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2006
 

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.

2006, 2005, 2004

The Annual War of Unbelief to Sell Christmas
The Federal Marriage Amendment is Anti-American
If You Permit Big Enough Lies Long Enough
Is There Any Room for Dialogue?
It's Past Time for this Ex-Gay Business to Get with It
Living in Hope When You're Not an Optimist
A Mandate to Teach Stupid Design
Now What? What Now?
Now, Who Are the Real Narcissists?
Presiding Over Armageddon
Rest Now, Ann. You’ve Worked Hard
Sex, Power, and Betrayal of “Culture War” Profiteers
Ted Haggard Graduates from the Accelerated "Straight 101" Course
They’re Authoritarians, not Conservatives
Why I’m Not a Democrat
Will We Clean Up the Messes We’ve Made?
You Can Say That Again?

Now, Who Are the Real Narcissists?


There’s been lots of hand wringing and bloviating over a February report by a San Diego State University psychology professor entitled “Egos Inflating Over Time.” It’s as if the rest of us have been waiting for some ammunition to blame the under-30 crowd for coping with the cultural problems the over-thirty crowd engineered.

From Oprah to James Dobson, the O’Reilly Factor to Alter-Net, an academic paper that claimed research shows that today’s college students are more “narcissistic and self-centered” than their -- obviously -- more ideal elders has served to take our focus off of the sick cultural system baby-boomers have created at the under-30 crowd’s expense.

Head researcher, Jean Twenge, even gives recommendations that any punishing parent saying “What’s wrong with kids today” would love. Those who wish we still had that old abusive parenting with the belief children should be seen and not heard and treated as humans brought into the world to solve their parents’ problems, cling to her prescriptions.

“We need to stop endlessly repeating ‘You’re special’ and having children repeat that back,” she told the Associated Press. “Kids are self-centered enough already.”

Another member of the research team, W. Keith Campbell of the University of Georgia, warned that this could result in “negative consequences for society, including the breakdown of relationships with others.” It will produce romantic relationships that are “short-lived, at risk for infidelity, lack emotional warmth” and include “game-playing, dishonesty, and over-controlling and violent behavior.”

Twenge even viewed the increased commitment of under-thirties to volunteer work with skepticism. And Campbell, worrying that there were no obvious remedies, still recommended: “more authoritative parenting. Less indulgence might be called for.”

Though their focus may relieve those who created the world the under-thirties live in today, this all brings to mind what journalist-researcher Mike Males exposed as the blaming and shaming of teenagers and twenty-somethings in his 1996 work, The Scapegoat Generation: America’s War on Adolescents, and his 1999 documentation of furtherance of this diversionary political tactic in Framing Youth: 10 Myths about the Next Generation.

As a university teacher who’s taught over thirty years, I’m tempted to complain with my colleagues that these aren’t the good ole days when we were in school. Though it might make me feel better, and though I’m not enamored with the newest generation of college students, I don’t believe there is a “greatest generation” anywhere else either.

In fact, I wish this younger generation would act more self-centered. I wish they’d stand up for their rights, freedoms, and economic security. But I worry there are many who feel hopeless, brainwashed, and disempowered.

The under-thirties ought to be angry at the babyboomers for ballooning a national debt that fattens babyboomers’ own pensions and stock values while leaving the bill for the under-thirties. Rich babyboomers are having the party and the young will be left to pay their whopping bill.

They ought to be fuming that what’s left of the social net still available to my generation is not being fixed by over-thirty politicians who will dump the problems on them. All the talk of privatizing Social Security sounds great to generations with money to invest, but not to those who’ll spend decades paying off their educational loans while paying through the nose for housing.

They ought to be fighting the baby-boomer’s military industrial complex that sends the under-thirties to war to die and get disfigured in order to benefit the corporations and CEOs of older generations.

They ought to be furious that baby-boomer-controlled media have chosen to keep their attention (even in so-called news programs – Where will Anna Nicole Smith be buried?) on entertainment and fluff rather than examining in depth the larger issues that affect their lives. Focusing on such issues, after all, might get the young angry!

They ought to be boiling mad about the mountains of college debt they’re incurring as tuition rises faster than inflation while federal and state lawmakers of these older generations cut college subsidies. Older generations made college a requirement for “successful” futures while refusing to really invest in the nation’s human infrastructure or pay more than a minimum wage for the work college-age students must do to pay their bills -- work that keeps them from concentrating on their educations. Babyboomers wouldn’t want to interfere with tax cuts for the powerful of their generation.

The under-thirty crowd ought to be outraged that their elders are so overcome with false nostalgia that they think that previous decades were better, but conveniently forget in reality it was only better for well-off white, heterosexual males.

They should be hopping mad that prejudiced baby boomers afraid of the younger generation’s tolerance are ramming through legislation to undo any efforts to create equality and even constitutional amendments to solidify their elders’ bigotry. Their generations will be left to undo this.

They ought to be fed up with the emphasis on consumerism that elder generations have perfected into a shopping therapy that proclaims relentlessly that emotional problems will be solved by purchasing products, procedures, and distractions.

They ought to rebel against the burden their parents put on them to fill the holes in their parents’ lives, never again accepting the sick cultural drumbeat that says children are here to fulfill parents.

They ought to be ticked off that “researchers” are so over-inflating their own generation that they don’t even see that the negativity they predict is already characteristic of the babyboomers’ relationships. Do they really believe that “the breakdown of relationships with others” and romantic relationships that are “short-lived, at risk for infidelity, lack emotional warmth” and include “game-playing, dishonesty, and over-controlling and violent behavior” aren’t epidemic among boomers?

Young people aren’t perfect, but blaming them keeps a sick system going. It’s easier than questioning our own values and lifestyles.

The under-thirty crowd ought to look older generations directly in the eye and say: “You are the ones creating this mess for us. You are the ones who control the cultural messages. You are the ones who are benefiting from all of this. And, now, you are the ones calling us narcissistic?”

Ted Haggard Graduates from the Accelerated "Straight 101" Course


Last November, the New Life Church, a model fundamentalist mega-church he had founded in Colorado Springs, ousted fifty-year-old Ted Haggard, its senior pastor.

A darling not only of Republican Christianity (Haggard participated in regular conference calls with Bush), but of his own 14,000 member religious empire and the National Association of Evangelicals over which he was President, Haggard first lied about knowing the out-of-town male prostitute that claimed they had a three-year relationship. Soon Haggard admitted buying methamphetamine from him, undisclosed “sexual immoral conduct,” and a long battle against feelings contrary to Haggard’s beliefs.

Haggard immediately “got help” from a small “restoration panel” of right-wing, anti-gay leaders. Within days one of them, Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, swiftly abandoned his “close friend” because Dobson was too busy. “This could take four or five years and I just have too many other things going on,” Dobson told CNN’s Larry King.

In mid-December a second pastor of the same mega-church stepped down after admitting “sexual contact with another adult.” Christopher Beard was the 35-year old leader of New Life’s “intensive” adult leadership program.

