Right Wing Hypocrisy Part Two: The Scary Black Men Made Me Do It! The Blowfish Blog

Bob_allenSo the latest right-wing hypocritical sex scandal has gone from predictably boilerplate to ridiculous verging on surreal. You may have heard about it: Bob Allen, the Florida state representative/ McCain presidential campaign co-chair who got busted for offering a male cop $20 to blow him in a public bathroom, is now claiming that he did what he did because he was intimidated by the big scary black man.

I have a piece about it over at the Blowfish Blog: a follow-up to last week’s thoughtful spew on right-wing sexual hypocrisy, this one titled Right Wing Hypocrisy Part Two: The Scary Black Men Made Me Do It! Here’s an excerpt:

Right. Every guy I know, when he’s in a public place in a situation where he feels threatened, tries to get out of it by offering the purported threatener $20 to suck his cock. I mean, that’s just self-preservation. It’s not like he actually wanted to suck the guy’s cock. He was simply trying to defuse a potentially dangerous situation.

Really. You’ve done that, guys… right? You’re in an alley or a deserted park at night, you see a guy you think might be a mugger… you offer him $20 to give him a blowjob. It’s in all the police brochures on urban safety. It’s just plain common sense.

I said it about Ted Haggard, and I’ll say it again now:

Just how stupid does he think we are?

So here’s what I think is really going on.

To find out what I think is really going on, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Playing the Race Card: Candida Royalle’s “Caribbean Heat”

This piece was originally published by Adult FriendFinder magazine in 2005.

Caribbean_heat_cover_3Playing the Race Card:
Caribbean Heat

Produced by Candida Royalle. Directed by Manuela Sabrosa. Starring Felinia, Nicole, Susan, Paola, Yinna, Sol, Max, Spider, Bruce, Danny Boy, Red Phoenix, and Adrian. 84 minutes. Femme Productions.

First, let me ask you this: Have you seen any of Candida Royalle’s movies before?

Bridal_showerIf you haven’t, let me explain real quick. Candida Royalle was the first smut producer to make movies specifically for women, and she pretty much single-handedly invented the “couples” video. Her company, Femme Productions, makes videos aimed at what women want to see in dirty movies: compared to most mainstream pornos, they feature more foreplay, a slower and more sensual pace, less focus on genitals and insertion shots, more full-body sensuality, better production values, greater variety in body types, more plot and character development, an emphasis on sex in the context of relationships and romance, greater attention to the woman’s experience and pleasure, fewer money shots, and better-looking men. Much, much better-looking men. Candida’s work has been hugely influential on the porno industry: her success made other producers realize, not only that straight couples liked to rent dirty movies, but that both women and men were hungry for passionate, labor-of-love porn with good production values and not-completely-stupid writing and acting.

RevelationsAlthough I usually prefer my pornos to have lots of raunchy sex and not much plot, I’ve always been fond of Candida’s movies. She does a great job of conveying the unique pleasure of sex with someone you actually love and care about, something most dirty movies don’t even get close to. And even if the sex in her videos isn’t usually my favorite type to watch, her work does a beautiful job of expressing passion and enthusiasm, getting across what the characters are feeling and why they’re enjoying it… which automatically makes it hot. (That’s often true in porn, video or written or whatever — if you get a good strong sense of the characters’ excitement, it doesn’t necessarily matter whether the kink they’re enjoying is your personal fave.) I’m always happy to watch Candida’s videos, and I’m always curious to see what she’ll do next.

Candida_headSo anyway. Candida Royalle has a new-ish video out, “Caribbean Heat.” Now, this one Candida didn’t actually direct. She produced it, and supervised the direction; but unlike every other movie Femme has made, this one was directed by someone else: a new female director, Manuela Sabrosa.

Caribbean_heat_coverAnd Candida’s absence does show. I liked “Caribbean Heat” a fair amount, but I didn’t wildly adore it, and I don’t think it’s one of Femme’s stronger efforts. It does have many of the company’s usual good points: a patient pace, a relative dearth of cum shots, attention to female pleasure in general and foreplay in particular, women who don’t look like Barbie dolls, and some seriously fine-looking men. But it has some weaknesses that are unusual for a Femme production. The editing is often awkward and choppy, with oddly abrupt jumps that skip over some nice bits and generally interrupt the erotic flow. There’s an odd lack of focus and direction; there’s no clear sense of mounting excitement and passion, and while the performers’ pleasure is visible, it’s not particularly infectious. And the format (five separate, unconnected vignettes) means that one of the things I like best about Femme videos — namely, a reasonably well-written story sustained long enough to get me caring about the characters and their sex lives — is completely absent from this one.

