Monday, January 31, 2005

Primate Porn:

It appears that homo sapiens are not the only apes who enjoy looking at photographs of genitalia. An interesting new study has found that "male monkeys will give up their juice rewards in order to ogle pictures of female monkey's bottoms."

The experiment is set up so that the act is akin to paying for the images, researchers say. "The rhesus macaque monkeys also splurged on photos of top-dog counterparts, the high-ranking primates. Maybe that's like you or me buying People magazine."

What all this says about the readers of People, however, is a question the researchers delicately avoid.

(Hat tip: Instapundit.)

NC Action Alert:

For those of us with ties to the Tar Heel State, Equality North Carolina just released the following alert:
A few minutes ago, Senator Jim Forrester (R-Gaston), along with 20 co-sponsors, introduced a bill to amend the North Carolina Constitution to discriminate against same-sex couples.

Senate Bill 8, so-called "Defense of Marraige", would not only deny equal marriage rights, which are already denied lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender North Carolinians, but would also prohibit any recognition of civil unions, domestic partnerships, or similar relationships in the state. The language of the bill is so broad it could prevent private companies from extending domestic partner benefits to their employees.

Sen. Forrester introduced an identical bill in the 2004 session, which Equality NC successfully worked to block. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. In order to become law, the bill would need to pass both the House and Senate with at 3/5 margin, and be approved my a majority of voters on the May 2006 primary ballot.

A similar bill is expected to be introduced in the House in the coming days.

If you haven't already contacted your Representative to ask him not to sign onto this bill as a co-sponsor, please do right away. You can contact them online at http://www.equalitync.org/actioncenter

More Bad News For Gay Men:

From Sports Illustrated:

Australian Open runner-up Lleyton Hewitt is to marry actress Bec Cartwright after a whirlwind romance, the couple said in a joint statement on Monday....

Modern Conservatism:

A couple days ago I contrasted the "Myth of Liberal Neutrality" with modern conservatism. The latter, I claimed, is based on the ancient and medieval insight that government exists, at least in part, to foster virtues in its citizens. The idea is that even the most private and personal of decisions can have public consequences. Even the simple act of sex between consenting adults affects our common life, as anyone at all familiar with the problems of illegitimacy and sexually transmitted diseases knows. Hence the authority of “the people” to speak through the government on issues such as homosexuality and marriage.

There is another and somewhat paradoxical aspect to modern conservatism, however, that I neglected to mention but which George Will writes about in his latest column. It's worth a read if you can get over the pro-Bush rhetoric. Here's the money quote:

Bush has said ``I don't do nuance,'' and his ``ownership society'' agenda -- from Social Security personal accounts to health savings accounts to tax cuts -- is explicitly explained as soulcraft. Its purpose is to combat the learned incompetence of persons who become comfortable with excessive dependence on and supervision by government. His agenda's aim is to continue, in the language of his inaugural address, ``preparing our people for the challenges of life in a free society.''

That is the crux of modern conservatism -- government taking strong measures to foster in the citizenry the attitudes and aptitudes necessary for increased individual independence.


Anglicans and Sodomy:

"America must repent, they must put a stop to that practice. If God says (homosexuality) is an abomination, they should say it is an abomination. ... If God says it is wrong, then it is wrong."

So says Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, commenting on a statement released this week by 15 Anglican archbishops from Africa, Asia and Latin American criticizing the U.S. Episcopal Church's consecration of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson as the church's first openly-gay bishop. The operative word in the archbishop's statement, of course, is "if." One might also question why the archbishops have decided to make this issue the line in the sand. Why not something more fundamental like heresy? For years the recently-retired U.S. Bishop Shelby Spong publicly disclaimed belief in the resurrection and divinity of Christ, two beliefs that would seem to be at the center of orthodox Christianity. Yet no one in the Anglical Communion seriously threatened schism until the U.S. church installed an openly gay priest.

The only conclusion to be drawn from this is that -- as so often seems to be the case with those in the church speak the loudest against homosexuality -- something other than a concern for orthodoxy is at work here. My guess is that this something has a great deal in common with the same sensibility that motivated Lot's actions in the strange biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah:

But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them." Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said, "I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof. (Gen. 19:4-8)
Scholars sometimes suggest that this story tells us more about ancient near-eastern hospitality customs than it does about homosexuality. But this way of interpreting the text has always seemed to me to miss the most startling twist in the story: Lot's attempt to turn his virgin daughters over to be raped in an effort to prevent his adult male visitors from being violated. This is not the way most of us would deal with this dilemma. Indeed, it's probably not even a "solution" many of us would think of, let alone actually try to carry out. But this is what Lot does. The question is why.

I've always been wary of those who claim to have found the key to interpreting any passage in the Bible or, indeed, any ancient text. The fact is that in most cases there either is no one key or it has been lost in history. And yet Lot's actions in this story do suggest a certain underlying conception of masculinity that may not be very different from what motivates Anglican bishops today as they wink at heresy -- even heresy which denies the divinity of Our Lord -- but determine they will not suffer the presence of homosexuals in the church. It suggests a reason as well for why our own western culture has always set male homosexual behavior apart for special opprobrium through biblical injunctions (the Old Testament does not mention lesbian sex), criminal sodomy prosecutions, and even simple childhood bullying on the playground. It suggests why lesbian sex is ubiquitous in heteroporn, but the two gay characters on Will & Grace don't even hold hands with other men. And it suggests why men in prisons and other settings where men who are not gay have sex with men almost always display signs of asserting their masculinity by, for example, adopting the top or "male" position during the act. Surely it is telling as well that, even in ancient Greece where pederasty was sometimes celebrated, the man was expected to end the relationship as soon as the boy began to grow facial hair.