All this isn’t surprising. An obsession with sexuality usually acted out against LGBT people and any women who aren’t submissive to men often accompanies right-wing Christianity.

In fact, sexual and religious addictions aren’t strange bedfellows. Just go back, as sexual addiction experts do, to the Father of Western Christian theology, St. Augustine’s Confessions and his later theological demonization of sex, to find a classic case of these co-addictions.

All of this made a previously filmed HBO special with Haggard as the film’s on-screen tourist guide to Evangelicals quite eerie. One of the first scenes in the documentary “Friends of God,” which first aired January 25th, shows Haggard bragging with some parishioners about how often they -- you guessed it – have sex. Sex must have been central to him.

Then on February 5th, only 3 months later, Haggard was declared “completely heterosexual.” In fact, a member of the four-man board of “overseers” said this was a “discovery” Haggard had made after an intensive three-week “counseling” program at an undisclosed Phoenix “treatment center.”

Whatever Haggard had learned from this intensive course in being straight, and the twice a week “Christian counseling” he continues to receive, he and his wife plan now to pass on to others. He told their old congregation in a February email that they plan to take an on-line master’s degree course in psychology “so we can work together serving others the rest of our lives.” The “overseers” recommended he leave town and do secular work.

All of this sounds painfully familiar to thousands of LGBT people who once trusted and hoped in right-wing Christian psycho-spiritual talk to “cure” them.

It reminds them of the rejection, threats of abandonment, pressures, and fears they encountered that forced many into ex-gay programs that took their money, played on their vulnerabilities and needs for acceptance, and allowed their leaders to act out their own fears of really being gay. Programs that eventually disappointed them when they found they were all smoke and mirrors, brainwashing and abuse.

Not surprisingly, these in many ways lucrative conversion techniques are contradictory to settled science. Over a quarter of a century ago all the major professional psychological organizations declared that homosexuality isn’t an illness. Then, in 1999 eleven professional organizations condemned so-called therapies touted as turning people straight. They were, professional studies concluded, not only ineffective but potentially harmful.

The small rival group the right-wing relies upon because it continues to justify views based in religious bigotry with long-debunked scientific theories now is also in trouble because one of its own wrote that the civil rights movement was irrational and that supporters of human rights are intellectually stunted. In its Winter 2007 “Intelligence Report,” the Southern Poverty Law Center documents the failure of this group, which calls itself the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, to fully repudiate these statements.

Among other things, Gerald Schoenewolf, a New York psychotherapist and member of the Science Advisory Committee of NARTH wrote in an angry polemic: “Africa at the time of slavery was still primarily a jungle…. Life there was savage…and those brought to America, and other countries, were in many ways better off.”

All of this reminds us that all discrimination goes together, though often only one is in the open. Any oppression represents a lifestyle, a way of relating to others who are different, that hides many oppressions.

It also reminds us that being, acting, thinking, and feeling “straight” are learned behavior, not natural. No matter what our sexual orientation, we usually learn “straight” through the extended course that is growing up in the USA.

We’re enrolled early and it envelops and entrances us relentlessly because the major figures and institutions in our lives enforce straightness. In fact, we’re scared into it by the fears of what might happen if we don’t perform straightness – violence, threats of violence, ridicule, humiliation, isolation, and rejection.

Haggard’s short, intensive version is a review session built on the fact that straight is learned behavior. It’s learned out of these fears, motivating him to do what would come closest to “restoration” of the straightness he hid behind before -- a lifestyle that brought him attention, love, a career, feelings of importance and acceptance, power, and denial of what still remains within that straightness can hide for long periods of time.

Sexual orientations are natural to people – heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, uncertain-sexual, asexual. You name them.

True, we don’t know definitively the cause of heterosexuality. Science hasn’t finally determined this yet. Though, we do know it’s set very early in life.

Still, some, scared that their own heterosexuality is extremely fragile, are shaking in their boots, afraid that their sexual orientation will come and go due to brief encounters or bad parenting. They’re often religious people who don’t really believe that their heterosexuality is a divine gift to celebrate. If they could believe, they wouldn’t be so scared or oppressive.

Now What? What Now?


What next? We enter the holiday feasting season still digesting November elections that edged out the Republican Party in both houses of Congress, giving the Democrats a chance to prove that they really are better for us than the GOP.

Some have begun celebrating the end of the Neo-Conservatives and even conservatism itself. But, sadly, that's premature.

To the extent that this was a referendum about corruption or the Bush administration, conservatism is still ensconced as a major basis for American political, social, and economic debates. Conservatives, after all, are complaining that the problem is that Bush hasn't been a good conservative. So, expect conservative influence to continue.

Even before all the votes were counted Republican (read that, conservative think-tank) talking-points began spinning the results as a victory for centrist (read that, center-right) politicians over “extremists” (read that, liberals). The mainstream media and their right-leaning pundits signed on to the chorus that the election was a move to the center.

The good news is that that's far from true. The incoming Congress is different because its Democratic leaders are different from those that went out in the 1990s. And, to top it all off, Vermont's Bernie Sanders was elected to the U.S. Senate as an open, self-identified socialist.

Though there are a few new Democrats who are selectively conservative on some social issues, Democratic congressional leadership will begin to reflect the results of the revolutionary change caused by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

John Conyers of Michigan is poised to become the new House Judiciary Chair. Harlem's Charles Rangel will become the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. New York's Nydia Velazquez will head the Small Business Committee, and Benny Thompson of Mississippi will chair the Homeland Security Committee.The congressman from El Paso, former Marine captain in Viet Nam, and early, strong opponent of the Iraq war, Silvestre Reyes, is likely to become the chair of the intelligence committee.

This is all in sharp contrast to the Democratic Congress of the 1990's. Then most of the committees that controlled legislation were run by Southern Dixiecrats. Those conservatives have either retired or, thankfully, fled to the Republicans.

It's also good news that the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which currently has 63 members including the new Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, will increase its ranks even with two of its members, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, moving over to the Senate. In addition to Conyers, Rangel, and others, Caucus members such as George Miller of California will head the House Education and Workforce Committee, and California's Henry Waxman will chair the Government Reform Committee.

This means the Democrats have little excuse for failure. It means we can still expect that there will be change that reigns in the bloated, unpatriotic greed and influence of big corporations, change that favors small business, working people, those in need, and a peace-seeking foreign policy.

We now can advocate with optimism for election reform, media democracy, universal health care, real social security, and the end of the regressive tax structure. We can have a voice in clean air and water, and the promotion of energy and transportation alternatives.

We can really expect that there will, at least, be no anti-LGBT legislation. We can hope for, and work toward, the passing of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the end of the military's “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” policy.

There's also good news in the changes in the electorate. New York Times exit polls show that young voters overwhelmingly voted Democratic. In fact, Republicans only retained a majority among people who earned over $100,000 a year, people over sixty, and a few demographic groups among white Protestants and men. The future is reflected, then, in the fact that the younger the voter, the more likely they were to vote Democratic in this election.

