Beware the Religious

The woman named Asia had been held in solitary confinement for eight years. Finally, her case reached the highest court in the land. There, after reviewing the case, the judge ruled that she should be released because the charges against her could not be proven.

An immediate cry went up as mobs called for her execution. Angry demonstrators blocked major roads as the woman went into hiding. It’s expected she will have to seek asylum in a foreign country.

Her crime? She was “accused of blasphemy after she quarreled with two fellow female farmworkers who refused to drink from a container used by a Christian.”[1]

The two Muslim women who pressed charges against 55-year-old Asia Bibi, a Catholic, denied they quarreled with her, saying her outbursts were unprovoked despite the testimony of several other witnesses who recalled the dispute.

Any outrage we as Americans might feel about this situation is quickly tempered when we learn the episode took place in Pakistan. We proudly believe we’re not a nation where religious fanatics control the government, where any hint of blasphemy against the dominant religion is a capital offense. Unlike Muslim Pakistanis, we wouldn’t kill a governor because he defended the woman or murder a government official after he called for justice in the case.

But hold onto your sense of superiority. If the prevailing powers in our political sphere have anything to do with it, we will soon have a nation that no longer protects and accepts all religious belief systems. Or, especially, tolerates those who declare no religion. The current president, elected largely by agitated mobs of religious extremists, accepts and enables those who want to make the U.S. a “Christian” nation. His current position of power as the nation’s top elected official came about through the efforts of those who fully intend to enforce their religious beliefs on the rest of us.

They’ve started with the nation’s highest court, where through Kentucky’s Republican senator Mitch McConnell’s illegal refusal to hold hearings on a sitting president’s nominee for the court and with the placement of Brett Kavanaugh on the bench, a justice whose temperament, according to former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, lacks the proper “temperament” to serve, the court comes to a conservative majority expected to amend or overturn Roe v Wade.

The issue of abortion has been the rallying cry of conservatives since the 1980s when Republicans figured out this one issue could be a highly useful political tool. Nothing else mattered as much as saving the fetus—not the murder of thousands in secret campaigns ordered by Reagan to foment revolution in Central and South America (Iran-Contra), not the encroaching monopolies of financial institutions  (savings and loan crisis), not Reagan’s crushing of labor unions.

…when he threatened to fire nearly 13,000 air traffic controllers unless they called off an illegal strike, Ronald Reagan not only transformed his presidency, but also shaped the world of the modern workplace. …Reagan’s confrontation with the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, or Patco, undermined the bargaining power of American workers and their labor unions. It also polarized our politics in ways that prevent us from addressing the root of our economic troubles: the continuing stagnation of incomes despite rising corporate profits and worker productivity.[2]

In hindsight, it’s not hard to see that Reagan’s genial manner served as an effective smoke screen to hide the brutal gutting of so many American ideals and freedoms. In an increasing number of places around the country, we no longer have the right to join with our fellow workers to demand safer working conditions or better pay.

We’ve learned we can no longer trust the federal government to conduct our foreign affairs in an open and just manner, and today face thousands of refugees fleeing their Central American homelands as a direct result of Reagan’s policies.

We’ve learned that our government is largely owned and operated by financial institutions that operate by an elite set of rules which protects their rapacious maneuverings, not the same codes of fairness that we must individually embrace in our daily affairs.

Reagan’s henchman in Congress, Newt Gingrich, operated by his own code in private, pursuing an adulterous affair while his wife lay in a hospital bed fighting cancer.

Gingrich went to Battley’s room with a yellow legal pad on which he had written a list of items related to the handling of the divorce. …Gingrich’s former press secretary reported that: “He wanted her to sign [the list]. She was still recovering from surgery, still sort of out of it, and he comes in with a yellow sheet of paper, handwritten, and wants her to sign it.”[3]

This set the model in which thirty years later our current president could brag about his ability to “grab women by the pussy” and get away with it, be accused by at least seventeen women of sexual assault, and conduct multiple adulterous affairs and still be the champion of religious extremists in a blatant tit-for-tat where they put him in power because he will give them what they want.

We need to pay attention to what they want.

It’s important to listen to voices such as the man whose recent Arkansas Democrat-Gazette letter to the editor stated that God’s law overrules any laws crafted by men. He’s not the only one.

What happens when the extremists succeed in terminating a woman’s right to control what happens inside her own body? What religious edict will become the hue and cry of the extremists then? What will be the tool of hypnotic control exerted by Republicans to continue driving their “base” to the polls?

Will the new cudgel become our public schools, increasingly gutted of adequate funding so that religious schools can enjoy the benefit of our taxes? Will parental rights to educate their children as they see fit become the next altar upon which our nation’s laws and the advance of science are sacrificed in the name of God?

Will rabid rightwing terrorists continue to run rampant in our streets, killing those they perceive as enemies of their chosen leader and/or their belief system?

“Thousands of supporters of the [popular religious leader] took to the streets in protest, demanding Bibi’s public execution. Hundreds blocked the road linking the city with the capital, and protests were held in other cities…Three judges upheld the blasphemy law, saying it was consistent with verses from Islam’s holy book…”[4]

Will extremists in our nation succeed in their increasing effort to limit who votes?

The current president certainly thinks so. Yesterday he crowed to a reporter for the Christian Broadcasting Network about how much he’s done for the religious right and, in return, how much they will continue to support him and the Republican Party.

Trump suggested this support stems from how his administration has “nullified” the Johnson Amendment, a provision in the U.S. tax code that forbids faith groups from endorsing or opposing political candidates…

He also referred to his expansion of the Mexico City policy, which withholds U.S. aid from foreign nongovernmental health organizations that offer women advice about abortion. In practice, the new policy has placed tighter restrictions on a wide swath of health organizations and applies to about 15 times the amount of foreign aid previously affected.[5]

Or consider the words of Trump’s doppleganger, Steve Bannon, who was quoted by journalist Joshua Green in his recent book Devil’s Bargain that:

“The anti-patriarchy movement is going to undo ten thousand years of recorded history,” Green quoted Bannon as saying. “You watch. The time has come. Women are gonna take charge of society. And they couldn’t juxtapose a better villain than Trump. He is the patriarch.”

Bannon is far from the first to acknowledge the rise of women to positions of power and authority over the last one hundred years. In 2013, for example, Forbes reviewed Hanna Rosin’s “The End Of Men” which postulates “That the success of feminism, the decline of the patriarchy, has more to do with economic changes than anything else.”

If there is a hero in Rosin’s story, it is not women or men or progressive politics: it is the new service economy, which doesn’t care about physical strength but instead apparently favors “social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus” — things that “are, at a minimum, not predominantly the province of men” and “seem to come easily to women.” And so, “for the first time in history, the global economy is becoming a place where women are finding more success than men.”

I’ve blogged before about the struggle of men to make a place for themselves in a time when a greater skill set is required than manhandling mules, plowing, hunting, and crafting shelter. The angry white men comprising the bulk of rightwing politics and extremism haven’t been able to successfully adapt. Perhaps, for many of them, recognizing the true basis of their rage is beyond their reach. Instead, projecting their fear and anger onto the Other—minorities, immigrants, non-Christians—successfully disguises their instinctual terror that Women will gain the upper hand.

Of course there are female rightwing extremists. And there are plenty of evolved men who embrace women’s rights as akin to their own. But, as stated in a quote attributed to Margaret Mead, we should “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world.”

