Charleston and Billings

The day of the big vote came and, as an intern, I was assigned the task of checking off delegates' names after they had voted.

This was a Baptist gathering — the biennial convention of the convention — so the vote was largely symbolic. Baptists don't have a formal hierarchy. We don't really even have "denominations" per se. But Baptist churches are loosely organized in conventions where we work out the ways we cooperate on collective efforts like the commissioning of missionaries or the electing of officers for our pension boards or getting bulk discounts on hymnals and flannelgraphs.

We also vote on "statements of concern." These are public statements, but they're not binding on congregations or on the individuals who are members of those congregations. Their only real force is to say that on this day, in this place, X number of Baptists gathered and said Y with one voice.

But to say that something is symbolic is not to say that it is meaningless. Nonbinding, symbolic resolutions can mean a great deal — particularly if what they're resolving is to condemn who you are as a person.

This particular biennial gathering was abuzz over one especially controversial "statement of concern" on homosexuality. It called on Baptists to reject "the homosexual lifestyle, homosexual marriage, ordination of homosexual clergy or establishment of 'gay churches' or 'gay caucuses.'"

It also served, like most religious fights around this matter, as a proxy war over how and why we read the Bible. Proponents were pushing this statement, hard, as yet one more way to assert that the Bible is infallible — by which they meant, necessarily, that their interpretive scheme and the interpretations it produced were infallible.

I didn't agree with the way they were insisting the Bible must be read. Nor did I like their apparent willingness to treat gay people as nothing more than proxy pawns and cannon fodder for their culture war. The proponents said they were standing up for truth and righteousness, but they just seemed mean.

That meanness revealed itself further among the various speakers who rose in support of this resolution. Their short speeches tended to expand on the implicit fears and mythologies hinted at in the euphemistic statement itself. Those code phrases like "homosexual lifestyle" were unmasked further in all their ugliness.

The debate had the air of a witch hunt. I wanted to be elsewhere. I wanted to say something, but it wasn't my place or my role there to speak and I wouldn't have known what to say anyway.

So the day of the big vote I made an armband with a pink triangle on it and tied it to my sleeve. No one asked me what it meant, and I'm not sure how I would have answered if they had. I went about my intern business, making copies and distributing folders as the final debate on the resolution proceeded and no one said anything to me about it all day.

Well, almost no one. Coming back from lunch, I held open the door to the Charleston, W.Va., convention center for a group of delegates walking behind me. One woman smiled and started to say thank you, then suddenly puckered up into a scowl and just sort of grunted before pointedly walking to the other set of doors. By that point I'd forgotten I was even wearing the armband and it took me a moment to figure out what I'd done to offend her.

The conclusion of the debate was depressing and the vote itself even more so. I dutifully sat at a table off to the side, crossing off names as the delegates cast their votes and then, as soon as  it was over, I ducked away to a back room where some of the other staff were awaiting the final tally.

"So what's the deal with the armband?" one of the execs asked me.

I tried to tell him. I talked about the occupation of Denmark during World War II, and how the king helped to protect the Jews of that country by donning the yellow star himself and urging all his people to do so too. (I didn't realize then that this story was just a legend — one which, as Snopes describes it, is "not true in its specifics" but "true enough in spirit.")

"So you wore that to show people that you think you're the king of Denmark?"

"No, I just … I thought I should …" I gave up and took it off and sat there, silently, until word came that they were posting the results of the vote on the big whiteboard in the hall.

A large crowd was gathered in a semicircular mob as the woman in charge of tracking such things wrote the final tally on the board: 1,124 yes; 539 no; 46 abstentions.

It wasn't even close. The anti-gay resolution had passed by a more than 2-to-1 margin. Meanness won. Maybe it was just symbolic, but it didn't symbolize anything good or anything I could feel proud to be a part of.

I just stood there, staring at the board as the crowd began to disperse — two thirds of them celebrating their latest culture-war victory, the other third looking sad.

"You took it off."

I realized someone was talking to me and turned to the old man. "The armband you were wearing," he said. He looked very tired. "You took it off."

I nodded.

"I just wanted to say thank you. That meant a lot."

"Oh …" And before I could think of anything to add to that he smiled a sad smile and walked off.

Symbolic, but not meaningless. But not adequate, either. Whatever it was I was trying to do didn't work mainly because, unlike the righteous Danes of that legend, I was trying to do it alone.

A few years after that Baptist gathering in Charleston, we got to see how this is done properly.

Billings, Mont., got hit with a wave of hate crimes — racist and anti-Semitic graffiti, vandalism and bomb-threats directed at a local synagogue. This was during Hanukkah, and windows were broken in houses displaying the menorah.

So volunteers painted over graffiti. They printed up thousands of paper menorahs and almost everybody put them up in their windows.

And then they did this beautiful, beautiful thing:

Billings

The closer you look at that picture, the cooler it gets. Symbolic and not just meaningful, but power-ful.

This ad hoc response eventually formed into a movement of sorts called Not In Our Town.

The original Billings group is still active, and there's a national organization too, which I've linked to in the sidebar via the picture of the minaret and crescent moon, because this time it's not menorahs. (I originally posted that photo-link under the name of the group, "Not In Our Town," but then I worried that it looked like the opposite of what I was trying to convey there.)

I added that link because, just now in America, the lessons and example of Not In Our Town seem particularly important.

  • Lonespark

    Yeah, and the Zombies. Obviously Not Us.
    I wonder what makes the difference? I mean, selling out to the aliens could be right thing to do, depending on the nature of the aliens and how their goals and values align with those of your human group. It’s not a bet I’d take, though, and I feel like I’m basing part of that on the very little I know about the different strategies pursued by American Indian (nations? tribes? What’s the best way to say that in this context?) in dealing with Europeans in general and British vs. (putative Americans? There’s a term for that, right? Rebelling colonists? NO CAN BRAIN tonight.) in particular.