It's clear that Bush and his minions have as their goal to prove in the next two years that Democrats can't govern in any populist way. If Bush, Cheney, Rove and company can portray the Democrats as leaders of a do-nothing Congress, they'll consider the next two years successful.

Their efforts began with the Bush strategy to take back the news, to show he is still in charge, that he's the real decider. Only one day after the defeat of Bush's agenda, he recaptured center stage with a dramatic attention-getting announcement of Rumsfeld's resignation. Then he continued by following that with a news conference the very next day.

Bush continued with his familiar, well-worn lines about bipartisanship and working with the Democrats. I hope that fools no one by now. We know that all his past talk of cooperation has really meant that those who disagree with him should work with him to promote his unwavering agenda.

Next he immediately resubmitted those right-wing judge appointments to the Congress who had previously been rejected along with John Bolton for UN Ambassador, Kenneth Tomlinson, disgraced right-wing former head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, for head of the board that oversees Voice of America, and anti-contraception leader, Eric Keroack to head the family planning office of the Department of Health and Human Services. The Washington Post said these picks were “a poke in the eye to the incoming majority” if not a result of Bush's “state of denial about the Nov. 7 thumping.”

So, the Democrats will need to realize that their political demise is at the top of the current Bush and right-wing agenda, and act accordingly.

They'll have to make their causes, bills, and language clear, clean, and progressive so that every Presidential veto will show that Bush and his Republican stooges are clear enemies of any truly populist agenda.

They'll have to produce a list of bills that the President must either veto against popular support to protect the “have mores” he calls “my base” or sign because it's so obvious the people won't support him and his party if he vetoes them.

The Democrats will have to reject the financial incentives and dominant influence of corporate lobbyists who have as their goal getting the Democrats to act like the Republicans.

They'll have to clean up the way elections, influence, and bills have been purchased and written by rich CEOs by promoting legislation that permanently fixes a system that favors only the rich.

And you and I will have to keep reminding them what they must do so that they're a real alternative to all that's happened in the last ten years.

Sex, Power, and Betrayal of “Culture War” Profiteers


The saga following the resignation last month (without losing a cent of his lucrative congressional pension) of 53 year-old Republican Florida Congressman, Mark Foley, after initial revelations by ABC News that he was engaging in sexually predatory emails and instant messaging with 16 and 17 year-old congressional pages, is only a mild surprise.

As Chair of the Republican Congress’ “Missing and Exploited Children’s Caucus,” Foley’s career and pocketbook benefited from being an outspoken advocate of strict punishment for Internet predators. In one interview he even warned those like himself: “If I were one of those sickos, I’d be nervous with America’s Most Wanted on my trail.”

Foley authored and introduced the “Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act of 2006” overhauling the nation’s sex offender registration and notification laws and calling for DNA registration of predators. “For too long our nation has tracked library books better than it has sex offenders. That day is coming to an end,” he cheered when the Senate passed his Act.

The news was just the latest in a long line of revelations about the hidden sexual sicknesses in the lives of the most outspoken “family values” religious leaders, politicians, and supporters who deny their own demons through their profitable careers. Anyone paying attention at all sees again that Shakespeare’s “Methinks thou doth protest too much” continues to be a reliable prophecy of such revelations.

The Republican Party “family values” cover-up and spin moved into high gear. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow in an October 2nd press briefing described these exchanges about masturbation, the size of the pages’ crotches, removing their shorts, whether they were “horny,” dating them, and young boy’s bodies, as merely “overly friendly” and “simply naughty.” Republican Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert used the identical minimization.

ABC News soon discovered that the Republican cover-up had been going on since at least 2001.

"I know people who had been interacting with him like that, so I wasn't surprised. You know it's one of those things you know is going to come out some day," Matthew Loraditch, a page in the 2001-2017 class and president of the Page Alumni Association, told ABC.

The advice of Republican spin-doctors started with blaming alcoholics as sexual predators. Foley announced that he had checked into rehab for alcoholism, hoping that the electorate would excuse him because -- the drink made him do it.

Of course, gay people are the ones sexually sick “family values” people blame for these events. This time they were blamed for the Republican cover-up.

It started with Fox News political analyst and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) on the October 1st “Fox News Sunday.” He asserted that Republicans were worried that they’d have "been accused of gay bashing" if they had "overly aggressively reacted," as if they’d ever worried about that before.

Finally the “family values” Republicans blamed the “cabal” of gay Republican staffers in their own offices who helped them promote their Republican “values.” These staffers, whose careers and financial status, like Foley’s, profited handsomely in the Republican “culture wars” like other war profiteers do, learned that though they thought they were safe, they could become scapegoats at the drop of the hat to protect their bosses.

Any targeted group in oppression gets the same when the push of political power comes to shove. Yet, feelings of security among the oppressors lull them into thinking they’ve risen above the oppression.

Reactions came fast and furious. After all, the story brought together titillating elements that emphasize our inability to discuss sexuality in this country in a healthy manner. There were sex, children (“pedophilia”), males with males, the Internet, hypocrisy, election-season politicking, and American corporate media’s lust for sex-selling tabloid journalism.

No matter how salacious the obsession with sex is, however, in our national sickness, it’s time again to remember that this is not first and foremost about sexuality or sexual orientation.

It’s about power that’s both predatory and profitable, and about acting it out in sexual harassment. It’s about the power a person can exercise in sexual ways over those below them, a power adults (even parents) have over children.

Feminist writers -- whom these war profiteers demonize -- have been pointing this out for decades. But the mainstream doesn’t want to expand the discourse beyond the titillating story of sex with children because the idea that this is about power and privilege challenges the everyday use of sex as power by male leadership that our cultural system holds dear. It covers an epidemic of the sexual abuse of children by parents we refuse to face.

The flurry of emails and instant messaging that ABC received from current and former pages confirming Foley’s activities after the story broke, and the coming out of other cases, underlined the fear involved. Women who’ve experienced a superior’s sexual harassment know that it takes one courageous victim to come forth in the face of likely recrimination and punishment before any long history of serial sexual harassment actually surfaces.

It’s not that these were children. The activities would be offensive and immoral if adults were victims.

Foley and his protectors possessed the power to promise or derail the hope of youth intent on a future in politics. Who knows what was promised these kids who tried to write Foley off as a sick old man?

Objecting to what Foley was doing and Congressional leaders were protecting either by the page or his parents meant that the powerful could see to it that a child’s future career in the dominant political Party had ended. Analysts of such predatory activities speak of how even parents and friends ignore or deny harassment to preserve the victim’s connections.

How many women have worked hard mentally to downplay such harassment or deny its existence because they knew it was the price of getting ahead?

Let’s not allow this scandal to be about sex. Let’s talk instead about the underlying subjects we prefer to skirt – the predatory nature of offenders, the use of sex as power over anyone, the personal profiting of those (both gay and straight) off their Republican contacts, and the fact that the conservative response is to again affirm power by punishing someone rather than healing a society so sick about sex and power, and unwilling to heal.