Many exhausted progressive activists have embraced the comment to bolster their efforts in causes ranging from reproductive rights to environment. But the quote works both ways. It applies to rightwing extremists, too, those who won’t rest until we are as crippled by religion as Pakistan.

~~~

[1] Pakistani court acquits Christian woman…” Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Nov 1, 2018. 6A

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/03/opinion/reagan-vs-patco-the-strike-that-busted-unions.html

[3] https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/aspects-of-gingrich-divorce-story-distorted/2011/11/17/gIQA8iY4YN_story.html?utm_term=.ee17cf62bc0f

[4] “Pakistani court” article

[5] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/trump-claims-no-one-has-done-more-for-religion_us_5bdb1316e4b019a7ab5aeb8d?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000063&utm_campaign=hp_fb_pages&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=main_fb&fbclid=IwAR2St6FrAd2j5cr14i4MBG6ToeGflsLGSd7eAzAAMEUEn8aTXbXPYZGi2tY

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Kill the Messenger — Predictable Attacks on Christine Blasey Ford

Appearing on multiple extremist websites, this image purportedly from Christine Blasey Ford’s high school yearbook is meant to convince viewers this is her. It is not.

A fervent effort is now underway to discredit Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in her testimony about her sexual assault by SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The people involved in this smear campaign are no more interested in the background of Ford or Kavanaugh than in the price of wallpaper. Their interest is in protecting their revered lord Donald Trump and their collective agenda of shifting the nation’s highest courts to an extremist majority.

If they weren’t so pathetic, these efforts would be laughable. Consider, for example, this recent Facebook post:

Go to Google and type in ‘Dr. Ford’s high school yearbook’. The high school erased it offline Sept 17 but someone has copied and pasted the pages. It is printed in the yearbook, in her own words about how she was walking drunk down the middle of a busy highway and passed out, and the drinking games they’d play (naming them) of which she said she usually passed out and couldn’t remember things. It said she was a priviledged white girl that was racist and a sexual preditor of younger boys. She was permiscuous…

Several points bear mentioning about this particular post. Nothing is cited as “her own words.” No confirming citations are included. No matter what Dr. Ford’s sexual activity might have been, that does not mitigate Kavanaugh’s assault. She did not choose to have sex with Kavanaugh. Therefore what he did was an assault.

Secondly, the person posting this comment evidently believes anything she sees online. A blog named “USA REALLY” posted photos and quotes supposedly taken from Ford’s yearbooks. The blog post dated September 21, 2018, begins as follows:

Those accusing Kavanaugh went through his dirty laundry in order to accuse him of heavy drinking and call him “a hard-drinking party animal in high school.” “A little Princess Diana” and a lover of a “good science party” – this is how they called her, Kavanaugh’s accuser, unnecessarily pointing out she regularly goes surfing as if it adds weight to her last minute accusation. Not only did the senators appear to be skeptical about Blasey’s allegations, so did some bloggers who were resourceful enough to take a guess that those who form the group of the current resistance to Kavanaugh’s moving up the ladder will never let any ‘inappropriate’ facts from Ford’s biography come out in the media. Now, having copied some of her high school yearbook pages, we are given much food for thought.

There are no images or mention of Ford in this material.

The same person also alleged that Dr. Ford’s second entry door wasn’t added because she was afraid, but rather for rental property. In fact, she and her husband remodeled a garage into a master bedroom and added an entry door to the space under the same circumstances Dr. Ford described in her testimony. Later, the couple decided to rent out this room to Google interns, as she stated in the hearing.

Another website, The Washington Standard, repeats the slander on Ford’s high school years.

In a final republishing of a series of articles on Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s High School Yearbooks, which were scrubbed from the internet via Google’s blogspot Cult of the 1st Amendment, the unknown author demonstrated the racist nature of yearbook, possibly something that the school sought to avoid just as much as they did the binge drinking and promiscuity that was laden throughout the yearbook, as well as a motor vehicle accident that could have turned deadly.

The blog focuses on allegations of racism that are so ridiculous it’s hard to read. Pop-ups on this site include a photo of a nice white man with the caption: CO-AUTHOR OF PRESIDENT TRUMP’S TAX PLAN: TRUMP WILL BE RE-ELECTED WITH 40 STATES.

Yet another site alleging misbehavior by Dr. Ford is Freedom Outpost, a blog stating that, “We are a scrappy group of God’s people networked together to see the Kingdom break open in this region and around the world.  Those who are a part of this come from many different life experiences and church backgrounds. They are leaders and individuals hungry to learn how they can move in an awareness and expansion of the Kingdom of God.”

This is very important that the truth of these articles remain in the public square due to the libelous and slanderous accusations that have been leveled at Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings.

Among Freedom Outposts’ proud accomplishments in its work on God’s behalf is a post by Andrew G. Hodges, M. D.

I am a psychiatrist and forensic profiler. Utilizing my training in the unconscious mind, I read between the lines of people’s statements, speeches and written messages.

Among his other revelations, Dr. Hodges claims he mentally obtained evidence that Michelle Obama secretly confessed that her husband was an illegal president.

Consider the Shad Olsen Show website which offered “proof” of Dr. Ford’s sordid past.

As Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s rape accuser today finally reaches terms for an invited offer for Senate testimony Thursday, (after initially refusing a Monday testimony deadline, saying through her attorney that a Monday timeframe set by Republicans was quote, “arbitrary,”) the inevitable levy [apparently the author meant ‘levee’] break of background information allegedly reveals Christine Blasey-Ford as a prolific high school party girl who is alleged to have bragged to a friend of having 54 sexual partners prior to college.  If true, the emergence of five high school yearbooks from exclusive college preparatory school, Holton Arms (Bethesda, Maryland) destroys Blasey-Ford’s self portrayal as an innocent coed “church mouse” taken advantage of by an aggressive sexual predator.

But I repeat myself.

Another theme of far-right lunatic responses to the Kavanaugh hearing is that Dr. Ford isn’t really a doctor, that she was an employee of the corporation that produces abortion drugs, and that she holds stock in companies that produce abortion drugs—which only goes to show the real agenda of these posts, the belief that Kavanaugh will be key to overturning Roe v Wade.

I read that she has a PhD and can teach, but she did not take the test required in CA and cannot call herself a psychologist. Like going to law school and saying you’re a lawyer without taking the bar. If this is true she lied to the Senate in her first sentence…

“If this is true…” Yet the person commenting made no effort to learn whether or not this is true. The commenter seems incapable of understanding how a person can be a psychology researcher and not a psychologist.

Accusations like this come from sources such as “Dangerous,” a website owned and operated by Milo Inc., “a 360-degree media company conceived of and founded by Milo Yiannopoulos, a far-right agitator. His profile on Wikipedia refers to his work for Breitbart news and states:

Much of the work at Breitbart which brought Yiannopoulos to national attention was inspired by the ideas of neo-Nazis and white nationalists. In October 2017, leaked emails revealed that Yiannopoulos had repeatedly solicited neo-Nazi and white supremacist figures on the alt-right for feedback and story ideas in his work for the website Breitbart.

Wikipedia’s biographical profile of Dr. Ford clarifies her professional credentials and activities.

[Dr. Ford is] a professor of psychology at Palo Alto University and a research psychologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Widely published in her field, she specializes in designing statistical models for research projects. During her academic career, Ford has worked as a professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine Collaborative Clinical Psychology Program.

She earned an undergraduate degree in experimental psychology in 1988 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She received a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Pepperdine University in 1991. In 1996, she received a PhD in educational psychology from the University of Southern California. Her 1995 dissertation was entitled Measuring Young Children’s Coping Responses to Interpersonal Conflict. In 2009, she earned a master’s degree in epidemiology, with a focus on the subject of biostatistics, from Stanford University School of Medicine.

[In her work through]… the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology (PGSP), Ford teaches subjects including psychometrics, study methodologies, and statistics. She has also performed consulting work for multiple pharmaceutical companies. Ford worked as the director of biostatistics at Corcept Therapeutics, and collaborated with FDA statisticians. Ford is widely published within her field.