The question that faithful Christians responding to the Anglican archbishops must consider is whether the motivation for their condemnation of homosexuality expresses a genuine concern about holiness, or whether it is instead simply a visceral expression of masculinity -- something more akin to what little boys mean when they "accuse" other boys of being "girls" or "sissies" than what Saint Paul meant when he wrote:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:38)

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Good News from Iraq:

The BBC has an encouraging log reporting on Iraq's first multi-party elections in more than half a century. It includes reports from around the country, most of them suggesting a good turnout:


  • Across the south of the country, thousands of people have turned up to the polls, so many that a number of polling stations are staying open past the 1700 (1400 GMT) closing time.
  • People have been literally streaming towards polling stations. I have never witnessed this huge turnout for long time.
  • Last minute voters ran into polling stations tonight and squeezed through the gates as they were closing. And tonight the ballot papers are now being at the al-Jibayal polling station in the darkness, illuminated only by torches and lanterns.
  • The turnout was very good, with a lot of joy and enthusiasm among voters despite the difficulties in moving from their homes to the polling stations. People told me they were participating to make their voices heard, even if the situation was difficult. They said they were not afraid of the insurgents. Some of them were carrying white banners in the shape of a hand palm as a sign of a defiance against the insurgents.

Be Afraid:

A gay priest has written (anonymously) a moving piece in Commonweal about homosexuality, the priesthood, and the "much-anticipated document addressing the issue of whether gay men can be ordained priests" that the Vatican is expected to release shortly. He notes that some expect the Vatican to issue an outright ban on homosexuals in the priesthood, and that already gay priests in many jurisdictions are forbidden from speaking openly about their sexuality.

He also writes:

Throughout the history of the church, homosexual men and women have found the priesthood and religious life both a refuge and a fulfilling way of life. As Richard John Neuhaus noted (First Things, June-July 2002): “It would seem more than likely that, in centuries past, some priests who have been canonized as saints would meet today’s criteria as having a ‘homosexual orientation.’”

. . . Some have suggested that the Vatican may simply ask gay men to affirm that they have never been sexually active, or sign a document asserting their adherence to the church’s teaching on homosexuality and rejection of the “gay lifestyle,” or pledge never to discuss publicly their experience as gay men. Such restrictions can only be seen as tacit acceptance of the stereotype that homosexuals are inherently less psychologically healthy than heterosexuals-less capable of living celibately, less trustworthy, less valuable as members of the clergy, and, in general, less valuable as human beings. Restrictions would therefore represent an unjust discrimination against gay men. And as the Catechism instructs, concerning gays and lesbians, “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in this regard should be avoided” (2358).


All in all, it's a sad, sorry state of affairs for the Church, particularly in light of how eloquently Pope John Paul II has written about the need for Christians to heed the angel's message first given to Mary and the shepherds:
I state right from the outset: "Be not afraid!" This is the same exhortation that resounded at the beginning of my ministry in the See of Saint Peter ... Of what should we not be afraid? We should not fear the truth about ourselves.

Childbearing v. Childrearing:

Tom Chat of Upword has an excellent post about "Marriage, Childbearing, and Childrearing." Money quote:
Granted, procreation is intrinsically heterosexual (although some homosexual couples do procreate by means of more complex arrangements involving third parties). But childrearing -- which we have said is the provision of love, support, guidance, and resources over a long haul -- does not logically entail heterosexuality.... What I think most people can agree is truly essential is to provide a stable, secure, and loving home. And it is the marriage of two loving committed spouses -- straight or gay -- that is best suited to provide that environment.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Myth of Liberal Neutrality:

Here's a really bad idea. GayPatriot, who describes himself as a conservative, finds fault with the Human Rights Campaign because in press releases this week it “raises a ruckus when [the] Bush Administration pays a political pundit promoting straight marriage, then gets equally as upset when the same Administration pulls funding from a cartoon featuring lesbian couples.”

GayPatriot suggests that this stance is hypocritical, and then offers the following commentary and solution:


With or without influence with the Administration, HRC seems to have this standard on federal funding of the media: allocate taxpayer resources to the programs we like, but cut them off from those we don't like. If social conservatives, who have more sway with the current Administration, were to adopt the same attitude, then they would push for de-funding programming HRC supports and increasing funding for programming HRC opposes. And given their support of the president, they are more likely to influence his administration.

Let's limit their influence. Let's not give social conservatives' access to taxpayer dollars. Let's cut off all federal funding for all broadcast and print media.

But surely this misses the basic insight of conservatism: that government exists, at least in part, to sustain and foster those practices and virtues which will lead its citizens toward what Aristotle called “eudaimonia,” or the sort of true or real happiness that is worth seeking because it is itself the very essence of human flourishing.

Alasdair MacIntrye explains it this way:


Under ancient and medieval conceptions ... political community not only requires the exercise of the virtues for its own sustenance, but it is one of the tasks of government to make its citizens virtuous, just as it is one of the tasks of parental authority to make children grow up so as to be virtuous adults....

For liberal individualism a community is simply an arena in which individuals each pursue their own self-chosen conception of the good life, and political institutions exist to provide that degree of order which makes such self-determined activity possible.

So for liberals (of both a lower- and upper-case stripe), then, government is envisioned as adopting a neutral stance toward rival moral traditions. But this vision, however appealing in theory, cannot withstand scrutiny. Sooner or later—and often in ways no one really notices—the government must make moral judgments about how our lives together should be ordered.

Take something as seemingly simple as setting a speed limit. It sounds like a fairly nonpartisal task until you realize that, not only are the goals of efficiency, safety, and energy conservation competing with one another, but the possibility of striking the right balance between these goals requires an appeal to a deeper understanding up what values are ultimately worthy of promotion. Should we set the limit on highways at 35 mph and drastically reduce the number of traffic fatalities? Or should it be 90 mph, a limit that would better promote the goals of efficiency in travel and the transportation of goods?

And what means of moral deliberation should guide this decision – a utilitarian ends-means test? A Kantian devotion to the value of human life above all else? A virtue ethics approach that would attend to both of these concerns while also insisting that a prudent answer cannot be found without consideration of the ultimate end of eudaimonia?