  • http://j.com/ Tonio

    I admit I don’t know what an alternative to Non-Us would be. It seems that most people have different circles of friends and acquaintances with whom they share experiences and interests. From the person’s perspective, membership in one circle wouldn’t necessarily preclude membership in the others. (I thought about George’s Costanza’s “worlds colliding” concept, but that was really about maintaining a false personality.) Perhaps I’m lamenting the fact that too many groups define themselves in terms of what they’re not, instead of what they are. That’s my theory as to why so many Tea Partiers talk in vague generalities about small government and the free market – they’ve defined their movement in terms of who they aren’t but fear the consequences if they talked openly about that definition.
    I admit I don’t fully grasp the impulse toward tribalism, because I’ve long perceived the world as me over here and everyone else over there. Not in opposition or enmity but simply in separateness. Put another way, I’ve never felt like I was part of a tribe.

  • P J Evans

    And immediately upon posting that, I thought of the Friends, who are extremely non-credal, and are quite diverse and tolerant.
    So scratching that line of thought.

    You might want to reconsider – they’ve had their purges also.
    There was the Keithian mess in the early 18th century – the losers became Anglicans and Baptists, mostly.
    There were the Hicksites in the 19th century.
    And they’d cheerfully toss out people who broke their rules, such as being married by a minister, or marrying someone who wasn’t a Friend without getting them to convert, or marrying someone who was the wrong kind of Friend. (I know this because the kicked-out include some of my own ancestors.)

  • Spearmint

    This MAY (and this is entirely my own speculation, I’ve got no research to back it up, and I’m quite ready to be contradicted) be related [to] why the non-credal denominations (such as Baptists) as opposed to the heavily credal denominations (e.g. Orthodox, Roman Catholic) have gained a certain… notoriety … for purging their own ranks and behaving towards the excluded with a degree of viciousness.
    Aside from the Quakers, that theory also seems to rest on a false assumption that Roman Catholicism doesn’t purge its ranks and behave viciously toward the excluded. The 13th through 16th centuries would like to have a chat with you. So would the Soviet Union, which managed to be heavily credal and heavily purge-y in far less time.
    I’m not entirely sure what causes purgeyness in a group, but I don’t think credalism or lack of credalism is significantly correlated with the phenomenon. Feeling under threat seems to have a lot to do with it, but then you also have a lot of communities that are under serious threats and don’t self-immolate (the African American community during the Civil Rights Era comes to mind), and some of the purges happen in times and places of apparent hegemony (what was so scary about the Cathars?) And you also have groups like the Nazis, who felt threatened and were totally kill-crazy but never bothered with serious internal purges despite fitting the profile perfectly. So it’s a bit of a mystery to me.
    shouldn’t there be a non-exclusionary way that humans can build and maintain community, or establish a concept of community that doesn’t involve the notions of Us and Not-Us?
    It’s not a dumb question, but I think the answer is no, because part of what makes a community a community is norms. No matter how nice and inclusive you, are you have to have them. Identifying and denouncing enemies is a way of defining and reinforcing the norms- when Fred says “Rayford Steele is a bad person because he walks past flaming strollers on a runway and his only concern is that he might trip over one on the way to the concourse,” what he’s really saying is “Our community norm is that when babies are on fire we stop and try to put out the flames, and we don’t want people who are unwilling to follow this rule to be part of our community.” It’s not really about who Rayford is, it’s about who we want to be. Rayford is just a convenient shorthand for Not-Us.
    And I don’t think this is really a problem, because as lonespark says, you have to have standards of behavior or your community can’t function. We don’t want Rayford in our community. The problem of nasty exclusiveness doesn’t lie in the practice of declaring some people outcasts, it lies in choosing bad community norms so that you’re outcasting people for dumb reasons, like not being a Christian, or having the wrong genitalia, or the wrong skin color, or whatever.

  • Just a Reader

    I’m a long time reader (who came here originally for the Left Behind posts), but I’ve never commented until now. I’m currently reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, which, (as you may know), is about the history of American West from the perspective of the Native Americans. My heart is currently overflowing with grief for all victims of racism and prejudice. Seeing the photo of people from all cultures marching in support of Judaism is making me feel quite emotional. I’m not quite sure how to describe it. But it confirms in me that people can learn and society can change, as long as there are people willing to stand up in support of each other.
    Thank you – I needed that.

  • Spearmint

    I mean, selling out to the aliens could be right thing to do, depending on the nature of the aliens and how their goals and values align with those of your human group.
    Apparently there’s an alien invasion series where the aliens show up in the middle of WW II and attack the major world powers, at which point Mordechai Anielewicz et al. side with the invaders, for obvious reasons. I’ve never actually read it, so I don’t know what comes of that or if it gets problematically Ickesian, but the premise seemed interesting and refreshingly novel. Evil alien invaders totally would try to kill the crap out of the Nazis and vis versa; it frustrating how in science fiction they always seem to join forces. I mean, if there was one thing the Axis was good at aside from war crimes, it was spontaneously attacking more powerful countries for no good reason. There’s no way in hell they’d side with an alien invasion.

  • hapax

    (what was so scary about the Cathars?)
    Er. Mostly that they weren’t interested (really aggressively NOT interested) in being French, not that they weren’t interested in being Catholic.
    I think we have a difference of opinion about the history of credal Catholicism. First of all, I was talking about the early centuries, during which there was a sizable proportion of Not-Us — during the late Medieval period (except in the border regions like Bulgaria or Spain, where there were significant Muslim populations), about the only the group of externally not-Catholics were Jews; and your average medieval Frenchman was about as likely to run into a Jew as I am to run into Tau Cetan.
    Second of all, although I am by no means an apologist for the bigotry and intolerance of Christianity in general or Roman Catholicism in particular, either historically or currently, I think you underestimate the truly powerful impetus towards “catholicism” (= broad inclusiveness) throughout history, and the convoluted efforts to bend over backwards to include rather outre ideas and populations — even in the later medieval period.
    As an extraordinarily broad generalization (there are lots of exceptions, usually attributable to specific circumstances that had little to do with the religion qua religion), the groups that were excluded and persecuted (with quite nasty vigor) were those that chose (for various and often quite admirable reasons) to declare themselves Other (or, more often, to be Us and the broader swathe of European Catholicism to be Not-Us).

