other people proscribe to problems of this nature. Outlawing something is perhaps less violent in the physical sense, but no less oppressive. This is where we have to have our discussion about separating government responses from moral ones - a discussion we certainly don't have time for today.

The question we ultimately have to grapple with is how we comprise our values for life in the world. Do we believe in love and hope and faithful resistance on a personal or religious level and deal with government oppression (hopefully in our favor) as an interim measure? Do we leave the governing to the government and simply reserve our engagement to other venues? Do we simply live the way of the world until things change (presumably supernaturally), when its easier to do as we believe?

None of those seems great, but they're also not entirely dismiss-able; you can't blame people for choosing any of them. I can say, very clearly, violence itself is not Christian, but what level we're willing to live with oppression (of and by ourselves) in this world is truly a contemporary quandry.

The gun nuts have chosen their answer.* What are the rest of us going to do?

*Yes, I know I'm going to catch flack for continuing to say "gun 'nuts,'" but I think you all know exactly what I mean. If I'm going to be politically incorrect, I don't mind doing it in a way that's disrespectful of violence. Sorry. You'll just have to live with that (and hopefully be graceful and forgiving).

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Inevitable Betrayal of True Believers

True believers always betray the cause. That may seem like an oxymoron, but it's completely true. It might not be true in any one moment, but over the long-run it has to be how things work out. True believers are interested in truth. They think they've found it and are often aggressive in evangelism and defense of the cause, but it's not for love of the cause; it's for the love of truth.

Other people get involved in causes because it's a means to power. There are, no doubt, other reasons to join a cause, but I'm willing to venture power and truth are the top vote-getters. Causes exist because some people like influence. The different between fringe nutballs and a powerful lobby is organization, nothing else.

That's not to say these are exclusive reasons - only sociopaths manipulate people just to do it - but one of them generally wins out. You hear stories of politicians who don't believe the policies they sell or preachers who don't believe the words they say, but continue because it's become a way of life. They like the influence and the position. They may even think their cause is better than any alternative, but they're not true believers. In fact, true believers are the only ones who threaten them.

True believers don't see the cause as a means to an end; it is the end. If it comes to fruition, if their understanding of truth becomes generally accepted (not in a coercive way, but willing acceptance), they see no ongoing need for the cause. True believers don't need power, because belief is its own power.

True believers will inevitably betray the cause. Why? Because the search for truth is, by its very nature, ongoing. It grows an evolves as we continue to refine and improve upon what we believe. It's why those in power tend to keep the activists on the fringes - they're better off out in the world recruiting than making decisions about how things run - because they're not interested in practicalities; they're interested in integrity.

Of course you don't start a movement with forcefulness of your ideas. You start a movement by appealing to the human need for power. The powerless are anything but, if you can get them organized. Our fear of having no meaning is an incredible source of motivation. True believers derive meaning from their insistence on being right. As morbid as it may be, suicide-missions are ingenious, because they reinforce the power of the cause, while also eliminating the very people who would threaten it: the true believers.

True believers love truth - they think they've found it, but they're also never going to stop looking. They're the ones who will call for reform and re-evaluation if they ever encounter doubt (and who doesn't) or new information. You can only play power games if you believe power is more important than the ideas you use to wield it. That is the purview of the true believer.

This is part of the reason I treat power with such suspicion. Power requires you to pick sides. Truth is simply concerned with whittling away what's not true. Even true-believers who disagree can find common cause in the battle of their convictions.

Most of the time, true believers simply slide away. The closer they get to centers of power, the more disillusioned they become with the cause itself. The hippies who became yuppies were never out for truth - those folks are still living in a tire-less VW van in the woods of Northern California.

The reality is that everyone is necessary for the system to work. True believers need a cause (and the people who make it function); the cause needs true believers to fuel its fire; and both of them need opposition - true believers as an antithesis that leads to truth and the cause as an enemy around which to build an organization. FauxNews gets better ratings with a Democrat in power precisely because the opposition is essential.

Those hippies in the woods have lost their fervor without active opposition or a cause to funnel their passion. The yuppies have drive and determination, but only apathy and hedonism to guide them. Opposition can never truly function in power, since it's defined only by what it's against.

This feels like a system that we're meant to overcome, but try as I might, I can't envision an alternative. These pieces need each other.
Just because the true believers will betray the cause, doesn't mean causes are bad; it just means we have to hold them lightly. There's nothing wrong with being part of a cause, but it can't outlive its usefulness; we have to let them die. There's also great need for opposition, but it must be embodied in ways that can translate to a cause when the true believers begin to win out.

