August 2011

The question remains how many performers must become infected with HIV and other serous STDs before the industry will clean up its act and government will do the right thing? [Emphasis added.]

Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, referring to the pornography industry

Bill Keller, the executive editor of the New York Timesdemonstrated last week that he is ignorant of religion, bigoted against evangelical Christians, and paranoid to boot. Those qualities–the first two of which unfortunately characterize all too much of the mainstream media, and the third of which is growing–have gotten Keller some well-deserved raspberries from folks who know better. The best yet is from writer and editor Anthony Sacramone at his blog Strange Herring. He gives three answers to each of Keller’s questions–here are the first two to wet your appetite:

1. Is it fair to question presidential candidates about details of their faith?

a. Yes, assuming it is a fair-minded attempt to accumulate either biographical information—better insight into what has informed a candidate’s worldview—or to determine whether answers to questions that faith provides are also answers to questions most people assume science or history or common sense provides.

b. No, because that is private, and you’re only trying to ridicule me and thereby discourage other Christians from running for public office, which is their right.

c. Don’t worry, Bill: I’m an atheist just like Than Shwe.

2. Is it fair to question candidates about controversial remarks made by their pastors, mentors, close associates or thinkers whose books they recommend?

a. Yes, assuming it is, again, to get a better idea of what has influenced candidates’ thinking and whether they can think for themselves. If the questioner believes every Christian takes as Holy Writ every word that drops from a minister’s or priest’s lips, or for that matter, that drops out of text written by Martin Luther, John Calvin—or, God help us, John Hagee—then he is an idiot and should probably not be asking these questions of anyone.

b. No, because what goes on within the walls of a church is fit only for members/believers, and can only be misconstrued by outsiders.

c. Don’t worry, Bill: I’m an atheist just Benito Mussolini.

Check out the rest, and don’t miss his turn-about-is-fair-play questionnaire for nontheists–again, a couple to get you to read them all:

1. Do you think that anyone who believes in the supernatural is delusional? If so, do you believe they should be treated medically? Do you believe they should be allowed to adopt children?

2. Do you think anyone who believes in six-day special creation should ipso facto be barred from holding public office?

There are fifteen, and they are priceless.

The Pajamas Media columnist known only as Zombie has found a piece of news from Switzerland that is extraordinarily grotesque even by the standards of a morally decadent Europe. It seems that the state schools there have instituted graphic sex education for four, five and six-year-olds. Zombie provides a link to a news site called The Local, which offers this horrifying picture (graphic images):

Officials in Basel have agreed to rename the “sex box” after receiving some 3,000 letters of protest from parents angered by the controversial trove of wooden penises and fabric vaginas set to be used in a new sex education programme for playschool and primary school kids.

Christoph Eymann, Basel education minister and member of the Liberal Democrat Party (LDP),  responded to parent’s protests in an interview with SonntagsBlick.

“It was no doubt stupid to call it a ’sex box’ – we will change that. But we will stick to our goal: to get across to children that sexuality is something natural. Without forcing anything upon them or taking anything away from their parents,” he said.

So they’ll change the name of the box in which these objects are kept, in order to spare delicate sensibilities, but they won’t stop the program of sexualizing children. Incredible.

Many parents say they do not understand why sex education needs to be taught to children as young as four.

“There are usually two reasons why sexuality becomes a topic in kindergarten: either the teacher is pregnant or one of the children will soon get a new sister or brother. In such cases, it is correct that the teacher can respond,” Eymann told SonntagsBlick.

Eymann said he understood that one line in the programme, “touching can be enjoyed heartily,” could be misconstrued, but insisted: “It is not about ‘touch me, feel me.’ We want to tell the children that there is contact that they may find pleasurable, but some that they should say ’no’ to. Kids can unfortunately can become victims of sexual violence already at playschool age.”

Glad to hear that this is not a song from Tommy. Beyond that, one has to ask why the proper response of a pregnant teacher isn’t, “I’m going to have a baby. If you want to know more, ask your parents.” As for kids who are going to soon have a new brother or sister, again, why are they not told to discuss that with the people who are having the baby?

Eymann said he would prefer if sex education was taught to children at home but argued that education officials needed to respond to the realities of today.

“We currently live in an oversexualised society. There is uncontrolled distribution of pornographic material that can reach young children. Some primary school children know the TV schedule until 2am. We would like to offer these children firm support, which is often not available in the family. The box is only an aid. I trust the teachers to approach the material with care.”

