With or without you

“Self-identified evangelicals in these two states are also much more likely than others to favor legal bans on interracial marriage: nearly one-fourth in Alabama, and one-third in Mississippi.”

Catrina was arrested at gun point, handcuffed, and hauled off to the LaSalle Parish Jail. A search of her home turned up no evidence of drug use or drug dealing.”

Read the story from the victim’s perspective. This is what defines the Christian imagination.”

You folks enjoy the rest of the show.”

“The relevant question for faithful Christians is thus not whether Paul would have affirmed homosexual marriage: on the basis of the conceptual apparatus he had available, he would have been able to grasp neither the concept homosexual nor the Nicene affirmation that the Son is ‘of one substance’ with the Father. Even if, as is likely, he would have been alarmed on both counts, this does not settle the issue, for the force of Paul’s teaching may point toward developments that he would not have expected.”

This is a matter of freedom, and I want people to be free.”

What other species on the planet punishes the female for being impregnated by a male?”

“So, if I’m understanding Inhofe correctly, God needs our help to maintain Israeli security, but doesn’t need — much less want — our help to combat climate change.”

“When state and local taxes are taken into account along with federal taxes, the poorest fifth of households pays about 15 percent of income in taxes; the next fifth pays about 21 percent.”

“There is moral rot in America but it’s not found in the private behavior of ordinary people. It’s located in the public behavior of people who control our economy and are turning our democracy into a financial slush pump.”

“Like Niebuhr, Obama combines a love affair with the American experiment with an ethical critique of American presumption.”

“I like ‘raisin date,’ though. It has a certain Jenny Saykwa.”

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  • Brandi

    The “Jenny Saykwa” thing reminds me of a comment John Scarne made in Scarne on Cards:

    Now see what happens to French in a half century of abrasion in everyday speech. Today a substantial minority of Americans call [Vingt-et-Un] Vanjohn, or Pontoon. From Vingt-et-Un to Pontoon; from Chemin de Fer to Shimmy! A man with a sensitive ear can have a lot of fun at a gambling table and never lose a dime…

  • We Must Dissent

    I can’t decide if the author of that blog entry is being dumb or trying for some sort of meta-humor by writing je ne sais quoi [“I don’t know what”] as the ungrammatical and contextually nonsensical je nais se quoi [“I am born itself what”].

    And I’ve never understood how the V voilà got turned into a W. Or is that people don’t hear it because it it followed by /w/ and /vw/ is not a native English combination?

  • http://www.blogger.com/home?pli=1 Coleslaw

    Actually, I Googled the correct spelling of je ne sais quoi and then apparently switched the “e” and the “ais” in copying it. So, yeah, dumb, but it has now been corrected.

  • Anonymous

     

    And I’ve never understood how the V voilà got turned into a W.
    Or is that people don’t hear it because it it followed by /w/ and /vw/
    is not a native English combination?

    This is just how language works.  Sounds change over time in different groups.  If it didn’t happen, then we wouldn’t have different languages in the first place.  It especially common when borrowing words from another language, but it happens within languages too.  That’s why we have “warranty” and “guarantee” which were both borrowed from french, but at different times and a shift had happened in that time.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    “Self-identified evangelicals in these two states are also much more likely than others to favor legal bans on interracial marriage: nearly one-fourth in Alabama, and one-third in Mississippi.”

    In 2012, no less.

    *blink*

    *checks calendar*

    Yep, 2012, not 1952.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     I suspect that people who think like that would have died off of natural causes by now, if four decades of the southern strategy hadn’t served as a lifeline to keep resentment alive

  • Tricksterson

    In 2004 IIRC there was a nonbinding referendum on banning interacial marriage in Alabama.  The yeas got 40% of the vote.  I’m betting that if it had had the force of law (which thanks to the Constitution and the Supreme Court’s Loving decision it couldn’t) it would have gotten more.