It shouldn't take long to realize that the myth of governmental neutrality is just that: a myth. Even those liberals who would promote tolerance as the highest virtue can only do so if they first assume that tolerance is itself a moral good. Which is why, for those of us who support gay rights, the answer to the question raised by GayPatriot is not to pretend that the government must make no choices about the value of marriage and homosexuality.

Rather, it is to contend – as boldly and persuasively as we can – that the choice the government ought to make is one which would promote the institution of marriage even as it extends its benefits and duties to gay couples. This may not be an easy argument to make. For one thing, it would require us to enunciate our own moral vision of human flourishing and explain why this vision is superior to the one proffered by the religious right. For another, it would require our community to recognize that we will not find happiness apart from those practices like monogamy which are essential for the achievement of the intimacy and (yes) love we seek in our relationships.

But if the gay rights movement is to succeed in its overall goals of achieving legal equality and social acceptance for gays and lesbians, then it must acknowledge that any strategy which would deny the legitimate interests the government has in shaping how its citizens order their private lives is bound to fail. People are simply too smart not to see through that -- a point that, as I argue below, should have been made clear by the November elections. There is simply no other way to explain the overwhelming support Americans across the country demonstrated in their votes for the anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives.

American Decline:

Here's an article about a fascinating and underreported CIA report predicting the relative decline of American power over the next 15 years. The central conclusion of the report is the following claim:

The likely emergence of China and India ... as new major global players—similar to the advent of a united Germany in the 19th century and a powerful United States in the early 20th century—will transform the geopolitical landscape with impacts potentially as dramatic as those in the previous two centuries.
The report goes on to claim that the new "arriviste powers" will not necessarilly be friendly to America, but will likely pursue "strategies designed to exclude or isolate the United States" in order to "force or cajole" us into playing by their rules. These changes, along with the continued globalization of the world economy, will have financial as well as geopolitical consequences for the US:
The transition will not be painless and will hit the middle classes of the developed world in particular, bringing more rapid job turnover and requiring professional retooling. Outsourcing on a large scale would strengthen the antiglobalization movement. Where these pressures lead will depend on how political leaders respond, how flexible labor markets become, and whether overall economic growth is ufficiently robust to absorb a growing number of displaced workers.
The article also predicts that Islamic fundamentalism will continue to be a potent force in the coming decades. Read the whole article and take a look at the report. You may also want to look at my recent posts "Why do Muslims Hate Us?" and "America Is Not the Church" (discussing the unprecedented assertion of America's moral vision in the president's Inaugural Address).

‘I Was Drawn That Way!’:

More attacks on gay-themed cartoon shows discussed here. Money quotes:
The nation’s new education secretary denounced PBS on Tuesday for spending public money on a cartoon with lesbian characters, saying many parents would not want children exposed to such lifestyles....

“Ultimately, our decision was based on the fact that we recognize this is a sensitive issue, and we wanted to make sure that parents had an opportunity to introduce this subject to their children in their own time,” said Lea Sloan, vice president of media relations at PBS.
Indeed. Perhaps gay couples should also be forbidden from making public displays of affection. As a gay man, I for one can identify with the trauma of a father whose son might spot a couple of lesbians holding hands and then demand -- as any prebubescent heterosexual boy naturally would -- a lesson in the mechanics of cunnilingus.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Iranian Transsexuals:

Not only is homosexuality illegal in Iran, but even the mere study of it is prohibited. Interestingly, however, neither the Ayatollah Khomeini nor Iran's current spiritual leaders have found anything objectionable about transsexuality.

The BBC reports that Dr Mirjalali, one of Iran's leading sex-change surgeons, has performed 320 sex-change operations in the last 12 years, a much higher figure than the average 40 procudures a decade that a European doctor would do.

"If you saw them out in the street you wouldn't realise that one day they were the opposite sex," Marjalali boasts.

The doctor does not say whether this is because of his surgical skills or the headdress that Iranian women must where in public.

(Hat tip: sexualchocolate.org.)

Flagburning:

By now most will have heard that protestors burned an American flag during the inaugural protests. But did you know there is still a serious push to pass a flag burning amendment? According to the ACLU website, there is, and the group behind it, Citizens' Flag Alliance (CFA), has seemingly "endless resources."

The ACLU's Creative Ellipses:

From Father Neuhaus' Public Square in FIRST THINGS:

If you don’t like the Constitution, you can always rewrite it. Or resort to the creative use of ellipses. The American Civil Liberties Union has an impressive website on free speech. The opening paragraph introducing the website is this: “It is probably no accident that freedom of speech is the first freedom mentioned in the First Amendment: ‘Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’ The Constitution’s framers believed that freedom of inquiry and liberty ofexpression were the hallmarks of a democratic society.”

The first freedom mentioned in the First Amendment is, of course, the free exercise of religion. It appears that among the liberties championed by the ACLU is that of taking liberties with the text of the Constitution.

Note: The website has since been reworded, no doubt because of this piece.


Friday, January 21, 2005

The Church As Tempter:

Today Joe Carter of evangelical outpost linked to an old post in which he talks about his divorce, and I hate to admit that my first thought was, "Aha!"

Carter, after all, does not exactly hide the fact that he is no fan of homosexuality. See, for instance, his posts "Rohm's Boys: The Surprising Connection Between Homosexuality and Fascism" and "Marriage Minus Monogamy:The Case Against Redefining Marriage (Part II)."

Yet the New Testament is far clearer and more emphatic in its denunciations of divorce than in anything it says about homosexuality as (1) Jesus expressly forbids divorce (see, e.g., Matt. 5:32) but (2) never mentions homosexuality, while (3) Paul's references to same-sex behavior must be understood in terms of the only expressions of homosexuality with which he was familiar: pedarasty and temple prostitution.