We lived in an “oversexualized society.” Porn “can reach young children.” So what’s the answer to that? Sexualize them even earlier, and given them lessons in anatomy so that they will know what they’re seeing when they get into porn. The stupidity of this approach is indescribable, as is the effort to undermine parents in the name of “helping” them. It’s true that there are lots of children (even in Switzerland, I’m sure) who are not receiving the proper parenting. Does that mean that those who are have to be exposed to stuff their parents object to? The nanny state bureaucrat answers with an emphatic “yes”:

Despite this, Eymann said he takes critics’ arguments seriously, and has ordered the contents of the box to be examined after finding the cover of previous teaching material tasteless.

Some parents have called for their children to be exempted from sex education. Eymann says he is strictly against exemptions, although he is aware this will not make him many friends:

“Primary school may be the only big audience that our society has. The shared values that it teaches are very important. I would definitely like to keep this. The explanatory lesson can be portrayed in a way that doesn’t offend,” he said.

“Shared values.” I would love to know what the “values” are that Eymann thinks he is promoting with this program. That becomes an even more urgent question when you see, if you dare, the pictures that Zombie also located on a German language site. They are taken from a book that is used with five-year-olds, yet Zombie felt it necessary to label them NSFW (“not safe for work”).

This is Switzerland, today. There are already American educators expressing the desire to import this kind of education into American classrooms. This is our children’s future, unless it is stopped cold. Now.

It’s been quite a week here in northern Virginia–first an earthquake, now a hurricane, next week who knows, maybe dogs and cats living together. Anyway, I’ll have something more significant tomorrow, assuming the electricity is still on, and for this evening leave you with a little weather-appropriate music:

I saw this at GetReligion and a couple of other places, and so had to take a look, and yes, it’s as bad as I could have expected. Seems Bill Keller, the executive editor of the New York Times, has some questions to ask of the Republican presidential candidates on the subject of religion. Not of the Democratic candidate, of course, since Barack Obama’s connection to one of America’s looniest, extreme left-wing, racist pastors was thoroughly vetted in the last campaign. (/sarc, and that’s especially for the Times, which essentially whitewashed the whole affair). In the process, he tells us more about Bill Keller and the agenda of his newspaper than about the candidates:

This year’s Republican primary season offers us an important opportunity to confront our scruples about the privacy of faith in public life — and to get over them. We have an unusually large number of candidates, including putative front-runners, who belong to churches that are mysterious or suspect to many Americans.

I think he left out the word “atheist” between “many” and “Americans.”

Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are Mormons, a faith that many conservative Christians have been taught is a “cult” and that many others think is just weird. (Huntsman says he is not “overly religious.”)

Mormonism is a “cult” in a technical, theological sense, i.e., one that Keller doesn’t understand and has no interest in. I don’t know of any Christians who would say Mormons are like members of the People’s Temple or Unification Church (Moonies). Aside from the fundamentalist branch of Mormonism, most of its adherents are perfectly normal people.

Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are both affiliated with fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity — and Rick Santorum comes out of the most conservative wing of Catholicism — which has raised concerns about their respect for the separation of church and state, not to mention the separation of fact and fiction.

My, aren’t we snarky? Keller clearly doesn’t know enough about Santorum to make a statement like this–in the uncorrected version of this piece, he referred to him as being part of one of those “fervid subsets”–so I think this is just Times-speak for Santorum being pro-life, which Keller considers extreme by definition. Bachmann was until recently a member of a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran church, a denomination that is conservative for sure, but “fervid”? I’ve never heard any Lutherans described that way. As for Perry, he was a United Methodist until he started attending Lake Hills Church in Austin, a Baptist congregation with pretty mainstream evangelical beliefs. None of them have said anything about breaching the separation of church and state, though some of their detractors have, basically without evidence, asserted that they would. And of course all three are pro-life, which means they are a threat to everything the Times holds dear.

I honestly don’t care if Mitt Romney wears Mormon undergarments beneath his Gap skinny jeans, or if he believes that the stories of ancient American prophets were engraved on gold tablets and buried in upstate New York, or that Mormonism’s founding prophet practiced polygamy (which was disavowed by the church in 1890). Every faith has its baggage, and every faith holds beliefs that will seem bizarre to outsiders. I grew up believing that a priest could turn a bread wafer into the actual flesh of Christ.

OK, so Keller is a lapsed Catholic. That explains a lot, particularly the animus that he expresses in this article toward anyone who takes the beliefs of his faith seriously. And his claim that he doesn’t care about Mitt Romney’s underwear is just a wee tad creepy for my taste.