  • hapax

    Oh, and I think the WWII / Alien invasion series you’re thinking of is Harry Turtledove’s WorldWar series.
    Quite interesting AU stuff, but I personally think it dragged on WAY too long.

  • Spearmint

    I think you underestimate the truly powerful impetus towards “catholicism” (= broad inclusiveness) throughout history, and the convoluted efforts to bend over backwards to include rather outre ideas and populations — even in the later medieval period.
    I think both impulses could and did exist simultaneously, but you have to admit there was a fair bit of schisming even quite early on. From a lay perspective a lot of those early divisions seemed to be credal, although you know the history better and may have a better sense of underlying socioeconomic/ethnic conflict that could have precipitated the schisms.
    I agree that the Moors and the Jews presented a problem to catholicism, for a given definition of “problem”*, and certainly the Protestants did, but what were the Conversos and Galileo doing that necessitated their exclusion from the community? They were hardly standing on the rooftops and shouting “We’re here, we’re Jewish, deal with it!” See also the Crusades, which involved going abroad specifically to harass people. Yes, the Converso nonsense and the Crusades did have underlying socio-economic causes, but then, so does Baptist homophobia, so I don’t think we can exculpate Catholicism for its role in atrocities just because it wasn’t the entirety of the motivation for them. At the end of the day, if you march off to kill people wearing a uniform, I’m holding the guys who issued the uniform responsible, not the guy who failed to employ you in his grocery store so you wound up joining the army. And there’s no non-religious motivation for Galileo and co.
    * Although, you know, the Moors and Akbar and Genghis frickin’ Khan managed to successfully set up mutli-ethnic/multi-faith communities in the Middle Ages, so it’s not like it was impossible or something. “We will tolerate your weird choice of Easter dishes, but if you don’t acknowledge the divinity of Christ you have to leave the continent” is not a level of “catholicism” that I find impressively catholic.

  • Drake Pope

    (the African American community during the Civil Rights Era comes to mind),

    Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that there was immolation, but the community — at least the activist portions of it analogous to the people at the anti-gay vote convention — did experience numerous schisms, generally along conservative vs. radical. You have your Southern Christian Leadership Conference splitting with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, clashing even inside groups like the Nation of Islam (Malcolm X vs. Elijah Muhammad, which led to the former’s departure from the group after a personality conflict), and lots of in-fighting and noncooperation over even what the goals should be, ranging from NAACP’s Niagara-inspired legalism to the provocative rhetoric preferred by groups like NOI and the Black Panthers, who were even farther to the political left than your average Southern Baptist was willing to go.
    It never got as bad as, well, Stalinism but there was a lot of dissidence and infighting. It just doesn’t get a lot of play because most of the time when people talk about the Civil Rights movement the different groups (except for the NAACP) and only a few people (MLK Jr., Malcolm X, Thurgood Marshall, and I think a couple of others) tend to get known (mainly because they were either media-savvy — like MLK and Malcolm X — or won dramatic symbolic and legal victories).

    And you also have groups like the Nazis, who felt threatened and were totally kill-crazy but never bothered with serious internal purges despite fitting the profile perfectly

    The Night of the Long Knives was pretty serious, but I agree that they didn’t do the massive, Soviet-scale mass trials and executions thing. Hitler’s policy was to keep himself in power by encouraging in-fighting and petty power struggles among his administration. He would often appoint multiple people to overlapping (and sometimes identical) posts and let them curry favor with him by jockeying for power. He didn’t have to murder very many people since anyone who became too influential for his liking would either be eliminated somehow by one of their pre-selected implacable rivals.
    Of course, this of course enfeebled his governing apparatus, but it’s not like Hitler was really a “Good Government” advocate either way.

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer, who really doesn’t feel tired at all

    Auntie MG, won’t you please tell us a stowy?
    BWAHAHA!
    Actually, I will finally be a real Auntie sometime next month, so this tickled me.
    Yes, yes, I’ll tell you a story.
    My junior year in high school, I was dating my first girlfriend, and a few friends knew, and our families by this point, but I wasn’t publicly out yet. And my GF (her name was Jen) and I wound up participating in some sort of reading promotion program (only they picked all kids who already liked to read, so I don’t know what the point was exactly). And kids from all over the county were supposed to read the same book, and do a project on it, and then we got free from school to go to a conference about the book, and some of us presented projects. On of the books that year was Alicia: My Story, which was a Holocaust memoir, so the whole program at the conference was, of course, going to be Holocaust themed.
    Jen and I, by this point, knew that the Nazis had persecuted people other than Jews and stuck them in the camps, but most of our contemporaries did not. It may have been mentioned in passing in history, but in particular, it was never mentioned that gay men (and, to a lesser extent, lesbians) had been persecuted and killed, since that would have required our teachers to admit that such people actually existed, which, in the mid-nineties in Central Florida, was Not Done. Jen and I, rather naturally, felt that people should be aware of that fact, and wanted to include in our presentation the song “This Train Revised” by the Indigo Girls (we were teen queer girls, it was the mid nineties, of COURSE we loved the Indigo Girls. Still do, thanks). At first, the teacher working with us was in favor, but her husband talked her out of it,* and she told us we couldn’t include it.
    We were angry and disappointed, and we decided we’d find a way to get it in anyway. One of our hobbies at the time was decorating t-shirts, so we went with that. Jen’s featured Le triangle rose, and mine had a list of all the symbols used for prisoners at Auschwitz, along with what they stood for. Both of us had the lyrics on the back. We also brought photocopies of the lyrics, enough for all the attendees.
    We had expected it to serve as a silent protest, but as it happened, we got to speak out piece. One of the organizers had apparently spotted us, and got us up on stage separately from our group, and asked us to tell everyone about them. I don’t have any idea what we said — this was sixteen years ago — but we gave it our best shot, and passed around the photocopies, and then went and sat down. Nobody said another word about it to us. But it felt good to have done it, and I remain grateful to the organizer who pulled us up.
    I wore that shirt for years. I still have it, tucked away in the back of my closet with shirts too fragile to wear but too precious to ever get rid of. It was always a good conversation starter.
    That’s the story of the day I wore a pink triangle. And a Star of David, and a red triangle, and a blue one, and a black one, and a few other colors besides.
    And, if anybody wants a little more story time, there’s always the tale of the time I sent my boyfriend off to MEPS, for his physical and processing before he went into the Marines, with several each of pink triangle and rainbow flag stickers. And yes, he wore them.
    You just gave one of the best examples I can think of for why organized religion is evil. I am a theist. I fully believe that every human being needs a spiritual belief to be in balance with reality. But I also feel that organized religion is the biggest mistake our species has ever engaged in. This is why.
    Oh, FFS. Organized religion is no more evil than any other sort of organization of people, because it’s all still people. Are organized religions capable doing evil? Sure. So are other groups of people. They’re also perfectly capable of doing good. And don’t give us that everyone-needs-spiritual-belief bullshit, because it quite patently isn’t true. Many people get by just fine without any spiritual beliefs (and don’t play semantic games and try to redefine atheism as a spiritual belief), and it’s damned insulting to them.