Then I actually read the post and realized that, if anything, it underscores one of the main reasons why the church's refusal to allow same-sex couples to marry so often hurts both gay and lesbian Christians and their heterosexual counterparts:

After five years of marriage my wife came to me and told me that there were some issues that she didn't know if we would be able to resolve.... Then she told me she was gay.
What Carter does not mention, but surely must realize, is that his wife almost certainly did not just wake up one day and suddenly realize she was gay. I know I didn't, at least, when I finally broke up with my last girlfriend. We started dating during our senior year of high school, and, as time went by and it became clear to me that I was gay, I tried everything I could think of to change and make the relationship work. I prayed. I suppressed sexual thoughts about other guys. I (secretly) went to the library and read books that theorized about the psychological origins of homosexuality. I even visited an "ex-gay" ministry in hopes of finding a cure.

And then at some point it occurred to me that none of this was working. I could put it all out of my head for a while, but inevitably "it" always came back. Sometimes it happened when I was awake, sometimes when I was asleep and dreaming, but either way it was always only a matter of time. God, I began to realize, was not going to zap me and take it all away.

I knew then that the only fair thing to do would be to break up with my girlfriend. The sad thing is that, by then, we were seniors in college and I'd already "wasted" four years of her life -- something for which I still feel guilt to this day. And yet I know that my experience is not unique. As I've become friends with more and more gay people, I've heard the same story told again and again. Some, thankfully, ended their relationships much sooner that I did; others, like my best friend, didn't muster up the courage until after they were engaged. Another friend was married for 2 years before he realized that he could never become the husband he longed to be.

God only knows how many gay men and women there are right now who are married and struggling with this very issue. And then there are all those married men (and probably married women as well) who go to gay internet dating services in order to fulfill their sexual desires, some of them even bragging about being married as though this somehow makes them more masculine and, hence, more desirable. The sad thing is that their wives are never told the truth. Never, that is, until it is too late for it to be experienced as anything but painful.

"Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes!" (Matt. 18:7).
The warning comes from the mouth of Our Lord, and yet it seems to mean nothing to the church when it comes to gays and lesbians. And so, instead of encouraging us to be truthful about who we are, the church tells us that we must pray for a cure and, during the meantime, content ourselves with "awaiting the redemption of our bodies"-- as the New Testament scholar Richard Hays has ever so coldly put it.

And yet the church also tells us that our lives will never be complete without marriage. How else to explain the fact that "singles ministries" tend to be little more than thinly disguised dating services? Or that ministers rarely even mention the fact that Jesus was single, let alone preach sermons about how a person can remain single and still have a good life? Or that to this day homosexuality continues to carry such a deep stigma in the church even for those who do not act on their desires?

The result--such is the tragicomedy of the church's position on homosexuality--is that gay and lesbian Christians tend to respond in one of two ways. Either we suppress our deepest identities and try to make heterosexual relationships work, or else we leave the church altogether and turn to the gay "subculture" for fulfillment. But neither choice is good, not for those of us who are gay and lesbian, and not for those who, like my ex-girlfriend and Joe Carter, end up hurt by our failed attempts to deny the truth about ourselves.

Sex, America, God & Google:

Here are some interesting statistics. Type the following words into google and this is how many hits pop up:

Sex: 338,000,000.

America: 182,000,000.

God: 131,000,000.

Jesus: 50,000,000.

United States: 37,400,000

Iraq War: 18,700,000.

Crucifixion: 1,190,000.
But here are the most interesting results of all:

I: 3,140,000,000. (Yes, that’s three billion.)

You:
2,260,000,000.

We:
1,270,000,000.

They:
840,000,000.

Sex & Porn:

Hmm. According to my sitemeter, traffic to this website seems to increase whenever I mention words like "sex" or "pornography."

Not that I care too much about how many readers I have, mind you--sex--but it is interesting.
Indeed, I wonder--pornography--what the readers think about all this.

Please--sex--feel free to let me know.

12 Inches:

No, I'm not divulging inappropriate information about myself. That's how much snow the DC area is expected the get in this weekend's snow storm. Which means, I'm afraid, that I have to find some way of overcoming my aversion to the grocery store.

Whiney Housewives:

Carla Barnhill writes in Books and Culture about how boring and lonely the life of stay-at-home mothers can be:
Perhaps more than anyone else in history, June [Cleaver] created in us the idea that the good mother spends her day happily meeting the needs of her family. She cooks a hearty breakfast, keeps a tidy house, and welcomes her weary charges home each afternoon with a plate of warm cookies and a tender smile. We never see June complain or wish for a more fulfilling role.
Interesting how it is assumed, without explanation or argument, that this role of meeting the needs of one's family is not "fulfilling." I can't speak for Mrs. Cleaver, of course, but then neither can Barnhill as Cleaver is a fictional character in a sitcom. I can speak about my mother, however, and the way she tells it she very much enjoyed her days as a stay-at-home mom.

Did she ever get mad or lose her cool? Sure. But somehow she always managed to make do. She built friendships with other mothers in the neighborhood. She took my sister and I off to afternoon enrichment programs so that she could get some alone time. She prayed. And, yes, sometimes she complained. But what she didn't do was fall into the habit of sitting down at the end of each day and dwelling on how miserable her life could sometimes be.

Later, when I began kindergarten, my mother started working part-time and eventually full-time, a decision that was motivated less by a desire to be "fulfilled" than a need to help pay the bills. Most of the positions my mother held were as a secretary of some sort or another. Needless to say, these jobs, while sometimes fulfilling, are not quite as "sexy" as Barnhill's magazine-writing gig.

And maybe that's why Barnhill, along with so many of the women among the chattering classes, cannot quite seem to figure out why feminism never caught on among the middle and lower classes. For these women, the choice between being their own boss in the home or the lackey of someone else in an office cubicle only rarely gives rise to the sort of existential crisis described by Barnhill. They choose to stay at home and don't think twice about it. And if they don't make this choice, you can bet that money will a primary, if not the sole, motivating factor. As, I suspect, it has been for most human beings since that day after the Fall when God first said to Adam:

"In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground..." (Gen. 3:19).