Rest Now, Ann. You’ve Worked Hard


“Poor George. He can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”

You’d think these well-known words referred to our current President, the spoiled rich boy and faux cowboy who had everything bought for him and accomplished nothing without his daddy’s friends. But they were spoken at the 1988 Democratic National Convention.

A little-known Texas State Treasurer named Dorothy Ann Willis Richards, who died last month at the age of 73, spoke those words in only the second Democratic Convention keynote address ever given by a woman. Yet they signaled to the country that Ann Richards was a fiery progressive who spoke truth to power in the style of fellow Texans, Molly Ivins and Jim Hightower.

Ann Richard’s years as the 45th governor of Texas gave her a chance to show how a progressive can fight against the odds to stand up for what she believes. She was ready to go down swinging if necessary.

And she did. Her loss to George W. Bush in 1994 was as much due to her veto of Texas’ Concealed Carry Bill as the usual conservative mantra that she was soft on crime and the rise in power of the Republican Party that made 1994 the last year any Democrat would win any state-wide office in the Lone Star State.

She also became one of the first victims of Karl Rove’s dirty politics of smear and mud-slinging. As a divorcee, Bush’s campaign passed the rumor that she was a lesbian, knowing that in Texas that would turn more against her.

After the loss, her life continued not only as a consultant and visiting professor of politics at Brandeis University, but as an activist for progressive causes. In 2004 she endorsed Howard Dean for the Democratic nomination, and supported John Kerry after the convention. She was even mentioned by some leaders as a potential running mate.

Other than her wit, little came easy to her. Richards worked against great personal and social odds.

From her personal struggles she learned the importance of standing up for the rights of people of color, women, LGBT people, and the working class. Unlike other weaseling politicians, she cut through what in Texas they call “B.S.” to speak to society’s problems with humor and candor.

“They blame the low income women for ruining the country because they are staying home with their children and not going out to work. They blame the middle income women for ruining the country because they go to work and do not stay home to take care of their children.”

She was acutely aware of being a hard-working woman in a man’s world. “Even though no one told me, there were certain things that you know, and the world knew, that women and girls couldn’t do. Running government was one of them,” she observed in her 1988 autobiography, Straight from the Heart. “Any group – blacks, Hispanics, Asians, females – knows that. You know what you’re allowed to do and what you’re not.”

Ann Richards did them anyway. Even in her debut as the keynote speaker at the 1988 Convention, she was aware that “two women in 160 years is about par for the course.” So she reminded the delegates that women perform anything admirably if given a really equal chance. “After all,” she quipped with a well-known line, “Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backward and in high heels.”

In 1980 she made her struggles with alcohol public, began treatment, and remained successfully in recovery for life. “Confronting my alcoholism was probably the hardest thing that anyone could deal with,” she said. Yet she had no qualms about speaking of the lessons she learned from this struggle too: “I believe in recovery, and I believe that as a role model I have the responsibility to let young people know that you can make a mistake and come back from it.”

Where her style and drive came from is anyone’s guess. Brought up in Waco, Texas as an only child, her dad told her that she could do anything. “I was in college,” she remarked, “before I found out he might be wrong.”

In her mind the secret was hard work, and that was her constant message. “This whole business of public recognition is a mystery to me,” she reflected to an interviewer. “If I have any talent, it’s that I work very hard.”

Richards taught social studies and history at Fulmore Junior High School in Austin from 1955-1956 before she entered politics. “Teaching,” she said, “was the hardest work I had ever done, and it remains the hardest work I have done to date.”

In 1996 she was diagnosed with osteoporosis after breaking her hand and ankle. Her response was to work hard, changing her diet and lifestyle and advocating publicly for a healthier lifestyle for others with the disease. “I feel very strongly that change is good because it stirs up the system.” True to form, in 2004, relying on the expertise of Dr. Richard U. Levine, she turned this struggle into a book with the apt title: I’m Not Slowing Down: Winning My Battle with Osteoporosis.

Her final battle came on, however, too quickly for her to use it for others. In March of this year she was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, which has a five-year survival rate of only 25 percent. In spite of treatment, she left us only 6 months later.

Ann Richards modeled what one can do against the odds. She wrote that: “In my mind’s eye I’m probably still that skinny kid trying to make that basket” back in a schoolgirl basketball game. She didn’t see her talents as anything special.

She was convinced that the key to progress was to “look ahead” and make change happen. “Good things happen accidentally,” she remarked in a public appearance. “But they’re not going to happen unless well-meaning people give of their time and their lives to do that.

They’re Authoritarians, not Conservatives


The right-wing political and religious leaders who are holding our country hostage should be called authoritarians, not conservatives. That’s the message of John Dean’s newest and most important book, Conservatives Without Conscience (2006).

His is one of the few recent political books, among the many well-researched books that wring their hands about how bad things are, that can actually move our understanding forward even though it, too, is empty of solutions. It’s particularly the middle of Dean’s work that tells something new to those who keep up with the religious-political right-wing.

Dean’s book may also get some play among conservatives who’ve been wondering, as he and his late mentor, Barry Goldwater (1909-1998), have, what has happened to conservatives to make them so mean. As you remember, Dean was White House legal counsel to President Nixon and a close friend of Senator and Presidential candidate Goldwater.

It’s not that Goldwater lived in some golden days of conservatism that the rest of us should have embraced. Far from it. But, in contrast to Goldwater’s own 1960 book, The Conscience of a Conservative, Dean tries to explain why these leaders who call themselves “conservatives” are really “tough, cold-blooded, ruthless authoritarians.” As Dean puts it, they “tolerate no dissent, use dissembling as their standard modus operandi, and have pushed their governing authority beyond the law and the Constitution.”

They call themselves “conservatives,” but then most Americans do. The pollsters who ask, however, don’t spell out what they mean by the term. It’s as if it’s just the default thing to be, given the way the word “liberal” has been defamed.

What Dean shows is that the term has no clear meaning among its users and that for so-called conservative intellectuals defining it isn’t considered a useful exercise. Trying to agree on a definition is likely to divide those who claim the word and reveal what they fear -- that they’re not a unified group that agrees on much at all.

Those who call themselves conservatives today, Dean observes, are like a dysfunctional family that only defines itself by what it opposes. We know what that is -- anything, everything, and anyone they perceive to be “liberal.”

Another even more interesting trait, which Dean develops in the meat of the book, is that current right-wing leaders who call themselves conservatives “do not see themselves as they actually are, but rather as something very different.” They have, it seems, very little ability for self-analysis.

When Dean examines this characteristic, he opens up to his readers a field of academic study that has been a part of solid social scientific research for over fifty years. This field has produced research on “authoritarian personalities” that has become widely accepted in academic circles but has not filtered into the public debate to explain why the right-wing is the way it is.

The result is not a pretty picture. It may even foster hopelessness, particularly since solutions aren’t offered.