  • Lori

    The theme for the chapel this semester is to share about characters in
    the Bible who have affected or inspired your spiritual walk.

    I selected the unnamed concubine from Judges 19. 

    How interesting, Dr Beck and I have something in common. If I was asked to chose which single Bible character most effected my spiritual walk I would also pick the unnamed concubine from Judges 19. I can still remember the first time I really read that passage. Let’s just say that I was not filled with an awareness of God’s great love for me. That was the day I stopped taking the faith in which I was raised at face value and started asking a lot of questions instead. We all know how that turned out.

  • Heartfout

    I’m not sure if it was delibrate or not, but the entire piece is filled with language that indicates that all Christians, and only Christians, see the story through the victim’s eyes.

    Combining this with the repeated handwavings about why it happened…it wasn’t a particularly pleasent piece to read.

  • http://flickr.com/photos/sedary_raymaker/ Naked Bunny with a Whip

     

    We read the story from the victim’s perspective because our imaginations
    have been shaped, through repeated tellings, by the story of Jesus,
    from the Triumphal Entry to the Crucifixion.

    I only need to use a little human empathy to put myself in her place, or the place of her family.

  • Heartfout

    Well, according to the piece, you actually need to have been shaped by Jesus. So I guess we just think that we can use basic empathy to put ourselves in her place, and we are just lying to ourselves. Or something.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Exit polls from Mississippi and Alabama show that Santorum got stronger support from women, especially married women, than men. What’s up with Alasippian women?

  • Matri

    … Whut?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    http://elections.nytimes.com/2012/primaries/states/alabama/exit-polls

    Alabama primary: 38% of female voters supported Santorum, compared to 31% of male voters. In other exciting Alabama news, 32% of all Republican primary voters want abortion to be illegal in all cases and 20% think that Santorum is not conservative enough.

    http://elections.nytimes.com/2012/primaries/states/mississippi/exit-polls

    Mississippi: 35% of females (including 41% of married women) and 31% of males supported Santorum. One in four Republican primary voters here think Santorum’s positions aren’t sufficiently conservative.

  • Anonymous

    I’d guess that among anti-Romney voters, many women probably voted against Gingrich more than for Santorum. Though Romney came in third in both states, women preferred him and Santorum to Gingrich, who won the male vote in both states. Tellingly, in Mississippi, among unmarried women Romney was the winner and Santorum came in behind Gingrich. (The Alabama exit polls don’t have a breakdown for unmarried women.)

  • Tonio

    From the first article: “white conservative evangelicals in this country have come to conflate their faith with conservative cultural values.” That’s only part of the answer for the Alabama and Mississippi poll results. Sure, most of the respondents who said “Muslim” are probably using that word as a euphemism for Obama’s ethnicity. But that doesn’t mean they’re too dumb to grasp the distinction between ethnicity and religious affiliation. It means instead something that Fred has described many times – this group defines religion itself in tribalist terms. Similarly, while misunderstandings of evolution are very common, this group uses the word as a similar tribal euphemism, to mean atheism and modernism and any other ism that it perceives as contradicting their idea of religion.

  • Lori

    Yeah, Dr Beck’s reasons for choosing to speak about the unnamed concubine, and what he said about her & the story, were BS in a really annoying way. I really need to come up with/remember to better indicate irony in my posts.

    The unnamed concubine is truly the character in the Bible who most influenced my “spiritual walk”, so Beck and I do have that in common. The thing is, he hand-waves the story in Judges and pats himself on the back with the New Testament, whereas I saw (and still see) the story quite differently. Maybe that’s because I see the unnamed concubine, while what Beck sees is a “lesson”.

  • WingedBeast

    I didn’t read that particular passage, but part of my own road from Methodist to atheist was paved by the number of horrible victimizations that seem to come with the message that “this unnecessary victimization was the good and just thing.”