Truth must be embodied or it is not really truth, but it's not something that can be done on our own and it's never a static process. I don't know if there's a point to this post or if it's just marginally organized rambling, but it feels important and worth sharing. I hope you enjoyed.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Rights and Religion

I continue to be fascinated with the intermingling of nationalism and Christianity; I suspect it's the number one issue at play in society for people of faith. In a nation that's more and more a religion unto itself (often with a Christian label), the way we navigate the waters of citizenship in two different Kingdoms is important and fraught.

I don't watch TV news - neither the six o'clock (do they still have that?) nor the twenty-four-hour varieties. I do occasionally catch a headline on one of the TVs at the gym, where FauxNews and CNN are right next to each other in my peripheral vision. Apparently two years ago there was a big kerfuffle about an Air Force veteran who was forcibly removed from a flag-folding ceremony, which was part of the retirement celebration for a friend, when he used a religiously-tinged and unapproved script. Apparently the guy had a history of inflammatory incidents and had been told he couldn't speak at the event, however the guest of honor insisted he go on. When asked to leave, the guy refused and continued to shout his words as he was forcibly removed from the proceedings. Basically everyone looked bad all around, the Air Force changed their policy and the guy's now suing (conveniently, I believe, right before the statute of limitations runs out).

This is a talking-head special if there ever was one. How do I know? Well, the only place you can get any coverage of this event or the lawsuit is on fringe (both right and left) and military-specific websites. I'm linking to the AirForceTimes which, amazingly, seems the least partisan. As you might expect, this has become a virtual hand-grenade where people are lobbing different notions of religious freedom/persecution at each other without really saying anything.

I'm all for peaceful protest, even vociferous and disruptive protest, should the situation call for it. Clearly the guy retiring wanted to make a statement by asking his friend to use a non-standard script. They were warned and continued and they should be free to do so. The Air Force is also free to remove the guy from the ceremony, as they did, and he's free to keep shouting as he's removed, which is what happened. I wouldn't say there was physical resistance, but everybody was sticking to their line pretty firmly.

What I don't get, though, is this lawsuit. The guy and his lawyer are all over the television demanding I'm not sure what - money, I guess - but the Air Force already changed the policy as a result of this incident. It seems like, if the guy was really standing up for his religious rights, that the battle was won.

That troubles me a bit, as a Christian, because it's downright offensive to the gospel to associate it with any nation or military, but that ship has sailed long ago, I'm afraid. Not only has Americanism become our default religion; it's getting labeled as Christianity. The use of power and force are antithetical to the message of Jesus Christ and we have another exhibit of that in this situation.

The purpose of the lawsuit is to get a court to admit the Air Force violated this man's rights. It's a move for dominance. Regardless of whether or not I agree with his actions (and I don't, although there are plenty of other times I do, and it still rubs me the wrong way), Christians can't demand "rights." We gave up the right to our "rights" when we accepted the way of the cross. In the way Jesus refused to argue for himself during his many trials, we're called to live out our understanding of right action and accept whatever response we receive.

It feels like this guy should be overjoyed that his actions produced change in the direction he wanted. To me, that's the ultimate victory. I don't understand how one could make a Christian argument to then essentially humiliate your opponent. Paul, on several occasions, used his Roman citizenship to call officials to follow their own laws; he didn't then return to rub it in their faces or embarrass them to their superiors. In the end, he took whatever judgment the law required and did so willingly, following the example of his savior.

This is why Christians can't hold a cross in one hand and a flag in the other; the two are diametrically opposed, not necessarily in the game of ideas, but in lifestyle and action. Too much of "religious" dialogue these days is an attempt to browbeat people into assenting to ideas we call Christian. It's about winning the intellectual assent of others, or at least their grudging tolerance. The gospel, though, is not really about theology, but about the lifestyle inspired by our understanding of God. If we do not act in accordance with our beliefs, we don't believe at all.

The national religion of the US tends to work backwards - seeking the best course of action (best defined as most beneficial to me and mine) and then inventing a theology to support it. This is the path of least resistance and people stumble into bad theology this way all the time (its not just the purview of nationalism or convenience). In the end, the gospel is absurd from the perspective of practicality. It's predicated on truth and reality not being readily apparent. The idea that weakness is strength and love leads to truth just doesn't fit with how we've constructed our world to work.

