Menstuff® has compiled information and books on Gay, Bi, and Transgender issues. This section is Robert N. Minor's weekly column featured daily on our homepage. Robert is the author of Scared Straight: Why It's So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It's So Hard to Be Human and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society and Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He may be reached through www.fairnessproject.org or at E-Mail.
Actually, Religion Never Does
We just cant seem to stop getting into arguments with people who plainly dont want to accept LGBT human beings. These people latch on to any straws that will keep them from admitting their own prejudices, fears, denial, and insecurities. Then they act out their personal problems on non-heterosexuals and heterosexuals who support basic LGBT rights.
Sincere seekers of understanding are reachable, but those who hold onto their biases for a variety of personal reasons continue to fish for any basis outside themselves that prevents their own growth and our progress. Using psychology in this way became even more popular in the last century. Today so-called psychological claims are the most often cited scientific arguments for supporting the idea that LGBT people are sick and need conversion therapy or reparative therapy.
In response, we get caught up again and again arguing psychology with them. Its exhausting for us. It keeps us from more progress in our lives. And it prevents them from self-understanding and admitting that theyre just prejudiced. Often we want to be nice about it, we dont want to offend, and we hope we can help them understand.
We can call their prejudices homophobia, searching for motives behind them, but the reality is, its just plain denial. They wont face the fact that they are prejudiced, and we are often enabling them in this denial.
Lets be clear, then. What people who argue from psychology against LGBT people are doing is promoting, often in sincerity and in a successful money-raising fashion, a return to something like the Dark Ages of psychology and religion. Back then gay people were considered sick, perverted, inhuman, the problem, and unnatural.
On top of their use of religion, they deny their plain old bigotry by clinging to scientific language to legitimate their position. Their experts promote out-dated, unproven, and destructive theories that treat homosexuality as a psychological problem associated with such things as identification with the wrong parent or the wrong gender role. Their models of those they claim to have converted have their own problems. Who knows what they are?
But when will these anti-gay people get with it? How long will they hang on to their prejudices? How long will they accuse mainstream psychological professional groups of being the ones who are wrongly motivated?
How long must we listen to their ignorance? How long will we argue with them as if we are the ones who need to justify ourselves psychologically?
Its not that ex-gay leaders dont know that they are acting like enemies of science. They just refuse to change the prejudices upon which theyve built their self-image.
In their attempts to convert, cure, or change sexual orientations that they dont like, they refuse to give up their lucrative strategies and recognize what all mainstream psychological organizations have been saying for over 25 years. Yes, thats a quarter of a century!
It wasnt just yesterday, but back in 1973 that the American Psychiatric Associations Board of Trustees confirmed that: homosexuality does not meet the criteria to be considered a mental illness. Since then, all (yes, thats all) major professional mental health organizations have gone on record to affirm that homosexuality is not a mental illness.
Is that not clear enough? Listen to the unambiguous language of an American Psychiatric Associations statement about attempts to convert, repair, or cure homosexuality:
The American Psychiatric Association opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as reparative or conversion therapy, which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder, or based upon a prior assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation.
Yes, that does say opposes. In fact, the APA says the therapy these anti-gay groups tout as loving is hardly positive for the patient: The potential risks of reparative therapy are great: including depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.
There is just no debate here. The other professional psychological and medical organizations all agree the American Psychological Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Counseling Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Back in 1975, the American Psychological Association agreed with the American Psychiatric Association and made it clear that: Homosexuality per se implies no impairment in judgment, stability, reliability, or general social and vocational capabilities.
And the stand of real psychological professionals on this issue is not just neutrality. Like the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association expects professionals to be involved in proactive change: Further, the American Psychological Association urges all mental health professionals to take the lead in removing the stigma of mental illness that has long been associated with homosexual orientations.
In summary: The American Psychological Association opposes portrayals of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth and adults as mentally ill due to their sexual orientation and supports the dissemination of accurate information about sexual ordination, and mental health, and appropriate interventions in order to counteract bias that is based in ignorance or unfounded beliefs about sexual orientation.
Yes, the professional association says, take the lead in removing the prejudice. Yes, they say, counteract the bias toward gay people.
We must assume, then, that any so-called therapists who continue to promote prejudice and cures, even those who merely dont stand up for LGBT people, are, frankly, acting unprofessionally. And we should say so.
We must assume, as the professionals themselves say, that counselors who disagree with established professional standards are promoting ignorance and bigotry. They somehow need to obsess with this issue in the same way that prejudice based on race or right-handedness refused to change no matter what the evidence.
And its time we stopped arguing and said so. We dont need to be on the psychological defensive. We dont need to play into their game of responding to the same old claims they have made for years about issues that have been settled for decades. We dont need to answer their arguments with anything more than: I know that people believe that, but its unprofessional, so I dont.
The debate is over. We need to say that, repeat it, and
act like it.
Tis the season when we cant escape the holidays. Theyre definitely upon us.
Whether its a commercial Santa Claus, the baby Jesus and his crowd, or the lights of Hanukah, the symbols dominating December push different buttons in each of us. For some of us their messages arent so positive.
Some of us still think about all the religion surrounding us even if were convinced the world would be better off without it. And one writer in the latest edition of the Journal of Religion and Society might have concluded that we would be.
In an article with the heavy title Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look, Baltimore researcher Gregory S. Paul compared data from 18 developed democracies.
He concluded: In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion . None of the strongly secularized pro-evolution democracies is experiencing high levels of measurable dysfunction.
Other studies in the US have shown a similar relationship between strict religion and traditional measurements of lower morality. A 1999 survey of the US conducted by Barna Research Group in Ventura, Calif., found that Baptists have the highest divorce rate of any Christian denomination and are more likely to get a divorce than atheists and agnostics.
Nationally, the red states of Nevada, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Alabama have the highest divorce rates in the country. Its none other than the very blue Massachusetts, which values same-sex unions, that has the lowest divorce rate.
Its easy to conclude that religion is bad for us when we begin to see such data pile up. But that gets caught in not making an important distinction that we must make in order to deal with religious people effectively.
Here it is. There is no such thing as religion in general. Theres certainly much talk about religion in general. But have you noticed that we never meet up with religion in general.
There is also no such thing as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, or any of the other religions we might list in general, either (or paganism, atheism, or agnosticism). We always have to relate to particular movements, scriptures, institutions, and people when we decide how to approach religion.
Religion in general is, frankly, responsible for nothing. What we always find is religion in particular. We can only see, deal with, and respond to the religion of particular people, particular institutions, and particular movements.
The religion we deal with, whether good or bad, is always someones or some groups understanding of religion, someones particular interpretation of the world about them, and someones beliefs that are caught up in the particular circumstances of their life, their upbringing, their psyches, and their prejudices.