    This includes punishing all humans for the sin of one*, the plagues cast upon Egyptian subjects who had absolutely no say in Phaeroes slavery policies, wars where the word from God actually commanded infanticide.  All of this does take away the idea that there is a moral perfection in God, which was an assumption of every form of Christianity I had come across.

    The idea that only those shaped in Christianity can see things from the victim’s side is… insulting to everybody Christian or not.  And, considering some of the bible, that may be, at times, the opposite of the intention, elsewise the bible would have a lot more sympathy for Cain.

    *Whether literal or figurative, Genesis does, at least from an assumption of a perfect God, require that you accept this as something good people do.

  • Wednesday

    The Judges story is horrible. I’ve seen people defend Lot’s behavior in Sodom as “oh, he wasn’t really going to give his daughters over to be gang-raped, he was just making an analogy/being snarky,” so I guess now I’m going to have to refer them to Judges 19. 

    I wish Dr. Beck were correct and that Christians really were more likely to empathize with and view things from victims’ perspectives. Unfortunately, a lot of the problems we’re having in the US right now (and some of the problems we’ve exported, like US pastors fighting for the Kill The Gays bill in Uganda) make it clear that is not the case.

  • vsm

     

    I’ve seen people defend Lot’s behavior in Sodom as “oh, he wasn’t really
    going to give his daughters over to be gang-raped, he was just making
    an analogy/being snarky,”

    I always thought the “correct” answer is that Lot’s sacred duty was to protect his guests by any means necessary, what with the region’s insistence on hospitality.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    TW: mention of sexual assault

    I’ve long interpreted that as being an implicit admission in the Bible that God tolerates rape as long as it’s of the heterosexual variety, in preference to any same-sex sexual activity, consensual or non-.

  • vsm

     TW: sexual assault, cont.

    There’s a rather more explicit suggestion that God downright approves of heterosexual rape in certain situations in Numbers 31:15-18. Granted, it’s Moses speaking rather than God, but he doesn’t object. That passage was quite significant in my particular spiritual journey.

    Anyway, for political reasons it’s probably best to advance the interpretation that the sin of Sodom was a lack of hospitality. Perhaps not a terribly principled reason, but at least Ezekiel seems to agree.

  • Richard

    Thanks to Fred for linking to my post about the unnamed concubine in Judges 19. Reading some of the comments here, my apologies for any irritation I’ve caused or bullshit on my end.

    A couple of thoughts:

    First, consider the context of the post. It was chapel talk at my school in West Texas. Our students are pretty evangelical and conservative in outlook, religiously and politically. The point being, I can see how such a talk would be irritating to those looking in from the outside, particularly Fred’s readers. But my hope is that even an “outsider” would see how such a talk is important for my students to hear given how they currently see the world and how I think they should see the world as Christians (i.e., standing with the victims of the world). Let alone getting them to read and confront the darker texts in the bible.

    Second, regarding the comments stating that we don’t need Jesus to “see her” in the story, just some empathy. That’s true, but I think that is missing the point.  The question for me is where did all this empathy come from, historically speaking? Rene Girard argues that the gospel story was the first of its kind in the West, the first “myth” to tell the story from the victim’s perspective and thus, once and for all, exposing the scapegoating mechanisms of the world. In the wake of the gospel, Girard contends, victims became visible. My talk about Judges 19 was simply an application of Girard’s idea.

    Of course, there are other accounts for the rise in empathy that don’t invoke the gospel (see Steven Pinker’s recent book). Regardless, for me the more interesting question is this: To what extent, historically speaking, has the gospel affected the moral imagination of the world? And I’m sure opinions differ on that score.

    Pax.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    Second, regarding the comments stating that we don’t need Jesus to “see her” in the story, just some empathy. That’s true, but I think that is missing the point.  The question for me is where did all this empathy come from, historically speaking? … To what extent, historically speaking, has the gospel affected the moral imagination of the world?

    So you agree that it’s true we don’t need Jesus for empathy, but you think the rise of empathy was largely influenced by the Gospel? Seriously? As in “well, you can have empathy, but only because the Gospel got there first?”