If you're pushing your own agenda through force or persuasion, you're not representing the gospel. The way you present your ideas is far more important than those ideas themselves. For Christians, winning society's games necessarily means losing your faith. It's great to stand up, with your body, and live your beliefs in the public square - I applaud those who do, even if I disagree with them; it's quite another to expect the public square to celebrate you. That's a game you can't win and shouldn't play.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Catalonia and the Desire to Win

This week, Carles Puigdemont was detained in Germany in connection with an international arrest warrant issued by Spain. Puigdemont was the former Catalan regional President and leader of the succession movement that failed last year. The pro-independence parties in the Catalan Parliament defined a Supreme Court order and went ahead with an independence referendum, which most loyalists sat out, declaring an independence that received no international support. Puigdemont and other leaders fled the country when Spain reasserted direct control of what had been a relatively autonomous region.

I don't know the ins and outs of this movement. I've been aware of the Catalan Independence movement for most of my life, but I don't have the background or understanding to really parse the facts of the issue. I tend to support movements towards independence on principle, but I'm simply ignorant of the specifics.

What interests me about this whole process is the civilized nature of the whole thing. Yes, there have been protests, a few riots, a little bit of physical violence, but overall this process of rebellion has looked very different from most fights for independence. Catalonia is trying to do things, if not by the book, at least with some respect.

Catalonia has its own language and culture and has long been at odds with whatever government happens to reign in Madrid. Support for true independence has never been more than a slight majority, with polls ranging all over the place. When Catalans make an argument for independence, it's largely on the basis of representation - Catalonia is a pretty rich area that doesn't get proper treatment from the national government. What's interesting to me is how the issues are really the same on both sides. Many Catalans feel they are a disrespected minority, but they've also got a large nationalist population within Catalonia who are scared of how they'd be treated in an independent nation.

This is the clarion call of democratic governments these days. The strongest case they have to make for their own existence is "to keep the mob at bay." Government presents itself as protector of those whose freedoms will be impinged by the will of the majority. We can debate the truth and value of that statement, but it does tend to be front and center in conversations.

In past situations like this one, war has been the answer. The side with the most power gets to make the rules, but that's precisely the opposite of how modern democratic societies present themselves, especially in Europe. The Catalan Independence leaders can't call for armed rebellion without looking a bit hypocritical (not to mention barbaric) and so they've tried to do things the "democratic" way - with civil disobedience, at least when necessary.

That this all comes sort of in the midst of chaos in the US is also fascinating. We've had discussions about gun laws that always involve an appear to our nation's founding, largely on the backs of regular people who took up arms to kick out a ruling power. American democracy came about in the most un-democratic of ways.

It's not as if either of these options makes much sense. Outside the benevolence of the Spanish government, it's unlikely Catalonia will get a democratic independence any time soon. In fact, the only way real independence ever happens without bloodshed is either outside nations coming to the aid of a separatists group (see South Sudan, which isn't really in anyone's "win" category, anyway) or it just becomes too costly or too bothersome for the ruling nation to keep ruling (most of the British commonwealth).

I've found the whole thing a quixotic case study in our desire to win. We like to get our own way - us and them (whomever us and them might be)- and we're generally far more prone to break our own rules if it results in us winning. When we believe we're in the right and the "other" won't or can't see it, we look for ways to shock them (or force them) into changing their mind.

It's an odd dilemma for the season of Easter, which calls and reminds us that great power is not overcome by greater power, but by patience and perseverance. I'm sure the current state of affairs is not what most in Catalonia would want to see, and there are certainly well-founded criticisms of how various parties have proceeded, but it's nice to know that somewhere we moved, if only slightly and certainly not entirely, away from games of force and power.

Everybody's playing by the same rules. As frustrating as that is for all involved, it's a sign that there might just be something more important in the world than winning. That's a lesson for all of us in this day and age.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Modesty, Misogyny, and Logic

I'm not a fan of faulty logic; I hate it. I also am not a fan of misogyny or gender disparagement, so the latest meme going around really got under my skin. There's a reason I've done everything possible with my Facebook settings to avoid seeing GIFs and memes in my feed - well, I just don't like GIFs; they seem stupid and pointless - but memes generally make me mad, which is their purpose and thus I try not to see them so they don't win.

I saw one the other day. You might have, too. It looks like this:

Let's tackle the logic first, before we get to the misogyny.

You can't get into a petting zoo without asking - even if there's free admission, there's at least a gate you need to pass through and an attendant who has to open it. Nobody's insurance would cover a come and go, self-service petting zoo. Not even bunnies are that safe. For this analogy to hold up, you'd have to do away with consent or permission altogether - as if just wearing more-revealing-than-average clothes or putting a cuddly animal inside a fence near public view is, in and of itself, invitation to touch. No one in their right mind would ever argue for that.