But I do want to know if a candidate places fealty to the Bible, the Book of Mormon (the text, not the Broadway musical) or some other authority higher than the Constitution and laws of this country. It matters to me whether a president respects serious science and verifiable history — in short, belongs to what an official in a previous administration once scornfully described as “the reality-based community.” I do care if religious doctrine becomes an excuse to exclude my fellow citizens from the rights and protections our country promises.

And here’s where the knife comes out, and both truth and faith take it in the back. To wit:

1) As a committed secularist, Keller is apparently of the opinion that all religious believers must give their primary allegiance to the state rather than to God. That’s a position that any Christian who takes his or her faith seriously must reject unequivocally.

2) He si also apparently of the opinion that those who believe in the revelation of God found in Scripture must be per se incapable of respecting either science or history. He should ask Francis Collins of the Human Genome Project, a devout evangelical about the former. As for the latter–huh?

3) His complaint about “religious doctrine”–you guessed it, that about abortion again (oh, and gay marriage). People like Keller are convinced that because they reject particular religious doctrines, therefore whatever positions they take on moral questions and public policy are both religion and doctrine-free. That is a delusion that fails to recognize the ideological character of the positions they take.

And I care a lot if a candidate is going to be a Trojan horse for a sect that believes it has divine instructions on how we should be governed.

I have no idea what kind of “Trojan horse” he’s talking about. Did Perry join the Scientologists when we weren’t looking? Or is Keller just sliding into the role of those who questioned whether John Kennedy would be loyal to America or to Rome? As for “divine instructions,” when he objects to Barack Obama taking advice from Jim Wallis or the National Council of Churches I’ll be impressed.

He then goes on to cite the borderline ludicrous articles on Bachmann and Perry that alleged they had “Dominionist” tendencies, mostly by assuming that anything loony anyone they’d ever associated with had said could be attributed to them. (That’s especially the case with Perry.) Needless to say, neither Keller nor his newspaper ever did that with Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright. He then goes on to offer a list of questions that should be asked of any candidate of whose religion the Times does not approve:

To get things rolling, I sent the aforementioned candidates a little questionnaire (which you can find on The 6th Floor blog). Here’s a sample:

•Do you agree with those religious leaders who say that America is a “Christian nation” or a “Judeo-Christian nation?” and what does that mean in practice?

This question is a “gotcha” that is trying to tie candidates to David Barton of Wallbuilders, who advocates for a view of American history that sees it as a “Christian nation.” Their response should be, “why, have I ever said that, or are you actually asking whether I agree with a particular individual’s perspective?”

•Would you have any hesitation about appointing a Muslim to the federal bench? What about an atheist?

That’s a legitimate question in light of Herman Cain’s indication of hesitance to appoint Muslims to positions in a Cain administration. The response should be, “of course not, as long as they agree with my judicial philosophy.”

•What is your attitude toward the theory of evolution, and do you believe it should be taught in public schools?

That’s pure “gotcha,” given that the federal government doesn’t set science curriculum now, and most of the Republican candidates are more likely to have the feds exercise less rather than more authority in education. The response, therefore, should be, “what’s that got to do with being president?”

He also asked at his blog:

•What do you think of  the evangelical Christian movement known as Dominionism and the idea that Christians, and only Christians, should hold dominion over the secular institutions of the earth?

Here I think they should look at him as if he’s lost his mind and say, “what are you talking about?” They should then go on to say that only paranoids are fixated on Dominionism, and ask if he’s ever actually met one (a Dominionist, not a paranoid).

I also asked specific questions of the candidates. I wanted Governor Perry to explain his relationship with David Barton, the founder of the WallBuilders evangelical movement, who preaches that America should have a government “firmly rooted in biblical principles” and that the Bible offers explicit guidance on public policy — for example, tax policy. Since Barton endorsed Perry in the past, it would be interesting to know whether the governor disagrees with him.

Really? I wonder if Keller knows that the Communist Party USA endorsed Barack Obama in 2008? Should he be held accountable for all of the CPUSA’s views?

And what about John Hagee, the Texas evangelist who described Catholicism as a “godless theology of hate” and declared that the Holocaust was part of God’s plan to drive the Jews to Palestine? In the 2008 campaign, John McCain disavowed Hagee’s endorsement. This time around, the preacher has reportedly decided to bestow his blessing on Perry’s campaign.

And your point is what, exactly? Since when is any presidential candidate responsible for everyone who decides to vote for them?