Riding_cropMore to the point, the sex didn’t really wind me up that much — although to be fair, that’s largely a matter of taste rather than actual artistic failure. The sex in “Caribbean Heat” is sweet rather than fierce, gentle rather than intense, romantic rather than passionate. This is often the case with Candida’s movies, but it’s even more so in this one. Even the “casual sex with strangers” fantasies are more romantic than they are nasty. And even the supposedly kinky scene — the master and maid one, with the leash and the cage and the riding crop — is quite gentle overall, with the actual kinky elements getting very minimal play. The pacing adds to this quality as well: instead of insistently building a driving tension towards an intense release, the sex scenes feel more like rolling hills of sensuality, with arousal rising and falling in gentle waves. I suppose that’s not necessarily a bad thing; for porn viewers who are sick of being pounded like a jackhammer by conventional smut videos, it may be a positive blessing. It’s just not my style. (As anyone who’s been regularly reading this column knows, it’s really, really not my style.)

Bridge_handBut “Caribbean Heat” does have something good going for it: something very special, almost unique, a trump card that all by itself makes the video worth checking out.

That trump card is race.

West_sideHere’s the thing. Virtually all contemporary porn videos fall into one of two categories. The vast majority of them are white as the driven snow: their performers are 100% lily white, with not even a single person of color onscreen to upset the delicate sensibilities of the porn-watching public. And the ones that aren’t all-white tend to be racial fetish videos: nasty black women with big booties, fiery Latina tamales, mysterious and submissive Asian ladies, hugely hung black studs fucking dainty white women, that sort of thing. Adult videos starring people of color that treat their performers like regular people instead of stereotypes and that don’t descend into creepy fetishization of their race… those are rarer than hen’s teeth. There are some exceptions (the interracial Romeo-and-Juliet movie “West Side” leaps to mind), but there are damn few.

“Caribbean Heat” is one of them. With a vengeance.

Caribbean_heat_1“Caribbean Heat” was filmed on location in Central America, and features an all-Latino cast. But unlike most adult videos with a non-white cast, this movie treats its Latino characters like… well, like characters. Like people, with their own sexual feelings and desires and experiences. They’re depicted as the subjects of their own sex lives, not the exotic hot-tamale objects of white lust; the sex is seen from their perspective, not the perspective of white people who are hot for them. To add even more to the authentic “this is how we see ourselves, not how others see us” quality, the dialogue is almost entirely in Spanish. (Subtitles are added when they’re really necessary; but of course this is porn, and not particularly chatty or plot-driven porn at that, so subtitles mostly aren’t needed. If you don’t speak Spanish, you can still get the gist.)

Central_americaThe video was directed by a Latina woman, which almost certainly makes a huge difference. The box cover says that director Manuela Sabrosa “shows you what lovers in her corner of the world do,” and for once, the box cover does not lie. Sabrosa is revealing her own erotic world in this video, and she’s clearly seeing the skin and flesh of her performers, not from the outside, but from within.

Caribbean_heat_cover_2And this quality alone makes me give “Caribbean Heat” a solid thumbs-up. Racism in porn is one of the largest and most active bees in my porn-critic bonnet. And it’s not just about politics, either — it’s about pure, selfish pleasure. All-white casts don’t just seem racist to me; they seem freakishly artificial, and they add hugely to the ticky-tacky “they all look just the same” look of so many dirty movies. And the racial fetish videos just make me queasy. But “Caribbean Heat” is a delight. It’s such a sweet and rare pleasure to see a beautifully wide range of naked skin colors in a porno, without those skin colors being framed as exotic, alien, slightly bizarre fetish-objects. It’s so much fun to see non-white porn performers revel in the pleasure of their bodies, without those bodies getting slotted into someone else’s kinky pigeonholes. To some extent, all pornos display their performers as objects of other people’s lust, and I don’t usually have a huge problem with that. But when it comes to race in porn, the objectification thing gets grotesquely out of hand, to the point where it’s impossible for me to enjoy it at all. It’s a genuine treat to see a porn video that shows people of color as regular hot people who are fun to watch while they fuck.