Sullivan On DOMA:

Andrew Sullivan has a post about the failed legal challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act that I wrote about yesterday here. Money quote:
Civil marriage law should be left to the states, where it belongs. And the attempt by some gay activists to push this further and demand immediate national recognition of marriage rights is as strained constitutionally as it is foolish politically. What we need to do now is win the political and legislative fight in Massachusetts so that equality in marriage there can be seen as a democratic choice as much as a judicial decision.

Doin' the Nasty:

I recently reread Tom Wolfe's essay "Hooking Up." If you haven't already done so, read it. It's pretty bracing stuff.

This passage in particular caught my attention:
With the onset of puberty, males [at the turn of the millennium] were able to get sexual enjoyment so easily, so casually, that junior high schools as far apart geographically and socially as the slums of the South Bronx and Washington's posh suburbs of Arlington and Talbot County, Virginia, began reporting a new discipline problem. Thirteen- and fourteen-year-old girls were getting down on their knees and fellating boys in corridors and stairwells during the two-minute break between classes. One thirteen-year-old in New York, asked by a teacher how she could do such a thing, replied: "It's nasty, but I need to satisfy my man." Nasty was an aesthetic rather than a moral or hygienic judgment. In the year 2000, boys and girls did not consider fellatio to be a truely sexual act, any more than tonsil hockey. It was just "fooling around."
What's interesting is that many courts have reached the exact same conclusion. In my sexual orientation and the law class, we recently read a divorce case where the Supreme Court of New Hampshire held that a wife did not commit adultery when she had sexual relations with another woman because, inter alia, such sex does not involve the "insertion of the penis in the vagina." And people say that law school is boring....

Why Do Muslims Hate Us?:

The answer may surprise you. According to Mustafa Akyol, writing in the American Enterprise:
The first answer from someone like me, who is repulsed by terrorists who kill in the name of Islam, is that most of us do not hate you. Yet it must be acknowledged that radical Muslim rage is real in many countries.
Akyol goes on to explain that a major source of this rage is the moral decadence of American society as communicated by Hollywood and other media:
This distaste derives not only from culture but also from ideas. When ‘Western ideas’ are mentioned, many Muslims think not of Jefferson, C. S. Lewis, Lincoln, or Burke, but rather of Nietzsche, Freud, Marx, and Carl Sagan. The behavior of some Westernized local elites in Muslim countries makes the situation even worse. In my country of Turkey, one popular stereotype of the Westernized Turk is of the soulless, skirt- and money-chasing man drinking whiskey while swearing at Islam. Although a caricature, it carries enough truth to further a bad image of the West. . . .

Obviously, that is a distortion of the truth. America stands out in the Western world as ‘a nation under God,’ particularly compared to ‘Old Europe.’ The aggressive secularism ofEurope is one reason why European Muslims are especially radicalized. (Another spur is the lesser opportunities for upward mobility in Europe as compared to America.) As a Muslim, I feel at home in America when I see people saying grace at the table, praising the Lord, filling houses of worship, and handling currency inscribed ‘In God We Trust.’ When I’m in Europe, on the other hand, with its empty cathedrals, widespread atheism, and joyless cynicism, I feel alienated.

Here's Akyol's advice on what can be done:
To erase this false image, America must help Muslims see that it is indeed a nation under God. The culture it exports should celebrate more than materialism, disbelief, selfishness, and hedonism. America must do a better job of portraying the principles of decency that undergird its society. Otherwise it will be despised by devout Muslims throughout the world, and radicals will channel contempt into violence. Of course, avoiding radical Islamist rage is only one reason for Americans to resist empty materialism. A deeper reason is that materialism is a mistaken philosophy. If they will save themselves from its disappointments, Americans will enjoy many benefits—including a better chance to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world, and avert a clash of civilizations.”
All in all, very prudent advice. The trick is to send (and embody) this message in a way that does not -- as I pointed out in my post "America Is Not the Church" -- fall into the trap of misrepresenting the United States as a substitute for the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. In other words, an America that aspires to be faithful as well as tolerant is an America that really would have much to teach the world, not the least of which would be the virtues of a chastened government that does not take its self too seriously and therefore is not afraid to acknowledge that only God is God.

Kierkegaard on Humor:

I remember reading Kierkegaard in a philosophy class and finding myself deepy disappointed there wasn't a Cliff's Notes version of his works available. Which is not to say I didn't appreciate his wit and passion, but only that there were many things on my mind back then that seemed far more pressing that the deep ponderings of a lonely Danish philosopher.

Someday I hope to go back and catch up on everything I missed the first time around. In the meantime, David Hart's "Laughter of the Philosophers" in FIRST THINGS offers much to ponder. I especially liked this passage on the difference between irony and humor:

"...irony can certainly recognize that the incongruities that throng human experience typically frustrate the quest for truth; but, having seen as much, irony is then impotent to do anything more than unveil failure and vanquish pretense. Humor, on the other hand, is born from an altogether higher recognition: that tragic contradiction is not absolute, that finitude is not only pain and folly, and that the absurdity of our human contradictions can even be a cause for joy. Humor is able to receive finitude as a gift, conscious of the suffering intrinsic to human existence, but capable of transcending despair through jest.

"And this is why the power of humor is most intense in the 'religious' sphere: Christianity, seeing all things from the perspective of the Incarnation (that most unexpected of peripeties), is the “most comic” vision of things: it encompasses the greatest contradictions and tragedies of all, but does so in such a way as to take the suffering of existence into the unanticipated absurdity of our redemption. Which yields the—to my mind—gratifying conclusion that, to be both a “lover of wisdom” and an accomplished humorist, one must almost certainly be a Christian; or, rather, that only a Christian philosophy can be truly 'comic.'"

America Is Not the Church:

GayPatriot waxes poetic about the president's "stirring inaugural address," highlighting this passage in particular:

America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth. Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave. Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our Nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation's security, and the calling of our time.

