Sunday, August 26, 2007

Angels in America

North suburban Deerfield High School has given Culture Campaign another play to target with homophobia.

"What Do a Black, Homosexual Drag Queen, a Gay Couple and an Angel with 8 V****as Have in Common?

Answer: They are all characters from a play studied by students at Deerfield High School last year...

From "Laurie Higgins Summarizes Kuschner's Debauched 'Angels in America'" by Laurie Higgins, posted 8/23/07 at Americans for Truth

Angels in America is filled with obscenity, primarily forms of f**k."

It is unfortunately true that angry alienated people sometimes don’t use nice language. In the Culture Campaign's vision of education, students only read literature in which the characters are polite and happy to be Americans. Perhaps they would prefer "Gone with the Wind" in which all the Blacks are happy to be slaves and wouldn't say shit if they had a mouthful.

Personally, I think it is important that young people learn about people who feel alienated from American society.

"And although it addresses forgiveness (albeit not in a Christian sense, but rather, interpersonal forgiveness),"

I was not aware that interpersonal forgiveness is some sort of pagan forgiveness. I guess the Christian sense is where an agonizing bloody sacrifice is required before forgiveness can be granted.

"compassion, community, and AIDS,"

That sounds suspicious.

"it is primarily a pro-'gay' treatise"

I love the use of the term "pro-gay" to describe a work that empathizes with the pain and sufferings of the victims of aids. I wonder whether the Campaign would describe "Schindler's List" as a "pro-Jew" movie or "To Kill a Mockingbird" as a "pro-Black" book.

"with heavy-handed leftist politicking (e.g., explicit criticism of the Reagan administration) and sacrilege."

Oh my God!!! They criticize Reagan!!! Angels in America clearly suggests that it was not "Morning in America" for everyone during the 1980's.

"The plot revolves around two couples: married Mormon couple Harper and Joe whose marriage is disintegrating in large measure due to Joe’s repressed homosexuality, which he eventually acts upon: and a homosexual couple, Louis and Prior, who has AIDS. Louis leaves Prior due to his AIDS and has a month-long affair with Harper’s husband Joe. Roy Cohn — the infamous, unscrupulous, foul-mouthed, closeted, Republican lawyer — is also a central character who dies of AIDS. "

I wonder how the Campaign would feel if one of the characters was a leading evangelical minister who preached against homosexuality while secretly frequenting gay prostitutes.

"Then there is the black, homosexual, drag queen nurse with the heart of gold, Belize, and the Angel with eight vaginae whose visits prompt sexual arousal and orgasm. Heaven is a dreary place that looks like San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and people sit around on crates playing cards. The Angels say that God has abandoned man."

If feeling abandoned by God is sacrilege, then Jesus was guilty on the cross.

"....Now isn’t that edifying for students?"

It could be. The Campaign certainly has not provided enough information for any thinking person to reach a conclusion about the value of studying the play as a work of literature.

I suppose I could summarize the Old Testament as a book about a violent vengeful desert god who periodically orders wholesale slaughter of people who have the temerity to live in the lands where he wants his followers to live, who demands that his followers be willing to slaughter their own children, whose misogyny leads one of his righteous followers to offers his young daughters to be gang-raped. However, I would still think it a work worth studying.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Believing Miracle Stories

My wife once met a woman who claimed that God had made her invisible. This happened at a women’s luncheon at an Assemblies of God church that my wife attended at the invitation of a friend. After the luncheon, women were invited to share what God had done in their lives during the past week.

It seems that this woman had gone to the hospital to visit a friend in the intensive care unit. According to hospital rules, only relatives were allowed in the ICU, but the woman was able to walk right past the nurse’s station without being challenged. While she sat and prayed with her friend, nurses came in and out of the room without taking notice of her. Therefore, the woman concluded that God must have made her invisible.

A common theme in apologetics is that anyone who is willing to keep an open mind to the possibility of miracles will come to the conclusion that the only reasonable explanation for the stories of Jesus’ miracles is that they really occurred as the authors of the gospels recorded them. If we can believe what ancient historians said about Alexander the Great or the Battle of Thermopylae, why shouldn’t we believe what Mark and Luke said about Jesus? The apologists say we should. They say that skeptics have a closed-minded world view that refuses to recognize the possibility of miracles and therefore reject what must otherwise be deemed trustworthy accounts.