Right Wing Hypocrisy: The Blowfish Blog

David_vitter_official_portraitI have a somewhat unusual take on the recent slew of right-wing politico sex scandals — David Vitter, Bob Allen, Mark Foley, Ted Haggard, etc. etc. etc. — over at the Blowfish Blog. The piece is called Right Wing Hypocrisy, or Why Sex Guilt Fucks Things Up For Everyone, and instead of just ranting about these folks’ hypocrisy (although I do a certain amount of that as well), I ask the question:

Why are the the specific taboo sex acts they engage in so often the exact same ones they publicly campaign against?

Here’s a teaser:

Admittedly, a big part of this pattern comes from the media focus. Hypocrisy in powerful public figures is big news, and I’m sure there’s some cherry-picking in the coverage. After all, “Married Congressman caught with hookers — and he campaigned on the sanctity of marriage!” makes great headlines. “Married Congressman caught with hookers — and he voted to renew the Farm Bill!” isn’t going to make headlines anywhere but the Surrealist Times.

But even given that, there’s a precision to the match-ups between the public condemnation and the private behavior that seems like more than coincidence and media focus.

Ted_haggardTo find out what I think is behind this “preach in public against the exact things you’re doing in private” pattern — and why I find myself having a smidgen of compassion for these assholes — check out the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Carnivals: Of Feminists #42 and Of the Liberals #44

CarnivalIt’s blog carnival time again! Carnival of the Liberals #44 is up at The Richmond Democrat, with its usual excellent collection of fine lefty pinko blogging. This is actually a selective carnival — unlike many blog carnivals, they only select the ten best blog postings from the previous fortnight — so I’m pleased and honored to have been selected again, with my piece on why civil unions aren’t equal to marriage either theoretically or practically: One In Seven: Why Civil Unions Aren’t Enough.

And Carnival of Feminists #42 is also up at Uncool (wicked cool blog name, btw), with tons of nifty feminist blogging. They also included my One In Seven: Why Civil Unions Aren’t Enough piece, so I’m excited. Enjoy the blogging!

Professionalism = Selling Your Soul: A Feminist Rant on “The Devil Wears Prada”

Devil_wears_prada“The Devil Wears Prada” has been on HBO recently: I watched it again a few days ago (I do think it’s a funny, entertaining, well-crafted movie), and I was reminded of a feminist rant I had when the movie first came out.

Devil_wears_prada_andrea_2Here’s the deal. (Spoiler alert.) The purported arc of the movie is that our heroine, Andrea (Anne Hathaway), is a young would-be journalist in New York who can’t find the kind of serious work she wants, and thus takes a job as assistant to the editor-in-chief at the biggest fashion magazine in the country. She justifies this as (a) a source of a much-needed paycheck, and (b) an entry-level position that could earn her some experience and gain her some connections in the profession.

Devil_wears_prada_andrea_1But she sells out. She sells her soul. She is seduced by the glamour of the fashion industry into abandoning her high ideals; she prioritizes her work over her personal relationships; she stabs her colleague in the back; and she even winds up defending her abusive control-freak boss, Miranda (Meryl Streep) against her many critics. Eventually she realizes the error of her ways, walks out on her job, finds a better one, and grovels for forgiveness to everyone she injured along the way.

So here’s my problem with the movie:

I couldn’t see anything she did wrong.

I was watching very carefully the second time around, and almost every “soul-selling” step that the heroine took seemed perfectly reasonable and defensible.

And more to the point, just about everything she did would have been accepted without blinking in a male protagonist.

Let’s take it a piece at a time. Here are the sins against her soul that Andrea supposedly committed.

Devil_wears_prada_andrea_51) She stayed in a job she didn’t much care about, in an industry that’s a snakepit of ego and ambition, working for a boss who treated her abysmally… just to get ahead in her career.

Well, yes. If you’re serious about a career, “take this job and shove it” isn’t always an option. Especially if you’re just starting out. Sometimes you have to put up with very bad situations temporarily, to get what you need on your resume (not to mention to keep the paychecks coming). And sometimes you start out at a company you don’t much like or care about, to gain experience you’ll need to eventually work for someone you do care about. That’s not selling your soul. That’s having long-term goals, and the stick-to-it-iveness to go through the necessary, if sometimes unpleasant, preliminary steps to get there. That’s being willing to prioritize your long-term goals over your immediate happiness and comfort. And theoretically, that’s a quality our society values.