Where to begin? Yes, America is a wonderful country. Yes, I am very glad and, indeed, thankful (in the deepest sense of the word) to be living here. And yes, I continue to believe that, on the whole, America has been and continues to be a force for good in the world -- including, I hope and pray, in Iraq.

But the suggestion that America is somehow a savior nation is, from a Christian perspective, nothing less than idolatry. "For there is one God," Saint Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:5, "and one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time." Notice that Paul says nothing about Israel, or the Roman state, or even -- gasp! -- America; the only mediator Paul knows of is "Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2).

Jesus, too, was clear about which people it is that shall be the bearer of this good news to world. To Peter he said: "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18). And then later, after the resurrection and before the ascension: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you..." (Matt. 28:19-20).

Again, Jesus leaves no room to doubt that it is the Church -- and not any nation -- that it is to bear this task of teaching the nations, or that this task is to be accomplished not through the waging of wars, the writing of constitutions, or even the holding of elections, but through the baptizing of people in the name of the Triune God.

Bottom Line: Pride goes before the fall, and if, God forbid, America should some day pass out of this theater which is the history of the world, I have no doubt that the Church will continue as it has for the past two thousand years -- beaten, battered, but always, and through Christ, triumphant. Which is why America has never been, nor should we ever aspire to become, either the savior of the world or a replacement for the Church. It is the failure to appreciate this truth that, in the language of the New Testament, constitutes the very spirit of antichrist.

Pornography:

Richard John Neuhaus writes in the current on-line edition of FIRST THINGS about an exchange on pornography between Jeffrey Rosen and David Hart in the New Atlantis. Hart, a wonderfully gifted and insightful theologian, puts into words the exact sense of shock I felt last semester in my Con Law class as we studied the Supreme Court's child porn cases:

“It is difficult for me to grasp why the Court works upon the premise that whatever means are employed to protect children from Internet pornography should involve the barest minimum imposition possible upon the free expression of pornographers.”

Hart also observes:

“The damage that pornography can do—to minds or cultures—is not by any means negligible. Especially in our modern age of passive entertainment, saturated as we are by an unending storm of noises and images and barren prattle, portrayals of violence or of sexual degradation possess a remarkable power to permeate, shape, and deprave the imagination; and the imagination is, after all, the wellspring of desire, of personality, of character. Anyone who would claim that constant or even regular exposure to pornography does not affect a person at the profoundest level of consciousness is either singularly stupid or singularly degenerate.”

Hart's point has little to do with prudery. As Aristotle, Aquinas, or Alasdair Macintyre might put it, it's about what it means to flourish as human beings. Of course, pornography is sometimes said to encourage just that by providing an erotic adventure without all the messiness that comes with human attachment. But as someone who has had some experience with pornography, I can't help but think that porn is, in the truest sense of the word, a vice -- something that ultimately hinders us in our quest for that good life we are all seeking.

Indeed, I often whether the notoriously promiscuous sexual habits of gay men would be far different had the sexual awakenings of so many of us not been tainted by pornography and its false vision of human sexuality. But don't expect the HRC, or even the MCC, to say anything about these issues. After all, it wouldn't have anything to do with "politics."

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Reviews So Far:

(1) The boyfriend: "I like it, but the rainbow picture is sort of gay."

Me: Well, yeah, but that's sort of the point.

(2) Friend: I like it!

Me: Thanks!

(3) Anonomous Emailer Commenting on my 'First DOMA Challenge Fails' post: "I don't necessarily think that you are incorrect, esp. about the lawyer's ambitions, but I do think that the route of lawsuits is just as effective and maybe also just as necessary as the route of changing hearts and minds that you described....if you have to wait for every person who thinks that they are god to decide to allow you to have basic human rights, then you will live a long time (if they let you live at all) without them."

Me: The emailer makes excellent points, and I don't deny that the use of lawsuits can, under certain circumstances, be an effective and even necessary strategy. I just don't think marriage is one of them, especially now in the current political climate. I also think it should be noted that many of the Supreme Court's alleged successes, especially Brown, took many years before they much effect in the real world, and that the leaders of the civil rights movement didn't just sit on their hands during the meantime. Instead they went directly to the "people," organizing marches, demonstrations, and boycotts that were intended to appeal directy to the conscience of the American people and that did.

Of course, the LGBT movement has its marches, but they tend either to get ignored by the MSM or, worse, scoffed. (There's a reason the Daily Show, the Onion, and other liberal comedy outlets make fun of pride parades). Meanwhile, we have yet to see the emergence of a gay Martin Luther King, John Lewis, or Rosa Parks.

Top 3 Blahgs of the Day:

3. The fact that my law school's website directory lists so few things under the name people actually use. E.g., the gym is listed as "health and fitness," jobs and/or employment opportunities is under "working at [the law school]," and I can't even find student health.

2. Those Mobile (Al.) Azealea Dancers or whatever they're called. Don't get me wrong: I liked Gone With the Wind as much as the next southern-born homo. But the pastel-colored antebellum dresses were a little over-the-top even for me. (Of course, it could have been the fact that former-Senate Majority leader Trent Lott spoke today, giving the day an added aura of barely latent racism.)

1. Terrorism, which has gotten my mother in such a tizzy that I had to promise her I was leaving the district for the day and going to stay with a friend in Maryland. Fun times.

Holy Inauguration II:

Andrew Sullivan picks this as the best line of Bush's speech:

"Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave."

I agree that this is pretty bracing stuff, but shouldn't the President have said "across the generation" -- i.e., the past 40 years or so, like maybe since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

Then there's this line, which Sullivan calls his personal favorite:

"Americans, at our best, value the life we see in one another, and must always remember that even the unwanted have worth. And our country must abandon all the habits of racism, because we cannot carry the message of freedom and the baggage of bigotry at the same time."

Again, it's a wonderful thought -- though not particulary radical in the year 2005. But what I wonder is how Mr. Bush sees the lives of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people as fitting into all this? Do our lives have worth, or is it just our relationships that he and his supporters wish to destroy?