  • Spearmint

    Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that there was immolation, but the community — at least the activist portions of it analogous to the people at the anti-gay vote convention — did experience numerous schisms, generally along conservative vs. radical
    Yes, but even though they split they seemed to spend more time fighting racism, or at any rate complaining about racism, than they did fighting each other. You hear a lot of denunciations of blue-eyed devils, not so many of Martin Luther King. The groups had a sort of “Pfft, that’ll never work” view of each other’s tactics, but they weren’t really denouncing each other as traitors to the cause, just lamer compadres with stupid plans. Whereas the Soviets were more interested in going after Trotskyites than actual fascists. The Soviets are kind of an extreme example; most people manage to avoid a total eating-our-own-entrails feeding frenzy. But if you look at what the American Right is doing now, it’s roughly similar- the moderates aren’t just wrong, they’re traitors to the Sacred Cause.
    The Night of the Long Knives was pretty serious
    They only did that once, and Ernst Rohm was an actual problem. The Night of the Long Knives was less a doctrinal purge and more cutting off elements of the party that had outlived their usefulness. They did the aristocracy later too, but those guys had conspired in an actual assassination attempt, so I don’t count that as a doctrinal purge either.
    @MG:
    Aw. Chibi-MG is cute too, along with Jen. Good for you guys!

  • Andrew Glasgow

    @hapax

    I no longer wear a cross when I’m at work, because I’m a public official and I don’t want to do anything that might make me seem less accessible to allmembers of the public.

    As a non-theist, I thank you for that. I don’t want to deny anyone’s right to wear a symbol of their religion, within reason, but it always makes me feel a little put off from the people who wear them. To use an example from your line of work (as I am a frequent patron of my local library, and due to my procrastinatory and forgetful nature, a frequent financial supporter through fines as well) I think I would feel concerned about trying to check out or reserve the latest Dawkins, Hitchens, etc. book with a librarian who was prominently displaying a christian symbol.

  • Andrew Glasgow

    @Lonespark

    I wonder what makes the difference? I mean, selling out to the aliens could be right thing to do, depending on the nature of the aliens and how their goals and values align with those of your human group. It’s not a bet I’d take, though, and I feel like I’m basing part of that on the very little I know about the different strategies pursued by American Indian (nations? tribes? What’s the best way to say that in this context?) in dealing with Europeans in general and British vs. (putative Americans? There’s a term for that, right? Rebelling colonists? NO CAN BRAIN tonight.) in particular.

    The currently favored terminology if you don’t mind right-wingers calling you politically correct is “First Nations”. Anthropologists also use the term “Amerindians” frequently, so “Amerindian Nations” is equally accurate, slightly less confusing, and less likely to get the anti-PC crowd’s boxers in a bunch since it has the word ‘indian’ in there. “Indian Tribes” is as likely as not to be used by the actual members of these tribes, though, for unless they’re trying to make a political point, most indians I’ve met don’t tend to be all that concerned about terminology. They are who they are regardless of what others call them, and they’ve got enough issues to deal with without that.
    @Spearmint: Those novels are the WorldWar series by Harry Turtledove. If you like Alternate History, and don’t mind Harry Turtledove’s particular style, they’re great reads. (If Harry Turtledove novels were movies or TV shows, you could totally make drinking games out of drinking every time he had a character say certain phrases or figures of speech, used certain tropes he used in every other book, or you had an ‘ah-hah, so this character is a parallel to THAT person in history’ moment. The next book I read of his that doesn’t make use of the turn of phrase I’m using in this sentence will be the first.)

  • http://j.com/ Tonio

    It’s not a dumb question, but I think the answer is no, because part of what makes a community a community is norms. No matter how nice and inclusive you, are you have to have them. Identifying and denouncing enemies is a way of defining and reinforcing the norms

    Well, I’ve called for rejecting “normality for its own sake,” which I put in quotes because I don’t know of a better word. The alternative is to recognize that norms are subjective, where a community equates departure from the norm as simply a difference, not as something bad or wrong.
    Your burning babies analogy fits my general point about morality. I would think that someone from any community can craft a moral position for putting out the flames, regardless of what norms the community has. I’m reluctant to turn that position into a norm, because anything that becomes a norm acquires a degree of immunity from questioning that has nothing to do with its merit or usefulness. Depending on the coummunity or the circumstances, a behavior that cannot be supported morally can end up becoming a norm. I’ve actually heard the idea that norms should be adhered to for their own sake as an argument against same-sex marriage.