That’s all I’ve got the time or patience for right now. Check out the eviscerations of Keller at GetReligion by Mollie Hemingway and Sarah Pulliam Bailey.

Earthquake, hurricane, Obamacare. When does it stop? Seven more and I vote we let the Israelites go.

Charles Krauthammer on Twitter

(Via MCJ.)

Remember the controversy earlier this year over the refusal by Sojourners magazine to run an ad advocating for the acceptance of gays in the church? The one where Jim Wallis was essentially cast into the outer darkness by progressive Christians because he wasn’t orthodox on The Only Issue That Really Matters™? Well, Sojourners has changed its mind, at least to some extent. It still won’t accept the ad it rejected. Instead, it is going to run a full page ad from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) that is so patently manipulative, not to mention erroneous and badly written, that Sojourners ought to have sent it back just for violating quality standards. Via Religion Dispatches, here’s the ad:

Let’s start with the photography: this ad is focused on youth. You know, teenagers. People over 13. Adolescents. How old would you say the child in the photo who is left sitting on a railroad track by his heartless father is? Five? Six? If he’s as much as eight I’ll print this out and eat it. The photo is pure emotional manipulation.

Now let’s look at the five superimposed statements:

Up to 40% of the homeless youth in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. 

Yes, well. Two problems with this:

1) The 40% figure comes from a report by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (and advocacy group rather than neutral researchers). That report states, “Our analysis of the available research suggests that between 20 percent and 40 percent of all homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).” That’s a range that indicates that the data is inadequate. In addition, those figures are supposedly based on a report on homelessness from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that is footnoted in the NGLTF report. The HHS report states:

The rate of gay or bisexual orientation among homeless youth varies across studies. In several studies with shelter and street samples, 3 to 10 percent of youth have reported their sexual orientation as gay, lesbian or bisexual (Greenblatt & Robertson, 1993; Johnson, Aschkenasy, Herbers, & Gillenwater, 1993; Rotheram-Borus et al., 1992b; Toro et al., 1998; Wolfe et al., 1994). Such rates suggest that homeless youth are no more likely than non-homeless youth to report gay or bisexual orientation when compared to the national rate of about 10 percent (Dempsey, 1994). However, higher rates of gay or bisexual identity (16 to 38%) are reported in another set of studies.(5) The higher rates in these studies (16 to 38%) can be accounted for by samples that came from street or clinical sites; tended to be older; included more men (who generally have higher rates than women for gay or bisexual orientation); or came from areas with significant concentrations of gay or bisexual persons in the larger community.

So the 40% figure is essentially worthless. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a problem with homeless gay youth, but that the GLAAD ad almost certainly grossly exaggerates it.

2) The definition of “homeless” is, shall we say, less than helpful. The NGLTF report states, “the number of homeless and runaway youth ranges from 575,000 to 1.6 million per year.” They got that from the HHS report. Here’s how HHS defines “homeless:

Notwithstanding the debates, evidence suggests that the size of the homeless youth population is substantial and widespread.(4) A recent large-scale survey of U.S. adolescents provides the most comprehensive data to date on the extent of homelessness among youth (Ringwalt, Greene, Robertson, and McPheeters, 1998). In 1992 and 1993, researchers interviewed a nationally representative household survey of 6,496 youth, ages 12 to 17, as part of the National Health Interview Study (NHIS) sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To assess literal homelessness in the previous 12 months, youth were asked whether they had spent one or more nights in specific types of places. These included: a youth or adult shelter; any of several locations not intended to be dwelling places (i.e., in a public place such as a train or bus station or restaurant; in an abandoned building; outside in a park, on the street, under a bridge, or on a rooftop; in a subway or other public place underground); or where their safety would be compromised (i.e., with someone they did not know because they needed a place to stay). Based on these estimates, researchers estimated the annual prevalence of literal homelessness among this age group to be 7.6 percent (or 1.6 million youth in a given year). Even after revising their estimate down, removing youth whose only experience with homelessness was in a “shelter” (a potentially ambiguous term used in the interview), they still estimated that 5 percent had experienced literal homelessness in the previous year (or more than 1 million youth in a given year). The prevalence of homelessness did not vary significantly by family poverty status (determined by parent’s reported income), geographic area, or sociodemographic factors other than by gender (i.e., with significantly higher rates of homelessness for males than females). [Emphasis added.]

Now, it’s true that the GLAAD ad doesn’t mention any of this. It simply uses the word “homeless.” But in an article on the ad, Ross Murray, GLAAD’s Director of Religion, Faith, and Values, makes reference to and links the NGLTF reportm which in turn gets its information from HHS, so I think it’s fair to hold GLAAD responsible for using the data honestly, which I don’t think they do.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth who are rejected by their families are at higher risk for depression.