Ford “specializes in designing statistical models for research projects in order to make sure they come to accurate conclusions,” as summarized by Helena Chmura Kraemer, a Stanford professor emeritus in biostatistics who co-authored a book and several articles with Ford. Ford has written or co-written several books about psychological topics, including depression. Her other research topics published in academic journal articles have included child abuse and the September 11 attacks. In 2015, she co-authored a book entitled How Many Subjects? Statistical Power Analysis in Research…

It is the link to Corcept Therapeutics that opens Dr. Ford to accusations of having a vested interest in Kavanaugh’s potential seat on the SCOTUS. As the blog site headline at Gateway Pundit announces, “Christine Blasey Ford Published Eight studies about “Abortion Pill” and Works for Company that Produces It,”  the story goes on to post information about the chemistry of mifepristone (the so-called abortion pill) and research that shows its efficacy in treating Cushing’s Syndrome, retrograde amnesia resulting from electroshock therapy, psychotic depression, and weight gain resulting from anti-psychotic medications.

So yes, Dr. Ford worked for Corcept Therapeutics and performed research on mifepristone. But none of it had to do with abortion.

Which just goes to show that a fool is born every minute, easy victims of extremists with a not-so-hidden agenda. Which is why Donald Trump is currently president.

NOW HEAR THIS!

 

With apologies to The Men’s Shouting Chorus, http://www.acappellanews.com/archive/003086.html

Once upon a time, people reserved loud outbursts for very special occasions.

HELP!

FIRE!

CHARGE!

In each case, the raised voice with its guttural message alerted anyone within earshot that an emergency required their immediate attention. Or in the case of warfare, now was the time to kill or be killed.

Polite company abhors a loud voice, such breech of manners considered the province only of drunkards, boors, or madmen. Like the boy crying wolf, making a loud noise with our voice serves us when normal communication fails, calls attention, and provokes a fight or flight response in those who hear it.

We respond to shouting both physically and emotionally as adrenalin dumps into our system. Our hands may form fists, our jaw clenches, our heart rate accelerates. Psychological studies have shown the negative impact of shouting:

Yelling activates structures in the limbic system that regulate “fight or flight” reactions. Repeated activation to these areas tells the brain that their environment is not safe, thus the interconnecting neurons in these areas must remain intact. …At work, overreacting creates a perceived unsafe environment and can also put others into constant fight or flight mode.[1]

Countless studies and publications warn against shouting at children, spouses, or employees. But why? Here’s an explanation.

The threat response is both mentally taxing and deadly to the productivity of a person — or of an organization. Because this response uses up oxygen and glucose from the blood, they are diverted from other parts of the brain, including the working memory function, which processes new information and ideas. This impairs analytic thinking, creative insight, and problem solving; in other words, just when people most need their sophisticated mental capabilities, the brain’s internal resources are taken away from them.[2]

Most of us realize that shouting is bad form. We also recognize that we don’t like to be the target of shouts. Then why do some of us tolerate shouting on a daily basis?

In the mid-1980s, a certain conservative radio announcer discovered that shouting on air provoked a rewarding response – people listened. Rush Limbaugh had been fired from previous radio jobs but finally found his niche after Congress repealed the Fairness Doctrine.

In 1984, Limbaugh returned to radio as a talk show host at KFBK in Sacramento… The repeal of the Fairness Doctrine—which had required that stations provide free air time for responses to any controversial opinions that were broadcast—by the FCC in 1987 meant stations could broadcast editorial commentary without having to present opposing views. … Rush Limbaugh was the first man to proclaim himself liberated from…liberal media domination.”[3]

It’s no surprise that the media had become, in some views, rife with so-called liberal viewpoints. Journalists are exposed to higher education before qualifying for a media job. Not only do journalists study literature, history, and political science which paint the broad picture of human suffering, but also upon being hired to a media job, journalists are immediately thrust onto the front lines of all the world’s social ills—crime, disease, prejudice, and injustice among them. Through these experiences, many journalists embrace a point of view that can be described as ‘liberal’ – by definition, “tolerant of different views and standards of behavior in others” and “concerned with general cultural matters and broadening of the mind.”

Professional journalists and the media outlets where they work must adhere to professional standards.

Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility.[4]

Not so with Rush Limbaugh, a college dropout. His admitted objective in radio is to sway people to a conservative point of view. People not only listened to his bombastic style but became agitated as if whatever was said in this shouting voice carried greater meaning, more importance, and undoubtedly revealed a threat heretofore unnoticed. His attention-grabbing delivery gained purchase among a vulnerable demographic.

The lesson quickly spread to other media, most notably to FOX News who came on air in 1996 with commentators who never miss an opportunity to shout. Few of these ‘announcers’ are professional journalists. As noted in a 2017 report in the Washington Post,

With the departure of credible centrist and conservative voices and professional journalists (e.g. Megyn Kelly, Greta Van Susteren, George Will, Major Garrett), the alternative-reality programming seen in the Fox evening and afternoon lineup and on “Fox & Friends” now overwhelms the rest of the operation.[5]

Neither Sean Hannity nor Glenn Beck, both popular FOX News commentators, completed college and are not journalists. Yet their audiences believe these men are delivering unbiased news.

The success of both outlets in hooking rapt viewers didn’t go without notice among other media.  Some CNN reporters stepped up to the plate and began shouting as well, in particular Wolf Blitzer who doesn’t seem capable of speaking normally. Thus the current political and social crisis was born.

The Rush Limbaughs of the world use shouting not to intimidate listeners as might a parent, spouse, or employer, but to signal alarm. LISTEN TO ME! I’VE GOT NEWS! Whatever the content of such commentary, it’s not simply information that we can take or leave or interpret in comparison to equal but opposing information. This is life or death information. Dangerous. The context screams EMERGENCY!

Not only are listeners held captive by the threat of such emergencies, they suffer physical and emotional damage that makes them vulnerable to manipulation.

Researchers have long known about the infectious nature of stress… Studies have shown that there is “crossover” stress from one spouse to the other, between coworkers, and “spill over” from the work domain to home. The stress contagion effect, as it’s known, spreads anxiety like a virus. Our mirror neurons help suck us into the emotional eruptions of others. …Emotions are highly contagious, as film directors and fear-mongering propagandists know, especially negative emotions.[6]

Held captive by unconscious physical and emotional response to shouting newscasters, listeners become victims of a kind of Stockholm syndrome, “strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.”[7] An urgent need to hear what the shouters say takes over normal intellectual function. There’s an emergency and they’re telling us about it. We have to listen.

No one questions that regular shouting at a spouse is a form of domestic abuse, or that shouting repeatedly at children is a form of child abuse. So why do so many people not question the harmful impact of loud-mouthed media personalities?

What could be a more perfect explanation for the masses of people walking around seemingly without the ability to think rationally about matters of critical importance in our nation’s politics? While liberals may gravitate to quietly spoken news of the day uttered by a calm commentator on the PBS NewsHour, many conservatives seem to require regular doses of shouting. There’s probably a clear connection between being shouted at with its rush of body chemistry and the acceptance of a point of view that seems to solve the problem just described in those shouts.

What any reasoning adult should know is that shouting is a theatrical tactic used to capture the attention of listeners/viewers, a form of bullying meant to hold its beleaguered  audience. Sportscasters shout in order to build visceral excitement for whatever game they’re announcing. But why would we want the adrenaline rush of sports when we’re hearing news?

Isn’t ‘news’ at its most basic concept a source of information about important events around the world? About electing those who will steer our nation through challenging times? Do we really want to unquestionably accept a shouter’s point of view on such critical topics?

Limbaugh, FOX and other conservative shouters groom their audiences by occasionally lowering their voices, providing strokes to calm those just incited by the shouts. “Here, here,” the shouters say. “It’s not so bad. Here’s how to think about this.” And then the prescription is delivered, a calming pill of hate and prejudice, of unthinking narrow-mindedness convinced that any further information is not needed. The audience becomes like other sufferers of Stockholm syndrome, eager to defend their captors, afraid to turn away from the source of their agitation.