Yet the recognition of the fact that authoritarian personalities are behind the mean-spirited political and religious right-wing today, can help us see why (as I continue to argue and will do so more fully in my forthcoming When Religion is an Addiction) we must respond to right-wing religion as we would an addiction and to its followers as addicts. It helps us understand how most “liberal” reactions are more like the actions of those who “enable” addicts to continue in their addictions, and how we can better respond.

Approximately 20-23% of Americans fit the definition of authoritarians this research uncovered. These are people who value obedience to authority as the most effective way to deal with their fears, inability to live with ambiguity, need for clear structure and certainty, perception of threats all around, and belief that domination of others is a way to control reality.

In addition, the overwhelming conclusion of the decades of research is that authoritarians are consistently followers of right-wing, but not left-wing ideology. Those who score highest on its authoritarian scale are by and large these right-wing conservatives because authoritarian personalities are those who submit to “established authorities,” the psychologically accepted “proper”, “legitimate” leaders and institutions of the establishment.

They accept almost without question the statements and actions of authorities such as the President or a religious leader, and comply with their instructions. They are intolerant of criticism of these authorities and show “general aggressiveness,” even harm, toward others when they believe it is sanctioned by these authorities.

The most recent development in the research on authoritarian personalities is the distinction between two types: authoritarian followers who submit to established authorities and authoritarian leaders who want to be submitted to. The latter individuals often even describe themselves as “relatively intimidating, unsympathetic, untrusting and untrustworthy, vengeful, manipulative and amoral.”

Those who score high as both leaders and followers (“Double Highs”) are the most likely to be our right-wing political and religious leaders today. Dean spends the last chapters of his book documenting some examples, whose names we could all guess.

These people claim to have strong consciences, especially when they compare themselves to others, but empirical studies show they’re not as good or principled as they believe they are. In fact, they have little self-understanding and don’t realize how much more prejudiced and hostile they are than others. They have very compartmentalized minds that can keep them from reflecting on their activities. They also can shed their guilt very efficiently, usually through claiming God’s forgiveness.

I know, I know. This all sounds so over the top. It’s hard to believe that people are this way no matter how we see them acting. It’s probably even harder to accept that solid, academic scholarship has been saying these things so conclusively for so long.

That’s why you’re going to have to read Dean’s Conservatives Without Conscience yourself and decide how you want to embrace the frightening prospects this research lays bare. When you read it, you’ll understand how important it is not to humor these people by calling them “conservatives” but say they’re the authoritarians they are.

Is There Any Room for Dialogue?


“Bipartisanship,” conservative activist Grover Norquist says, “is another name for date rape.” His analogy fits comfortably with radical right-wing views, now called conservative. If they were to try to work with liberals, these conservatives preach, it would be corrupting.

That must be disheartening to moderates who want to believe that sitting down in discussion with those who disagree is one of the few hopes for civilization. Liberals have generally been happy to work along side conservatives and have struggled to bring conservatives into discussions. Some take any conservative consideration of more moderate positions as a sign of legitimacy.

This desire to believe in the power of dialogue, conversation, and working together is a desperate one. Should moderates have to face the idea that times have changed so that putting all ones eggs into the dialogue basket is futile, they’d probably fall into a depression of hopelessness.

The times, however, have changed whether we like it or not. As Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning playwright, Tony Kushner observes: "What used to be called liberal is now called radical, what used to be called radical is now called insane, what used to be called reactionary is now called moderate, and what used to be called insane is now called solid conservative thinking."

Right-wing leaders have become a stubbornly immovable force. Since Newt Gingrich, they’re politically so uninterested in collegiality and compromise that they’ve turned Congress into a hostile club uninterested in dissenting viewpoints. Any hint of resistance through filibusters will be countered with threats of a "nuclear option" and accusations of treason and collusion with terrorism.

They’re used to right-wing religious leaders sanctifying the existence of polarity and partisanship in God’s name. The Dobsons, Robertsons, and Falwells paint anyone who disagrees as satanic, evil, intentionally destructive enemies whose only hope would be full embrace without compromise of their sectarian religious standards.

Merely making room for consideration of disagreement is evidence that one is on the side of the enemies of Truth. Right-wing Focus on the Family boss James Dobson, for example, in a 1996 radio address condemned “tolerance” as: “kind of a watchword of those who reject the concepts of right and wrong…. It’s kind of a desensitization to evil of all varieties.”

Their followers range from those who have too much stake in these uncompromisingly either/or, us/them fortresses to consider change, to those who aren’t sure whether there’s even a place for other viewpoints. Hourly, conservative media reinforces for them that all thinking is in black or white.

Waking up to the fact that in many cases we’re no longer ready for dialogue means that moderates and liberals have things that need to be done before dialogue can take place. Yet doing what it will take to prepare for dialogue doesn’t seem to be in liberal genes.

It’s not that there isn’t a moveable middle for whom dialogue could seem sensible. They’re probably the largest group of people in the US.

It’s just that the middle is still to be convinced that there is a real dialogue to be had. The right-wing has perfected the technique of bombarding people with the idea that there is only one sane position. “Liberals,” “leftists,” and even moderates have nothing worthwhile to say. Their positions, the right-wing teaches, are not worth considering.

Those who think dialogue alone will save us haven’t faced the fact that they first need to gain a hearing for their own beliefs. They’re still surprised when right-wing debaters don’t respect them enough to give them a chance. Right-wing representatives shout them down, fabricate data, butt in, name-call, and do everything else that to liberals doesn’t seem like the actions of ladies and gentlemen.

There was a day when such bullying tactics were seen for what they are – absence of evidence, logic, or credibility in the user. They turned off the viewer as actions of someone who just isn’t nice enough to be respected.

Today, however, these uncivil techniques are seen -- outside aghast liberals --as proof that the right-winger has conviction. In a nation where many are on the verge of exploding with deep-seated, poorly-focused anger, even angry outbursts gain respect. They touch the emotions.

Polite, deferent, unemotional liberals, in contrast, appear too caught up in their manners to care about the issue at hand. They come across as so privileged that they can look down upon anyone for whom these issues matter on a gut level.

That means a quickness to compromise and find common ground are no longer first options in the broader debate. Dialogue, trialogue, or other give-and-take processes can only take place effectively once the view one holds has established itself in people’s minds as worthy of consideration, as a valued option, as something to even notice.

Convincing people that there are other passionately held positions doesn’t require repetition of the offensive tactics of the right-wing. It calls for assertiveness and, at least, the appearance of sustained conviction and passion. It means we must not appear too quick to compromise.

It means the first thing we must do is learn to argue effectively for what we believe. It requires actions that convince others we really do believe in what we believe and that we are passionately convinced that what we believe is true and effective. It means the end of looking wishy-washy in any way.

People are ready to see conviction. They want to know that we believe as much as what we believe. They need time to be convinced that progressive views are respectable again. They need to sit for awhile with the sense that what progressives believe is uncompromising and that we passionately disagree with the right-wing.