    As a non-theist, I thank you for that. I don’t want to deny anyone’s right to wear a symbol of their religion, within reason, but it always makes me feel a little put off from the people who wear them.

    I agree, and would add that if the person is a government employee who has a public role, then it becomes a First Amendment issue as an implied government endorsement of the religion.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/mmy mmy

    You just gave one of the best examples I can think of for why organized religion is evil. I am a theist. I fully believe that every human being needs a spiritual belief to be in balance with reality. But I also feel that organized religion is the biggest mistake our species has ever engaged in.
    Wow, right in the middle of talking about how one type of belief system organized religion is evil you dump in a little sideswipe at another group of people. Thank you very much for telling me that I am out of balance with reality. Appreciate that. Hope you won’t limit my personal rights or deprive me of job or do anything like that. Holding my breath that you won’t suggest my citizenship be revoked.

  • http://guywhoreads.blogspot.com/ mike.timonin

    Auntie MG, won’t you please tell us a stowy?
    BWAHAHA!
    Actually, I will finally be a real Auntie sometime next month, so this tickled me.

    Whew. I’m glad, because after I saw my post in black and white, I was afraid that I was diminishing the story ahead of time.

  • http://www.inspectabridge.com Cassie

    At a church I no longer attend, during a Wednesday night service, the pastor talked about a group of Christians whose “rights” were being trampled on because they were asked to move their protest across the street, and not right in front of the property, of the home of a gay couple. He said that we, as a church, needed to help protect the rights of Christians, etc. etc. He said we needed to decide what kind of church we would be. So I stood up, on the second row, by the way…and said, “You’re right. We do need to decide what kind of church we will be. Because the God I serve speaks of LOVE, not hate. So if we are going to be a church that goes around protesting the actions of private citizens who are just trying to live their lives in peace, then this is not a church I want to be a part of.” This got some negative responses, and some other members who actually said, “Thank you for reminding me of that.” We discussed it civilly and I stayed there for a year or so more, but I could always tell that I was treated differently after that. It was uncomfortable and I eventually left. It is hard to find a church in my geographical area that is not homophobic, which makes it really tough. I love my religion…love the teachings of Jesus Christ…love the Bible. But some people make us all look like idiots sometimes.
    Thanks for your articles. Absolutely love them.

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer, who really doesn’t feel tired at all

    Well done and well said, Cassie. Thank you.

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer, who really doesn’t feel tired at all

    No worries, Mike. :)

  • oneiriad

    Dear Markus von Oldenburg, pretender to the throne
    While we do appreciate your kind offer, we are going to have to say thanks, but no thanks. We are perfectly happy with our current, occasionally Tolkien-fangirlish and generally kind of awesome queen – I mean, we liked her so much we changed our constitution to get her in the first place. We hope you won’t be too upset and do please take some consolation price candy: http://www.danishfood.net/ProductInfo.asp?ID=200
    Sincerely
    The people of Denmark
    Apart from that, why anyone would want to be the monarch of a constitutional monarchy is kind of beyond me – no freedom of opinion or speech, not really, no freedom of religion, not even the freedom to marry who you want without the consent of parliament. I mean, the castles are pretty and all, but really…

  • hapax

    Yay, Cassie!
    @Spearmint — I think I must have been putting my argument very very badly, because you seem to be reading into it something I wasn’t trying to say, if you think I was trying to “exculpate Catholicism for its role in these atrocities.”
    I agree 100% that the Catholic Church treated the external, obvious Not-Us with viciousness and violence. There was certainly a sustained, peaceful effort (and intermittent, extremely violent) efforts) to turn Not-Us into Us, but there sure wasn’t any sort of “live and let live” acceptance of religious diversity *outside* of the credal “fence”.
    My point was a lot less sweeping. By “exclusive tolerance”, I meant that the very existence of that “fence”, it made it much easier to accept diversity among those inside. No question that there were heresies and schisms* a-plenty during Christian history (this is one of the things I specialized in, back when I was an Early Christian historian), but what is astonishing (to me) is the amount of diversity in practice and belief that was accepted, as long as it could somehow be crammed inside the fence.
    In other words, unless there were obvious and evident external pressures, the Catholic Church didn’t tend to go looking for enemies inside. Most of the heresy trials I have read are pretty heavily weighted towards looking for some way, any way, of declaring the accused orthodox, and the accused refusing to be “included”. (Once again, I’m not saying that the Catholic Church was somehow morally “right” — the Borg is pretty damn inclusive as well!)
    Galileo is actually a pretty good case of this. There were plenty of scientists saying pretty much the same thing as he, and were not arrested. He managed to get himself in trouble by putting himself under the protection of a German Prince vying with Papal authority,then publishing a vicious “F*** you!” at the Pope, who was embroiled in some nasty political intrigue. Even then, there was a great deal of effort at high levels to somehow contort what he said into theological acceptability, and he was never excommunicated or in any ways excluded from being Us.
    *”Heresy” applies to Wrong Doctrine — e.g., denying that the Spirit was co-equal to the other members of the Trinity. “Schism” refers to Wrong Practice — e.g., refusing to baptise infants and children. The distinction is subtle and there is considerable overlap, but there are in fact useful reasons for making it, if you’re trying to figure what was going on

  • Sixwing

    @hapax: Thanks, that is exactly the kind of thing I was concerned about. I don’t have the cultural context and don’t want to step on anyone’s toes who does, that being rather not the point of supportive gestures. *s*
    @MaryKaye, the idea of using “peace” written in Arabic is an elegant solution! Arabic script is distinctive enough to get the point across, too. Now how to do it in metal…
    I forsee a lot of broken saw blades in my near future, with all those curves.