~~~

“Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.” – Desmond Tutu

~~~

[1] https://mindfullifetoday.com/yelling-and-the-brain/

[2] http://www.businessinsider.com/stop-yelling-at-your-employees-its-making-them-stupid-2009-9

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rush_Limbaugh

[4] https://www.mediamatters.org/research/2009/10/27/30-reasons-why-fox-news-is-not-legit/156164

[5] https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2017/05/15/fox-news-undermines-a-free-independent-press/?utm_term=.90a81b4a1232

[6] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/joe-robinson/dealing-with-stress_b_4097921.html

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_syndrome

The Duggars

Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar at the time of their marriage, ages 17 and 19 respectively.

Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar at the time of their marriage, ages 17 and 19 respectively.

One year ago, the Duggar family’s oldest son Josh had his coming out party as a perv. News broke of his serial molestation of five young girls. Four were his sisters. Despite some local politics with the newspaper, Springdale police, and Arkansas Department of Human Services, most of the story finally gained a full airing. Shortly thereafter, TLC yanked the Duggar reality TV show “19 Kids and Counting” from the airwaves.

Thank you Jesus.

Attempts by Josh’s parents to smooth things over resulted in the revelation that church elders had experienced this in other families. (Who are these people?) Soon news broke about Josh’s pornography addiction and his two accounts at the ‘cheating’ website “Ashley Madison.” [Because…one wasn’t enough?] He entered a faith-based rehab facility at Rockford, Illinois, where he spent seven months begging the porn and sex addiction demons to leave him alone.

Most knowledgeable observers will tell you these kinds of programs are worthless. Like ‘gay conversion’ therapy. If you’re gay, you’re gay. If you’re a horn-dog, no amount of manual labor or prayer will suppress that drive. What might work is real therapy where the individual learns that control issues and other emotional and psychological motivators propel some people into compulsive behavior. But that’s science based, not faith based, and about as far from the Duggar lexicon as you can get.

Josh has returned to live near his parents at Tontitown, Arkansas, where he spends his days at the family home or the place of his father’s original business, a used car lot. Reportedly, he’s trying to sell off vehicles he collected while rolling in money from his share from the TV show and later from his ‘job’ for the Family Research Council for which, we guess, his credentials centered on name recognition. The sad fact is that for him and the rest of this Duggar overpopulation of ignorance, he doesn’t know how to do anything and, as one wag puts it, “none are well enough educated to get a fast food job.”

Now that his name recognition is a liability, the truth about the Duggar clan rises to the surface. Josh doesn’t have any job training. Like the rest of his siblings, he grew up learning to disrespect education. Anything beyond high school might have been a threat to this carefully cultivated climate of willful ignorance.  Some of this home-schooled bunch never bothered to get their GED.

Most recently, Bill Gothard, the Duggar’s former minister and founding father of their home-schooling curriculum, has been sued by five women who claim he oversaw decades of systematic sexual abuse.   This is who Josh’s parents brought in to counsel him when his sisters first ratted him out. Gothard’s standard teaching on sexual matters is that a victim of sexual abuse is partly responsible for that abuse. In other words, those young girls made him feel them up.

Compare that to extremist Islam which blames the female if she’s raped. “The laws of Islam came to protect women’s honor and modesty. Islam forbids women to wear clothes that are not modest and to travel without a mahram; it forbids a woman to shake hands with a non-mahram man. Islam encourages young men and women to marry early, and many other rulings which close the door to rape. Hence it comes as no surprise when we hear or read that most of these crimes occur in permissive societies…”

Rape cases in the strictly Islamic nation of Saudi Arabia in 1988 stood at 2.19 rapes per 100,000 population. Under Sharia law, generally enforced by Islamic states, punishment imposed by the court punishes the rape victim if she first entered the rapist’s company in violation of purdah. (Purdah takes two forms: physical segregation of the sexes and the requirement that women cover their bodies so as to hide their skin and conceal their form.) In those cases, the victim can be sentenced to even harsher punishment than the assailant. So maybe there’s a bit of under-reporting going on…

Both Christian and Islamic extremist religionists adhere to the idea that the female is responsible for tempting the male, as much or more than the male is responsible for keeping it in his pants. Just like Eve was responsible for the downfall of humanity, evidently some of Josh’s ‘sin’ was the result of too much exposure to his sisters. Hence their duty to forgive their molester.

In an effort to prevent the ‘spoiling’ of young girls by uncontrolled sexual desires, extremist church fathers advocate early marriage. In Islam, if they give consent, girls who have begun their periods are fair game, pretty much identical to the beliefs of the Duggars and others in the Quiverfull movement. It goes without saying that the more girls on the market, the fewer men will have to suffer restraint.

Recently stories emerged about the Quiverfull movement’s founder Vaughn Ohlman who believes that girls should be married off as soon as they’re “physically mature enough to handle” childbirth “without damage.” Ohlman was organizing a ‘convention’ in Kansas this summer “designed to help parents find suitable arranged marriage partners for girls in their teens so that they can start producing offspring.” Word got out and the campground rescinded its welcome. No doubt they’ll gather somewhere else to practice their unique form of white slavery.

Evidently nothing of the Duggar family’s public humiliation has caused them to rethink their beliefs. They have not repudiated their close ties to the Quiverfull movement or Bill Gothard. They continue to homeschool their children. They continue to adhere to a belief system that sets up young females to be abused and controlled by their fathers, brothers, pastors, and any other male authority figure.

The fallout for the Duggars is that like Josh, the daughters who are married along with their husbands depend on patriarch Jim Bob for support. One report alleges that “Jill and her lazy unemployed husband Derrick scammed for donations for a fake missionary trip and had to give donations back.” Another states that “Jessa lives rent free in her grandmother’s home. Her husband Ben is not employed outside [but does] odd jobs like mowing lawns for her dad.”

Jim Bob has worked hard trying to regain airtime—or any time in the public eye—that might produce an income. The result has been the recent TLC “Counting On” series starring Jill and Jessa, their spouses, and their children. According to one person close to the situation, the show was “supposed to be about what is going on with the girls, yet Jim Bob and Michelle found their way on tv in the very first episode.”

Further, Josh Duggar has recruited his wife Anna to “reach out to people like Dr. Phil and Megyn Kelly so he can have his mea culpa moment. If that goes well and people are sympathetic towards him, he is sure he can convince TLC to give him and Anna a spin-off – something to do with healing their marriage within the Christian faith.”

Thankfully for the rest of us, that might not happen. Sponsor rejections came fast and furious once the “Counting On” series began. “After the first episode of Counting On aired, seven advertisers publicly distanced themselves from the program after their advertisements were run during the episode. Those companies included Pure Michigan, Verizon Wireless, Mattress Firm, Cici’s Pizza, Choice Hotels, The UPS Store and Whitewave foods…It got worse during the second week.” Additional companies retreating from the Duggar family include RCN Corporation, Credit Karma, Gazelle, Ring.com, candy and gum giant Wrigley, and Combe Inc. Chattem, Inc. saw ads aired for its ACT Kids Batman Rinse and more during the program and are now stating those commercials aired “in error.”

(Such ad placements occur when companies buy air time and allow the network to place the ads where they want them. Questions about TLC’s programming decisions have put Nancy Daniels, general manager, on the hot seat.)

A depressing timelime of the Duggar family proliferation can be found here.

The greater issue concerning anyone even dimly cognizant of these goings-on is the failure of TLC or any religious organization to stand up and disavow not only the Duggars but everything they stand for. Unbelievably, the Duggars still enjoy a cult following.

In their isolated east/west coast lives, media mavens may see the Duggars, Honey Boo-Boo, Duck Dynasts, and other cultural deviants as entertainment. They make good money playing these folks to the rest of us. What the network people don’t understand is that by the mere presence of extremists on television, they encourage and inspire others to take up the same beliefs and behaviors.

At the least, TLC and advertisers for such programs should post a large disclaimer with each episode stating this is what NOT to do.

It is irresponsible, selfish, and arrogant to produce nineteen children in a world where too many children already live in desperate conditions. It is morally wrong to add to world suffering. If someone wants to have a houseful of kids, once you’ve replicated your gene pool three or four times, ADOPTION is the only decent route.

There are already too many under- and un-educated people struggling to find ways to make ends meet. EDUCATION should be the top priority of any responsible parent.