Then they’ll be ready to become a working part of a gathering of people who want representatives of all viable views to sit down around the table and work something out for the sake of the community. They’ll see that there is an advantage to consideration of more than one viewpoint.

The Federal Marriage Amendment is Anti-American


There’s another argument to be made when we fight state and federal marriage amendments. It has the potential to take back the debate because it’s about the Constitution and the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom.

There’s no doubt that the need for marriage equality is first and foremost about the civil and legal benefits that currently come with government recognition and approval of two people’s legal commitment to each other.

It might be that the ultimate solution to the issue is to recognize marriage as only a civil issue with its legal benefits for everyone. Couples could then add the blessings to their union of a religious institution of their choice if they desired.

Yet the history of marriage in US culture and consciousness is one enmeshed with religious images, sanctions, and overtones. That means that we must take those connections in American consciousness seriously.

There is an established legal history in this country that state governments license religious leaders. In fact, the only civil benefit of such government licensure is that ministers, rabbis, priests, and other state-approved leaders can perform marriages for the government.

Most marriage ceremonies are performed in churches and by clergy, and many pro-marriage equality clergy would love to be able to perform them for the many LGBT people who’d prefer to get married in a religious setting.

The language of marriage as “sacred” invokes religious images. Fighting those images is difficult. We need a new way to use them.

Berkley linguist George Lakoff in Don’t Think of an Elephant (2004) recommends we use the idea of sanctity, even if it’s not religious, when we speak of marriage equality. “Sanctity is a higher value than economic fairness,” he advises. “Talking about benefits is beside the point when the sanctity of marriage is in dispute. Talk sanctity first.”

The arguments behind the federal and state marriage amendments are essentially religious. Right-wing think-tanks play on cultural religious sentiments but know that they must act as if their crusade is not the imposition of a sectarian religious understanding. So, they couch their arguments in terms of inaccurate history, poor science, rejected psychological theories, and statistics unsupported by the social sciences.

Based on right-wing understandings of the Bible, tradition, and God, amendment proponents argue that same-sex marriages don’t suit a traditional model of one man and one woman. One need not look deeply into the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament to see that even among the Patriarchs, Ten Commandments-giver Moses, and hero-kings such as David and Solomon polygamy was common and traditional.

Even early members of the Church could be polygamists. Otherwise, why would the writer of the first letter to Timothy say that he should pick from the diverse membership, men for church leaders who were “the husband of but one wife?”

These clear Biblical practices must be explained away by the right-wing to make an argument that supports their sectarian understanding. Even “traditional” has to be defined quite selectively to eliminate all the cases of polygamy in world history.

It surely is the height of irony that the Mormon Church has been a major funder of amendments claiming that traditional marriage has been between one man and only one woman. Even its second prophet and president, Brigham Young, married some 50 women.

People looking instead for real histories of traditional families will be interested in reading historian Stephanie Coontz’s two exhaustive studies: (1) The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap (2nd ed, 2000) and (2) Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage (2005).

But, it’s time also to recognize that there are many religious people who believe that the Bible, tradition, and God actually require them to confirm same-sex commitments. Their religious beliefs about morality, love, commitment, and marriage demand that they recognize and celebrate loving commitment wherever it is found.

They believe that government has no business telling God, the Church, and any two consenting adults whom they can and cannot love.

Unitarian Universalists, the United Church of Christ, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis have spoken out of their faith to testify that affirming same-sex marriages is a response of true belief. It arises out of the very central tenets of their faith.

It’s time to change this debate and expose it for the imposition of the sectarian religious position that it is. It’s time for liberal religious people to state so clearly. And it’s time for all of us to invoke the First Amendment in this matter.

Amending the Constitution to forbid these religions from performing same-sex marriages violates both clauses of the First Amendment of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. It’s both the “establishment” by the government of one religious position as well as “prohibiting the free exercise” of the religion of others. It’s religious discrimination and nothing more.

The Federal Marriage Amendment recently defeated again by the Senate must be put to rest permanently because it is anti-American. Yet, it’s anti-American not only because it would be the first amendment to write discrimination of a group of people into the Constitution.

It’s also anti-American because it destroys religious freedom. It forbids the religious practice of clergy, denominations, and religious communities that believe they are divinely called to affirm the love of two adults who happen to be of the same gender.

To stand up against the sectarian religious abuse of the Constitution, it only takes the courage to say and repeat: “If you’re for the Federal Marriage Amendment, you’re for destroying religious freedom?”

You Can Say That Again?


Former senator and vice presidential candidate John Edwards could be back. At a March conference at the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina that Edwards founded last year, the old John Edwards – the inspiring candidate before he was neutered by the Kerry campaign – focused on the “two Americas” theme that had effectively galvanized supporters in 2004.

The elite, inside-the-beltway Democratic strategists had labeled that theme a “downer.” Kerry’s privileged gentrified political style was uncomfortable with such rhetoric. The right-wing labeled it class warfare.

So, a values-inspired phrase that spoke clearly, and memorably was replaced by … ah, nothing memorable. The image of “two Americas” was dropped by so-called liberals no matter how accurately it pictured the class issues behind government policy dominating both sides of the aisle.

The result? The Republican Congress with a weak opposition party and the Bush administration further polarized those (No, don’t’ say it.) “Two Americas” through additional policies favoring the mega-rich.

Years ago, the right-wing perfected a strategy that plays on liberal guilt and fear. When progressive people do come up with a phrase that speaks out of progressive values and, if repeated, might become memorable, the right-wing knows how to stop it.

That’s why the whole country, even those who reject the idea, can repeat “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” No one, even liberals, knows any effective liberal equivalent.

The right-wing responds to anything that might become a household phrase with accusations that trigger liberal guilt -- accusations they know will stifle any effective repetition of liberal framing. In the case of “two Americas,” they merely said, “You’re starting class warfare.”

They know liberals won’t respond with counter accusations (“You want to talk class warfare, let’s talk about your tax cuts or your Katrina response.”) or ignore the accusations and stay on task. They know liberals are easily bullied out of any effective framing.

In addition, liberal and progressive political leaders are not good at repeating catch-phrases until they’re part of the popular vocabulary. They find such practices somewhat beneath them and prefer progress in discussions at the expense of sloganeering.

The right-wing uses repetition to halt discussion, not further it. It’s been a tactic of right-wing religion for generations. “God says, ““the Ten Commandments say,” “traditional values are,” and phrases such as “war on Christians” or anything using the word “Bible” are meant to mystify honest discussion to the point of intimidating anyone who wants to discuss the issues.

Karl Rove knows how to manipulate a slogan if it’s not working. Remember how “privatizing social security” was replaced with “personalizing” it? How “Global War on Terror” was replaced with “Global Struggle with Violent Extremism”?

Have you noticed that the Bush administration talks about “the government” and its failures as if they’re outsiders? And every time we say “the government” instead of “the Bush administration,” we’re using their carefully contrived language to confirm that government is bad, but not them?