So, responding to the religious pronouncements, initiatives, bullying, and pressure of the right-wing isnt about religion. Its about the people who proclaim such pronouncements, push their agenda, defame those who disagree, and expect government to enforce their sectarian moralities.
Were really dealing with prejudiced people, people who feel victimized, who are afraid to embrace new ideas, who cling to their views of gods, tradition, and scriptures in order not to confront their own internal, personal demons, who get a lot of attention, camaraderie, and community from their like-believing friends, or who dont want to embrace change, and on and on.
The issues were dealing with when we talk about religion are the issues hidden behind some generalization that even they make about true Christianity, or religion, or faith. And these issues are very personal and particular.
First, then, we need to see these people in a way thats different from how they see themselves. We dont think of them as speaking for anything (religion, Christianity, etc.) other than themselves. And they certainly dont speak for God, scriptures, or tradition. They may speak for a group of people, a denomination, or movement, but nothing greater.
This means, second, that we are not dealing with religion, God, the Bible, or anything greater. Our discussion, disagreement, or any other way we choose to deal or not deal with them is solely with them. They may rant and insist otherwise, they may threaten eternal punishment for our disagreement or alternative lifestyle. But its their rant, their ideas, their particularity thats at issue.
Third, this means that though they may be whole people somewhere down deep, theyre speaking only out of their personal experience. Thats often their own unhealed hurt and pain. People often, we know, instead of doing the difficult work of facing their own pasts, getting in touch with how theyve been hurt, and growing beyond their pain, seek numerous ways to skirt their issues.
Fourth, when they speak negatively about other groups, such as LGBT people, theyre displaying what they refuse to deal with their insecurities, failed relationships, unfulfilled sexual lives, or inability to embrace their sexual orientation. Theyll often repeat the language of their punitive parents. Its not surprising that televangelists sound like punishing fathers.
Fifth, knowing that this isnt about religion, we also know its not about us. Its not about LGBT people who are scapegoats used to distract the religious right-wingers from being human again. Religion is also a scapegoat in the process.
Sixth, this is the addictive use of religion about which Ive written before. Its used like drugs and alcohol, or other even good activities and substances, to prevent them from facing real personal issues. Thats why we cant get caught enabling addictive religion.
Instead, seventh, we must stop arguing about religion, or blaming religion. Otherwise we keep the addiction going, enabling the addicts to whine that theyre the victims.
To break the addiction we -- religious or not -- must
live the real issues. Weve got to model what it is to
be fully human. And we must stand up ffor our own values --
not defensively but convinced that ours is the agenda that
promotes the best of any season of the year.
I know people in the United States have sex. In fact, Im sure they do. Ive heard about it on Fox (pronounced as the French faux) News. I know that most of them wish they could have more or better sex. That doesnt mean that Im sure that they know what they really want.
I also know its usually dangerous in our country to get into conversations about sex - particularly if you admit you like or want it. Our culture is so sick about sex that even scientific researchers must watch their backs if anything they study has to do with genitals or being sexual. Theyve got to take extreme care not to offend the politically and religiously powerful who are the most obsessed with sexuality.
These people diseased about sex are constantly in the business of censoring what we can know about sex through guilt, accusations, shame, out-dated misinformation, law, and punishment here and hereafter. They dont even want sexuality to be scientifically researched in fear that the results wont support their traditional misunderstandings.
Psychologist Leonore Tiefer in her insightful book, Sex is Not a Natural Act and Other Essays (2nd ed, 2004) writes that powerful conservative political groups opposed to reproductive rights, sexual empowerment, and sexual self-determination have discouraged and even prevented funding for sex education and scholarship.
Scientists also know the fallout from right-wing abstinence only educational programs. Impartial studies have not only shown them universally ineffective, and a study published in 2002 in the British Medical Journal found that, far from reducing unwanted pregnancies, abstinence only programs actually may increase pregnancies in partners of male participants.
In fact, during the period when President Bush was governor of Texas (1995 to 2000), with abstinence-only programs in place, Texas ranked last in the nation in the decline of teen birth rates among 15- to -17-year-old females.
The economic benefactor of such ignorance is the all-powerful pharmaceutical industry. With little understanding of sexuality, the dominant voice of authority becomes the pharmaceutically-funded medical establishment. Hyped solutions to sexual dysfunction are now purchased from the drug companies. Sexual ignorance, in other words, fills bulging corporate pockets.
In spite of this conservative desire to control human sexuality (and controlling other peoples sexuality is a traditional value for authorities), corporate, profit-oriented media and its advertisers use our ignorance of the nature, variety, and art of human sexuality to sell their products. Buying things is the key to good, more, intimate, or hot sexuality, or just to getting any sex at all.
Cultural sickness about sex weighs it down with a burden thats too heavy for it to bear.
It carries, first, the weight of all morality. We use words like "virtue (she lost her virtue) and immoral (all nations fell when they became immoral) and have been taught to think of sex. Its as if there is nothing more to morality and virtue than how we conduct our sex lives nothing about citizenship, community, charity, compassion, greed, or usury.
Sex thereby carries the weight of naughtiness. That makes it obsessively attractive, dirty, anti-God, anarchic, and an apparent act of freedom from parents, preachers, and other authorities. That means the media can use sex in a formula for profit-making, and then moralize their profits in the name of First Amendment freedoms.
Sex carries the weight of closeness. Instead of one of many possible means one human being can choose to express closeness with another, it becomes the one activity for attaining closeness with another. All closeness needs get piled on the sexual act.
Its used to get close, stay close, feel close, and make someone else stay close. Its used to get something from someone else their love, their fidelity, their security, or their attention.
Sex carries the weight of medical normalcy. Youre not only abnormal and probably psychologically sick if you arent interested in sex, but theres a definition of what normal or (the new scientific term) adequate sex is.
Tiefer argues that the authority for interpreting sexual behavior is shifting from the realm of religion to the realm of science, from the domain of sin and evil to that of disorder and abnormality. We now wonder: What is normal sex? How often is normal? and Am I normal?
Sex bears a heavy economic weight. Inherent human closeness just is. It makes no money for anyone. In fact, it threatens economies like ours geared to isolation, independent living, and dysfunctional, over-hyped sexual patterns.
But closeness and normalcy as sexuality is sellable. If you buy the right car, gym membership, drug, deodorant, education, food, entertainment, and on and on, you too can get closeness and be normal.
All of this sickness gets acted out on LGBT people. Theyre seen as destroying healthy (that is, really this culturally sick) sexuality.
Theyre probably getting more sex and enjoying it more. Theyre stereotyped as less burdened by cultural taboos.
LGBT sex is portrayed as animal, dirty, obsessive. Its okay to obsess about them as sexual, but never as loving.
On NPRs Fresh Air, Terry Gross was interviewing the new openly gay episcopal bishop, one of my heroes, Gene Robinson. She posed a common question: What do you say to those who claim its okay to be gay as long as you dont act on it?
