Tag Archives: politics

It’s a feature, Rick. Not a bug.

So at some point, for some reason that eludes me, someone invited Rick Santorum to speak and voice his critique of why the Republicans lost the presidential election last year.  Here’s a wonderful little gem that Santorum came up with:

“One after another, they talked about the business they had built. But not a single—not a single —factory worker went out there,” Santorum told a few hundred conservative activists at an “after-hours session” of the Faith & Freedom Coalition conference in Washington. “Not a single janitor, waitress or person who worked in that company! We didn’t care about them. You know what? They built that company too! And we should have had them on that stage.”

My initial reaction to that statement was to laugh.  In fact, I offered the following thoughts on the subject in a comment over at Shakesville:

Rick, Rick, Rick, I’d love to agree with you. There’s just one problem. If the GOP suddenly started talking about how important factory workers, janitors, servers, and other such people are to building the company they work for, those people might start wondering why the GOP keeps doing things that let their bosses pay them such lousy wages and do other things to screw them over.

I mean, seriously, we’re talking about a party who has been been carrying water for powerful executives.  This is the party that keeps telling us that those executives are the most important people in the world, who keep the businesses they run and therefore the whole world running.  Of course they’re going to keep parading executive after executive.  If they started talking about the importance of working class people — people that the Republican party refuses to protect by raising the minimum wage to something people and even families can live on — it would undermine that message faster than you can say “trickle down economics don’t work.”  (Granted, I will be very surprised if I ever hear a Republican utter that particular phrase.)

You can’t parade a janitor across a stage and talk about how important his contribution to building a company or keeping it operational (and make no mistake about it, that contribution is of incredible importance) while insisting that it’s okay to pay him barely enough (if he’s lucky) to keep his family out of poverty while simultaneously offering his CEO gets bonuses, golden parachutes, and tax breaks.  At least not without causing a lot of people to experience cognitive dissonance.  Or figure out what utter bullshit you’re trying to peddle.

(h/t Melissa McEwan at Shakesville)

Raised Right: False Equivalence

Trigger Warning:  Brief mentions of homophobia, transphobia, racism, misogyny, and rape culture.

There’s a lot of good material to discuss in chapter seven of “Raised Right:  How I Untangled my Faith from Politics” by Alisa Harris.  However, for today’s post, I want to focus on the following statement, made toward the end of the chapter:

Our gayness, blackness, whiteness, femaleness are not parts of a complete identity but our whole identity, elevated from an accident of birth to a political credo.  We become misshapen when all the spiritual and intellectual parts of our identity become merely political.

There have been a number of instances in the book so far where Ms. Harris has offered some wonderful and self-reflective insights into her experiences with conservative Christianity, only to incorrectly — in my opinion at least — projects those insights onto liberals, feminists, QUILTBAG people, and others.  As this particular instance is especially egregious in my mind, I want to take the time to draw attention to it.

There may be some truth, at least in some instances, to Ms. Harris’s suggestion that one’s race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or some other aspect of one’s life that tends to take central stage, possibly to the exclusion of others.  As a gay man, I am particularly fond of the following line spoken by John Mahoney’s character in “The Broken Hearts Club:”

Sometimes I wonder what you boys would do if you weren’t gay. You’d have no identity. It was easy when you couldn’t talk about it. Now it’s all you talk about. You talk about it so much that you forget about all the other things that you are.

However, I think it’s important to understand why this is often the case, which Timothy Olyphant’s character in the same movie explains so well.  To paraphrase[1], he suggests that a lot of gay guys tend to spend so much time hiding, denying, and even trying to change who they are that when they finally come to accept their orientation, they feel like they “have a lot of catching up to do.”

I think we can expand on that sentiment by considering the way in which people are marginalized, repressed, and dehumanized for being gay, female, trans* or a racial minority.  Whether we look at racism, transphobia, homophobia, or misogyny, the message that many in our society — and the system itself — sends to many such people is clear:  “You are not fully human because of who you are.”

When someone’s basic humanity is constantly[2] diminished, challenged, and denied because of some aspect of zirself then it is perfectly reasonable that defending zir humanity from those attacks, which means focusing on that aspect of zirself.  For women, racial minorities, and QUILTBAG people, defending their rights and devoting significant amounts of time is a matter of self-respect and even survival.  Comparing the amount of time that such marginalized people spend on those endeavors to the endeavors of the conservative political efforts — efforts that often translate to the continuing marginalization of other people, is dubious at best.

I am thankful that Ms. Harris has rethought many of her previously held positions and untangled her faith from her politics.  However, when it comes to considering the plight of marginalized people and how they choose to handle that plight, I think she needs to think things through a bit more.