Stern on Blogging:

Hmm. My ex-boyfriend informs me that, according to Howard, men who blog are gay, which is why the name itself is a sort of onomatopoeia for, um, oral sex.

("Blog ... blog ... blog.")
Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Holy Smokes!:

Joe Carter of the evangelical outpost reports that the tiny Himilayan nation of Butan has become the first country to completey ban smoking. I may be biased -- I smoke; I grew up in Winston-Salem, NC, the hometown of Joe Camel; and my family has been growing tobacco, working for cigarrette companies, or treating people with lung diseases for more than two centuries now -- but this strikes me as bad news.

As Carter puts it:

I have to admit that if I had to pick just one grossly overreaching, unfairly intrusive, completely arbitrary policy for the government to adopt, this would be the one I’d choose.

Just so.

Holy Inauguration!:

So, despite the fact I live in DC, like most people I'm watching the inauguration on TV. The most interesting thing so far (at least for me) is how religious it has been. It's true, of course, that religious references during inaugurations date back to 1789, but what's remarkable today is just how explicitly Christian they have been.

I also noticed that the minister offering the main prayers closed off along these lines: "...with full respect for people of all faiths, we humbly offer this prayer in the name of Jesus Christ...." That probably won't satisfy the nation's number one village atheist, Michael Newdow, but at least it's a small gesture to the nation's Jews, Moslems, and other nonChristians.

Meanwhile, the boyfriend -- who works near the White House for one of the few employers in the city that has not shut down for the day -- tells me there's a big protest on 16th St. He said it was "insane," with people filling up the entire street and passing by for 20 minutes (and it could still be going on). Many of them were holding pro-gay signs, he says. Another friend reports that there was a snowball fight between protestors and republicans. Needless to say, none of this has been reported on NBC.

UPDATE: NBC has since reported on the protests, pepper spraying incidents, etc.

Creationism in the Classroom:

Kevin Drum thinks that creationism and its theory of intelligent design should not be taught in public schools:

Intelligent Design is so clearly a thinly veiled version of creationism that it's forbidden too. Darwinism, however, is simply science. School districts are free to stop teaching science if they want, but if they do teach it, they have to teach Darwinism just as much as they have to teach Newtonian mechanics, Boyle's law, and the theory of relativity.

I'm not much for debating evolution--or anything scientific, for that matter--but the problem with Drum's argument is that it trades on an ambiguous reading of what modern evolutionary theory actually posits.

First, there is the claim that life began with simple single-celled organisms that have slowly (or sometimes rapidly) changed over time and become increasingly complex. So far, so good. The biblical account of creation in Genesis 1, told "after the manner of a popular poet" (as the early church father Jerome put it), says as much when it speaks of God as gradually bringing order to creation over the course of six days, beginning with light (Day 1), the firmament or heavens (Day 2), the earth and vegetation (Day 3), the seasons (Day 4), ocean life and birds (Day 5), and land life and man (Day 6). Indeed, the Genesis account describes God as saying, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures," (e.g., 1:24) , a description that uses the passive voice and therefore is not inconsistent with evolution even under a literal reading.

But then evolutionary theory goes on to claim that these changes must be explained as resulting from “random” heritable genetic mutations. As Phillip Johnson has noted, however:

It is the alleged absence of divine intervention throughout the history of life—the strict materialism of the orthodox theory—that explains why a great many people, only some of whom are biblical fundamentalists, think that Darwinian evolution (beyond the micro level) is basically materialistic philosophy disguised as scientific fact.

In other words, it may well be that evolution is blind, the result of chance and luck rather than an Intelligent Designer. But even if this is true, this is not the sort of thing we can learn by studying a fossil or putting a cell under a microscope. Not, that is, unless we have some reason to suppose an Intelligent Designer would have placed a "Made by YHWH" tag on his creations.

The Sins of SpongeBob:

Ok, I’m not a big fan of the what-would-Jesus-do approach to Christian ethics. But with terrorism, wars, tsunamis, and genocides to worry about, can anyone imagine Jesus actually taking the time to attack a cartoon character?

Fortunately, Jesus doesn't have to because James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family is here to do it for him. According to a New York Times story (reg. required) today:

Now, Dr. Dobson said, SpongeBob's creators had enlisted him in a "pro-homosexual video," in which he appeared alongside children's television colleagues like Barney and Jimmy Neutron, among many others. The makers of the video, he said, planned to mail it to thousands of elementary schools to promote a "tolerance pledge" that includes tolerance for differences of "sexual identity."

Nor is this message of tolerance a mere venial sin. As Dobson’s assistant Paul Batura explains:

We see the video as an insidious means by which the organization is manipulating and potentially brainwashing kids. It is a classic bait and switch."

Indeed. First get the kids to stop bullying sissies and tomboys, and next thing you know they’ll be begging for tickets to the next Cher concert.

First DOMA Challenge Fails:

Read the full story here. What’s most remarkable about all this is not the fact the challenge failed but the disturbing hubris of the attorney representing the lesbian couple:

"This is a legal shot heard 'round the world," said attorney Ellis Rubin, who filed the lawsuit on the women's behalf. "But we are not giving up. ... This case is going to be resolved in the U.S. Supreme Court, and I have said that since the day I filed it."

Apparently, Ms. Rubin would rather get her chance to argue a case in front of the high court than actually consider the consequences for gays and lesbians if the challenge should fail. Maybe she needs to reread Lawrence v. Texas, where Justice Kennedy’s plurality opinion went out of its way to disclaim any intent to legalize same-sex marriages:

[The present case] does not involve [the question] whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter. The case does involve two adults who, with full and mutual consent from each other, engaged in sexual practices common to a homosexual lifestyle. The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.

