Monday, June 15, 2009

Odds 'N Ends

1. How Does God Feel About Abuse?

Nathan Phelps, son of Fred Phelps of "God Hates Fags" Notoriety, recently addressed the American Atheists Convention. In his speech, he recounts his abusive childhood, his father's theological beliefs, and his evolution from Christianity to atheism.

I don't think that all anti-gay people are as extreme as Phelps. In fact, where many relatively mainstream people who oppose homosexuality and LGBT rights insist that gays can and should opt for heterosexuality in order to be "saved," Phelps is more of a Calvinist. Nathan writes:

"[T]he heart of Calvinism is the doctrine of absolute predestination, which posits that in the council halls of eternity past, an omniscient and omnipotent god preordained who would be saved, and who would be damned. Mankind would have no say or choice in this, since they are dead in their trespasses and sin. If you are selected you gain eternal life. If you lose, you suffer the most extreme physical and mental anguish forever. My father has simply refined Calvin’s doctrine to the point where the vast majority of us are going to hell. And he and his followers are among the privileged few chosen by God.

This doctrine is very important to understanding the Westboro Baptist Church. My father, and those who follow him, are not preaching to try to convince people of their truth. Unlike street evangelists, who are trying to convert people, my father has no intention of converting anyone, since conversion is impossible. You’re either chosen, or you’re not."

Although it contains graphic descriptions of child and domestic abuse, it's worth a read if you're at all interested in what drives a person to devote his life and his family's life to telling the world that "God" hates various people and nations. Although, I'm pretty sure I could just sum up the WBC's philosophy by saying God Hates You, You're Going to Burn In Hell, and There's Nothing You Can Do About It.

I suppose I can see how that might discourage some people from Christianity.

2) How Does Got Feel About Racism and Homophobia?

North Carolina legislators so resoundingly passed a resolution honoring the late Jesse Helms. In a mostly-symbolic gesture, the only openly-gay legislator in the state, Senator Julia Boseman voted against it. 26 legislators, mostly African-American, sat out of the vote altogether.

Helms is (in)famous for his conservative views regarding race and homosexuality. During his career, he opposed federal HIV/AIDS funding, believed gay men and lesbians to be pathological ("weak, morally sick wretches" were his words), opposed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, opposed school integration, and opposed Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

It is highly disappointing that white heterosexual legislators, especially Democrats and "liberals," did not stand in solidarity with African-Americans and the LGBT community and oppose honoring this divisive man. Furthermore, when I read about things like this, I become more convinced that white conservatives, who are so eager to decry gays for comparing our struggle to the black civil rights movement, don't really care all that much about the African-American community outside of how they can pit the two communities against each other.

Not only is this resolution disappointing, but it is inappropriate. We can and should honor Helms' human dignity as we should with all people, but doing so does not require rewarding and validating all of the negativity he has contributed to the world.

3) An Apt Mission

Last week, we experienced another unfortunate act of probable domestic terrorism. Rather than at a church, this latest incident happened at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Rather than focus on the alleged perpetrator of this act of violence, I'd like to end today by contemplating the very noble mission of this museum:

"A living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum stimulates leaders and citizens to confront hatred, prevent genocide, promote human dignity, and strengthen democracy.... Located among our national monuments to freedom on the National Mall, the Museum provides a powerful lesson in the fragility of freedom, the myth of progress, the need for vigilance in preserving democratic values. With unique power and authenticity, the Museum teaches millions of people each year about the dangers of unchecked hatred and the need to prevent genocide. And we encourage them to act, cultivating a sense of moral responsibility among our citizens so that they will respond to the monumental challenges that confront our world."

Of particular note, within this statement, is "the myth of progress." I don't think it's possible for humanity to evolve out of, or outgrow, its capacity for violence over time. Despite society's "progress," various cultures throughout time and history have constructed and persecuted Jews as a dangerous and deviant outgroup. When it isn't Jews that people construct as sub-human deviants, it is some other group of Others. The target of persecution changes, but the methods are similar.

This capacity for group persecution is what humanity needs to be vigilant against.

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