BOOK REVIEW: “A Prophet of Peace” and Juan Cole’s New Historicism

I sometimes attend the Seattle Atheist Church on Sundays, and despite the many virtues that group has an organization and positive argument it makes by example for secular humanism, the fact that the “Four Horsemen” of the New Atheism movement were four white Anglo-American men reflects accurately the biases you’ll find in the atheism movement in the United States, United Kingdom, and the Anglosphere more generally.

Seattle’s atheist community is better than many other spaces I’ve seen, particularly in regards to gender and sexuality, but one element it continues to deal with is anti-Muslim racism.

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: “A Prophet of Peace” and Juan Cole’s New Historicism”

‘America: a dangerous blend of diversity and racism’

Not all diversity is good diversity.

It’s like you heard someone say, ‘This smoothie is a mix of powdered glass and fruit’ and you felt the need to say, ‘Not all fruit is fresh fruit’.

Actually, that’s not what I meant.

What I meant was hiring somebody from Saudi Arabia, praising yourself on diversity, then finding out they hate women and LGBT people.

Not all diversity is good diversity — there are plenty of people who come from diverse backgrounds who are bigoted as all hell.

As contemporary events seem to make more apparent by the hour, I don’t think one needs to scour as remote a place as Riyadh to find examples of those things.

The pews of rural Iowa and suburban Houston often underwhelm in their diversity though remaining overblessed in their capacity for hatred of vulnerable groups.

If I say some ‘diversity is bad because it may contain religious bigots’, and to make that meaningful I use it as an excuse to oppose diversity, it’s more likely I’m upset with the diversity or foreignness of them than the bigotry they may share with domestic homogeneous folk. Continue reading “‘America: a dangerous blend of diversity and racism’”

It’s the thought that counts, and sometimes the memory

The other day, it was nearly the anniversary of the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and while it isn’t that day yet for me, for those reading this column now, it is.

By the magic of anticipation and literary telepathy, I suppose I’m getting a little Christmas experience now, as I write. At least I hope that’s what that burning sensation is.

So Happy Holidays, and you’re welcome for your present. I think 2011 is supposed to be the white Christmas of which we (and Bing Crosby) dreamt; I hope this gift came wrapped for it. Otherwise the wet snow is probably making my words runtogetheronthepage.

Continue reading “It’s the thought that counts, and sometimes the memory”

Because we like the appearance but want to stay comfortable

The other day I was shopping for some new clothes, which is rare.

I’m basically the same size I was as a high school freshman, which in some ways is good because my midsection remains in agreeable proportion to my shoulders, and also because I can still wear my junior high standard attire when I go to work.

But, things do have a way of getting spilt on and threadbared, and it seems that when you go shop to find the first thing that fits and then leave, it often doesn’t fit very well later, and you subsequently don’t much enjoy wearing it, and put it off putting it on until you have a closet hanging only with all the itchy, baggy pants you hate. But they’re all that’s left and the stuff on the floor is too dirty to get by with.


Continue reading “Because we like the appearance but want to stay comfortable”

And the King James Bible turns 400 this year

The other day, someone posted a comment on the online version of my column regarding a passing sort of mention to Pentecost.

“I was really digging this until the Biblical reference. Fantastic way to isolate everyone but your Christian readers.”

Continue reading “And the King James Bible turns 400 this year”

Teens say it’s OK to wait

When she goes to school or turns on the television, 16-year-old Permian student Sandra Chavez is often exposed to a culture that celebrates premarital sex.

“From all of the pressure, it’s really hard to save yourself for marriage,” she said.

But Thursday night at CrossRoads Fellowship, she and about 800 other students were able to hear that it’s OK to wait.

Continue reading “Teens say it’s OK to wait”

My dad is a terrible pastor, but he preaches peepholes

As many people know, my dad is a man of the cloth. That cloth is usually shorts and a sweatband, but then he is the Running Preacher, after all, so this isn’t much a surprise.

As pastors go, he’s really not a very good one. Terrible, even. Most people don’t know that about him. He’s never made much money at it, never been interested in being the boss when it comes to church affairs and never had any sort of political ambition at all, including within the Southern Baptist Convention. (I wish there were more terrible pastors.)

Continue reading “My dad is a terrible pastor, but he preaches peepholes”

It’s tough being a middle-class white Christian male

Now some people will legitimately make that argument, although I should make it clear I’m not one of them, at least not without a major caveat.

For all of the successes of civil rights and affirmative action and such, America remains largely controlled by white men, and if middle class doesn’t wield the power, it controls access to that power, and collectively, that’s quite a “might”.