Bishop Robinson gave a long, insightful answer about sexuality as a gift from God. It was brilliant.
But it was about a subject the culture is too sick about and identified with condemnation for LGBT people.
My answer would have been different, if less brilliant. Id have looked Terry Gross directly in the eye and just asked: Are you saying that people shouldnt express the love they have to the people they love intimately?
Face it. Sex is too hard to talk about in the USA. So, dont get caught in discussions about such a chronic cultural sickness.
Talk instead about love. After all, its love that
they dont want anyone to connect with LGBT people.
In a Christian Coalition recruitment video, tele-evangelist Pat Robertson looks his viewers in the eye and reminds them that when everyone else has left the discussion, given up, given in, or just become quiet, its the last person left standing in the room who wins.
The last one left in the room wins is a principle that George Bushs handlers have perfected and are practicing today. Its a principle that few DC beltway Democratic leaders appear to take seriously.
Weve seen that even as a minority party, when Democrats stand firmly on an issue with message discipline and uncompromising belief in their position, theyve changed the debate.
Social Security destruction (the Republican word is reform) by the Republican right-wing is one glaring example. The Democrats have maintained unflinching opposition and polls are on their side. Many pundits, as a result, pronounce Bushs plan dead.
Destruction of the Senate filibuster was a potential Democratic win. Polls favored their stance. But the Democrats began to waver. Even though a forced vote on the filibuster might actually have scared enough Republican senators to join them.
But the Presidents brain, Karl Rove, knows the advantage of staying in the room on these issues. And his right-wing cohorts are doing just that.
Even if its declared dead, Bush is still out selling his plan for privatized accounts in infomercials cynically labeled town meetings. Hes convinced that continuing to stump for his changes, given the entertainment-oriented news media climate and Democratic appearances of valuelessness, will finally win the day.
If its not going to happen with this exact plan, Bushs handlers believe, itll happen with some version of Social Security dismantling.
Meanwhile a group of Democratic leaders are congratulating themselves as great compromisers for preventing (they believe permanently) a Republican led nuclear option in the Senate to destroy the filibuster. They speak of how they saved the filibuster by caving in to basically everything the Republicans wanted.
They agreed not to use their only tool against Bushs radical right-wing justice nominees, but in exchange for what?
And one by one extreme right-wing judges whom Bush proposed are trotted forth by Republicans with no retreat by Bush or Republican leaders, and the Senate is confirming them. So far the Democrats havent stopped any judicial appointments the Republicans proposed.
What the Democrats feel was a moral victory has won them nothing. The Democrats lost their public position as David against the Goliath of a greedy Republican takeover. Theyve given the Republican senators a chance to appear less vicious, to no longer look like power-grabbing bullies whod undo Senate rules if they could increase their power. To put it bluntly, the Democratic senators may have saved the Senate and lost the country.
What the Democratic leadership in the Washington beltway doesnt get is what distinguishes it from DNC Chairman Howard Dean. Its what scares them about Deans tough, outrageous talk.
While Dean rouses the grassroots base the way the right-wing did to change politics from the ground up, beltway Democrats are providing the right-wing fodder by recoiling publicly from Deans refreshing outspokenness.
The fact that Rove counts on, and the DC Democratic insiders dont get, is that Republican leadership can make all the apparent compromises it wants without having to fear that it will actually lose anything or ultimately compromise anything at all.
Lets work out the scenario right-wing strategists assume.
No matter what agreement theyve made, they ultimately wont have to live up to it. Theyll frankly betray any trust involved and believe they can get away with it.
Theyll minimize or ignore any dissent, or find flaws in the dissenters. And theyll ignore any dissent from within the Republican Party itself.
Theyll count on the right-wing media (FOX News, talk shows, Christian radio, etc) to support their new and revised position, report their spin of what the deal theyd made "really" was, create fake reports and data to support it, and even lie about it. They know that a big enough lie told long enough will sound convincing.
To be clear, the right-wing lies. Theyve been caught again and again. But when a Democrat points that out, Republicans bank on other Democratic leaders neutralizing the criticism.
The right-wing will count on mainstream corporate media (CBS, NBC, ABC, AP, USA Today, etc) to drop the story as old news, do little old-fashioned journalistic investigation into the original agreement, and portray the new version in a balanced manner, that is, as only a matter of Democratic versus Republican opinion.
But more importantly, theyll count on the Democratic leadership shooting itself in the foot. Its the actions of the Democrats that will ultimately bring a Republican win on these matters.
The Democrats, right-wing strategists believe, wont stay in the room. Democratic leaders will talk publicly about how they dont agree with each others statements. Theyll communicate that theres something wrong with the straightforward responses of people like Howard Dean.
And people will eventually agree with the Republicans without them lifting a finger.
Democratic leaders will try to compromise again as if theyve learned nothing about the new face of politics. Theyll appear to abandon progressive values because they dont want to appear too radical.
Theyll soften their language to try to win over their corporate-oriented Democratic buddies. Theyll even adopt Republican language and framing.
Theyll act afraid that Republican political machines will target them in the next political campaign -- as if they wont do that anyway.
And just as Democratic leadership compromises LGBT issues, the right-wing is counting on them to continue to do so on everything.
The political fight is the Democrats to lose. But maybe, just maybe, Democratic leaders will stand up together, united, and surprise us all.
That would contradict the sad truth embodied in such
internet humor as: Do you know why Republicans oppose
using federal money for stem cell research? Theyre
afraid the Democrats will use it to grow a spine.
Youve heard the question in a number of forms: Why are gay people the way they are?
Im not talking about the complaints of critical right-wingers. They refuse to accept a rational answer, and dont want one.
Im talking about the generalizations we make about each other that usually tell us more about our own frustrations than about the people from whom we had apparently expected more.
Ive been speaking and writing for years about how LGBT people react, relate, and absorb the sick messages of society and apply them to themselves almost unconsciously. Gay and Healthy in A Sick Society (HumanityWorks!, 2003) offered some conclusions.
Even though I dont buy into the generalizations, there are common patterns behind them that provide the anecdotes for the people who make them.
Now, all the major psychological and counseling organizations over thirty years ago concluded that none of this has anything to do with same-sex attraction. So, its settled. There is nothing wrong with anyone that has to do with their sexual orientation.
If we could just get that idea down, believe it, and use it, wed make a lot of progress in our community. But Ive often seen people who deny that they have any problems with their sexual orientation still speak, act, and relate in ways that make one wonder if theyre really so healthy.
After all, theres an important social dynamic at work here people from a group that has been oppressed by the larger society internalize that oppression in a way that divides them in, from, and among themselves. Brazilian educator Paolo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1973) identified it as a fear of being free from the constricting, negative images of the very system that oppresses them.
The oppressed, he writes, having internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his [sic] guidelines, are fearful of freedom. Freedom would require them to eject this image and replace it with autonomy and responsibility. Freedom must be pursued constantly and responsibly.