Thedevilwearsprada_nate_1jpgIn men, anyway. This especially bugs me because her boyfriend, who’s super-critical of her choices throughout the movie, is an equally ambitious, young, struggling would-be chef… and it’s not like the world of high-end restaurants isn’t a snakepit of ego and ambition, in which people stick with crappy jobs and asshole bosses to get the experience and contacts they need. But somehow, that’s different.

And as it turns out, Andrea was right to do what she did. She did get useful experience and contacts, and at the end of the movie when she applies for the serious journalism job at the lefty newspaper, her recommendation from her old fashion-magazine boss is the tipping point that gets her the job. The job she cares about, and is good at, and that matters in the world.

But somehow, she was still selling her soul.

The_devil_wears_prada_nate_and_andr2) She prioritized her job over her friends and her lover — including, sin of sins, skipping her boyfriend’s birthday party because of a work emergency.

Let me ask you this. Ingrid currently has a job that she loves — and it currently requires her to travel out of town two and a half days a week. This is a little hard on me, and puts some stress on our relationship. I also currently have a job I love (freelance writing) that currently requires me to spend weekends and evenings writing… time that would otherwise be part of the diminishing time we can spend together. This is a little hard on Ingrid, and puts some stress on our relationship.

Is either of us doing something terribly wrong?

AisleI don’t think so. I think we’re both doing exactly the right thing — supporting each other in our respective careers, making space for each other to do what we need to do, and making a point of savoring the time we do have together. That, in my mind, is what you do when you love someone. Obviously there’s a limit — if Ingrid’s job required her to move to Antarctica, I’d put my foot down — but especially when a situation is a temporary, experience-gaining or stopgap situation, cutting your partner some slack so they can get where they’re going in a career they care about is just part of being in a relationship.

Birthday_cake_2And, as Ingrid pointed out when I first shared this rant with her, “If you had a work emergency and had to skip my birthday party, I’d be disappointed, but I wouldn’t think you’d done anything horribly wrong.” Thinking that a birthday party is the most important thing in the world… that’s not what sane adults do. (In fact, Andrea stayed at the emergency work event only as long as she needed to fulfill the requirements of her job, and when given the chance to stay longer to fulfill her own personal ambitions, she cut out and went home to be with her boyfriend.)

Devil_wears_prada_miranda_andrea_anBut women aren’t supposed to think like this. Nobody blinks an eye when men have to work late or miss special personal events for job emergencies… but women are supposed to be loving and emotional and think family and love are always, always, always more important than work. Andrea was making a difficult but reasonable decision… but somehow, she was still selling her soul.

Devil_wears_prada_andrea_63) She got sucked into the world of fashion — a world she didn’t care beans about before she took the job.

Yes. Interestingly enough, when you take a new job in a field you’re not familiar with, you often get excited about it and drawn into it. For fuck’s sake, that’s one of the best things about taking a job in a field you’re not familiar with. You learn new things. You expand your horizons. I didn’t know that much about women’s health care before my job at the Feminist Women’s Health Center; or about gay politics before my job at the gay newspaper; or hell, about the music industry before my crappy job at Ticketmaster. I grew to know and care about these things more because of these jobs. That doesn’t make me a sell-out. That makes me an open-minded person who’s eager to learn.

KingofthehillYou can argue that fashion is a vapid, trivial thing to care about. But you can also argue, as many characters in the movie do, that fashion is an art form, one that touches everyone’s life. Nobody thinks Hank Hill of “King of the Hill” is a sellout because he’s grown to care passionately about propane and propane accessories… but when Andrea grows to see that fashion isn’t as vapid and trivial as she’d originally thought, somehow it means she was selling her soul.

Devil_wears_prada_emily_14) She stabbed her friend and colleague in the back.

Now, this is an interesting one. Andrea’s most serious sin, in her mind and everyone else’s, is that, when Miranda told her that she would be going on a coveted trip to Paris instead of her fellow assistant Emily (Emily Blunt), her initial reaction was to say, “I can’t do that, the Paris trip means too much to Emily.” But when Miranda made it clear that refusing the Paris trip would mean risking not only her job, but her chance at a recommendation and her career prospects (I believe her words were, “I’ll assume you’re not serious about your career, here or anywhere else”), Andrea caves and accepts.

In other words:

Devil_wears_prada_andrea_and_mirandHer boss decides (somewhat unreasonably, but not entirely so) that Andrea is a better and more capable choice for the Paris trip than Emily. Her boss offers her the assignment. She accepts it.

And this is bad because…?