    There are other accounts for the rise in empathy that not only don’t invoke the gospel, but don’t invoke religion at all.

    Don’t get me wrong: I’m thrilled that you had an opportunity to expose culturally conservative West Texans to the notion of imagining themselves suffering the plight of others and using that experience to inform their attitudes. I think that’s a valuable service, to add some compassion for others to a worldview that reverts to tribalism all too quickly. But I’m dismayed that the only tool you thought could reach these evangelicals was the Gospel, that without divine sanction, you thought they would be unwilling or unable to adopt a new perspective.

  • http://flickr.com/photos/sedary_raymaker/ Naked Bunny with a Whip

    I guess it’s just as well that a power failure ate the comment I was writing giving Mr. Beck the benefit of the doubt about his phrasing. Turns out he’s akin to one of those people who thinks the Ten Commandments are the reason I don’t feel the urge to murder people and loot their corpses.

  • Richard

    Hi Chris,
    Oh, I agree that there have been other sources of empathy. I’m not making an exclusive claim for Christianity. I’m just saying the gospel could be a part of that conversation. How big a part is what makes the conversation interesting.

    And regarding the gospel being the “only tool” I used I’d just remind again about my point #1. It was the only tool I used in the that particular chapel talk. But it’s not the only tool I use across the board. For example, I think our capacities for empathy are rooted in evolutionary history (e.g., kin selection), which, incidentally, also accounts for our bias toward “tribalism.”

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    Once more, with feeling, I’m thrilled that you were able to expose culturally conservative West Texans to the experience of empathy for others. I really do think that’s a valuable service both to those folks specifically, and to the larger society. And I commend you for bringing forward for consideration “the darker texts of the Bible”.

    Why is it, do you suppose, that it was this ‘darker’ story that allowed the notion of empathy to take root for these conservative evangelicals? Why should this story bring about such reactions and thoughts, where the much more well known and widely studied stories failed? Do you believe it was the novelty of the new, an unfamiliar story invoking new and unfamiliar thoughts? Another implication is that the more popular stories simply aren’t as effective at invoking empathy for one’s fellow man. I’m curious what factors you percieve are at work.

  • Richard

    “Why is it, do you suppose, that it was this ‘darker’ story that allowed
    the notion of empathy to take root for these conservative evangelicals?
    Why should this story bring about such reactions and thoughts, where the
    much more well known and widely studied stories failed?”

    Hi Chris,
    Two reasons, I think. The first is that I think these familiar stories get tamed and co-opted. They become moralized little fables. For example, two of the most horrific stories in the bible, in my opinion, are the attack on Jericho and the binding/sacrifice of Isaac. But both are regular Sunday School fare for kids (with the darker elements removed). Shoot, the attack on Jericho is even a Veggi Tale (though I do like the peas with the French accents in the story). Nothing like a genocide acted out by animated vegetables…

    The second reason is that most Christians don’t really read the whole bible. They tend to pick around the harder and darker parts. For example, when I read Judges 19 to the students it was the first time many of them had ever heard the story. They didn’t even know it was in the bible. Thus, the horror, being new, was able to come through more clearly.

  • Si

    Richard,
    thanks for engaging with us. I’m also glad that of all the links included in Fred’s post, people responded the most to yours. I know I did.

    I also thought was you said was, as the above commenter put it, “BS in a really nnoying way,” but it’s very similar to the annoying BS that I get at temple, where I am sure my rabbi would have said that as Jews, our unique history leads us to unique empathy. I suppose all religions are prone to exceptionalism.

    In fact, of course, none of them have a corner on empathy. Empathy is a universal human trait, and not only a human trait – a mammal trait. Even rodents show empathy and exhibit altruism.