In other words, it’s demographically beneficial to be black, Latino, female, etc., because these things give good statistical appearance, but the language of discourse, the cultural qualities considered, the very definition of “normal” is still firmly white, especially Anglo, masculine, heterosexual, and (Protestant) Christian, although not so much as before, and certainly not so overt.

I might want to check a different box on a college application, but only as a veneer. Ultimately, I wouldn’t want to be any different than I am now because although I’m not The Man, I meet him often and can speak his language. Not just English but what words and how they’re spoken.

So that puts the complaint in context. To be white, especially a white man, in America is to be normal, and it’s terrible to be normal. Keep in mind it doesn’t outweigh benefits, whatever some misguidedly believe, and keep in mind that there’s a difference between outward fact and self-identity, but it is a real and valid complaint.

Jesus blessed are’d the poor and weak 2,000 years ago, but it was the 1960s that really flipped society on its head. We’ve become a society that celebrates diversity, the eccentric, and victimhood. Well, no, that’s not quite right. Everyone wants to be a victim in identity without actually suffering for it, or at least only suffering to an extent that can be quit at whim.

The Irish immigrant and their children wanted desperately to be considered white. The part-Cherokee wanted desperately to pass as white, to vote if nothing else. But with the ’60s, something akin to Christian martyrdom reappeared and victimhood became virtue. The 1/32 Cherokee, 31/32 European was Native American, not white. The person with any Italian ancestors was Italian, not white.

To be white isn’t to be without culture, but it’s considered to be. To speak Midwestern English isn’t without accent, but professionally and commercially, it’s considered without accent. It’s normal, bland, and boring. It is without movement because all things move relative to it. It can’t diverge because it’s the path all trails diverge from. Because of power, sure. Because those with power define it so, but arbitrary definitions are no less real.

Being white in America is to actively seek to be different, eccentric, wherever possible identified as a victim.

The American underdog is a long-held tradition, so no one wants to be considered rich, regardless of income. Ethnicity will be played in a sort of weird continuation of the one-drop rule. Some will throw themselves into causes of the oppressed in the hopes of being identified with them. But mainly, white salvation is only found in subculture.

Now, I don’t want to pick on pagans because they’re not actually offensive or harmful and do get mistreated, especially in the Bible belt. But I can’t take them seriously as a religious minority. I can’t be convinced it’s anything more than playing at religion and minority, fun with chats, Internet-purchased incense and daggers, similarly socially awkward adolescents. Certainly, many Christians, many of any religion, are in it artificially and only for appearances, but stick a gun to the head of many and they would say, “Pull the trigger, for to die is gain.” And they’re sure. Never have I met a gun-to-the-head pagan. They want only to feel a victim for something.

Whether being gay is more nature or nurture, I have no idea. If we can accept that some people are born with both sets of physical genitalia, why not homosexual attraction? But if the argument is, “Why would anyone choose to be gay and a victim of prejudice?” this is plainly wrong. Does anyone honestly believe Lindsay Lohan is a lesbian, including Lindsay Lohan? Yet she claims to be and is even personally offended by homophobia. That’s without even getting into actually weird sexual fetishes ranging from BDSM, scat, and genital mutilation, to the just plain odd ones like vore and inflatophilia. Some, like furries, even try to equate their level of discrimination to that of gays and ethnic minorities historically.

Tattoos, piercings, grunge, punk, hippies, Beats, basically every movement or fad since the ’50s and ’60s, there’s a conscious desire by many, if not all, to be set apart, to be noticed for being different. Notice how even Christian groups complain constantly that they’re a minority group being oppressed. To have lots of people agree with you is better than having almost everyone agree with you.

Minorities obviously have their share of identity problems, too. Our president spoke in his first book about the struggle against stereotypes, normalized black American culture, and normalized white American culture that only went away when he visited Kenya for the first time, where his name wasn’t odd or mispronounced, where knowing a name connected one to family history and belonging. “Here the world was black, and so you were just you; you could discover all of those things that were unique to your life without living a lie or betrayal.”

Very true. But freedom isn’t always liberating. Where there’s no group, only milieu, your individualism will still be sought in groups when your identity is in question. Now white flight isn’t to the suburbs but into anything abnormal, for its own sake.

Knowing this, when asked my ethnicity, I say I’m an American. When asked my lineage, I say Euro mutt, or if pushed further, English. I say I’m of the tiny island nation that conquered a fourth the world, made the empire on which the sun never set. I take pride, openly, in my bland, Man, mediocrity. And I worry I do these things not to be true and honest to myself, but because they’re abnormal.

Christians remember: WWJVF – Who would Jesus vote for?

If anything I say here offends you, I wasn’t trying to. There are two things you don’t talk about over dinner, but if that extended to newspaper columns, I wouldn’t have much to write. Religion and politics offend easily, and taken together the problem is even worse. Actually, this is my point, that under no circumstances should we put either at risk by mixing them.