It’s not just about changing language. Berkeley linguist George Lakoff (Don’t Think of an Elephant, 2004) has been pleading for years that progressives’ language must arise out of the real values they hold. If the phrases don’t express our real values, they should be abandoned.

But if the right-wing is able to control the every-day language of our culture and bully others out of phrases that express less extreme values, the message that’s communicated is that the language of liberals really is valueless. It’s just not worth repeating. It’s easily abandoned and, therefore, apparently worthless.

Repetition of phraseology until the right-wing must respond to it and everyone knows it, phraseology that does express the best values of progressive America, is a crucial part of long-term change.

Whatever happened to Clinton’s Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich’s effective image -- “Corporate Welfare?” It provided an accurate, repeatable metaphor for an economic system that’s far from a “free market,” with its government subsidies, entitlements, and tax breaks for corporations, and the influence of lobbyists for corporations that, lacking patriotism, would do anything not to pay dues as corporate citizens.

Whatever happened to Clinton’s framing of working people as “Americans who’ve worked hard and played by the rules”? Did it go out with the Democratic betrayal of working people and their unions in partnership with Republicans to support free trade zones?

Whatever happened to the Kerry/Edwards promise in November 2004 to “count all the votes and have all the votes counted”? They abandoned it to look as if they were above the fray. They were, of course. It wasn’t their votes that weren’t being counted. It wasn’t their children in Iraq. It wasn’t their pensions on the line. They were rich enough to benefit from the Bush tax cuts for the rich and to pity those who were suffering.

Why couldn’t they stand by what they turned into a meaningless slogan in spite of any criticism the right wing would really dish out no matter what they did? What about saying: “American elections are serious matters -- enough to take the time to guarantee that all American’s votes count.”

Whatever happened to the flurry of bumper stickers that said: “Hate is not a Family Value”? Hate hasn’t become a family value now, has it? Or has the right-wing effectively shut down this powerful statement of values by countering: “You’re not accusing us of hate speech?”

Why couldn’t we have responded, “I am. The same words you use from the pulpit are repeated by the people who beat up, torture, and kill gay people. What have you done to stop that?”

What about words like “lies,” “cronyism,” and “theocracy”? Don’t liberals really believe that these are wrong?

Why aren’t our liberal politicians speaking about “poison-free neighborhoods,” “marriage equality,” “government not interfering in personal decisions,” or “keeping the government out of our homes”? Don’t we really believe in these things?

We must learn to be repetitive. Any teacher knows the positive effect of repetition.

We must learn to stand up for what we believe looking as if we really believe it. Or just face the fact that we don’t.

And if we really do believe in what we say, no matter how the right-wing intimidates us, it’s worth repeating

Will We Clean Up the Messes We’ve Made?


We have few good role models to show us how to clean up the messes we all make in life, love and leadership. Our president, in well-conditioned masculine fashion, won’t even recall any he has made, especially when it comes to a war that continues to kill and maim tens of thousands.

Our public relations industry dominates all our institutions with its ability to put a positive spin on any mistakes, even if those mistakes are deadly. Our corporations can’t admit problems even to their stockholders. Cover-up and confusion, deception and denial are the name of a business model that produces Enrons, Global Crossings, Tycos, DeLays, and Abramoffs, while it provides endless fodder for Dilberts.

M. Scott Peck in A World Waiting to be Born: Civility Rediscovered (1993) argued that there will never be true civility and community until our institutions, including our businesses, are willing to publicly speak of their mistakes and how they’ve corrected them, and to risk the vulnerability they fear such admissions would entail.

We didn’t learn from our parents how to clean up messes with others. Parents were so indoctrinated to believe that they needed to be “perfect parents,” that, when they made the mistakes everyone makes who tries to do anything well, they couldn’t admit their imperfection to their children. That means we couldn’t experience from them models of how to clean up relationship messes.

“Perfectionism,” Codependent No More author Melody Beattie reminds us, “leads to procrastination, which leads to paralysis.” In the end, then, we are incapable of admitting mistakes and won’t even attempt to do anything that might not be done perfectly.

We’ll never believe anything close to: “anything really worth doing is worth doing imperfectly,” much less the basic kindergarten principle: “If you make a mess, clean it up.”

Our first response to a mess is self-denial. A mistake is something that if we knew when we made it what we know now, we wouldn’t have done it. Yet, we’ve somehow been taught that a mess is more than a mistake, and our role models even act as if making mistakes is shameful.

When we think of a mess as more than a mess we’ve made, we’re in a difficult space for fixing it. “What’s wrong with me that I did that? Why am I always making mistakes? How can I like a person (myself) who isn’t perfect? Am I worth anything if I am imperfect? Who will like me if I look like a person who isn’t perfect?” These useless messages prevent healing of ourselves and our institutions, reconciling with others, and changing disastrous courses.

It takes an unusually positive self-concept not to fall victim to these messages. It takes an unusually positive self-concept to clean up messes without worrying about what others will think of us if we don’t appear perfect.

We often deny our responsibility to others. We’re like preschoolers denying they made their messes: “I didn’t do it.” “It’s someone else’s fault.” “I don’t know who did it.” “I didn’t start the fight.” “I’m upset that you thought I did it.”

We’re afraid people, especially those we admire, will think less of us. Some will. They might want the focus on our imperfection to take attention off their own.

Others will recognize humanity when it appears through our vulnerability. They’ll identify with mess-making.

But we don’t clean up our relationships, dealings, and business because others will applaud us. We do it for our own integrity and because we want a world where people are authentic, where no human being lives hidden in any closet.

If we decide to clean up our messes, we’ve also learned to do so without doing it. We make pseudo-confessions: “I’m sorry if I (or it) hurt you.” “I’m sorry you took it that way.” “I didn’t mean to hurt you.” Such “apologies” may actually seem like admissions of mistakes. They’re certainly easier to say than real confessions of responsibility.

The meaning such statements communicate, though, is denial. It’s really that a person’s reaction is the issue, not the mistake I made. It’s saying: “I would have done the same thing, but your reaction is a problem. I really did nothing wrong. Sorry about how you reacted.”

Or when we try to clean up messes, we make excuses for ourselves. Often these excuses are real, but admissions of wrongs that are loaded with excuses focus on the reasons not our responsibility. It makes us look like victims of the excuses and not, again, responsible for what we’ve done or said.

Highlighting our excuses or reasons doesn’t clean up the mess. It also doesn’t threaten us like true admissions: “I really made an error. It was wrong. I should not have done it and I can give you all the reasons I did, but the real point is I made a mistake. I hope you will forgive me.”

We cannot control the reactions of others to us doing our part to clean up messes. We cannot guarantee that everyone will like us as a result.

We cannot know whether someone will have the personal space to forgive a mistake we’ve admitted. We cannot know what motives are behind the positive or negative reactions to us doing our part to make our world more of a healing place.

We can, however, set an example for how to clean up messes. We can walk away from an incident confident that we did our part to try to make a relationship, institution, or nation better, and that our side of the relationship is clean.