Too many women suffer abuse, abduction, assault, rape, marrying too young and/or yielding all autonomy to a male. EQUAL RIGHTS is about females having the same rights as males to be educated, hold gainful employment, refuse sex she doesn’t want, and otherwise be in control of her own body and life. Propagating any other viewpoint is criminal.

For all their pious beliefs, reproduction as practiced by the Duggars is animal behavior. Only animals blindly try to fertilize every egg that rolls down the tube because…predators. We have intellects, undeveloped as they may be in some cases, and have subdued our natural predators.

That leaves us duty bound as humans to think about what we’re doing.

 

 

The American Way

Is it really any surprise that so much in our nation has devolved into violence? We did this to ourselves. This is our legacy.

We set foot on American shores and through violence eradicated the bulk of the indigenous population. We justified our killing with belief in our superiority, our ‘divine right’ to the land and its resources. Unlike the Natives, we carried a Bible and guns so we concluded God wanted us to have it. Might makes right.

Since the beginning, our westward migration progressed under the rationale that we ‘discovered’ gold and silver, ‘harvested’ virgin timber and furs, and settled the ‘wild’ lands. We wrested wealth from the soil by enslaving not only the surviving Natives but imported Africans and Asians. These ‘lesser’ creatures deserved to be subdued just as a work animal yearns for the yoke. They should thank us.

All to the glory of God, who showed us the path to our greatness.

In truth, our nation became rich not because we’re so clever or God’s chosen people but because we stumbled onto a pristine continent. The world’s civilizations had not risen here, had not built their empires, waged their wars, suffered plague and famine here. The Americas weren’t like the rest of the world’s continents, already ravaged by millennia of man’s turmoil.

We Europeans who invaded this land became rich through accidental opportunity, theft, and violence.

And when the land had been conquered, when the virgin forests had been cut and the hillsides left to erode, when the gold and silver had been mined and the waste pits left to leach impurities into the streams, when the frontier came to a screeching halt at the Pacific shore, we turned on ourselves.

With our eye on the prize, we killed anyone who got in our way. Natives, former slaves, immigrants, those too poor or too weak to stand up for themselves—they were cast to the edges to starve. Or lynched. Taught their place away from our table.

Then the mid-twentieth century arrived with its transformative movements on behalf of the poor, the Black and Native, the handicapped, the gay, and the women, all the people whose subjugation had enabled the white patriarchy to herald its God-given triumph.

The power structure reeled in shock.

Assassinations followed. And the war on drugs, a less obvious form of assassination. It wasn’t drugs that subsequently filled our prisons. It wasn’t drugs who became disenfranchised and even more marginalized. Drugs were the tool, the label selectively wielded against those who threatened the system.

For many in the underclass, the black market in drugs became the only means to reach for the American dream. The bait. The wealth of those markets and the inherent lack of regulation led to the current open warfare in our inner cities. In our war against our own people, we have set our law enforcement against our neighborhoods. We have armed them with military weapons and tactics. We have hidden behind our curtains as they firebombed apartment buildings and battered in doors.

We chose to ignore what we’d learned from alcohol prohibition, that such policies not only failed in their stated intent but also gave rise to even worse consequences. We knew that tax dollars invested in education, in mental health care, and in social support would eventually pay dividends in a healthier more vibrant society. Not prisons. Not guns.

We turned away from what we knew because we were taught fear by those with their own agendas—wealth and power at any cost. Fear higher taxes. Fear the government. Fear programs that help the poor.

Everything we should have gladly given became ‘taken.’

What if we hoard all the guns that can be made? What if our barns, our spare bedrooms, bristle with automatic weapons and crates of ammunition? Does that make us safe?

Safe from whom? From the random madman who lurks unknown in suburbia until the day he pulls the trigger? How will you know today is the day, the school is the place, that you should appear with your loaded gun in hand? None of the mass shootings of the last thirty years have been stopped by an armed citizen.

Safe from gangs roaming the dark streets of a declining city? Why bother? They’re killing each other by the hundreds.

From the government? Obviously you haven’t thought this through. Your spare room arsenal, your heavily armed survival shelter, will last about one nanosecond once the U. S. military decides you’re the target. If the Apache helicopters with Hellfire missiles don’t pound you, the fighter jets, Abrams tanks, and missiles launched from drones surely will. Get over yourself.

Now that we’ve had this friendly chat, can you calm down long enough to talk reason? Let go of the gun. Come, let us sit together.

Poor things, we have become islands of fear. We suffer existential crisis. Torn from our historical and biological roots, we are caught up in a world of machines and corporations. We don’t know our neighbors. Our communities have shrunk to a small circle of friends. We are beleaguered, lonely, and overwhelmed.

We need naps after lunch, long walks in nature, communion around campfires. We haven’t evolved fast enough to keep up with the culture. We’re not ready to travel sixty miles an hour.

We are physically ill—overweight, strung out on prescription drugs, anxious, and undernourished. What we take into our mouths becomes our energy, our blood, our skin. Yet much of our food is short on nutrition and long on adulterants. How can we think clearly or feel anything but cornered with flavored dross in our veins? We use caffeine to put one foot in front of the other.

In this melting pot of a nation, we cling to rituals that have lost their meaning. There’s no passage in our rites of teenage drunkenness, no ‘arrival’ in our coming of age. What is our totem, our spirit guide? Our ceremonies are shells of their former meaning dolled up in slick packages.

Even now, after all this, we have the opportunity to evolve. Live up to our dream. Turn away from our violent past and join together in creating solutions to all that ails us.

We don’t have to create armed camps in our midst. We don’t have to teach our young that violence is the solution. We’ve been too lazy to learn and think, too distracted to look beyond our television. Too eager to label and blame the Other for problems we’ve brought onto ourselves.

Too damn busy trying to stay afloat. Trying to have it all.

Can we save the dream of our nation? Is it too late to make love not war? Too late to treat our neighbors as ourselves? Let’s invest our energy and resources in solutions–interventions for those teetering on the edge of mental illness, for disrupted families and children. Pour our money into schools and teachers, not prisons and guards. Free health clinics in every community with counseling for anyone who walks in the door–that day, that moment. Not after someone brings in proof of income and household bills, not after a two week wait.

We embrace delusions of a past that never was. We got lucky. We got spoiled. We want too much and if we can’t have it, it’s somebody else’s fault. The immigrant’s fault that we can’t buy a new car. The poor man’s fault that our groceries cost so much. The gay man’s fault that our marriage failed.

The police are not yet a force unto themselves but they’re moving closer, fed by fear. Their job is to enforce the laws. The laws are not made by the police. They are made by our elected representatives. Our. Elected. Representatives.

Us.

The free ride is over. The trees are cut, the gold nuggets found. The frontier lies within.

Same Old

ditch copy

Creek another thirty feet down on the right.

Oh, the wringing of hands as the State of Arkansas once again tries to cough up more money for prisons. One of the poorest states in the nation, Arkansas struggles to pay for schools and roads. But those programs are optional. Prisons are not.

That is, you see, because we must punish Crime.

Thus comes the grand news that Arkansas ranks third in the nation in prison population growth. Not only are prisons stuffed, so are the county jails where duly convicted criminals await prison space. Not only are all lockups in the state overflowing, we’ve now exported hundreds of prisoners to Texas where their for-profit system takes all the money we want to send them.

Most recently, the genius that is the current state legislature has passed a law wherein persons on probation or parole can be stopped and searched not only by parole/probation officers but also by any other law enforcement officer. The arguably reasonable rationale behind this law is that a would-be burglar might be gently nudged along a path of righteousness with more authority figures looking over his shoulder.

They actually believe this will reduce the prison population. My prediction is the opposite. More noses in private business means more marijuana arrests.

The disconnect lies in the reality of present day culture. Whether our criminal codes yet reflect it, marijuana is the new beer. Over half the states have now made marijuana legal for medical use and three (so far) have made it legal for recreational use. In those states, tax revenues are booming while teen drug use and crime in general are down.

We’ll have none of that in Arkansas. No sir.

No, here we prefer to rope goats and dip snuff. Here we produce an annual crop of Bible-thumpin’ preachers in jail for molesting children. Here we have state and federal legislators fixated on regulating a woman’s uterus and other people’s relationships. (I can say these things—I’m a native.)

I live on a dirt road. Periodically the road is graced by the passage of a road grader. The road grader moves dirt around, swiping it from the edges and piling it up in the middle where it is spread along to fill up holes and trenches cut by rain. Next time it rains, the holes appear again.