Higher risk than who? Straight youth? Straight youth who are rejected by their families? LGBT youth who are not rejected by their families? LGBT youth who stay in the closet? Without a contrast, this statement is meaningless. It’s the kind of misleading, content-free ad copy that PR flacks have been writing to sell deodorant and detergent since time immemorial. It’s bad enough in that setting, but in an ad on a subject as serious as youth homelessness its positively embarrassing.

One in four teens rejected by their families becomes homeless.

Combine the variety of meanings that could be meant by “rejected” and the flabbiness of the definition of “homeless” above and you have another statement that is essentially meaningless. It also raises another statistical question: what’s the percentage of LGBT youth in this “one in four”? Are they half? Five percent? Since the focus of the ad is obviously LGBT youth, it would seem to make a difference.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender homeless youth are more likely to be attacked than other homeless teens.

This is true, though how much more seems to be in dispute.

Teens accepted by their families are much safer than those who are rejected.

Duh. This also says nothing especially germane to the issue raised by the ad.

So there you have it. This will be appearing in the print version of Sojourners, and will no doubt elicit the desired head-nodding and tongue-wagging among its readers. It is, however, typical of the lack of honesty among all too many gay activist organizations.

You may have seen this in one form or another on the Internet since yesterday, but this is my favorite so far:

(From Kathy Shaidle’s Five Feet of Fury.)

For those of you who don’t live on the east coast of the United States, and were no where near a TV, radio, or the Internet, here’s the big news of the day here in northern Virginia:

No damage at Chez Fischler save a couple of cracks to the driveway, though there has been some minor damage to a good number of buildings in the DC metro area, including the National Cathedral. This is the first earthquake I’ve been through, and all things considered, I rather hope it’s the last.

It turns out that the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s decision to overturn 2000 years of Christian teaching and permit the ordination of sexually active gays is having repercussions beyond the borders of the United States. The National Presbyterian Church of Mexico, which was founded by an ancestor of the PCUSA in the 19th century, has filed for divorce, according to the Presbyterian Outlook:

The National Presbyterian Church of Mexico (known as INPM) has voted to end its 139-year partnership in mission with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in response to the PC(USA)’s decision earlier this year to allow the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians.

That decision to sever the relationship came on a 116 to 22 vote of the Mexican church assembly on Aug. 19. It likely will jeopardize the continuation of the work that 11 PC(USA) mission co-workers have been doing in Mexico – including significant work along the U.S.-Mexican border – as well as the future of short-term congregational mission trips to Mexico and more than two-dozen partnerships that PC(USA) presbyteries and synods have established in Mexico.

In meetings before the assembly, PCUSA Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons and colleagues tried the old line about how we can be in mission together even when we don’t agree on their Mexican brethren, who would have none of it:

On Aug. 16, several representatives of the PC(USA) – including Gradye Parsons, the denomination’s stated clerk, and Hunter Farrell, director of World Mission – went to Mexico to meet with 11 leaders of the Mexican church and to discuss the Mexicans’ unhappiness and theological disagreement with the decision on 10-A.

“The discussion was frank and honest,” Farrell wrote in an e-mail following that meeting. “The disappointment of the Mexican church was expressed.”

The PC(USA) representatives asked their Mexican partners to agree to a time of discernment, in part to see how they could continue to work together in mission despite differing views over issues such as ordaining gays and lesbians, or women’s ordination.

“Despite the significant theological differences that 10-A puts between our churches, the mission context of increasing violence on our borders, the precarious situation of the poor in both nations, and our own church’s need for the INPM’s help in sharing the Gospel with Spanish-speakers in the U.S. cries out for prayerful strategizing and increased mission collaboration,” Farrell wrote after that meeting. “The truth is we need each other now more than ever.”

That’s not how the Mexicans see it. I suspect they were of the opinion that joint mission is meaningless (or at best becomes just mutual humanitarianism) if the two churches can’t agree on even the most basic issues of Christian faith and practice. In fact, according to the Outlook, they included a provision in their action that prohibits the restoration of the relationship until the PCUSA repents and repeals the new Book of Order provision that lifts the ban on ordaining non-celibate homosexuals.

The PCUSA has in effect chosen schism as well as heresy by passing Amendment 10-A. The denomination will just have to learn to live in the tiny ghetto it has moved into, along with the other dying mainline American churches.

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