  • http://www.inspectabridge.com Cassie

    The hardest place to voice opposition is often the church, but it is exactly where we need to speak up on these subjects. I am still in church, and still ruffle a few feathers, although I do try to be mindful about a “spoonful of sugar”. I think it is crucial that we do not leave the church in droves, leaving the meanness (and the madness) to feed upon itself. Sometimes we have to stay and be the voice of reason and love. Even when the radicals make it hard. I have often found that the loudest voices do not necessarily reflect the views of the majority. We have to find a way to give that silent majority the permission and the motivation and the courage to speak up. Of course, I am personally speaking of my faith, but this goes for ALL faiths, all religions. And btw, we do not have freedom of religion unless we ALL have freedom OF religion and freedom FROM religion.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Galileo is actually a pretty good case of this. There were plenty of scientists saying pretty much the same thing as he, and were not arrested. He managed to get himself in trouble by putting himself under the protection of a German Prince vying with Papal authority,then publishing a vicious “F*** you!” at the Pope, who was embroiled in some nasty political intrigue. Even then, there was a great deal of effort at high levels to somehow contort what he said into theological acceptability, and he was never excommunicated or in any ways excluded from being Us.

    Yeah. People like to cite Galileo as an example of Religion Oppressing Science, but really, Galileo was convicted not so much of challenging the church’s worldview, as of being a jerk about it

    Apart from that, why anyone would want to be the monarch of a constitutional monarchy is kind of beyond me – no freedom of opinion or speech, not really, no freedom of religion, not even the freedom to marry who you want without the consent of parliament. I mean, the castles are pretty and all, but really…

    I think you will find that, for most people, one’s own personal freedom of speech is a small price to pay for being filthy stinking rich.
    Contrariwise, most people find freedom of speech a poor compensation when you’re starving and destitute.

  • GLADOS

    We are perfectly happy with our current, occasionally Tolkien-fangirlish and generally kind of awesome queen
    Wait, what? I think that answers the second question, though: what Tolkien fangirl wouldn’t want to be a queen? (given that “elf maiden” and “shield maiden of the Rohirrim” are not practical career choices in the 21st century)
    People like to cite Galileo as an example of Religion Oppressing Science, but really, Galileo was convicted not so much of challenging the church’s worldview, as of being a jerk about it
    Oh, right. So it wasn’t Religion Oppressing Science so much as Religion Oppressing Criticism Generally. Well, that makes it much better. (He was probably one of those New Heliocentrists that are always so rude and hurtful towards the geocentrists.)

  • Lori

    Oh, right. So it wasn’t Religion Oppressing Science so much as Religion Oppressing Criticism Generally. Well, that makes it much better.

    No, it wasn’t Religion Oppressing Criticism Generally, it was a tone argument. Because being rude is just unacceptable. That’s what makes it OK.

  • http://www.inspectabridge.com Cassie

    MG: I likewise grew up in Central Florida and remember all the things that were “just not done.”
    And along that vein: I was in the 5th grade when our schools integrated and remember the first African American boy and his sister who came to our school, the first year being a trial basis. I don’t remember protests or much being said about integration, but I think that may be part of the problem. This “unspoken agreement”…this “it just isn’t done”, is what makes it so hard to change mindsets. Because, honestly, if you leave your thoughts unspoken, everyone assumes you agree with “them”. I am Caucasion, with a Southern accent, and I attend an Evangelical Church. SOME people assume this means I am a Conservative Republican, homophobic, and racist. I know this because of what they say in front of me. This leaves a lot of opportunity for “wearing pink triangles”. It makes me unpopular, but I a) dont want to be stereotyped b) am not any of those labels and c) just don’t believe God wants us to be silent when people are being mistreated. If the Germans who hated what Hitler was doing had all spoken up, we might not have had a Holocaust. We are facing the same thing in America today. Obviously NOT all Christians are bigots, homophobic or any one particular political party. But, if we don’t speak up, the radicals will push their agenda and we will have a repeat of the horrors of our past.

  • http://lyorn.livejournal.com/ inge

    Ross: People like to cite Galileo as an example of Religion Oppressing Science, but really, Galileo was convicted not so much of challenging the church’s worldview, as of being a jerk about it
    A free society is one where it’s safe to be unpopular. (Stevenson, IIRC).

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Pius Thicknesse

    @MadGastronomer: I liked your story! :) (er, stories, I think)

    If Harry Turtledove novels were movies or TV shows, you could totally make drinking games out of drinking every time he had a character say certain phrases or figures of speech, used certain tropes he used in every other book,

    GAAAAAAAAAAH SO MUCH THIS.
    I must have winced in pain by the time I got to the end of In The Presence of Mine Enemies and had seen the same stupid freakin’ bridge tournament metaphor for the complex interpersonal dynamics between the Gimpels and… can’t remember the other family’s name now. Plus each and every character repeating almost word for word in their minds, the “we need to be hidden” motif (clarification: The POV characters in the books are all hidden Jews in the Nazi Empire). I kind of think I got it by about the middle of the book, Mr Turtledove.
    The book is good but there will be times you want to just strangle the guy for his repetitiveness.

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer, who really doesn’t feel tired at all

    Where did you grow up, Cassie?

  • http://www.inspectabridge.com Cassie

    MG: Lake County
    Loved your story, btw. I am a “storyteller” as well.

  • Dash

    Coming very late to the party, but I had to applaud Fred, Cassie, MG and Jen. Those apparently small actions do make a difference, although more often than not, you won’t have any idea what a difference they make. Sometimes it’s just a matter of inspiring someone else to have the courage to do something similar many years later–or when they grow up.
    Ross: I think you will find that, for most people, one’s own personal freedom of speech is a small price to pay for being filthy stinking rich.
    Contrariwise, most people find freedom of speech a poor compensation when you’re starving and destitute.