At the worst spot (pictured above), a cavernous roadside ditch abruptly ends. Water has nowhere to go. So it runs across the road. The solution is amazingly simple: cut the ditch another 30 feet to the creek. Like magic, no more bone-jarring trench.

I’ve long pondered this particular problem. I’ve sent carefully composed letters and drawings to the county road superintendent. I’ve chanced upon the grader mid-task and stopped to belabor my point with the operator. He’s always amiable, working a big cud and nodding while I talk and point. “Yes, Ma’am,” he says.

Then he grades the road exactly the same as before.

That quiet shredding sound you hear is me ripping my hair.

Is getting high a crime? If you get high on alcohol, it’s not a crime. If you zoom around all smiles on your script of Valium or Xanax, not a crime. Face it. People smoke weed. Water runs downhill. 

There’s never been a study showing that laws against drugs have been effective in stopping drug use or addiction. All we have to do is look at the status of our prisons to know those laws have failed. We have a greater percentage of people using drugs now than ever before. Great work, guys. Keep filling those holes.

In 2014, Arkansas arrest data show 14,480 crimes against persons (murder, rape, assault) with the largest subset of 8,103 for simple assault. There were 20,329 crimes against property (arson, burglary, vandalism, fraud, theft) with the largest subset of 8,360 for shoplifting.

Drug arrests (in the category of ‘crimes against society’) totaled 13,626 with 6965 for marijuana possession and 797 for marijuana sales or manufacture. The next largest subset in drug crimes was 1748 arrests for methamphetamine possession and 481 for meth sales/manufacture. (The other 1218 ‘crimes against society’ include gambling, prostitution, pornography, and weapons laws violations.)

Is possession of marijuana an offense equal to assault? Who is harmed? Equal to shoplifting? Whose goods are stolen? Does it make any sense that almost as many people are arrested for drugs as are arrested for crimes against people?

In 2013, Arkansas prisons held 23,384 inmates. Another 29,946 offenders were on probation and 23,227 on parole. The corrections budget that year was $449 million. We can only guess what percentage of the prison/jail population is serving time for drug offenses because the state doesn’t collect that information.

They don’t want to know.

If drug offenders are convicted at the same rate as offenders in other categories, then we could assume that 30% of our prison population is there for drug offenses and 57% of those for marijuana.

There has always been an element of society which believes its duty is to regulate how people think. Its lineage can be traced to the Inquisition and setting witches on fire. No one argues whether crimes against persons and property should be punished. But the idea that the state should attempt to regulate our minds violates every principle of a free society. 

The standard argument in support of drug prohibition involves token concerns about people harming themselves. Worse, people high on drugs can hurt other people. Yes. But people who harm themselves with potato chips or cigarettes aren’t arrested. People trashed on booze can beat up their wives or get behind the wheel and kill a carload of innocent people. But we don’t need alcohol prohibition to prosecute impaired driving or domestic violence.

Aside from trying to arrest our way out of behavior we don’t like, the would-be guardians of our minds have promulgated a flood of anti-drug propaganda. The drug problem flavor of the decade has moved from psychedelics to marijuana to methamphetamines. Now meth is so ’90s. Today the big evil is prescription drugs. (Ironic, considering the incessant television ads hawking drugs for every conceivable human ache and mood.)

By now there’s a nearly-one hundred year tradition of criminalizing certain substances and the persons who use them. The stigma once attached to demon rum has been transferred to a growing list of psychoactive substances. We have no choice. We have to build more prisons.

Let’s keep filling those holes.

Arkansas will be among the last to let go of its attempt to control what people do in the privacy of their homes or heads. These folks are still trying to get back to the 19th century. Even though the Bible says nothing on the subject of drug use and relates multiple instances of Jesus Christ Himself using wine—hey, even making it out of water—religious extremists in control of the state refuse to allow statewide alcohol sales and would fight to the death before legalizing marijuana even for medical use.

The facts have been clear for decades. Any cost/benefit analysis would show the terrible price we pay for this futile effort. We’re stuck with the same old reaction, prisons before schools, before roads, before social services and other interventions that have the potential to actually reduce drug abuse.

How long, oh Lord, ’til the ditch is cut to the creek?

Us and Them

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We thought we were the top of the world. The most advanced. The richest. The strongest. The U. S. of A., best of the best. All those things are true in so many ways. Aside from our wealth of natural resources, the nation’s strength and riches are what we, each and collectively, have to offer.

But strengths and riches aren’t all we have to offer. We also perform acts of insane violence that kill young children or innocent churchgoers, of smug self-righteousness that allows a brother to repeatedly molest his sisters, that allows an adopted six year old girl to be ‘rehomed’ and raped by her new ‘father.’

Why do deep veins of ignorance, hate, and fear continue to burn through our national body like a stream of caustic lye?

More urgently, what are we going to do about it?

Cultural Tradition: The Scots, for example

Following centuries of armed conflict between the native Scots and the British, in 1745 the British brutally terminated the last rebellion. Traditional Scottish kilts were outlawed and inherited lands were taken from the ruling class. A century earlier, Britain had moved large numbers of Scots into northern Ireland in an effort to weaken the equally rebellious Irish. (The volatile results of that maneuver continue to simmer today.) This Scots population of northern Ireland became known as the Scotch-Irish.

Aside from the desire for self-rule, the Protestant Scots and Catholic Irish fought the Anglican British over religion.

Between 1717 and 1775, nearly a quarter million Scots and Scotch-Irish migrated to the American colonies. Earlier settlers had already built their towns, farms, and plantations along the eastern seaboard so these newcomers moved west to unsettled land. They fought Native Americans and the wilderness to carve out a life where nobody told them how to worship or what to wear.

quotescots copy (Wikipedia)

These are the people who formed the predominant original working class white populations of the southern states and parts of the Midwest. Already inured by generations of religious conflict in their native lands, the Scots clung fiercely to their religious beliefs, cultural traditions, and desire for independence from government rule. Generally not slave-holders, they nevertheless rallied to the Confederate cause, seeing it as their own because it was against government control, against someone telling them what to do.

The defeat of the South with its quarter-million deaths, injuries that came home with the veterans, and the loss of land, homes and families added to a long memory of defeat and humiliation. It is in this memory that the South will rise again, just as Scotland will once again enjoy independence from its British overlords. This is the vein of anger that holds tight to the Confederate flag, not because it is celebrated as a symbol of white over black, but because it serves as the rallying point for independent men against a conquering army. Rational analysis or details don’t matter. It’s the feeling of injustice that holds sway.

Many American Scots and Scotch-Irish have moved on, accepted the evolution of modern society and its rewards of broader understanding and tolerance. But many have not. For these folks, if you’re not with them, you’re against them.

They are but one example of ancient traditions which continue to guide attitudes and influence behavior in modern America.

Instinctive Fear: Racism

Humans innately tend to associate with others of our own kind. Researchers have given the labels of ‘in-groups’ and ‘out-groups’ in discussing this behavior. Within an ‘in-group,’ individuals are assured of mutual support in everything from caring for an injury to defending against attack. We can count on our in-group guys.

At the most primal level, an instant response rises when confronted with someone who doesn’t fit the model of our ‘in-group’. This was an important survival instinct among early humans who relied on visual cues while the stranger remained at a distance. A fight-or-flight reflex rises from the old brain upon encountering a person clearly not of our in-group and we respond accordingly.

What we hope for and strive for in an advanced multicultural, multi-racial society is an immediate secondary and reasoned response that supersedes the instantaneous first reaction to a stranger. We look again and think about whether there’s a real risk. Just because that person doesn’t fit our in-group criteria doesn’t mean he’s a threat.

A fear-based response underlies behavior like freshman Senator Tom Cotton’s advocacy for a new war against Islam. Extremist Christianity such as embraced by Cotton focuses on differences as a way to define and protect group identity. Kill the out-group! A more loving and confident mindset seeks grounds of commonality. A more realistic stance for responsible elected leaders involves negotiation and understanding to lower barriers between groups.