    As a non-Christian, I don’t see that the rise of Christianity in the world has contributed to what Pinker has argued is a general increase in empathy/decrease in violence. In fact, during the parts of history when Christianity was more dominant and powerful than it is now, the general state of humanity was much more barbaric and violent. If anything, it seems to be that beast reviled by conservative Christians – secular humanism – that has contributed most to the modern standards of humane behavior. It’s only since the Enlightenment that such practices as capital punishment, slave-trading, colonialism, torture, institutional injustice, child labor, etc have come to be seen as undesirable in civilizations.

    That said, I do believe, as a nonChristian, that your message to your students – that they should read stories from the point of view of the victims – is a true teaching of Jesus. (I don’t worship the guy but I’m a huge fan of his work.) I would like for Christians to believe that their duty, as Christians, is to cultivate empathy – to identify with and fight for “the least of these.” It’s when the Christian exceptionalism creeps in that this message becomes dangerous. “We as Christians are uniquely moral” implies “NonChristians are not as moral as us” which in turn can lead to “Why should we moral Christians stand up for those immoral Others?” which defeats the purpose of the exercise. If you repeated this lesson leaving aside the exceptionalism, it might serve your students better in the long run.

    With respect.

  • Richard

    Hi Si,
    Your respect came through. Thank you.

    I can see how the post smacks of Christian exceptionalism. For that I apologize. I can only plead, as I have here, for attention to the context of the talk (the Christian chapel context). In that talk I was using the gospel as a hermeneutic for the story in Judges 19 suggesting to the students that they should use that hermeneutic–seeing and standing with victims–in every facet of their lives. Such a hermeneutical application should define the Christian’s imagination. But this wasn’t to suggest that a Jewish person couldn’t make very similar moves with a Jewish-inspired reading of Judges 19 to create a uniquely Jewish moral imagination. Or for an atheist using, say, a feminist reading to create a feminist moral imagination from the same text.

    Regarding the rise of empathy during the Enlightenment. That is one way to tell the story. But there are other ways. For example, Charles Taylor in his book A Secular Age argues that the benevolent humanism of the Enlightenment had its roots in Christian agape. But of course, people can push back on that claim. I’m just pointing to other ways of telling the story.

  • Si

     Thanks for replying, Richard. Please don’t feel the need to apologize – I only want to push you further into the point of view of the Other. : )  It’s a matter of nuances – I wholeheartedly believe that Christians are called by Jesus to be  empathetic, as empathetic as they can be; it’s a mandate. (In Judaism this mandate is called “tikkun olam,” the repair of the world.)  I don’t think faith in Christ necessarily predisposes people to this, alas; but it *should.*

    Thanks for responding with grace and thoughtfulness, and I hope you continue to inspire your church to open their minds to experiences different from their own.

  • Richard

    Si,
    Thanks. I recall coming across the idea of tikkun olam before. I think in reading
    Heschel. Is there a good theology book out there that unpacks that idea?

  • Richard

    Si,
    Thanks. I recall coming across the idea of tikkun olam before. I think in reading
    Heschel. Is there a good theology book out there that unpacks that idea?

  • Si

     Thanks for replying, Richard. Please don’t feel the need to apologize – I only want to push you further into the point of view of the Other. : )  It’s a matter of nuances – I wholeheartedly believe that Christians are called by Jesus to be  empathetic, as empathetic as they can be; it’s a mandate. (In Judaism this mandate is called “tikkun olam,” the repair of the world.)  I don’t think faith in Christ necessarily predisposes people to this, alas; but it *should.*

    Thanks for responding with grace and thoughtfulness, and I hope you continue to inspire your church to open their minds to experiences different from their own.

  • Ian needs a nickname

    “the entire piece is filled with language that indicates that all Christians, and only Christians, see the story through the victim’s eyes.”
    Heartfout, I don’t think that was the intention, though it’s not a piece he should have posted to a general audience without heavy editing.  Neither you nor I was the intended audience.  “You’re likely wondering” is making false assumptions about what readers who are not seminarians at his college might be thinking.  Judging by what I’ve read of him in the past I don’t think he’s blind enough to think that Christians have a monopoly on empathy.  Ironically, his failure to see what he was saying from the perspective of all of his readers was a failure of empathy on his part.     