Devil_wears_prada_andrea_and_miranaThat’s what the working world is like. If you’re a boss, you don’t offer assignments based on how much it means to your employees. You offer assignments based on who you think the best person for the assignment will be. And if you’re an employee, you don’t refuse assignments because taking them would hurt someone’s feelings. It’s not like the dating world — it’s not rude or bad to take the job your friend is hot for.

It’s not like Andrea connived and schemed for the trip. It’s not like she tried to undercut Emily or make her look bad so she could get the trip. In fact, she tried to turn the trip down, and she tried to give it to Emily.

Devil_wears_prada_andrea_4pgBut in the end, she acted like a professional. She treated her job like a job, not like a social relationship. She accepted an assignment that her boss offered her, an assignment her boss decided she was better suited to than her colleague — and this, in her own eyes and in everybody else’s, makes her a selfish, backstabbing power-slut. Nobody would blink twice if a man did exactly the same thing — but for Andrea, somehow it means she was selling her soul.

Devil_wears_prada_miranda_15) She began to have understanding and sympathy for her abusive, control-freak boss.

My very, very favorite line in the movie — and one that I think sums up in a nutshell the movie’s real message — is when Andrea says to a fellow writer (I’m paraphrasing here), “If a man acted the way Miranda does, nobody would say anything at all except what a great job he does.”


That pretty much says it all.

Devil_wears_prada_miranda_4I think Andrea’s character arc when it comes to Miranda is 100% reasonable. She starts out hating and fearing her; she grows to have some respect and compassion for her; and in the end, she decides that the compromises Miranda has made (personal and ethical) aren’t compromises she would be willing to make.

But somehow, the fact that she ever had respect for Miranda’s professionalism, and compassion for the pain that her sacrifices caused her… somehow, that means she was selling her soul.


HpandphilosophyThere’s an essay I read in “Harry Potter and Philosophy,” arguing that ambition (the defining quality of the Slytherin house) is, in fact, a virtue. And I would agree. Like most virtues, taken to extremes it can become a vice… but the willingness to focus on long-term professional goals, and to work hard and make sacrifices to reach them, is definitely a virtue. And it’s a virtue that our society generally values quite highly.

Devil_wears_prada_2But not in women. In women, ambition — being willing to put up with shit to get where you want to go, sometimes prioritizing your career over your personal life, becoming engaged with a job even though it’s ultimately not what you care about most, treating it like a job instead of a slumber party, having respect for successful high-achievers in your field, and generally taking your career seriously — isn’t considered a virtue at all.

In fact, it’s more than just not a virtue. It means that you’re selling your soul.

The Lefty Pinko Wire Service

Alternet_logoI just found out about this recently, and I’m having the “Where have you been all my life?” reaction, so I want to tell everyone else about it.

It’s AlterNet. It’s sort of a lefty magazine/ wire service: a compendium of progressive news, opinion, and blogging from all over the Internets, with both original pieces and reprints from other sources. (What do you call a reprint when it’s online instead of in print?) They’ve got some serious heavy hitters: on today’s home page, I’m seeing writing from Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, Amy Goodman, Julian Bond…

Gretatricorn…and me.

Me, me, me.

I just had my first piece go up on AlterNet this weekend — “Why Civil Unions Aren’t Enough”, reprinted from this very blog — and I’m thrilled beyond measure. (Of course they don’t include all the pretty illustrations that I use on my blog; but being on the same Web magazine as Julian Bond and Michael Moore kind of makes up for that.)

This could be a big break for me. It could get me some real exposure in new and exciting places. So keep your fingers crossed — I’m going to continue to send them my best lefty blogging, and hope to appear there more. Check out the site — it’s a great source of good, smart, thoughtful lefty writing, and with any luck, it’s going to make me a star.

Invisible Punishment: Hell as Social Control

FireHell has been on my mind. I recently dug up a list of all the places in the Gospels where Jesus talks about hell (there are quite a few), so hell is all up in my face right now. It’s one of the religious beliefs that I find most disturbing and most profoundly fucked-up — and I want to talk about why.

Part of it, of course, is that there’s no evidence for it. But that’s true for a lot of religious beliefs — arguably all of them — and not all religious beliefs anger me nearly as much as hell does. (The evidence problem is, however, a problem I’ll be coming back to.)

JusticePart of it is that it’s missing the entire point of punishment and justice. For me, the point of punishment is either to change people’s behavior — to show them that bad actions have bad consequences, and thus to teach them not to do it again — or to provide an example, to demonstrate to others than bad actions have bad consequences, and thus to teach them not to do it.