But the more stressed the person or occasion, the more likely the primal reflex remains in force. Cotton may suffer residual PTSD from his two combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tests have shown that people are more likely to identify an ambiguous object in a stranger’s hand as a weapon if the stranger is from an out-group. Most importantly, people who regularly operate from a position of feeling threatened are more likely to react instinctively. Everyone but me and my known friends are ‘other.’ (Click here for more.)

Within our most stressed populations, acts of violence are committed by persons of a self-identified group against those seen as outsiders. The outsider is a target for the anger, frustration, and hatred of the in-group member who wants desperately to prove himself to the rest of his group. This behavior can be found in gang warfare, where fabric color designates group identity. It can be found in acts of violence in the Middle East, where a disagreement in 632 about the rightful heir to Mohammad’s leadership resulted in Sunni and Shia still killing each other 1383 years later.

Such acts on behalf of the in-group are carried out as a moral imperative.

The Charleston shooter clearly stated his moral imperative in murdering nine innocent people. They were African-American. “They” were raping “his people, taking over his country.” He did it for his group, whites. His reality, his moral imperative.

Jesus: Not What I Meant. Not What I Meant At All

Murder on behalf of racial purity is little different from those who murder on behalf of their religion. Each Islamic sect claims to be the true follower of Allah. By definition, all others are not ‘of God.’ All others deserve to die. Similarly, many Christian denominations in the U. S. believe all but their kind will burn in the fires of hell.

Faith traditions are, by their very nature, a useful measuring stick by which people may define their most important in-group. More than any other group, religion and its rules ensure a mutual understanding of appropriate behavior, ethics, traditions, and hierarchy. Ideally, religion could serve as the bridge between disparate groups and unite us in spiritual brotherhood.

Sadly, religion has more often than not become yet another means of categorizing a person as out of ‘our’ group. Thus Ronnie Floyd, current head of the Southern Baptist Convention, second largest religious denomination in the U.S. after Catholics, has proclaimed his intention to defy the highest court in the land if it rules in favor of same-sex marriage. He stated that “God, not the Supreme Court” holds final authority over marriage, as if the licensing of marriage were not a legal function of the government.

The issue of gay marriage is but one conflict between primal instinct and the tolerance and acceptance evolving as a world culture. “Raising consciousness is a persuasive enterprise,” Michael Walzer writes in his new book The Paradox of Liberation: Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions, “but it quickly turns into a cultural war between the liberators and what we can call the traditionalists.” This conflict gives rise to fundamentalism and religious ultra-orthodoxy in unexpected places around the world, including the United States.

The more threatened an individual may feel, the more likely he will invest in behavior that he believes will strengthen his in-group. Floyd speaks for all Southern Baptists in voicing fear of a social change perceived as a threat to their religion. This unreasoned primal reaction ignores the reality of the situation: gay marriage has no effect on traditional marriage—unless, as the quip goes, one of the partners in a traditional marriage is gay.

Ideally, religion serves as a pathway not only to seeing the entire human family as the in-group but also to higher self-esteem, respect for others, and a general sense of well-being, all of which help move an individual toward a less fearful stance in life. But this is where religion often plays its most destructive role. Extremist teachings emphasize differences and negatives. Only a few will be chosen. Homosexuals are not like us. Demons can control our lives. We have no personal power. Everything derives from an angry and punishing God.

Differences in economic status are also seen as a reflection of God’s will. The Protestant work ethic involves the relationship between religion, work, and capital. In order to demonstrate our Godliness, we are expected to work hard. With sufficient effort, our labors produce wealth, a sign that we have pleased God. This is why the wealthy are seen as uniquely imbued by God’s grace. For the religious extremist, the wealthy are almost worthy of worship in their own right.

If you’re poor, it’s because you’re unworthy of God’s blessings.

This is why worshipers gravitate to big fancy churches. God likes it there.

Our natural inclination is to accept authority from those we deem more worthy than ourselves. This is why corporate interests have been able to shape American lives around materialism and consumption, a development staunchly supported by religious extremists in spite of Biblical teachings that specifically condemn wealth. (More here)

Adoration of the rich and powerful is why marginalized populations resent any effort by government to assist the poor. It defies God’s will to give  assistance, especially since the funding for such assistance derives from those who have worked hard and gained God’s favor. This holds particularly true in prejudices against African-Americans or Hispanics, who are often caught in a vicious cycle of economic disadvantage and notable markers of an out-group (different skin color, speech patterns, social traditions).

Likewise, yielding authority to self-anointed leaders of religion occurs as a form of obeisance to the leader of the in-group. Recently the Arkansas Times quoted employees of a preschool operated by Arkansas legislator Justin Harris, whose failed strict parenting of two adopted girls resulted in rehoming and the subsequent rape of a six year old: “This was way out of control,” said the worker quoted throughout this piece. “You know how you have an ‘aha moment’? I said the other day to [a co-worker], ‘Why didn’t any of us make a hotline call?’ She said, ‘I don’t know’ … I think because Justin is so religious, we sort of accepted it.”

Did the Charleston murderer understand instinctively that his act would call into question the entire concept of group trust? Should the church members now carry guns, mistrust all newcomers? There can be little doubt that his act, in his tiny mind, served a goal of his self-identified in-group which was/is to destroy the ‘other.’ In that, he now sees himself as a victorious hero.

Similarly, the murder of Christians or other non-Sunni sects by ISIS serves the purpose of their in-group. As one cleric has stated, “We’re ridding the world of polytheism and spreading monotheism across the planet.” (Cite)

The Failure of Education

Our nation’s citizenry can’t operate on a level playing field if they are not educated equally as children. Breaking through destructive cultural, economic, and religious barriers seems an obvious avenue toward eliminating or at least defusing in-group fears and prejudices. And it is.

Which is why members of extremist in-groups violently resist efforts like school integration and uniform curriculum standards.

One might assume that any parent wants his/her child to love learning the lessons of history, the ways of numbers, the use of language in communication and reasoning, the amazing details of biology. We have, as a nation, understood that a thriving economy and successful democracy depend on the fruits of education, which is why we dedicate significant tax dollars to support our public schools. It is why we have set standards for teacher education and defined specific educational goals, why we have forced integration and provided school lunches. We need every child to develop to his/her fullest potential.

For some, the nation’s success or even the child’s well-being hardly register on the radar when held up against the perceived value of in-group traditions.

The more embattled parents feel in protecting their religious beliefs, for example, the more likely they will fight efforts to extend their children’s acceptance of broader cultural norms.

The increase in homeschooling is a product of this mindset. Homeschooling gained its first significant boost after forced integration. With the cultural changes of the 1960s and the rise of the religious right in the 1980s, it continued to pick up steam. From 2003 to 2007, the percentage of students whose parents resorted to homeschooling in order to provide religious or moral instruction increased from 72 percent to 83 percent. (Other reasons given for homeschooling included concerns about the school environment such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure and dissatisfaction with the academic instruction available at other schools.)

Germany, among others, has outlawed homeschooling for this very reason. But in the United States, Supreme Court decisions have found that parents have a right to homeschool their children or send them to private schools based on the definition of ‘liberty’ in the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The only saving grace of these court decisions was the finding that the extent and content of private or home schooling must meet standards set by the government. (See more here.)

Because of the ‘liberty’ protected in the high court’s rulings, not all homeschooling is equal. Each state has its own set of rules about what is or isn’t required for homeschooling. While homeschooling can produce thoughtful, well-rounded children ready to pursue life as a functional American citizen, many such efforts fail utterly to meet that goal. The end result is a significant population of undereducated adults. Currently about 3.5% of young people, or around two million, are homeschooled. A majority of this segment of our nation’s people poses a real and present danger to the future of the American way of life.

Which is just what their parents intended.