Read no more than that, and you’ve read enough.

In 2004 I saw bumper stickers around town that read, “Christians remember November.” And this agitated me to no end.

Continue reading “Christians remember: WWJVF – Who would Jesus vote for?”


We say we value honesty, in ourselves and other people, but hard as it may be, it’s much easier to tell the truth than to hear it. “We lie loudest when we lie to ourselves,” but intellectual dishonesty is as much a problem of perception as deception.

Humans are rational beings, or so I’m told. Occasionally, we gather evidence to come to an unbiased conclusion, check the facts to come to a reasoned answer. More often our reasoned conclusion is the result of irrational prejudices, or at least subjective opinions framing and coloring what information we receive and how we sort it.

In the 19th century, Quakers and Virginians were reading the same Bible so far as I know. Yet somehow they managed to come to completely opposite conclusions about the place of slavery in Christianity. God had created blacks as mentally inferior therefore their natural place was under the control of white masters. A few decades later, the curse of Ham had been replaced by the science of Darwin, now proving objectively that the Negro was naturally biologically inferior. The reasoning changed, but the conclusion remained unchanged.

Today people look at test scores and poverty rates and alternately prove that African-Americans are biologically/culturally inferior to whites or victims of a structurally racist society. “Just look at the evidence!” both sides say. “It’s plain to see.”

That’s a poor example, at least today. That’s not an issue with a 50-50 split anymore, but like writers of The Bell Curve or James Watson, very intelligent people can gather a great deal of evidence and see in it something they already want to.

A better example, or fairer one, is the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights, commonly called “the right to bear arms.” On this subject, you will find Clyde Jr. of Arkansas and Antonin Scalia holding roughly the same views. They support their views with entirely different levels of complexity, but in the end, they support the same thing. Ruth Ginsberg is no less qualified a legal scholar than Scalia, has probably read all the same books, histories, and decisions as he has, but her conclusion is more in line with a pot-smoking hippie.

It bothers me very much to read editorials, most of them written by intelligent people, claiming that the Second Amendment clearly says this or that when the only thing clear about it is that when you read it for yourself, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” comes after a very clear qualifier: “A well-regulated militia being necessary.”

That muddles things. Historical context muddles things. Just to what extent “arms” was supposed to encompass then and now muddles things.

I’m phrasing things in this way because I’m actually sympathetic to the gun rights cause, and that makes me more sensitive to and critical of how they go about things.

I would support a city’s right to restrict gun rights based on my personal libertarian principles of local control and heterogeneous laws. The free market of ideas, competing sociological laboratories, etc., etc. Of course the Supreme Court ruling came on the District of Columbia, so setting that aside, whether gun ownership is a right is not an answer that can be read into the Constitution, and certainly not by the chicken-bone soothsayers running around today.

The only way to answer the question honestly is to surrender all claims of superseding authority and make the most convincing argument you can at a fair level of discourse.

That is, start with the question of whether gun ownership is a natural right. There’s no document, political, religious, or otherwise to answer this question, just your own reason and beliefs, and it’s either a yes or a no. For me, it’s pretty obviously “no” because guns have only existed for the past 500 years or so, and one would think intrinsic rights would be as old as our species. But, gun ownership may be a derivative right of something else, that is the right to self-protection and defense. Whereas in the days of Og bonking Unk on the head with a club entitled Unk to a club or rock of his own, so too a world of guns entitles us to guns for this purpose. This seems sensible enough to me.

The question, as a libertarian, is always where your rights stop and another’s begin. Where is the border between your right to protect yourself and another’s right not to be threatened? That’s an important question, and consulting the Constitution does nothing. A nuclear weapon can’t be acceptable to remain in private ownership just because the founders hadn’t the foresight to prohibit them (and I’ve heard some arch-libertarians sincerely make that argument).

I heard Scalia use as an example that when he was in high school, a fellow classmate complained about reading Shakespeare. The teacher said, “Sir, when you read Shakespeare, he isn’t on trial; you are.” In the same way, the traditions and laws aren’t on trial by contemporary measures; we are.

Well, if we are on trial, the judges are absent. The Founders with a capital “F” aren’t here, and they never really were. Jefferson’s vision of the nation is not more valid than Hamilton’s or Adams’ or Washington’s. When we try to use them to parrot our own opinions and substitute persuasive argument, we may be doing our best to tell the truth, but ultimately we’re lying.

The best way to be an honest person may just be to admit when you’re telling a falsehood. The best way to be intellectually honest, then, may be to admit your biases and work around them as best as you are able, lying as you go, but not compounding the lie with claims of impartiality.

We’re only impartial to things we care nothing for, and rarely does anyone comment at any length about things they care nothing for.