    A quibble, if I may: full agreement on the second part, but there are precious few cases of the filthy stinking rich (or even moderately wealthy) giving up their freedom of speech, except for the very few who are brought up since birth to keep their thoughts to themselves. And not even all of those (Princess Anne and Prince Philip, to name just two). And pretty though the castles are, you’re stuck with the eclectic decorating scheme you inherited from a few generations of ancestors whose taste most likely did not trend towards the sleek lines of modern decor. So, in addition to no freedom of speech, no freedom of religion, and restrictions on who you can marry, your iPad sticks out like a sore thumb on great-great-grandmother’s roll-top desk.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Pius Thicknesse

    {all of you for being lovely people}
    Ahem. Just had to say that. :)

  • ajay

    it was a tone argument. Because being rude is just unacceptable. That’s what makes it OK.
    Lori’s being sarcastic here, I assume. I hope.

  • Lori

    Well, I was being sarcastic about it being OK. I think calling it a tone argument is fairly accurate.

  • http://www.inspectabridge.com Cassie

    MG: Grew up in Lake County, but no longer live there.

  • Spearmint

    No, it wasn’t Religion Oppressing Criticism Generally, it was a tone argument. Because being rude is just unacceptable. That’s what makes it OK.
    Inorite?!!
    @hapax:
    I’m still not seeing how you get “[I'm astonished by] the amount of diversity in practice and belief that was accepted” from “the Catholics only used heresy (or schism, I suppose, since the accusation against the Conversos was technically heteropraxis) as a pretext to murder people they already disliked.” That’s not tolerance, that’s just laziness and hypocrisy. Baptists don’t go after Limbaugh and Gingrich on their divorces when they’re defending the sanctity of marriage, but we don’t often cite it as an example of their “astonishing acceptance of diversity.”
    You’re free to be astonished by whatever you like, I guess, but I’m still finding this whole line of argument baffling.
    If you’re just trying to say that Catholics tried to fold a lot of minor diversity of religious opinion and practice into the church when they didn’t have ulterior motives to murder someone, then sure, I agree. But that’s a bit like giving the Nazis credit for tolerance because they tried to fold German Czechs into the Reich.
    Even then, there was a great deal of effort at high levels to somehow contort what he said into theological acceptability, and he was never excommunicated or in any ways excluded from being Us.
    On account of how he recanted. They killed Bruno, which strikes me as a pretty emphatic exclusion from “Us.”
    They were certainly willing to let people recant (some people, people whose money they didn’t want to steal), so I suppose they deserve credit for being better than the NKVD or Orwell’s Thought Police. But I thought the relevant comparison was to “people of good will,” not to kitten-burners.

  • Anonymous

    What a bunch of idiots. Duh.

  • Robyrt

    I wouldn’t say that medieval Catholics were particularly tolerant, just that their axes of concern were different from ours. They came down very hard on anything with political ramifications – Bruno, Cathars, Galileo, the Free Spirit group, etc. – but left a lot of latitude on other points. Although I have read considerably less of the relevant literature than hapax has, so take that as you will.

  • hapax

    Spearmint, you obviously have a burning desire to pick a fight with someone who is offering an apologia for the Crusades and the Inquisition, and is presenting the medieval Church’s tolerance of dissent as a moral examplar.
    I can’t fault your righteous indignation, but I really don’t understand your insistence that that person is ME.
    To repeat my hypothesis, for about the umpteenth time: Highly credal religious organizations, which present an “objective standard” excluding of Not-Us from Us, have an advantage in expanding in a largely “Not Us” society.
    This is because they can incorporate a large variety of practices and beliefs under the umbrella of “Us” — the old “those who are not against us are with us” theory — and have a considerable investent in trying to get disparate groups to “convert” or “recant” to the minimal standard necessary for re-incorporation within Us.
    This may have positive social effects of permitting diversity and tolerance; it also, as you correctly point out, may have negative consequences of laziness and hypocrisy. In fact, these negative effects are generally the principle reason that dissenting groups in the later medieval period so emphatically resisted the opportunity to be re-admitted within the fold of “Us.”
    Meanwhile, groups without such credal statements may have to be more rigorous in policing internal diversity — “those who are not with us are against us.” This has positive social effects of greater clarity of message and zeal; it has negative effects of increasing intolerance and conformity.
    I briefly suggested, but quickly withdrew upon a moment’s consideration, a suggestion that such a distinction might also account for the intensity of attacks against those classified as (or insist vociferously on proclaiming themselves as) Other. I think that these can be more correctly attributable to the degree that We (rightly or wrongly) believe themselves threatened by Not-Us, which is a whole separate issue.
    I don’t mind kicking around this idea on its merits — I’ve hardly got any particular dog in the fight. I think that this could account for the diversity of views and practices which I assure you were tolerated in early and high medieval theology and praxis (I’d give you a starting reading list, if you are interested) as long as there was a minimal effort to cram them as somehow within the limits of the creeds and canons.
    But I’d rather not conflate it with the idea that I’m defending burning heretics, or attacking heliocentrism, or am in any other way making a MORAL judgment upon the policies of the medieval Church as an institution.
    Now this particular topic may not be interesting to you, or to anyone else. It certainly doesn’t offer much scope for righteous indignation, let alone snark.
    But I’d be grateful if you would stop putting me in the place of your imaginary enemies.

  • renniejoy
  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Pius Thicknesse

    @hapax: Aside on terminology – can you explain what on earth “credal” even means? and “qua”?
    (ax-grind) Can people who use these kinds of terms please take the time to define them every now and then? Or try to use less esoteric terms? Biggest example of lack-of-definition: I saw people using the term “Manichean Struggle” for TEN YEARS not knowing what it meant until Al Gore’s The Assault on Reason defined it in terms any layperson could understand. Then a lot of shit suddenly made WAY more sense in retrospect because it means a “two-sided, polarized struggle between two entities conceived as larger than life, in which that struggle is to the death, or analog thereof.”(/ax-grind)

  • http://fiadhiglas.wordpress.com Laima

    Lonespark, I was in the same situation more or less when I went on an interview in December. The interview went well and they were very interested in hiring me, but I quickly realized that the job was a lot less interesting than the ad had made it sound, and also that they were paying a lot less than the going rate (and if they’d said in the ad what range they were willing to pay, I never would’ve answered the ad). I basically said to them, if you can’t pay me the going rate (and by then, they had said that they couldn’t), I’d appreciate it if you didn’t offer me this job, so that I don’t have to turn it down because then I’ll lose my unemployment benefits. They were kind enough to not offer me the job. They did have someone else they were considering, so presumably they hired that person instead.
    I know MaryKaye said something similar further up, but she was the interviewER, so I wanted you to know that I used that strategy as a fellow interviewEE.
    Good luck!