Is the guy (and it's definitely a guy) putting this meme together advocating willy-nilly animal fondling? In some versions of this meme, the text is credited to "grandma." It's just not fair to pass off that kind of terrible logic on someone's grandmother. Irresponsible and despicable - and that's before you get to the content!

I mean, sheesh, it doesn't even work if you accept the premise. Let's say the clothes of these women do, in fact, 100% advertise themselves as objects for sexual interaction, then what? I mean, you can't even touch a prostitute until you've paid up - there's a consent agreement inherent in the interaction. What this is logically saying is that any man can touch any women if they believe their appearance is inviting it. The clothes don't matter at all, unless you're willing to posit a universal definition of modesty - and if you are, there's an Amish women I'd like you to have a chaperoned conversation with across a very wide table.

Let's get this through our heads, guys: women are not objects, even if they objectify themselves or allow themselves to be objectified. The post of Kate Upton in a bikini on your wall might give you license to touch yourself, but it's not permission to touch her or any other woman. I'm not even sure what that's hard for us to understand.

Ok, that's a lie. I know exactly why that's hard for us to understand: we've been conditioned with 10,000 years of human development and for about 9,900 of them women were literally property - and when they weren't property, they were considered too weak, stupid, or fragile to make decisions for themselves. We live in a society that subtly tells us women can be used and manipulated with a clear conscience - in the last few years, when women are finally being listened to when they disagree with this norm, it's become controversial for some reason.

A woman should be able to walk down the street naked, if she so choose, without getting touched, manhandled, or molested (aside from the arresting officers, I suppose). There's no excuse or justification for that kind of thing. Period.

This meme is asinine on both a logical and practical level...

...it does bring us to the tricky situation of modesty, though.

What should people wear?

The short answer is whatever they want, right? People are people. They have free agency and none of us really agrees on what's "appropriate" or not. We've got some basic public decency laws - but even there we find complications at the margins of the definition. A lot of it boils down to sex - what clothes will keep men from lusting after a woman? The answer is none, really. The lie we've been telling ourselves is that men need a reason to objectify women and it's simply not true.

I mean some clothes might cause more men to lust than others, but even the nature of the dresses in the meme above are only titillating because our society has made them so over time. Those women are out at public events, not bedrooms or brothels - and part of the purpose of those events is specifically to draw attention to them and their various projects.

As the father of a daughter (albeit one who's only five), the logical question to ask me is "would you want your daughter wearing those dresses?" There's a gut reaction "no," because of the world in which we live, but there's a more reasoned answer that says, "it should be her choice, right? Why is my input required." Those are grown women; they get to make their own choices; I want my daughter to make her own choices, even if I don't agree with them.

Of course, it's my job to help teach her how to do that as she gets older.

She's definitely getting to the age where she can process and think critically about decisions, although we still usually have to prompt her to think of alternatives. She's already skittish to have conversations about topics without clear answers or to make her own choices when we don't tell her what's right and wrong - but I presume that changes as they get older.

A year, or so, ago, I was given an article about a facebook post a women wrote concerning what her teenage daughters wear. I've kept it because it focuses on questions they ask their kids (or teach them to ask themselves) about how they make clothing choices - covering things like context, comfort, health, exposure, purpose, etc.

What particularly struck me was the admission by her daughter than people will ogle and objectify her regardless of what she wears, so she's going to wear the clothes she likes and is comfortable wearing. She wasn't going to let the bad practices of others dictate her choices. That's a lesson I'd love for my daughter to learn and it's applicable in many contexts.

The question, "Are you comfortable with the parts of your body that are visible?" takes into account that people might do or say uncomfortable things, even if it's not the fault of the women herself. It also makes kids aware that the world isn't as perfect as it should be, which is something that's often difficult for teenagers to deal with.

Lastly, there's an emphasis on decision - why are you wearing what you're wearing? Are you doing it to show off or be provocative or impress someone? You might be wearing perfectly modest clothes for the wrong reasons and it's a worthwhile question.

I'm not going to repeat the whole thing for you, because you can read it (and you should). There's a real difference between shaming someone from their choices and asking questions which allow us to reflect on our choices. I'm not saying the more revealing dresses in the meme are right or wrong - I suspect they might be good fodder for conversations about our society, the way we view women, and the choices we make in our clothing. At the very most, you can question a person's motives for the decisions they've made, but you can't blame them for the response of others. That's basic human decency and one half of the population really has to work harder to remember the other half is actually human.

Let's get on that; it's WAY overdue.