Hell completely fails on both counts. The permanence and eternity of it means that it utterly fails as a teaching tool. It’s not like you’re going to learn from your mistakes — the whole idea of hell is that, if you haven’t learned your lesson by the day of your death or Judgment Day, you don’t get any more chances. It’s like punishing a child by sending them to sit in the corner… for the rest of their life.

And as far as hell being an example for others… well, here’s where we come back to the fact that there’s no evidence for it. It’s not like the souls being burned and tortured in hell for eternity are on display for the rest of us to see, so we can go, “Oh. Got it. That’s what happens when you steal from your neighbor and cheat on your wife. Important safety tip. Thanks.” All we have is the word of some ancient texts, Jerry Falwell, and the guy screaming at us from the Powell Street cable car turnaround.

So it’s a truly lousy form of punishment. It takes all the good stuff out of the concept of justice, and turns it into pure revenge, simply for revenge’s sake. Simply because it makes people feel good to believe that bad people are being punished.

WaterboardingAnd then there’s the problem of how wildly disproportionate hell is; how it’s what Ebon Musings calls “infinite punishment for finite sins.” There is no math in the world that makes infinite torture a proportionate response to anything that any human might do on Earth. To punish even crimes like mass murder with burning and torture for infinitely longer than a billion years… it’s like punishing a parking violation with waterboarding.

But none of that is my biggest problem with hell.

My biggest problem with the idea of hell is that it’s such a powerful, insidious form of social control.

Here’s what the concept of hell does. It tells people, “If you behave in bad ways, if you disobey (God in theory, religious texts and teachers in practice), the consequences will be bad — extraordinarily bad, much more bad than anything you’ve seen or can even imagine. No, we can’t give you any evidence that this terrible bad consequence will happen — but take our word for it, you don’t want it to happen. In fact, even questioning its existence and asking for evidence of it is one of the most disobedient bad things you can do, and will get you sent there for sure.”

StoveNow. Think about how learning, and the idea of consequences, works in an ordinary non-hell-based context. In everyday life, if you’re reasonably sane and don’t have a personality disorder, you learn about what to do and what not to do by experiencing consequences or seeing them happen to others. Touching a hot stove burns you; hitting people gets them mad at you; drinking too much makes you hungover; saying cruel things to people you love makes you feel sick and sad; etc.

We also learn from one another, of course — our parents or friends say, “Don’t drink milk past the expiration date,” or, “For the love of God, do not see ‘Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo,'” and much of the time we’ll just take their word for it. But at least we have the option of verifying their statements. We can see for ourselves that when our parents and teachers told us marijuana would lead straight to heroin, they were talking out of their asses, and we can see for ourselves what the consequences of smoking pot are and make a decision about whether it’s okay.

Hell doesn’t work that way. Because hell is invisible, people have no way of deciding for themselves whether it’s real… and because hell is such a grotesquely appalling consequence, people will do anything to avoid it.

Therefore. If you can convince people that hell is real and that you are an authority on its existence and what they have to do to avoid it… you can make them do ANYTHING.

Anything at all.

Joan_of_arc_burning_at_stakeYou can get them to give you money. You can get them to go out and convert more followers for you. You can get them to suck your cock. You can get them to turn against their children. You can get them to vote for your friends. You can get them to go to war against your enemies. You can get them to torture, to kill, to tie people to stakes and set them on fire, to blow themselves up in crowded places, to commit mass murder, to commit mass suicide. And of course, you can get them to never ask questions about you, or whether what you’re saying and doing is right, or whether this hell place even exists.

Anything. The combination of hell’s invisibility and the extremity of its horror makes it a singularly effective form of manipulation and social control. It’s a terrifying consequence that people will avoid at all costs… and they have no way to look at the world around them and ask, “Hey, is that really true?” Then when you add the “doubting hell’s existence will get you sent there” meme, it makes it even more powerful by making it self-perpetuating. And all of this is especially powerful, and especially troubling, when it’s directed at children… whose brains are, as Richard Dawkins points out, built, for very good evolutionary reasons, to believe what adults tell them.

Part of me gets it. It is awful to think of wicked people thriving, living their lives out in comfort and never suffering the consequences of their badness. I hate that Ken Lay died of a heart attack before he could rot in prison. Part of me wishes I believed in hell, so I could believe he was there.