  • Art

    “Credal” is another way of spelling “creedal”, i.e. meaning “relating to a creed” or, in this case, “having a creed” — i.e. what she is calling a “non-credal denomination” is a denomination that puts relatively little emphasis on shared belief in a specific, spelled-out set of spiritual truths.
    “Qua” is just the Latin word for “as”. You usually see it in English as part of a figure of speech, such as when we use it in English in that specific “X qua X” formation, i.e. “religion as religion”. You still get the idea if you read it as “religion as religion”; it basically means if you look at religion for the characteristics that specifically make it *religion*, rather than being distracted by the other qualities religion has that it shares with similar activities that are not religion, or that individual religions have that are not common to all religion, etc.

  • Spearmint

    But I’d be grateful if you would stop putting me in the place of your imaginary enemies.
    Oh, come off it. It’s not like I have a personal vendetta against you; my objections were to what I perceived to be your point. Reading through the comments, I’m clearly not the only person who thought your framing of the Galileo trial was a little questionable. If I’ve misinterpreted what you’re saying, fine, but you’ve got no reason to assume I was doing so deliberately.
    Getting back to the point, there are two ways your thesis can be disproven (or medieval Catholicism can be demonstrated not to provide convincing support for it, anyway):
    1. Medieval Catholicism was not effectively providing a big tent, either because the credal tent was too small or because people who were already in the tent were still getting declared “Not-Us” and persecuted.
    2. Analogous non-credal organizations were as or more effective at protecting diversity.
    The Inquisition argues for the first point. I haven’t really addressed the second point, but certainly it seems like the non-credal pagan Roman political-religious complex was doing better than the Catholic church at fostering diversity, as were the non-credal Moors, Mughals and Mongols.
    If you’re going to argue something has “positive social effects of permitting diversity and tolerance,” evidence for lack of tolerance and persecution of diversity refutes your argument. I’m not bringing all this up because I think you’re an apologist for Torquemada, I’m bringing it up because I think it means your argument is wrong.
    Likewise all the sociopolitical causes of heresy persecutions stuff- I’m not arguing against it because I think you think it was okay to kill Galileo as long as the real motivation wasn’t heresy, I’m arguing against it because I think you think it means the Galileo trial isn’t relevant to your thesis. Whereas I think if the Church can kill someone they dislike on a pretext of heresy, then clearly credalism isn’t doing much to protect diversity.
    I’m perfectly willing to believe the medieval church tolerated a wide range of religious opinion and praxis- like I’ve said all along, you’re the expert in the field, and I bow to your superior knowledge of the subject. What I’m questioning is the idea that this resulted in more tolerance on net, because it seems to me like they build a pretty small tent to begin with and then said to a bunch of the people in the tent “You’re hogging all the juice, so we’re kicking you out.”

  • hapax

    Can people who use these kinds of terms please take the time to define them every now and then?
    I do apologize. I don’t think of them as esoteric terms, because I use them all the time, and I don’t want to sound condescending by explaining them. Obviously I erred on the wrong side of the line.
    They mean exactly what Art says.

  • http://j.com/ Tonio

    RennieJoy, thanks for that link. I heard someone claim today that the Cordoba group should find another location to show “class” and “tact”, and this is from someone who was condemning the hateful bashing of Muslims. He was under the impression that the group made a big splash with the project, when in reality it went unnoticed by the national media for months until a right-wing blog picked up on it.

    this “it just isn’t done”, is what makes it so hard to change mindsets.

    My parents used almost that same phrase when my brother began dating an African-American during college. I learned later that they initially saw this as an act of rebellion, and that if I had done what he did, I would have been thrown out of the house. That’s one reason I share the Feministe blog’s rejection of the “saving face” argument.

  • hapax

    @Spearmint: Oh, come off it. It’s not like I have a personal vendetta against you; my objections were to what I perceived to be your point
    No, but you were the one who brought up Nazis and kitten burning and whatnot, so it seemed like you were taking *something* personally.
    I’m glad it’s not me.
    I agree with your two counter arguments. I don’t think that you’ve provided evidence to back up #2, because the “Mughals and Moors” were Muslims, and I argued way back in my first post that Islam was *more* effective than Christianity in this topic, in that its “creed and canons” equivalent (the Shahada and the Five Pillars) were even simpler and more “objective” and unambiguous.
    As far as the Mongols, you’re talking about a political organization. They didn’t have any interest (quite the opposite) in making subject populations part of “Mongol-hood”.
    The Roman Empire is a good argument, though — not in making people believe the Roman religion (which was pretty much a failure) but in buying into a certain cultural “Romanitas”. I’m not sure that they tolerated a great deal of diversity in this cultural ethos, but I don’t think it was “fenced in” by any sort of explicit creed, either. And there was not any sort of internal investigation and purging for not being “Real True Romans”, that I can come up with off the top of my head (perhaps because the social benefits of Romanitas were so evident and extreme?)
    Any ways, I need to think more on that one.
    As to your argument #1, and Galileo, I’ll address those in a bit, when I no longer have three people, a dog and a bird all simultaneously yelling for their dinner.
    (That’s assuming that anyone actually cares, besides me.)

  • Winter

    Re: Article renniejoy quote:
    Every time someone mentions that saying about attracting flies with sugar instead of vinegar, I want to mention something else that attracts flies just as well. Starts with ‘s’ and ends with ‘hit.’


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