In a very straight-dominant society, LGBT people internalize not only the negative images of them society installs in everyone even before some know theyre not straight. They have also absorbed the very negativity of these images.
Were not, then, automatically free from the judgments of the oppressor. The internalized negativity appears in the negative over-generalizations made about other LGBT people, the ease by which we look for the worst or at least the flaws in them, and a resulting inability to play well with others in our own groups.
Leaders fight. Organizations compete. Negative, unconfirmed gossip and rumors become juicy conversation. Criticism abounds. Bitterness develops. Relationships become drama.
Instead of living in a self-defined, individual freedom, this results in protective personal strategies to keep from being hurt, let down, or rejected by the very group we had thought would accept us. Somehow we even feel like outsiders among other LGBT people.
Then we assume the worst from the beginning and dont put faith in others so that our hope wont be dashed. We feel that if we can just huddle together with one person who really loves us, we wont feel the negativity. That person will save us.
We can also protect ourselves if we live a life of denial walled in with the emotional protection of alcohol, drugs, partying, membership in an elite LGBT in-group, unfulfilling sexual encounters, superficial conversations, closeted or semi-closeted relationships with straight people, or the many, often good, things we do in order to fill a hole within us with somebodys love and attention.
Nothing in this is essentially gay. Its the typical, predictable activities of any group of people who have a history of being been hurt by society and havent pursued their own healing journey.
Its difficult to get the members of victimized
groups to stop living out their unhealed hurts on each other
and take on the larger system thats been hurting them.
But it begins with each individual who embraces their own
The anti-marriage-equality juggernaut moves on successfully every time it's put to the people. These religious and political extremists know how to use an apparently democratic process because they've borrowed the business lobby's issue-distorting techniques to win referenda.
Meanwhile, pro-equality activists work hard to fight a battle they didn't choose and are likely to lose. Defending what appears to be a losing cause and knowing you still have to fight it is emotionally wearing.
As I watched the latest fight in Kansas, I was proud of pro-equality activists who were really on the side of the angels. They e-mailed, gathered, strategized, bonded, used every opportunity that came their way, rethought and regrouped again and again, and reflected on the right words and actions to make a difference.
Then they had to watch 70% of the voters agree that the love of LGBT people doesn't deserve the recognition that straight, mostly-failing marriages do.
During the campaign they had to sit by and hear self-serving preachers and politicians who are suspiciously over-obsessed with gay sex tell LGBT people that they really deserve everlasting torment.
They had to watch incredulously while the prejudiced around them refused to listen to their carefully researched, reasoned, and fact-based arguments against the amendment.
They had to watch the media constantly make sure that the forces of bigotry were given a voice against them.
They had to watch political leaders they had supported, assuming they were their allies, cower in silence and complicity to save their own skins.
They had to overlook so many of the slurs, jokes, asides, references, and plain meanness that come at them daily to focus on issues that they felt were more crucial to the campaign.
They had to hear people talk about them as if they weren't human, as if they were some abstract class of things, a mere set of objects in a debate, when they knew it was deeply personal and wanted to shout: "You're talking about me, right here!"
They had to endure demeaning, vulgar slurs shamelessly bandied about publicly that compare them to pedophiles, molesters, and practitioners of bestiality.
They had to continuously look over their shoulders to protect themselves from harm while they bravely came further out of closets than before to stand against a clear assault on human rights.
They had to constantly remind themselves of their own worth, and the worth of those they love in the face of brazen and hateful public opinion.
They had to put aside they're feelings because there was too much to do.
They had to choose to act in hope when in the back of their minds hopelessness seemed more realistic and could easily drown their spirits.
They had to work, and work, and work some more because there was so little time to pull the weight of their cause up the hill that was the right-wing's timetable.
Now they're tired heroes, needing rest before the next onslaught that's being prepared this moment by right-wing addicts. But they have little time to reflect, feel, and cry.
So, for humanity's sake, let's take a reflective moment before the next storm gathers. Here are just a few of many thoughts:
The success of these marriage amendments is not a good measure of the success of LGBT equality. Thrust upon us, we've come to think of the amendment fights as if they represent a line in the sand. The right-wing scared the country into believing so, and even one or two LGBT national organizations have acted as if that were so.
In the midst of these losses, there's been real progress. While Ohio voted for a mean version of the amendment, Cincinnati reversed a previously voter-approved city charter prohibition to grant anti-discrimination protection. Other locations around the country, even in red states, added sexual orientation to protected status. In Kansas, Topeka had just turned back a referendum promoting discrimination.
Without waiting, we need to promote similar anti-discrimination ordinances, which are easier to champion and crucial. LGBT people should be protected from getting fired for their sexual orientation and guaranteed non-discrimination in public accommodations, education, and government.
No matter how the right-wing has honed its arguments against these more basic initiatives, it's hard for them to argue that someone should be fired for their sexual orientation or that our schools shouldn't be safe for all children.
We cannot count on either of the two political parties for support. The Log Cabin Republicans and the Stonewall Democrats can continue to fight, but to both parties LGBT people are expendable. They want our votes, but they don't believe we are significant or powerful enough to demand anything in return. And we've often acted as if we'll take that kind of treatment.
It's up to LGBT people and their real allies to look significant enough to deny support to, and threaten to work against, fair-weather and big-talking political friends. We must stop looking like pitiful pets waiting for scraps to drop from the table and just thankful that our masters occasionally smile down upon us.
The argument against right-wing religious extremists must be taken up within the religious communities, not by those outside them. The radical religious right loves to portray their battles as fights between believers and the godless.
What right-wing religion has really been doing successfully is defining these religious traditions to exclude their liberal voices. Liberal religious believers ought to be angry about that fact alone, angry enough to be the ones who fight back.
We can reframe this debate. Religious arguments must be redefined as fights within religious communities not fights between the religious and the secular. Liberal ministers, priests, rabbis, and other believers need to take over this debate as if their faith depended upon it. It does.
Finally, historian Howard Zinn reminds us: "To be hopeful
in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on
the fact that human history is a history not only of
cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage,
kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex
history will determine our lives."
Political language expert, Berkeley professor George Lakoff warns progressives: Dont move to the right. Rightward movement hurts in two ways. It alienates the progressive base and it helps conservatives by activating their model in swing voters. (Dont Think of an Elephant, p. 34)
When we move to the right, start speaking in the right-wings framework, or respond in their terms, were telling people that moving to the right is something we value. Were really affirming the right wings model, or way of seeing things, even though we feel were just compromising or strategically repositioning ourselves to garner undecided voters.
What looks to us like strategy, looks to those accustomed to the right-wings framing of issues as an affirmation of their position, as if the right-wing position is winning. It must be valid because, after all, even liberals are converting.
Right-wing leaders know this. They never move leftward, no matter how much they talk about non-partisanship.