BiblefireBut the idea of hell is an evil, hateful idea, and it’s not one I want in my world. It exists for one reason and one reason only: to scare people into doing what you tell them, to squelch questioning and dissent. It takes people’s innate fears — and maybe worse, their ability to trust and learn from one another — and manipulates them to create obedience. It is an idea that has nothing but contempt for people’s autonomy. It is an idea that has nothing but contempt for people, period. It is social control, pure and simple. It is completely at odds with the idea of a compassionate, loving God. And any religion that has it as a central theme has a tremendous amount to answer for.

One In Seven: Why Civil Unions Aren’t Enough

AisleThere are plenty of reasons why civil unions really aren’t equal to marriage — even if the rights and responsibilities spelled out in a state’s civil union law are identical to marriage in every way.

There are legal reasons why they’re not equal — marriage is recognized in every state and indeed every country, while civil unions aren’t; so the rights and responsibilities don’t necessarily travel with you when you leave the state that granted them. There are emotional reasons — marriage is an institution/ ritual/ relationship that has existed for thousands of years, one that has tremendous resonance in our culture in a way that civil unions simply don’t. And there are moral reasons — as history has born out, separate but equal is pretty much by definition not equal.

But if none of those convince you, here’s a really good practical one.

JusticeAs of right now, five months after New Jersey’s Civil Union Law took effect, at least 1 out of every 7 civil-union couples in New Jersey are not getting their civil unions recognized by their employers.

1 out of 7. 14 percent.

If 14 percent of married couples in New Jersey were being denied full, legally-guaranteed marriage benefits by their employers, there’d be outraged stories on every news source in the region, and quite possibly rioting in the streets.

Gsehead2And actually, it’s probably more than 1 out of 7. The 1 out of 7 figure comes from 191 complaints reported to Garden State Equality (out of 1,359 civil-union couples) — and chances are excellent that not everyone who’s having problems is reporting it. And before you ask — no it’s not just one big bad company that’s skewing the results. According to Garden State Equality, the 191 cases involve close to 191 companies.

So civil unions aren’t just legally unequal to marriage; they’re not just emotionally unequal; they’re not even just morally unequal. They’re unequal in the most literal, practical sense of the word. Even in the state where the civil union is the law, people in civil unions are not being treated the same by their employers as people who are married.

HendricksleboeufI get that civil unions are a big step forward. There are times when I’m astonished by the fact that “well, same-sex marriage is out, but civil unions would be okay” has become the moderate position on the issue, maybe even the moderate- to- conservative position. I get that they’re better than nothing — heck, 6 out of 7 civil-union couples in New Jersey are getting their benefits, and that’s not trivial. And I get that, the Supreme Court being what it is right now, it may not be the best strategy to put same-sex marriage to a test on the national level until we get some new faces on the bench.

VowsI’m just saying: It’s not the same. It’s not enough. And I am disinclined to pretend that it is. This fight will not be over in this country until same-sex marriage is legal and fully- recognized in all 50 states. You can put nice cushions in the back of the bus — but it’s still the back of the bus.

(Thanks to Good As You for putting the press release on their site.)

The True Faith: Liberal and Conservative Christianity

Jerry_falwell_2There’s an area where most liberal/ progressive Christians and I would seem to be in agreement. And that’s about how screwed up it is for the Christian Right to spin their version of Christianity as the one true version of the faith.

When the Christian Right talks about Christianity as if their practice of it (bigoted, theocratic, intolerant, sex-phobic, hateful to women, hateful to queers, hateful to anyone who isn’t them, yada yada yada) is THE Christianity, the only Christianity, the Christianity that counts… well, the liberal and progressive Christians I know get almost as mad about it as I do. Maybe even madder.

But here’s the thing:

Liberal Christians do exactly the same thing.

And it bugs me almost as much.

Jesus_healing_the_sickI can’t count the number of times liberal/ progressive Christians have said things like, “All that hate and hellfire talk — that’s not Christian. That’s not the true message of Jesus. The true message of Jesus is love and compassion and tolerance. What the Christian Right is doing and saying — that’s not true Christianity.”

And you know what?

They’re just as full of it as the Christian Right.

Quakers_support_gay_marriageI mean, obviously I agree with them about the actual issues. I agree that their view of the “true” message of Christ is a better one. By several orders of magnitude.

I just don’t think it’s a more Christian one.

And I don’t think there’s any basis for saying that it is.