But wouldn’t a person whose worldview allowed for the possibility of supernatural miracles still take the “invisible” woman’s story with a grain of salt? Isn’t it more likely that the nurses were busy or that they mistakenly thought she was a relative? The problem with miracle stories is not that some people are so closed-minded that they automatically reject them in all cases. The problem is that some people assume the supernatural intervention of God’s power whenever a natural explanation is not immediately obvious. Indeed, the prefer a supernatural explanation. I once attended a religious retreat where a man told me that God had miraculously repaired his vacuum cleaner. He could not give me any details about the malfunction, but he assured me that supernatural intervention was the only possible explanation. People like this see the slightest coincidence as the hand of God.

Another problem is that people who see God’s supernatural intervention in everyday events tend to believe others’ miracle tales without question and happily pass them along. Televangelists regularly pass on stories they get in the mail from viewers who claim to have been healed while watching the program. (Of course, there are also those preachers who stage healings for the benefit of the camera, but that is another story.) I have always found it interesting that the Catholic Church directs a healthy skepticism towards claims of miraculous healings at Lourdes or Fatima, and will not recognize them without an investigation. However, that is the exception rather than the rule among miracle believers.

Suppose for example, that Jesus addressed a crowd of people who became hungry. He asked if anyone had any food to share and one small boy volunteered some loaves and fishes. Jesus blessed the food and passes it around, whereupon, others who had brought food for themselves were shamed into sharing it. In the end, there was much food left over and the disciples were amazed that such disparate people with no natural sympathy towards one another—tax collectors, Roman soldiers, prostitutes, and priests—recognized the needs of their fellow man and shared what they had. They knew that Jesus had caused them to do this and they told others of the wondrous thing that Jesus had done.

As the story gets retold, some of the hearers may not be as impressed with the event as the original witnesses were. In order to communicate the meaning and significance of what Jesus did, the story gets condensed: the crowd was hungry; Jesus blessed a small amount of food; there were lots of leftovers. The details that survive are perfectly true, but now it is a story of Jesus conjuring food out of thin air rather than a miracle of sharing. Considering the possibility that Luke or Mark may have been inclined to accept miracle stories without question, and the possibility that the stories passed through several similarly unquestioning people before reaching them, it is impossible to be sure what actually happened.

This is not to say that the stories of Jesus' miracles can't be true, merely that we cannot claim the stories as historical evidence of the events.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Blaming the Media

One of Culture Campaign's favorite themes is that mainstream media is out to get Christians. The latest iteration of this theme is a post titled "The Truth About High Point Church and the Gay Gulf War Veteran." The story as reported by the Associated Press is that a church in Arlington, Texas offered to host a funeral service but withdrew the offer when it discovered that the mourning family wanted to display pictures of the deceased that according to the church included men "engaging in clear affection, kissing and embracing." The family said the pictures included "some with his partner, but said none showed men kissing or hugging."

What I find amusing is the Campaign's assertion that "Contrary to the mainstream media reports, High Point Church did not refuse to host the funeral of a gay man." The Campaign refers to an article at which goes on to say that "[i]t’s not surprising that the mainstream media would misrepresent the facts." What I cannot figure out is what facts were misrepresented. As far as I can tell, the Associated Press accurately reported the church's version of the events and the family's version of the events without taking sides.

The fact of the matter is that it is hard for a church to look good when it declines to hold the funeral of a gay man. I understand the hair that the church is splitting when it says that it declined because the service planned by the family would have made it look like the church approved of the homosexual lifestyle. I can even acknowledge that High Point's theological principles mandated its decision. However, it does not comport with my understanding of Christian charity and Townhall reported that some evangelical Christians felt that way as well.

It would be nice if fundamentalist Christians quit blaming the media when their attitudes and beliefs appear unloving and intolerant. Maybe they appear that way because they are.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Some Thoughts on Apologetics

I frequently run across fundamentalists who claim that anyone who takes an unbiased look at the evidence will be persuaded that Jesus really was who he claimed to be. They like to tell stories of confirmed atheists who set out to disprove the Bible and wind up being overwhelmed by the evidence in favor of the fundamentalist view. The most popular writer in this genre currently is Lee Strobel who describes his journey from skeptic to Christian in “The Case for Christ.” Rather than addressing the details of Mr. Strobel’s arguments, I would like to suggest an analogy based on my interest in Civil War history.

If I wanted to find out what happened at the battle of Gettysburg, I could look at reports, letters, and diaries written shortly after the battle by soldiers of every rank from private to general in both armies. I could also find contemporaneous reports in the pages of newspapers and magazines of various political perspectives. These documents can be compared with memoirs written after the war. Even with all this information, there are still debates among historians about what actually happened and why.