Some Democrats apparently get this idea. DNC Chair Howard Dean wrote the foreword to Lakoffs book, and in speeches as Chair he pins the failure of Democrats in the last elections to the fact that they allowed Republicans to frame the issues. Ted Kennedy speaks clearly, stands his ground even alone, in spite of criticism from the many who posture themselves to his right.
Still, Democrats in order to win more seats seem to be compromising something new a womans right to control her own life. Dean is clear.
Abortion should be, Deans consistent soundbite says, safe, legal, and rare, and a womans right to choose must be maintained.
Other Democratic leaders arent so openly affirming. Senate Democratic Minority Leader, Harry Reid of Utah identifies as pro-life. Hillary Clinton, positioning herself for something, now uses phrases ambiguous enough to perk up the ears of the anti-choice crowd that loves to hate her. On abortion, her new lead is that its: a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women.
And in order to win (believing that Republican-lite will win over real Republicans) Democratic campaign committees appear to be encouraging anti-abortion candidates.
Pennsylvania Democratic State Treasurer and abortion rights opponent, Bob Casey, Jr. announced March 4 that hell be entering the 2006 race for the US Senate seat held by Republican Rick Santorum. Pro-choice candidate and former State Treasurer Barbara Hafter, who had stated her intention to run, dropped out after Caseys announcement, saying Pennsylvanias Democratic Governor asked her to do so.
Strangely enough, in Rhode Island where pro-choice Secretary of State Matt Brown plans to challenge the seat of pro-choice Republican US Senator Lincoln Chaffee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has instead approached an abortion rights opponent, Rep. Jim Langevin, to run.
When questioned, Phil Singer, Communications Director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, responded that his Committee was only concerned with supporting the candidate most likely to win. National Organization for Womens President Kim Gandy objected, pointing out that its womens rights that are being abandoned in this strategy.
People dont buy the copycat version of a product if they can get the brand name original. So we can expect that what failed in the last two elections wont work again either.
But even more important than losing another election, is the long-term message Democrats are communicating about their integrity. To argue that theyre doing what it takes to win, in spite of a long-term Party commitment to womens self-determination, tells the country that Democrats value winning more than standing firm for a womans right to choose. And theyre doing so in spite of the fact that polls still strongly support that right.
LGBT people already know the feeling of being used. Theyve become accustomed to Democrats who abandon the fight for their rights in order to win votes. Now women can feel used again, too.
Its the privilege of anyone in a dominant group with power to tell non-dominant groups what is and isnt oppression. Its part of white privilege, male privilege, and heterosexual privilege.
LGBT people have been told not to expect too much. Just grin and bare it, and be more understanding. In the true fashion of heterosexual privilege, theyve been blamed, scolded and told theyre being too sensitive, angry, or one-issue-oriented when they feel offended by such treatment.
Now it appears all women are expected to join LGBT people in understanding privileged Democratic politicians who tell women they just should be grateful that Democrats are not as bad as Republicans.
Democratic leaders, whove led us to numerous losses, believe they know better than the rest of us what real oppression is.
You women, LGBT people, people of color, shouldnt feel that way, theyre saying. You just dont understand that we know whats best. Were really on your side even though it looks asif were really only on our own side. Were still committed to your causes, even though it looks as if we arent.
Compromising on a womans right to control her own body, to make decisions herself about whats best no matter how difficult those decisions are, isnt just about the best strategy for winning -- except to the privileged who dont face the issue in their own bodies. Its about values, about believing something is righht, true, and human. Its about trusting women to make the best decisions anyone could make in the face of the history of a paternalism that treated women like dim-witted children.
And its also about communicating to the public what a political party really believes. Its saying that they value something enough to lose for it, that there are things worth more than merely winning an argument or an election.
This is a matter of values, of whether Democrats have
them. Its also a "gut check to see how much
Democrats really believe in something. And its their
chance to come out of the closet as human beings who are
convinced there is another way that has lately been put down
as liberal, as if thats a bad thing.
How many of our political leaders can make that claim with a clear conscience?
With major candidates in both parties purchased by corporate America, government regulations being written by lobbyists of the industries theyre regulating, politicians in revolving-door careers with the very corporations that their departments hire for government work, social programs being gutted to benefit those who dont need them, and tax breaks for almost anything business wants to do these days, we have definitely the best Congress money can buy.
That observation by humorist Will Rogers in the 1920s could have been extended beyond Congress to include the Presidency, the Pentagon, and, sadly, even our Courts. But on January 1, a courageous 80 year-old teacher left us who could, and did, say she was unbought and unbossed.
Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm, who was best known for her political life as the first African-American woman to win election to Congress and for her 1972 run for the Presidency, died New Years Day. She was elected seven times to represent the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn in the House of Representatives, which she did dynamically from 1969 until her retirement in 1983.
She never stopped fighting. She never hesitated to speak the truth, no matter how much criticism she received from the political majority who protected the status quo that benefited them.
She spoke clearly about Congress itself, which she criticized as too clubby and unresponsive to everyday people. Our representative democracy is not working because the Congress that is supposed to represent the voters does not respond to their needs. I believe the chief reason for this is that it is ruled by a small group of old men.
In the midst of a Congress and administration that appears woefully bankrupt today, Shirley Chisholm proved this doesnt have to be. She modeled a hope that enlightens even the dark days that begin 2005, when weve gotten use to settling for so little from our elected officials.
Her voice was never silenced, never compromised. Only her failing health interfered.
My greatest political asset, which professional politicians fear, is my mouth, out of which come all kinds of things one shouldnt always discuss for reasons of political expediency, she told voters.
She scared her own Democratic Party establishment, even its most prominent liberals, as any populist thinker still does. While they today are willing to compromise their constituencies, often by their silence or their niceties, she did not.
As a result, so-called liberals attempted to marginalize her while the conservative establishment demonized her. She knew that the political establishment, the corporate media, and her own party would put down anyone who told the truth as out-of-touch, crazy, or queer.
There is little place in the political scheme of things, she observed, for an independent, creative personality, for a fighter. Anyone who takes that role must pay a price.
Against the rich old boys club that dominates US politics today more than ever, she refused to compromise. Against the pessimists whose so-called realism said no one other than a rich white male could even be the nominee of the Democratic Party, she chose to live in the world as she hoped it would be.
Democratic leaders objected that she was dividing the votes so the Republicans could win. The male members of her own Congressional Black Caucus refused to welcome her candidacy, knowing how little influence they had achieved in the three years of their existence.
I ran for the presidency, despite hopeless odds, to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo, she wrote in her memoir, The Good Fight (1973). The next time a woman runs, or a Black, a Jew or anyone from a group that the country is not ready to elect to its highest office, I believe that he or she will be taken seriously from the start.