BiblefireThe Christian Left doesn’t have anything more to back up their claim of being the true faith than the Christian Right does. Sure, they can quote chapter and verse — but the Christian Right can quote chapter and verse, too. It’s not like it’s hard to find messages of hellfire and judgment in the Bible, or even in the New Testament, or even in the Gospels. When I was debating a liberal Christian over a similar issue, I did a quick flip through the Bible, and in just the first half of the first book of the four Gospels, I found six separate references to wrath, the hell of fire, the destruction of hell, and judgment day. Four of them in Jesus’s own words. It took me about ten minutes to find it. It’s plentiful, and it’s front and center. The Christian Right has every bit as much Scriptural support for their hellfire-and-judgment version of Christianity as the Christian Left has for their love-and-tolerance version. Sure, they cherry-pick the parts of Scripture that support their vision and ignore the parts that don’t… but isn’t that exactly what progressive Christians do when they ignore the wrath and damnation stuff?

Cherries_1Now, obviously I’m not saying that progressive Christians shouldn’t set aside the judgment-and-damnation stuff. The judgment-and-damnation stuff is beyond fucked up — it’s essentially a form of mind control that exists to squelch questioning and dissent — and it deserves to be set aside. And to be fair, most progressive Christians acknowledge that they’re cherry-picking. They’re not pretending to take every word of the Bible as literal truth while ignoring the parts they don’t agree with, the way the fundamentalists do. And that’s not an insignificant difference.

HeartBut when you ask progressive Christians why they believe their version of Christianity is the true one, the one Jesus wants us to have, when it comes right down to it all they can say is, “I feel it in my heart,” or, “That’s just what I believe.” They can quote chapter and verse to back up their ideas about what Jesus wants from them, and they can point to what does and doesn’t work in the world to back up their ideas about… well, about what does and doesn’t work in the world. But like all religion, their belief that they’re doing what God wants them to do ultimately comes down to the conviction of faith.

Jesus_fish_eating_darwin_fishThe problem with that, of course, is that the Christian Right is every bit as convinced that their version of Christianity is the true one. Their faith in a hostile, bigoted, pissily judgmental Christ who’s obsessed with who’s fucking who and how… it’s every bit as strong as liberal Christians’ faith in a gentle, loving, forgiving Christ who just wants us to treat one another with compassion. Their conviction is every bit as powerful; they feel it in their hearts every bit as passionately. And they have every bit as much evidence — which is to say, ultimately none — to back up their claim.

FireAnd I think progressive Christians need to cop to this. When the Christian Right acts like evil theocratic bigots, it’s much too easy to respond by saying, “Well, that’s not true Christianity, is it?” Yes, it is. The Christian Right are Christians, just as much as you are. And their hellfire and judgment version of Christianity is a huge part of the reality and the history of your faith. It’s not like they’re some weird obscure sect that believes Jesus is a space alien or something — they’re probably the largest and most politically powerful religious group in this country.

CrossBy all means, say that the Christian Right is wrong. Say that their vision of the world is hateful and bigoted and out of touch with reality and not one that you share or care to. Say that their version of Christianity isn’t the only one, even. Say any of that, and I’ll happily back you and stand by you. But don’t say that they’re not true Christians. They are Christians, by any reasonable definition of the word. You don’t have the one true version of the faith any more than they do.

How Can He Just Keeping Saying That?

George_w_bushHe’s saying it again.

How can he keep saying it again?

Via Pandagon:

President Bush, defending his troop surge in Iraq, insisted Thursday that the insurgents attacking US troops in Iraq “are the same ones who attacked us on Sept. 11.”

Bush was speaking at a White House press conference on the same day an interim progress report on his troop surge in Iraq was released. Asked for proof of the connection between insurgents in Iraq and the 9/11 hijackers, Bush said both had pledged their allegiance to Osama bin Laden.

“The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq are the ones who attacked us on Sept. 11,” Bush said.

1984orwellOceania is at war with Eastasia. Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.

How can he keep saying this? Didn’t he already have to admit that this wasn’t true, that Iraq had nothing at all to do with 9/11? Isn’t that one of the basic rules of debate and public discourse — that once you admit you’re wrong about something, you don’t get to keep saying it over and over as if it were plain fact?

I mean, this is just laughably pathetic. Or it would be if it weren’t so appalling.

I hereby propose a new law, possibly even a Constitutional amendment: The President of the United States is not allowed to say, in public, things that he freakin’ knows for a fact are not true.