Critical skills such as the scientific method of investigation and logical reasoning processes are often left out of extremist curriculum, partly because the parents have never understood such things and therefore have no appreciation for the benefits they offer. For these reactionary parents, already threatened by their perception that valued cultural traditions are being eroded, the goal is not to provide an excellent education by academic standards which mesh with the rest of the nation and world but rather to insulate their children from those very things and thus preserve the norms of their in-group.

There seems no easy resolution. The most recent effort has been the development of Common Core Standards, a widely vilified move to bring clarity and commonality to the nation’s education systems including homeschool curricula. The result of a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the standards were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare children for college and the workforce.

These standards focus only on language arts and mathematics, unfortunately leaving aside a more ambitious (and contentious) goal of setting standards for such important subjects as history, social studies, or the sciences. The government’s method of enforcing these bare-bones standards is to withhold federal education funds from states which do not adopt the standards. Eight states have so far refused to adopt them, but the situation remains in flux.

Inevitably, American children fall through the cracks all the time. The Charleston assassin had advanced only as far as ninth grade, a fact which underscores his likely inability to reason clearly or appreciate the broad scope of the world around him. (As noted in a previous blog post, persons with low intelligence are more likely to nurture racial prejudices and view the world from a perspective of threat.)

At their most progressive moments, federal and state governments attempt to break into the cycle of poverty, ignorance, and entrenched in-group thinking. Whether the methods actually help is another question. For example, in an effort to reach children in at-risk populations, the U. S. Department of Education hands out vouchers through its Child Care Development Fund which parents can use anywhere including religious schools.

Such programs target children with at least one of the following characteristics: Family with gross income not exceeding 200% of federal poverty level; Has a demonstrable developmental delay as identified through screening; Parents without a high school diploma or GED; Eligible for services under IDEA[1]; Low birth weight (below 5 pounds, 9 ounces); Income eligible for Title I programs; Parent is under 18 years of age at child’s birth; Limited English Proficiency; Immediate family member has a history of substance abuse/addiction; Parent has history of abuse or neglect; Or is a victim of abuse or neglect.[2]

Noble goals. But by inadvertently encouraging the expansion of religious instruction, such programs may do more harm than good. In Arkansas, this avenue of government aid for children in need has become heavily trafficked by people on a religious mission.

Rep. Justin Harris’s preschool, Growing God’s Kingdom, receives nearly a million tax dollars a year through such programs. Despite theoretical restrictions that religion cannot be part of the academic day, these schools teach religion in the hours before and after the academic day, taking advantage of the extra time children are in their care while parents remain at work. Further, the state’s only method of monitoring these schools for violations is through random inspections.

That’s effective. “Stop praying, the state is here.” Numerous current and former employees of Harris report that children who misbehave during the academic day are taken to the office where they are prayed over in order to cast out the demons causing their misbehavior.

The message inculcated in these young minds is that God is in charge and prayer is the answer.

Rational thought? Personal responsibility? It’s all up to God. Join God’s group and everything will be fine. Such early indoctrination easily leads to a continuation of the conditions that led to their qualification for such programs in the first place. Pregnant at 16? God’s will. Pray. Victim of domestic abuse? Women are to submit to their husband. Pray. Addicted to meth? I’m a sinner. Pray.

At the height of Mr. Harris’ public shaming over the rehoming and subsequent rape of his adopted six year old girl, his school’s signboard proclaimed his membership in his self-identified in-group: “God Himself will fight for you.” To date, Mr. Harris has not acknowledged that he did anything wrong.

In states with the highest populations of at-risk children, legislators in charge of determining everything from curriculum to school funding are increasingly drawn from the ranks of religious extremists. Unable or unwilling to see beyond the walls of their in-group, such legislators circle the wagons against ‘outsiders’ who attempt to set new standards or otherwise interfere with group identity. In Arkansas, the only entity legally empowered to remove Justin Harris from his elected office were his like-minded legislative colleagues. Despite evidence that he illegally used his elected position to gain adoption rights to the two girls he subsequently gave away, there was no investigation. He remains in office and his school remains in operation.

Nowhere in such arguments do we hear that professional educators should be in charge of deciding the best methods of education. (This makes about as much sense as allowing politicians to decide best accounting methods for CPAs or best construction methods for engineers.) A consensus among professional educators is that homeschooling often involves inadequate standards of academic quality and comprehensiveness, lack of socialization with peers of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, the potential for development of religious or social extremism/individualism, and potential for development of parallel societies that do not fit into standards of citizenship and community.

Specifically because parents fear of loss of in-group values, professional educators do not control the purse strings or the programs. Children continue to be victims of their parents’ fears and prejudices, prey to the ebb and flow of political opinion. We continue, as a nation, to suffer the consequences.

What are the solutions?

I don’t pretend to have presented all points relevant to this complicated state of affairs. Nor are my proposed solutions an exhaustive or foolproof list.

But given the failure rate to date, I think it’s safe to say that religion does not and cannot serve as the unifying force for humanity.

What we need is for each person to develop so fully that his/her self-esteem and intellectual skill set outweighs the primal need for narrow in-group identification.

We need to invest in strategies which reduce perceived threats and increase opportunities to break down barriers between groups.

We need broader educational standards so that children in private and home schools have to pass tests for subjects including state, national, and world history; basics of scientific method and the facts of biology, geology, and other sciences; social studies—how government works, the role of voters. Parents need to be held accountable if 17-year-old homeschooled kids can’t pass key tests.

We must stand firm against attempts to teach Creationism as an alternative to science. We must eliminate tax funding which in any way supports religious instruction at any grade level.

We must find ways, both institutionally and personally, to facilitate in-group/out-group encounter sessions and counseling alongside cultural education at all grade levels.

We must end the war on drugs. Legalize and tax all of it. Get over the idea that government can dictate what people ingest to alter their consciousness or that altered consciousness is in itself a crime. Demilitarize our police forces and deliver our communities from the tyranny of criminal gangs. Use tax dollars currently wasted on bigger prisons along with new revenues produced from legal drug sales to initiate pro-active programs in support of early childhood health and education, family intervention in cases of abuse and neglect, substance abuse treatment, and free/low cost mental/physical health care in every community.

We must require a significant period of public service from young people. Such service would broaden the scope away from a family or church or racial in-groups and instead build ownership in the in-group of our nation.

Don’t agree with the actions of our current elected leaders? Don’t support the policies of our nation? The instrument of change lies in our hands. An informed, self-confident electorate can be—should be—the strength of America.

We can feel a bit of relief in the amazing power of television and the Internet to instill greater understanding of different lifestyles, different races, and unfamiliar cultures. Social media such as Facebook allows us to engage in constructive dialogue with members of out-groups without the immediate threat of physical violence. These are opportunities we must use carefully in order not to trigger an even more visceral in-group identification among the ‘other.’

Many of these things are already being done.

Finally, there’s this:

“…The data…demonstrates that only the more secular, pro-evolution democracies have, for the first time in history, come closest to achieving practical ‘cultures of life’ that feature low rates of lethal crime, juvenile-adult mortality, sex related dysfunction, and even abortion. The least theistic secular developed democracies such as Japan, France, and Scandinavia have been most successful in these regards. The non-religious, pro-evolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator. The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted. Contradicting these conclusions requires demonstrating a positive link between theism and societal conditions in the first world with a similarly large body of data – a doubtful possibility in view of the observable trends.”[3]

[1] http://idea.ed.gov/

[2] http://www.arkansased.org/public/userfiles/rules/Current/ade_257_Arkansas_Better_Chance_October_2012.pdf

[3] “National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies,” Gregory S. Paul. Journal of Religion & Society Volume 7 (2005) http://moses.creighton.edu/jrs/2005/2005-11.pdf Accessed June 19, 2015