Chisholms vision included everyone who was left out. She fought from the understanding that all discriminations are related. In the end anti-black, anti-female, and all forms of discrimination are equivalent to the same thing anti-humanism.
She was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1969 and co-convener of the founding conference of the National Womens Political Caucus. Gay liberation leaders loved her. In the early seventies, they saw the hopefulness in what she was doing and saying.
Her candidacy for the presidency was rooted in such conviction: I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud. I am not the candidate of the womens movement of this county, although I am equally proud of that. I am not the candidate of any political bosses or special interests. I am the candidate of the people.
Chisholm was always clear about the underlying racism of the country, saying that it was becoming invisible and normal because it was so universal, widespread and deep-seated. But she always added that she faced more discrimination as a woman than as a black person. Of my two handicaps, she said, being female put more obstacles in my path than being black.
She understood clearly that there was a relationship between womens rights and the full acceptance of LGBT people. One distressing thing is the way men react to women who assert their equality: their ultimate weapon is to call them unfeminine. They think she is anti-male; they even whisper that shes probably a lesbian.
In a time when the Republican Party promotes the language of values while valuing only what increases the wealth of the upper-echelons of corporate America, Shirley Chisholms outspokenness is clear: When morality comes up against profit, it is seldom profit that loses.
In a time when the Democratic Party is afraid to be a voice of the everyday people, when its leadership appears to be worrying that it hasnt become Republican enough to win any more, remembering Shirley Chisholm is refreshing. Asked what her legacy might be, she didnt hesitate: Id like them to say that Shirley Chisholm had guts."
Maybe there will some day even be Democratic Party leaders who have such uncompromising guts. Maybe theyll be willing to put their careers on the line for those who are left out of the corporate-sponsored dismantling of an uncompromisingly compassionate society that really cares about every human being.
Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm modeled such hope.
I am the peoples politician, she said.
If the day should ever come when the people cant
save me, Ill know Im finished.
(If you missed the column When Religion is an Addiction, click here.)
Take right-wing religions teaching that people are basically so evil and lost that they deserve eternal, abusive punishment. Add its effectiveness at convincing people of their innate evil because theyre prepared for it through childrearing methods that punish inherently bad children. Enforce such messages with political leaders whose solution to problems is more punishment. The result: adults desperate need for a fix to provide relief from self-denigrating, self-abusive feelings.
Thats what made the high of being righteous so addictive. Now, with the political success of the right-wing, addictive religion found a new fix, the high of winning politically.
Prior to the rise of their political aspirations, huddling together in congregations seemed enough for the addicted. In their meetings and services they could be with those who felt the same misery and heard that there was nothing they could do to be saved.
These were not recovery groups, providing support to overcome the addiction. They were more like opium dens.
Their preachers dealt the high. They did nothing to make people feel as if they were, or could in themselves become, worthwhile. In fact, they convinced them they were so evil that they shouldnt trust their own intuitions, thoughts, and positive feelings about themselves. Trusting yourself was put down as New Age.
Their preachers and theologians told them they could only be acceptable because another Being really, really, really would accept them in spite of who their evil. If people accepted that notion, it was then okay to feel joy.
They could also feel as if the lost, people out there, were the ones with problems, not them. Theyd lap up prophecy, which would assure them that theyd come out winners in the end and that those who didnt participate in their addiction would be proven wrong by being Left Behind.
As they became more addicted, the fix became more desperate. Services were the gathering together of addicts for another drink, another line. But addictions are progressive, so where would they get even heavier doses?
The movement of the religious right-wing into politics, which most previously rejected as too involved with the world, was a new drug, a stronger drink. Righteous political wins for their religious position became the new blessed relief from facing the painful notion that they are, as their hymns reminded them, wretches, worms, without [even] one plea, and deeply stained within.
Logically, one would think that believing theyre so evil would cause them to be less judgmental, more sympathetic with others. After all, one can actually find that notion in their Bible. So, in the midst of their righteous wins, they do sometimes talk sympathetically, saying to LGBT people: Were all sinners.
But addictions are not logical, and looking for the logic in them, ALANON members know, is a waste of time. What drives this need for winning is the high. They cant face what they believe about their rotten selves too long or they just couldnt handle it its bad enough to probably require anti-depressants and hospitalization.
When they win government and electoral approval for their doctrines, those arent acts of faith at all. Their trust is not in their Higher Power. Its in government and the electorate. Its in the feeling that they have approval of a majority of voters. None of that has to do with What Would Jesus Do.
The fix of these wins has become an obsession. Its meant to convince them theyre right and okay. As a high it can never last. Theyll fall back into their feelings of fear and loathing. So they desperately need more approval, more wins. Theyve gotten themselves dependent upon these wins.
The need for a cause to win is the seeking of approval by projecting their evil onto others. Addictions remove the sense of responsibility. Its never the addicts fault. Addicts must be convinced theyre right. Feminists, activist judges, LGBT people, liberals, atheists, wiccans, whomever, must be understood as the real causes of the addicts problems.
Sadly, many addicts never come to until theyve hit bottom and destroyed their lives and the lives of their families and acquaintances. Some go into recovery. There is, after all, a Fundamentalists Anonymous.
So, dealing with the addiction requires saving oneself first, not the addict. It often involves the sadness of watching the addict crash and burn.
Now, its going to take awhile for addictive religion to hit bottom. Its on a new drug and it has mainstream approval.
But does it have our support? Are we the enablers? Are we making excuses for the addict? Are we still trying to find the logic in what they do? Are we wasting time trying to understand their real motives and intentions? Are we covering up for the addict?
Are we emotionally unable or unwilling to speak truth to the addict, saying the addiction is wrong, sick, and destructive? Are we unable to separate from the addiction? Are we unwilling to join the equivalent of support groups like ALANON or form Mothers Against Abusive Religion?
Do we have a positive enough self-image to refuse to be abused by others who wont face the addiction -- such as politicians who treat us like crazy but rich relatives whom they come to for support but hide in the closet when peeople want to know who those relatives are? Are we willing to face the fact that well still be affected by the addiction and, therefore, have to live our lives in the light of that fact, that we have to protect ourselves and our safety? Are we able to say that they, not we, are the problem?
Once weve named an addiction, its our choice
how we live with an addict. Its our choice about
whether we seek an addicts love and support. And
its our choice, knowing that addictions are hard to
overcome, whether were in it for the long haul
because, in the end, we want to stop addictions from hurting
Its not that men are somehow inherently incapable of loving, emotional, committed relationships. Men are human beings born complete with a full range of human emotions, needs, nurturing abilities, and characteristics. (I know this seems to be a radical statement for many people in our culture.)
It just takes a lot of emotional and societal conditioning to turn little boys into those real men who cant talk about their feelings, fear the loss of those they commit to, over-react in anger, and suffer alone in desperate silences. Cultural patterns of male conditioning teach men at all costs to assume ultimate responsibility for others, armor themselves against other men, and expect others to depend on their stoic, unwavering strength.