Now suppose that the only available accounts of the Battle of Gettysburg are four anonymous documents written twenty to fifty years after the battle by Confederate partisans. All of the documents are ascribed to officers who served on General Robert E. Lee’s staff who believed that he was the greatest military genius that history has ever known. There are no accounts from anyone on the Union side and there are no accounts from Confederates like General James Longstreet who questioned how General Lee handled the battle. Moreover, suppose that keepers of these documents made it their practice to destroy contrary accounts of the battle when they had the opportunity to do so.

It is difficult for me to imagine that any responsible historian would feel confident that he had a fair and unbiased picture of what went on the battle. The best that can be said of the accounts is that they represent the writers' understandings of the battle at the time they were written. It is possible that the writers of the accounts were eye-witnesses to the battle, that they had accurate and complete recall of the events years later, and that they were scrupulously honest in reporting those memories, but there is no evidence to establish this. The writers may simply have wanted to share their admiration for General Lee by writing down those stories that they had heard about the battle that reflected his importance. They may have had no way to verify any of the details of those stories.

This is the trouble with claiming that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John can be relied upon as historical documents. The most that can be said about the New Testament accounts of Jesus is that they reflect the writers’ understandings of the meaning of Jesus’ life some twenty-five to seventy-five years after he died. We can only speculate about the actual historical events that led to that understanding.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Culture Campaign's Position is Always Conclusive

One thing I love about fundamentalists of the Culture Campaign's ilk is their concept of proof. When there is the slightest evidence for their position, they trumpet it as conclusive proof of whatever they believe. While most people might be tempted to take a convicted murderer's statements with a grain of salt, the Culture Campaign is happy to embrace them as gospel when they provide some ammo for their right-wing homophobia.

The post titled "Gay Activist Bullies Get Their Way at New Jersey High School" concerned a controversy over a production of the Laramie Project, a play about the 1998 murder of Matthew Shephard in Laramie Wyoming. Shephard, a homosexual, was brutally beaten, tied to a fence, and left for dead. He was found after eighteen hours and died five days later. The play examines the reaction of the town to the crime and to the "gay panic" defense offered by Aaron McKinney who claimed that homosexual abuse as a child caused him to overreact to a sexual advance from Shephard. (For the record, my son appeared in a high school production of the play which I thought was terrific. Not surprisingly, the Culture Campaign opposed that production as well.)

Despite the fact that McKinney said that Shephard's homosexuality motivated him to commit the crime, the Culture Campaign now claims that "it has since been conclusively revealed that Shepard's murder was never about his homosexuality." (emphasis added) And what is the source of this irrefutable proof? The killer changed his story! McKinney now says that drugs and robbery were the only motives. The Culture Campaign is convinced that he lied at trial, but now there apparently can be no doubt that he is telling the truth. Among the law enforcement officers and the community at large, there are differences of opinion about which story is true, but the Campaign finds the current word of the convicted killer (and admitted liar) to be "conclusive."

In addition to blatantly disregarding any rational understanding of the word "conclusive," the Campaign has missed a major point in the play. The very fact that McKinney and his lawyer thought that the "gay panic" defense would buy them some sympathy with the jury was symptomatic of the bigotry and prejudice that somehow makes violence against homosexuals "understandable." They thought that McKinney could exploit the same kind of hatred and intolerance that assured the acquittal of Whites who lynched Blacks in the days of Jim Crow.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

How I Lost My Commenting Privileges

I believe that the comment function was turned off at Culture Campaign after I opined on a post titled Activists Criticize Blood Banks For Discriminating Against Gay Men. The post concerned an AP story describing the efforts of the Red Cross, the American Blood Centers and the American Ass'n of Blook Banks to rescind an FDA rule requiring the rejection of blood from any donor who ever acknowledge having engaged in male-to-male sexual conduct. Based on advances in blood screen techniques, the blood organizations favored a one year prohibition on blood donation.

The Culture Campaign's had the following take on the this story: "Gay activists seem to be willing to go to any lengths to eliminate all reminders that homosexual behavior is not equivalent to heterosexual behavior - even at the risk of people's lives. Thank God the FDA is standing strong against this insanity." Contrary to the Campaign's paranoia (and despite being posted at, the story did not contained the slightest suggestion that gay activists were in any way involved. According to the story, the blood services wanted the rules changed in order that they need not reject valuable blood donations.

Since the Culture Campaign had conjured the gay activists I asked a question along the lines of "Is it possible for you to read any story without seeing the bogeyman of the gay agenda.?" Although, I cannot say that this is the one that inspired the disabling of the comment function, I am sure that it is one of the last ones that I was allowed to post.