In other words, it is one thing for a state to criminalize private sexual behavior, and quite another to withhold a benefit like marriage. Even more telling about the Lawrence decision, however, is just how much energy the Court spent disputing the allegedly long history of criminal laws targeting homosexuals and noting, inter alia, that:

In our own constitutional system the deficiencies in Bowers [1986 case upholding constitutionality of Georgia anti-sodomy statute] became even more apparent in the years following its announcement. The 25 States with laws prohibiting the relevant conduct referenced in the Bowers decision are reduced now to 13, of which 4 enforce their laws only against homosexual conduct. In those States where sodomy is still proscribed, whether for same-sex or heterosexual conduct, there is a pattern of nonenforcement with respect to consenting adults acting in private. The State of Texas admitted in 1994 that as of that date it had not prosecuted anyone under those circumstances.

None of this can be said of the 49 states that currently forbid same-sex marriage by constitutional amendment, statute, or common law – a fact that does not bid well for Ms. Elbe’s legal prospects. Nor is the situation similar to the status of antimiscegenation laws in 1967 when Loving v. Virginia was decided. Then, only 16 states still had the laws on the books, while some states had never had them in the first place.

THE BOTTOM LINE: As I argue below, those of us who support gay marriage need to remember that our strategy is bound to fail if we continue acting as though we do not live in a democracy. Rather than bringing lawsuits that threaten to set bad precedents and engender an even larger conservative backlash, we ought to be focusing instead on the much harder – but ultimately unavoidable – task of winning over the hearts and minds of those state legislators who oppose gay marriage and the voters who, year after year, keep electing them.

The alternative, I'm afraid, is that those conservatives who are so upset with Bush's decision not to lobby for a federal marriage amendment will be given exactly what they need to succeed. As White House spokesman Scott McClellan pointed out the other day:

"Remember, in the Senate, you have to have 67 votes to move a constitutional amendment forward. And there are a number of members of the Senate that have said that they're not open to it until the Defense of Marriage Act faces a serious legal challenge. So that's just talking about the legislative reality."

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Blahg:

Maybe it's because I know so little about anything technical, but figuring out how to publish a new blog and how to do it right sucks. Oh well, I'll learn.

Until then, many thanks to Joe Carter of the evangelical outpost for his excellent and informative "How to Start a Blog" series. And many thanks as well to Andrew Sullivan, whose Daily Dish was the first blog I read on a regular basis and still remains, some two years later, the first web site I visit each morning.

Moderates, Atheists and Gay Marriage:

According to Patrick Guerrero, the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans:

The November 2004 election represents a historic wake-up call for gay and lesbian Americans and organizations. We lost. Not only did we lose our fight against 11 anti-gay ballot questions, we lost in the broader social and political landscape of America. If we listen to those attempting to sanitize or sugarcoat the post-election analysis, we are doomed to repeat our mistakes and destined for more setbacks in the years ahead.

Guerrero's assessment may sound stark, but it’s hard to argue with when you look at the actual results of the election. Consider the findings of exit polling in Oregon, the state where the anti-gay marriage amendments passed by the lowest margin of 57 to 43 percent.

Nearly 20 percent of the self-described liberal voters and an even 50 percent of the moderates in Oregon voted in favor of the marriage bans. The most surprising result of Oregon poll, however, is the one suggesting that one-third of the 28 percent of Oregonians who do not identity as religious also supported the ban. This group of secular gay marriage opponents was so large, in fact, that had their vote gone the other way, the amendment would have failed to pass by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent.

Guerrero is right: If those of us who are gay and lesbian content ourselves with merely blaming the religious right for our failures, we are bound to keep losing at the polls and, increasingly, in the courts as well. Our task might be much easier if our only “enemy” were the Christian right, but the fact is there are a lot of moderates and liberals whose views on gay marriage are hardly any more sympathetic to our ultimate goals. The questions I hope to explore on this blog are why this is so and what we can do about it.

First Things First:

So what's a busy second-year law student doing starting a blog? And aren't there enough blogs already?

Well, the truth is that I already have too many things on my plate, and there are now thousands of blogs out there. So, let me say a few things about what I hope to accomplish with "Reweaving the Rainbow."

Starting this week and next I expect to have daily posts exploring the intersection of faith, sexuality, and daily life. My goal in these posts will be to dispell the notion, held by many (most?) Christians, that homosexual relationships are inherently sinful, psychologically and socially harmful, and thus unworthy of the social, spiritual and legal status of marriage. And what I think will set me apart from others writing on this issue will be a focus on the theological and ethical issues posed by homosexuality.

Thus where some writers might look to Thomas Jefferson, Justice Kennedy, or Michel Foucault for guidance, I will be looking to Saints Paul, Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas, the reformers Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, the great Christian hymn-writers (known and unknown), and, of course, more recent Christian thinkers ranging from C.S. Lewis to Stanley Hauerwas to Pope John Paul II.

And yet the debate within the Church about homosexuality -- and, hence, within America’s still-predominately Christian culture -- is not simply a matter of theology or moral philosophy. It is also a matter of common experience. “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit,” Jesus said (Matt. 7:18), and I suspect that most of us, when confronted by something new like gay marriage, will have this logic in the back of our mind as we try to make sense of it and determine whether it is something to be feared, tolerated, or celebrated.

For that reason, I will also write about experiences from daily life: the spat my boyfriend and I had last night, various thoughts about the meaning of sexuality and gender identity occassioned by phenomena of popular culture like ABC's Desperate Housewives and the film Kinsey, and even the recent birth of my ex-girlfriend's first child and how different this experience is from that of most gay men whose relationships tend not to focus on parenthood.

My hope is that these seemingly disparate posts will, over time, provide the sort of evidence that the Church needs--and should expect--as it reckons with the claim of gay and lesbian Christians that it can be said of our relationships, no less than our heterosexual counterparts, "that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).

Such, at any rate, is my hope, and to that end I invite discussion from those Christians who are not (yet) persuaded as well as the secular gays and lesbians who cannot imagine the Church being anything but an enemy to our movement.