Early in life and often, boys are taught that there are crybabies, sissies, sallies, wusses, pussies, and fags wholl be hurt by other men because they act more like girls than the true men Thoreau described as living lives of quiet desperation. Its just the beat-or-be-beaten boy code that says unless you quickly join the masculine world that puts down non-masculine males and females, youll fall victim to other men.
The goal of the training of boys in the US is not to create men who are capable of loving, close, emotionally intimate relationships at all. Its purpose is to turn them into competent warriors. Theyre needed as leaders and fodder for a military-industrial-prison-media-complex that demands arms races, wars, insecurity, and bloated Pentagon spending to propel corporate profits and stock values higher and higher. The strong silent type idealized by many is the result. Hes the one who looks steeled enough to protect us all. Even his physical presence should look strong, armored, and successful at mastering or beating the system. Hes the one were supposed to value as a nations president, a corporate leader, a womans husband, and a strict, never wrong, morally unflinching father for otherwise helpless children.
If women in our culture arent breaking out of their conditioning, which prepares them to function as warrior support personnel, theyll need men to be this way. If they arent learning to take care of their own space, value their own ideas, and secure their own lives, theyll freak out when a man theyve bet their lives on to love and protect them begins to reject the internalized masculine patterns hes bet his life on over the years.
Patterned masculinity devalues emotions, even removes men from consciously feeling the emotional spectrum. While men walk around feeling deeply hurt, often afraid, and unsure of the answers to life, they cant know it or show it.
Its hard for such a masculinized partner who cant feel when hes hurting to understand that something hurts someone else. Its hard for him to know when something he himself is doing hurts someone else, too. Really? That hurts you? is a fully conditioned masculine response.
Hes also supposed to have all the answers, fix all the problems, and be an unwavering pillar of strength against a threatening world. So his very masculine image is on the line when hes expected to show vulnerability, share his true feelings, describe the demeaning or devaluing day he experienced at work, or even admit that something hes supposed to do is slowly killing him inside.
Relating to such masculinity is difficult, frustrating, and unhealthy for both the man living it and the partner who seeks an intimate relationship with him. Real intimacy, the kind that shares heart to heart, is an impossible dream. Fully conditioned men only function emotionally from the neck up and the waist down.
Sex becomes the only place to feel anything other than the expected manly anger. Sex again becomes a desperate need for conditioned males. But it doesnt work. It cant. Sex is not a replacement for intimacy.
In same-sex male relationships the problem is doubled. Vulnerability is just as difficult. What will he think of me? Doesnt he want me to be strong too?
Since patterned masculinity, and that includes gay men, is afraid of emotional intimacy, both partners in gay male relationships enforce the fear. Neither man wants to hear about those feelings from his partner because that would trigger his own masculinity issues. And he himself doesnt want to face, express, or even admit his deepest emotions. Its better to keep them buried.
Its not that many gay men dont express emotions more freely than their straight-acting brothers. Because theyre stereotyped as doing so, the straight world questions the possible masculinity of homosexuality.
At its extreme, there are drama queens who always seem to be indulging their emotions, wearing them on their sleeves if not on their whole outfits. But dramatizing emotions is not being in touch with them either. Its merely drama. Its acting, not being.
The drama itself is a coping mechanism, a way not to get to the hurts and feelings. The drama may get attention. It may feel better than therapy, support group confessions, or vulnerable sharing with affirming close friends.
But its not healing. Its just a way of expression that the stereotype of gay men permits. Its another pattern that most straight-acting men just havent embraced. But its still a pattern to avoid feeling male hurts.
Add to this the childhood beat or be beaten attitude of patterned masculinity, and the fear of one male partner becoming emotionally vulnerable with another male or any other type of vulnerability for that matter. What results is an unspeakable fear of abandonment, rejection, ridicule, or humiliation.
Masculinity as defined by our culture, then, is a major hindrance for the kind of close, intimate relationships human beings long for. Rejecting masculinity, however, is a scary notion. Few men do it.
It takes internal work, which is hardly masculine at all. If I do it, the fear says, Ill never find anyone in the entire galaxy wholl love me. Ill be alone forever and ever. So, the desperation for partnership keeps masculinity grinding on.
Keeping it going maintains frustration in relationships. Theyre never what they could be and what we so deeply desire: intimate, whole, unconditionally loving, and healing.
What we need, then, is men of courage who are brave
enough to face these issues, who decide to reject
masculinity, and to explore and feel all the fear, hurt, and
confusion that this raises. Those heroes will lead us all
out of a wilderness in which weve become comfortable,
even though weve become comfortable far from the
promise land we dream of.
I remember hearing popular psychological speaker and writer John Bradshaw say that the high one gets from being righteous was similar to the high of cocaine. As both a former monk and addict, he knew the feelings personally.
As the religious right pushes its anti-gay, anti-womens reproductive rights, anti-science, pro-profit agenda nationally and in state capitals across the nation and wins, that high is a sweet fix for the addicted. It gives them a comforting feeling of relief that theyre really right, okay, worthwhile, and acceptable.
Like all fixes, though, it doesnt last. So, the addict is driven to seek another and another another issue, another evil, another paranoiac threat to defeat. It cant ever end. Like the need for heavier doses, the causes have to become bigger and more evil in the addicts mind to provide the fix.
This mind-altering fix of righteousness covers their paranoid shame-based feelings about the internal and external dangerous stalking them. The victim-role language of their dealers, right-wing religious leaders, feeds it. Like alcoholism and drug addiction, the fix numbs the religious addict against any feelings about how their addiction affects others.
Religion doesnt have to be this way; it can be healing. But what we see in the dominant religious/political right-wing fundamentalism thats driving the debate on most conservative issues (political, social, economic, international) is anything but healthy. Its what addiction specialists call a process addiction, like sex or romance addiction, or workaholism. In an addictive society, such addictions are encouraged.
Like substance addictions, it takes over, dominates life, pushes other issues to the background, tells them how and what to feel to prevent them from facing their real feelings about themselves and life, creates a mythology about the world, protects its stash, and supports theyre denial that they have a problem. Addiction specialist Anne Wilson Schaef would say, like all addictions, religious addiction is progressive and fatal.
If youre outside the addiction, youve probably wondered about whats going on, whats the dynamic thats driving the right-wing religious agenda that looks so hateful and destructive. Why is it so hard to crack? Why wont evidence or logic work?
If youre an enabler or the addict yourself, the above must sound over the top. Youd prefer to deny or soften the reality of the addiction.
Yet, if were going to think clearly about the right-wing juggernauts use of religion, and not function as its enablers, we must realize that were dealing with an addict. Right-wing political-religious fundamentalism can destroy us too if were like the dependent spouse who protects, defends, and covers-up for the family drunk.