It seems to me that it would be very desirable for our culture if people could read a news item and limit the conclusions they draw from it to conclusions that are supported by the facts which are reported in it. I am not saying that anyone should accept a story uncritically and believe the facts as reported without question. Surely further research is in order if inaccuracies or bias are suspected. But, at the very least, someone who is seeking cultural improvement should avoid gratuitously inventing gay activist bogeymen with malevolent objectives and inserting them into stories about the Red Cross trying to maintain blood supplies.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Coach Dave on Muslims

I find that fundamentalist Christians have a tendency to overlook large stretches of the Old Testament and Coach Dave is no exception. In a blog entry titled "What if the Pilgrims Had Been Muslims?" he credits the Bible for the American belief that murder is wrong. Speaking to a group of high school students he asks them "Why do we American's think murder is wrong, yet suicide bombers think they will be honored in heaven for having murdered innocent people?" The answer according to Coach Dave is that we follow the Bible while the Muslims follow the Koran.

Of course, Coach Dave ignores the fact that the Bible is full of instances where Jehovah ordered the slaughter of groups of people who displeased him, every man woman and child. No doubt Coach Dave believes that all those people deserved God's wrath. Nevertheless, a fundamentalist view of the Bible plainly supports the principle that God may periodically find it necessary to order his followers to slaughter large groups of people (including noncombatants) and that those followers better jolly well do so if they want to stay on God's good side. The fact that Allah's followers might feel obligated to carry out similar orders certainly is not precluded by the teachings of the Old Testament.

Am I Raping Coach Dave's Children?

I have thought about starting this blog for awhile, but I was finally spurred to action by an article by Dave Daubenmire entitled "I'll Have to Pray on It" that was cited by Culture Campaign. Dave is a former high school football coach in Ohio who now coaches God's team through Pass the Salt Ministries.

It seems that several parents in his community had shared their concerns about what was being taught in their schools with Coach Dave. Coach Dave recommended that they rally all like-minded citizens to descend upon the next school board meeting. "We will demand that the homosexual agenda be removed from our schools, that comprehensive sex-education be aborted, that abstinence education be the ONLY thing taught, and that every student be taught creationism as the origin of the species." (emphasis in original). When one of the parents demurred that he would have to "pray about it," Coach Dave was outraged by his timidity. "IF SOMEONE WAS BREAKING INTO YOUR HOUSE TO RAPE YOUR DAUGHTER WOULD YOU HAVE TO PRAY ABOUT YOUR RESPONSE?" (emphasis added)

WOW! Apparently Coach Dave thinks I am the equivalent of a child rapist because I don't see homosexuals as dastardly threats to our society, I think that children should be given accurate and complete information about sex and sexuality, and I think that objective science should be taught in our classrooms rather than mythology. Is this Culture Campaign's idea of culture?

While I am unalterably opposed to daughter raping (or any other raping for that matter), I would point out to Coach Dave that the Bible's position on the subject is far from unambiguous. Recall righteous Lot's response when the men of Sodom and Gomorrah threatened his guests: "Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes." Genesis 19:8. Nowhere does the Bible criticize this offer. Thus, a fundamentalist view of the Bible suggests that that there are certain circumstances in which allowing one's daughters to be raped is a moral and ethical choice.

My Mission

In the spring of 2007, I stumbled upon a blog titled "Culture Campaign" while looking for information about a local school board election in which two conservative Christians were seeking to unseat two incumbents. I offered comments about the election as well several other topics covered by the blog including, homosexuality, creationism, and biblical inerrancy.

After a couple months, the comment function on the blog was turned off. I was told that responding to posts like mine took up too much of Culture Campaign's time. "It is actually not Culture Campaign's mission as an organization to change the minds of unbelievers, like yourself, but to get Christians to stand up and defend what they claim to believe whether that be in their schools, workplaces, govt. or even their churches..." I pointed out the irony of Culture Campaign's unwillingness to stand up and defend what it claimed to believe, but the comment function remained disabled.

In a recent post at Culture Campaign concerning tolerance of homosexuality, the blogger made the following statement: "I've come to the conclusion that they [advocates of tolerance] convince themselves that we hate them because that way they don't have to actually answer our objections." I pointed out the inconsistencies in Culture Campaign's position in an e-mail to the blogger, but needless to say, the comment function remained disabled.

So I have decided to start my own blog to comment on the Campaign's notion of Culture.