[1]  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an exact quote online.

[2]  And the constant presence of such othering of various groups is something that people who do not belong to those groups[3] often miss.

[3]  And this is true among the various marginalized groups, even.  For example, I’m constantly amazed at just how pervasive the rape culture and other forms of misogyny is as I read feminist blogs.  Being gay does not automatically sensitize me to the struggles others face.

Raised Right: Chapter 1

humanity. love. respect.

Image by B.S. Wise via Flickr

Chapter 1 of Harris’s book, Raised Right:  How I Untangled My Faith From Politics, bears the title “Flesh and Blood.”  I assume it was chosen for the chapters attempt to show the need to see not issues, but people.  Harris starts the chapter by describing a scene where she, her parents, and her younger siblings picketed an abortion clinic together.  After describing that scene, she speaks of her past, offering the following insight:

I had been picketing since before I could walk.
Understanding that statement and its significance reveals a great deal about those of us who were raised as conservative Christians.  In a sense, I think it makes it easier to understand us — whether speaking of those of us whose politics and/or faith have changed or those who remain a part of the movement — as flesh and blood people.  Our understanding of the religio-political views we were meant to adhere to was formed very early in our lives.
As I mentioned when I announced I’d be reviewing this book, I was not raised with the direct activism as Harris.  I never picketed before I could walk, or even after.  However, the messages about what I was supposed to believe started when I was young.  Perhaps nothing about the political topics that seem to make up most of the Religious Right’s platform, but there were still those subtle messages that set the stage for me to understand what “good people” believed and did versus what “bad people” said and did.
Subtle is a key-word here.  While Harris’s own childhood experiences were direct and explicit, my own (and I suspect others’) was more subtle.  Things got implied more than said.  Or certain things were said and I inferred.  To be honest, I don’t remember ever hearing a sermon about the evils of homosexuality.  I’m not even sure where I first learned that homosexuality was supposed to be wrong, or even that there was such a thing as homosexuality.[1]  But I certainly picked that message up from somewhere.
When we read Old Testament passages like the story of Rahab and I asked my mom what a prostitute was, she said, “Women that men paid to act like their wives,” which conjured confusing pictures of paid cooks and housekeepers.  When I asked how the single mom in our church had a baby without a husband, she said the mom “acted like she was married.”  Apparently, I was too young to know how people made babies, but not too young to know how they killed them.
Harris’s statement above is something I can totally appreciate.  Sex was something that simply was not discussed.  I remember spending the night with one (male) cousin and sharing a bed and wondering if it was okay, because that’s something only a husband and wife do.  I did not understand there was more to being a husband and wife (or lovers) than merely sharing a bed for actual sleep.
I don’t think my own parents meant to keep me naive about sex.  Looking back, I think that if I had asked about it, either of them would have answered me honestly.  They simply weren’t going to volunteer the information.
However “sinful sex” or the consequences of it did tend to get a bit more attention, from other sources if not directly from my parents.  And that strikes me as quite common in conservative circles.  In many ways, the discussion of sexual sin[2] seems to be the only discussion of sex that goes on in many such environments.  This tends to lead to a rather grim view of sex in general.  I know I tended to think of it as a mostly dirty thing, despite my eighth grade science teacher’s occasional declaration to the contrary — a declaration he made the few times the subject came up in his classroom at all.
Harris goes on to describe a protest held in front of New York Governor Paterson’s Manhattan office which she covered as a journalist.  This protest took place when the state’s same sex marriage legislation was waiting to be approved by the State Senate.  Harris describes the shouting, the anger, the jeering, and the rebukes offered up during the protest.
As the crowd yelled, I would at times forget that these were supposed to be prayers until I would catch an “Almighty God!” or “Lord we pray!”
I have seen these kinds of public “prayers” before.  In fact, I recall participating in a few of them during my college years.  The ones I was involved in were not as heated, aggressive, or condemning as the ones that Harris describes in her book, but they were surely sham prayers meant for public piety and acts of showing others our (my) own superiority.  They were the same in spirit, even if not the same in degree or volume.  I think Harris remarks upon this practice when she writes:
I couldn’t help but think of the kind of ostentatious prayers Jesus chided:  “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.”  He must have meant, Pray to Me and not to the cameras.  When you pray, talk to Me.
Harris describes talking about the importance of love and her own struggle with the idea that these protestors would insist that they “loved” the homosexuals and that they merely wanted to help them “out of their sin.”  She thought of how they would compare themselves to a parent correcting a child.  Harris then goes on to share her own revelation in response to that claim:
Then I realized why these efforts at love sounded hollow — because this love was not the way I experienced love every day.  Even setting aside the arrogance suggested by viewing all other sinners as children and saved sinners as the world’s in loco parentis, I know my parents love me because they sacrificed to feed and clothe me every day.  In the end that burden of labor and sacrifice is what gives them any right to be heard or believed when they say “I love you” after they say “you’re wrong.”
I don’t believe I’ve heard anyone express this as eloquently as Harris did here:  If you want to correct people out of “love,” then you first need to show those same people love in other, tangible and edifying ways.  That may mean meeting other needs they might have — which might actually mean learning what those needs are in the first place.  That’s something that many conservative Christians are not good at.  I know I wasn’t.
Unfortunately, my former self and many conservative Christians come to “sinners” with pre-conceived notions about what they are like and what their needs are.  And they act on those pre-conceived notions, never questioning their accuracy or relevance.  This often leads to offering help that is unneeded, unhelpful, and even insulting.  And then the “helpful” person wonders why they get such a negative response.  Their premise for action is completely wrong.
The problem is, learning people’s real needs and responding to them can get messy.  There are rarely prepackaged slogans, ready-made signs, or “witnessing tools” that covers those needs.  And that can be scary.  But I think that’s exactly what Harris is calling for in this chapter:
Unless you are smuggling soup to the Jews in your attic, I think a political act can’t be an act of love.  It can be a good act, even noble and heroic, but love is not something that takes place behind a barricade;  it happens in the breaking of bread and the passing of cups.  Political love is theoretical, directed at some vague “humanity,” and Jesus didn’t say to love humanity, but to love your neighbor.
May God bless her for it.
[1] I do, however, remember when I first learned what it meant for two guys to “screw.”  It was during my ninth grade English class, and a classmate explained it to me in a tone of complete and obvious disgust.
[2] Let’s face it, too:  The two biggest issues in conservative Christian politics are still homosexuality and abortion, meaning it’s mostly — or even all — about sex.
Other posts in the Raised Right series:

Introducing a book review

Funny Religious Sticker

Image by Amarand Agasi via Flickr

Last Thursday, Fred Clark of Slacktivist fame wrote a fantastic review of Raised Right:  How I Untangled My Faith from Politics, a book by Alisa Harris[1] that was released today.  I was fascinated enough by Fred’s review and the quotes from the book he selected that I decided to purchase the Kindle edition of the book.  I started reading it tonight and decided I’d start blogging about it.

What interests me most about the books is that in many ways, Harris and I come from very similar backgrounds.  I was raised in a conservative evangelical community, was raised to believe that homosexuality was an abomination[2], abortion was murder, and good Christians voted Republican.

Where my upbringing differs from that of Harris is that while I was raised to believe all the same things, my family was not very politically active and did not consider it our duty to be so.  Certainly, my parents voted — and always for candidates who promised to stand “on the right side” of various issues.  They considered (and to the best of my knowledge, still do) both their civic duty as well as a part of their service to God.  But they were not people to carry picket signs, write letters to elected officials, or even give to various political organization.  In fact, if my parents gave to anything other than their church, I suspect it would be the Family Life Network, which runs a number of radio stations whose coverage includes the county my parents live in.

I think this is in part because my parents understood there is more to Christian life than the political machinations that Harris writes about.  My parents are far more community-oriented and understand that Christian life is about building and serving community as much as — maybe even more than — it is about stopping “the gay agenda” or shouting down doctors who perform abortions or women who seek out their services.  In some ways, I consider it an advantage to having grown up in a very rural area.

I think growing up in that rural area is another part of the reason for why activism didn’t play such a big part in my childhood, though.  Where my parents live, all that “political stuff” happens somewhere else, places like New York, Washington D.C. and San Francisco.  Sure, there were gay people and women who had abortions around, but it was — or at least appeared to be — something extremely rare.  People in our community were “good people” whose exposure to such things was minimal and possibly even nonexistent.  So picketing is something that would have involved long drives.  And with Boy Scouts for me (until I quit when I was about 14) and twirling baton in parades for my sister who had time for all that traveling to exotic and dubious places?

On the flip side, I suppose this makes my family and me typical members of the religious conservatives’ “target audience.”  I was someone who knew nothing about what gay people were like, who knew nothing of the issues of abortion, or anything else the religious activists beat their drums about.  I had no way of evaluating what they told me for accuracy or honesty — or at least I had no idea how to go about doing so.

So I come to Harris’s book as something of a kindred spirit, yet as someone who’s experience is slightly different.  We have come to similar places — though she retained her Christian faith while I moved on — but by slightly different routes.  And that is what I would like to explore as I go through the book, hopefully chapter by chapter.

[1] To the best of my knowledge, the author and I are not related.