So, what can we do to protect ourselves, maintain our sanity, promote a healthy alternative, and confront religious addiction? Whats the closest thing to an intervention when were dealing with the advanced, destructive form of religious addiction thats become culturally dominant?
It takes massive inner strength and a good self-concept. Theres no place for codependency and the need to be liked or affirmed by the person with the addiction. ALANON knows that. It requires clarity of purpose, freedom from the need to fix the addict, and doing what maintains ones own health and safety.
Addicts reinforce each other. Fundamentalist religious organizations and media are their supportive co-users. So the person who deals with someones addiction cannot do it alone. They must have support from others outside the addiction.
You cant argue with an addict. Arguing religion to one so addicted plays into the addictive game. Arguing about the Bible or tradition is like arguing with the alcoholic about whether whiskey or tequila is better for them. Its useless and affirms the addiction.
You cant buy into the addicts view of reality. Addicts cover their addiction with a mythology about the world and with language that mystifies. This means we must never use their language. Never say, even to reject it or with so-called before it: partial-birth abortion, gay rights, intelligent design, gay marriage, etc. Speak clearly in terms of what you believe it really is. Say a seldom used late-term procedure, equal rights for all, creationist ideology, marriage equality.
Dont let the addict get you off topic. Addicts love to confuse the issues, get you talking about things that dont challenge their problem. When you do, you further the addiction.
Never argue about whether sexual orientation is a choice. It doesnt matter.
Never argue about sex. Our country is too sick to deal with its sexual problems.
Its okay to affirm that you dont care or these arent the issues. You dont need to justify your beliefs to a drunk or druggie.
Get your message on target and repeat it. Get support for your message from others so that theyre on the same page. Make it short, simple, to the point, and consistent.
Dont nag addicts. Dont speak belligerently or as if you have to defend yourself. Just say: The government and other people have no right to tell someone whom to love.
Dont accept that the addiction needs equal time. Stop debating as if there are two sides. Get over any guilt about a free country requiring you to make space for addictive arguments. You dont have to act as if here are two sides to the debate. Addicts and their dealers already have the power of the addiction and addictive communities behind their messages.
Model what it is to be a healthy human being without the addiction. Addicts must see people living outside the addiction, happy, confident, proud, and free from the effects of the disease. In spite of the fact that were a nation that supports both substance and process addictions so people dont threaten the institutions and values that pursue profits over humanity, live as if that has no ultimate control over you.
Dont believe that you, your friends, children, relationships, hopes, and dreams, are any less valuable or legitimate because they arent sanctioned by a government, politicians, or religious leaders that are in a coping, rather than healing, mode of life.
Dealing with addictions takes an emotional toll on everyone. Yet, recognizing religious addiction as an addiction demystifies its dynamics and maintains our sanity.
An optimist, my favorite definition goes, is someone who falls off a skyscraper and as he passes the thirtieth floor thinks: So far, so good.
The Bush presidency, the corporate take-over of the US, and the destruction of government social programs make it hard to be both a realist and an optimist. We cant just look at the half of the glass thats full and disregard the empty half.
In reality the glass is far from half full. Its full only for the richest 10% or fewer of US citizens. Many of the other 90% -- many who are deluded victims of this administration, -- have been bamboozled into believing that the right-wing social agennda, including the prevention of marriage equality, is the real solution to their problems.
This inability to be optimistic doesnt mean that pessimism is the only alternative. No matter how we feel about the future, theres a better, empowering, and realistic choice that can change things. Its hope.
Author-activist Paul Rogat Loeb, whom you can hear in Kansas City October 21-23 at The Fairness Summit, documents that hope in The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizens Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear (Basic Books, 2004). Its a collection of voices thats a must read today.
Loebs book would be worth it if only for his introductory essays. Hope, he reminds us, is a way of looking at the world more than that, its a way of life.
Loeb has inspired progressives for decades, including his earlier The Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in a Cynical Time (St. Martins 1999). But in his new volume he also brings together the voices of the many others who are models of hope in the midst of seemingly overwhelming odds.
The experience of Vaclav Havel, former Czechoslovakian president, is one example. Three years before the Communist dictatorship fell, Havel wrote, Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. His experience is only one of many that prove that a series of seemingly futile and insignificant actions can bring down an empire.
Even in what appears to be a losing cause, one person may knowingly inspire another and then another who could go on and change the world.
Loeb tells of a friend who in the early 1960s in a pouring rain joined a small vigil in front of the White House protesting nuclear testing. A few years later famous baby doctor Benjamin Spock, who influenced thousands, spoke at a much larger march against the Viet Nam War, telling the crowd that his inspiration was that small group of women he saw by chance huddled with their kids in the rain. I thought that if those women were out there, their cause must be really important.
In The Impossible Will Take a Little While we hear Nelson Mandela speak of how to survive prison intact, emerge undiminished, and conserve and replenish ones hope. We hear Susan B. Anthonys words that cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform.
We hear Native American writer Sherman Alexies hope: Everything is stuffed to the brim with ideas and love and hope and magic and dreams. We hear gay, Tony-award-winning playwright Tony Kushner write that despair is a lie we tell ourselves, reminding us of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. that the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. Then theres Cornell West saying: To live is to wrestle with despair yet never to allow despair to have the last word.
In other essays we read of the creativity of people who carried on against great odds and were there to see the powers fall. They often never thought they were activists. They merely tried to end what was hurting them or their families.
We hear of others who fought for progressive values even though they didnt expect to see results in their lifetime. But these were activists, Loeb reminds us, who believed that, living with conviction is of value in itself regardless of the outcome.
Giving up on life and the living, Loeb argues, is really a form of arrogance. Alice Walkers testimony Only Justice Can Stop a Curse, examines the arrogance of the politics of bitterness.
So, for our own lives, for our own good, for our own conscience and integrity, we seem to have no choice other than acting out of hope.
Life is a gamble, historian Howard Zinn writes. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning. To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world.
Settling for personal change isnt enough to make our lives worth living and to ensure the world we want. Giving up in cynicism and pessimism will eat us up from the inside and allow those whod hurt us to destroy the outside. Weve been made for more.
Loeb: We cant afford the sentimental view that mere self-improvement, no matter how noble in intention, is enough. Nor can we afford to succumb to fear.
Its hard to do justice to a collection like The Impossible Will Take a Little While. Snippets of these inspiring writings make them seem trite and precious.
But when you sit down to read these short essays, the effect is cumulative, hope-inspiring. These words never deviate from the realities of facing the often cruel societies others have made because these represent the stories of real people. And they inspire those of us who feel we have only a small garden to hoe, not an empire to redirect.
But I cant resist the hope in words such as these from Benjamin Mays, mentor to Dr. King: The tragedy of life doesnt lie in not reaching a goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. It isnt a calamity to die with dreams unfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream. It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach for.
Hope is realistic, and its a choice.
© 2005 Robert N. Minor
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