    I took the intended message to be “Hey Christian!  Your favorite story gives you an extra reason to be empathetic!”  Stories can do that.  Historically, people who read stories about families being broken up by slavers tended to turn against slavery.  Personal stories of friends who’ve been hurt are all the more effective at helping us see things from the victim’s point of view.  Good stories facilitate empathy (though you can have empathy without them).

    What’s troubling is that the Jesus story does not seem to be having that effect on Christians today.  In fact, studies show that evangelicals are less empathetic than the population average.  American Christians seem to prefer the perspective of the soldiers of the empire who get their kicks out of torturing foreigners over the perspective of Jesus.  I’m not going to pull a no-true-Scotsman, but somebody who adopts that viewpoint rather than the viewpoint of the victim does not seem to have been influenced by the story of Jesus.

  • Richard

    “What’s troubling is that the Jesus story does not seem to be having that effect on Christians today”

    Totally agreed. Hence the need for chapel talks to bang this point home. :-)

  • Ian needs a nickname

    …and there’s Richard talking about his intentions.  There must be a comment-preview button around here somewhere…

  • Anonymous

     

    The question for me is where did all this empathy come from, historically speaking? Rene Girard argues that the gospel story was the first of its kind in the West, the first “myth” to tell the story from the victim’s perspective and thus, once and for all, exposing the scapegoating mechanisms of the world. In the wake of the gospel, Girard contends, victims became visible.

    Actually, I’m pretty sure Girard doesn’t make a claim that strong, not that he’s a terribly authoritative source on comparative religion.  In any case, no, there were tons of victims’-perspective stories written before or independently of the Gospels, and many of these could have influenced the writing of the Gospels themselves. 

     Consider Briseis’ lament in the Iliad, or half the output of Sophocles and Euripides, or the lays of Gudrun for a Norse example.  Girard himself recognized Sophocles’ Antigone  as “the most perfect figura Christi of the ancient world,” and it seems to me that the Theban plays provide stronger dissection and rejection of the scapegoat idea than the Gospels do.  (Following Robert M. Price, I’d argue that the Gospels embody the scapegoat myth more than they challenge it.)

    Regardless, for me the more interesting question is this: To what extent, historically speaking, has the gospel affected the moral imagination of the world?

    I would think that question goes hand in hand with another: To what extent was the gospel shaped by the moral imagination of the world, or at least that part of the world from which it sprang?  If it really is profoundly different from any stories within the Tanakh, could that be because it was written by and for a very different community?  After all, it’s not as if Jewish culture was static for a few centuries until Jesus appeared and started shaking things up.

  • Dan Audy

    I find that story of Catrina Wallace sadly enlightning regarding the state of the ‘War on Drugs’.  The primary organiser for the Jena 6 is jailed for 15 years with no evidence (literally) except the testimony of a convicted drug dealer trading for reduced sentence.  It is hard to believe that this is anything other than retribution from the law enforcement and judicial arms for Catrina creating so much negative attention on their abuse of power and racism and from a extremely racially divided community which only had one person of colour on the jury.

  • http://twitter.com/fancyflyting AE Lopt

     I’m genuinely having trouble processing that story.  I thought I had some understanding of the injustices in our legal system, but I just can’t grasp this horror.  On one man’s word, a woman is kidnapped away from her children for a crime that, at worst, would hurt her, her dependents, and her customers – and her kids will now be hurt instead by her absence.  Drug users are such miserable scum that the slightest suspicion of drug use is worth a prison sentence the length of the average PhD – but drug users are also so trustworthy that on one user’s word, someone can be shoved into prison for five years.  Dozens arrested?  And then no physical evidence of drug use?  There were T-shirts?  I’m just spinning in circles here.  It’s like the abyss waved back.