Or we can participate in the political maneuvering that dominates nations, institutions, and workplaces around us as they live unconsciously toward what is going on in themselves and the human beings with whom they have to do.

We can promote their dysfunction or perfectionism, or we can pioneer something better that will improve our life, loves, and leadership so that we aren’t the ones who burn out before we’ve lived a life that’s full enough to wear out.

If You Permit Big Enough Lies Long Enough…


The religious and political right-wing has learned that if you repeat lies over and over, eventually people will believe them and the mainstream media will repeat the lies as if they are just as respectable as the truth. Especially when the opposition is too afraid to call them lies.

How many times do we hear the lie repeated even in New York Times, which reported otherwise at the time, that Saddam Hussein kicked the UN weapons inspectors out of Iraq?

How many times do we hear one of the Bush administration’s biggest lies repeated: “Everyone thought Iraq had WMD’s.” The UN weapons inspectors didn’t. Former inspector Scott Ridder didn’t. The whole anti-war movement didn’t.

How much repetition will it take before we believe one of the latest Bush lies: “No one anticipated the breach of the levies.”

Is it only Al Franken who’ll label them Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them? Is the best the right-wing can do to someone who labels right-wing lies lies to say that they’re just as radical as -- horror of horrors -- Michael Moore?

They know it works and they know that most liberals are too scared to say so. When a Democrat does come close, the right-wing knows how easy it is to scare Democratic leadership right back into Republican-lite.

One of the most persistent liars is critiqued in the Winter 2005 edition of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s always hard-hitting investigative journal, Intelligence Report. He’s the junk researcher whose lies about LGBT people are repeated ad nauseum, but effectively, by right-winger preachers and politicians looking for cover to cloak their obsessive prejudices against LGBT people.

Two articles, “The Fabulist” and “Garbage In Garage Out,” take on professionally discredited right-wing darling Paul Cameron. It’s not the first national organ to expose the 66 year old chairman of the Family Research Institute, who has had to pay off publishers to have dozens of discredited “studies” in vanity journals with no peer review processes such as Psychological Reports.

The fact that he lies is not only worth repeating but demands repetition to counter his on-going drumbeat of deceptions. We must remind everyone regularly that Cameron, as the New Republic reported on October 3, 1994, “is the architect of unreliable ‘surveys’ that purport to show strains of violence and depravity in gay life.” Otherwise Cameron’s “professional sham” will become mainstream opinion.

Thrown out of both the American Psychological Association and the American Sociological Association for misrepresenting his findings, Cameron’s gory pseudo-statistics on gay sexual activity and death rates are still popular. It doesn’t matter to the bigoted that the American Sociological Association determined: “Dr. Cameron has consistently misinterpreted and misrepresented sociological research on sexuality, homosexuality, and lesbianism.”

You can assume that if you hear any statistics that contribute to the oppression of LGBT people, even from less suspect sources, they’ve come originally from the pseudo-science of Paul Cameron. His latest claim is that gay sex is more dangerous than smoking. So, expect to hear that mantra from the religious right.

Dr. John Whiffen, the chair of the board of the right-wing National Physicians Center for Family Resources, already has no moral compunctions with repeating Cameron’s lies. Intelligence Report quotes Whiffen: “It’s fairly well-accepted that smoking is not a good idea. It takes seven years off your life. It appears that male homosexuality takes more than that off your life.”

Science is prejudiced, the right-wing says, but not Paul Cameron, because he says what the right-wing wants to hear. And the right-wing is so convinced of its religious and moral superiority that it has no interest in anything other than what it wants to hear. President Bush isn’t alone in his rejection of any facts that don’t support his ideology.

Coupled with the idea that it’s okay to cheat and steal from the devil, lying is a first response from the religious and political right-wing. It’s often second nature.

While the world watched, Pat Robertson told his Christian Broadcasting Network audience on Monday, August 22, 2005: “You know, I don’t know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he [Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who’s standing against US imperialism in Venezuelan oil fields] thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it.”

On the following Wednesday his first reaction to mounting criticism was simply to lie about the whole thing. He was -- he thought he could get away with saying -- “misinterpreted.” He blamed someone else. It was the fault of the Associated Press, even though his statement was recorded on his own 700 Club.

“I said our special forces should, quote ‘take him out,’ and ‘take him out’ can be a number of things, including kidnapping,” Robertson lied, sporting that smile that charms the millions of supporters who rely on his distribution network for the religious fix that makes them feel they’re on the side of the angels.

But Robertson couldn’t sustain this deception in the name of his god for long. There were too many people who knew what he had said, and who refused to be silent. They may have covered up past offensive statements, but he was caught.

After another day of criticism, on August 25, Robertson apologized, admitting he had said it but not apologizing for the fact that he had then lied: "Is it right to call for assassination? No, and I apologize for that statement," Robertson said.

Politically, right-wing Republicans were elected to government office believing government is evil, the cause of our problems, not a means of helping US citizens. We need, right-wing operative Grover Norquist said, ”to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.

From this group we’d expect lies, deception, cheating, and all sorts of lobbying evils. They feel justified as if they’re fighting a great evil.

But this can only happen because people enable it. They refuse to call these lies because that’s not a nice thing to say and it might offend the liars themselves. Enablers allow even big lies to become believable truths.

Why I’m Not a Democrat


Paul Hackett is an Iraq War veteran. This grandson of a union man and son of a traveling salesman & schoolteacher fought in Ramadi and Fallujah and returned to his Ohio home in 2005.

He’s also committed to “retooling” the Democratic Party and, from the moment he returned from Iraq, doing something about it – running for office.

Hackett captured national attention last summer by speaking out against President Bush’s war policy. He speaks more forcefully than Democratic leaders have the courage to do against Bush’s policies. By doing so he brings people to the Party who weren’t the usual assured party base.

That’s why he almost beat Republican Jean Schmidt (who said on the House floor to decorated Viet Nam Veteran Jack Murtha, “Marines don’t cut and run.”). Hackett lost with 48% of the vote in a special election for the House of Representatives in the 57th most Republican district in the country, the 2nd district of southwestern Ohio, last year – in 2004 Bush received nearly two-thirds of its votes.

So there was excitement in the Ohio air when he announced that he would run for the US Senate, challenging GOP Senator Mike DeWine. Supporters were raising funds from thousands of individuals. His fundraising was twice that of Illinois Senator Barrack Obama at the same stage in Obama’s campaign.

Hackett stood out from the Democratic crowd because, as Mother Jones magazine noted, he was “the rarest of political animals – a fighting Democrat.” Listen to some of his responses to Bush’s State of the Union speech:

“A former oil executive telling us we are addicted to oil is like a tobacco company executive complaining that their employees take too many smoke breaks…The President should stop blaming Americans and put pressure on his cronies in the oil industry to develop and sell the technology we need to become less energy dependent on foreign and domestic oil.”

“The last time this President ‘fixed’ healthcare, senior citizens were left with a confusing Medicare prescription drug plan.”

“President Bush recycled ideas from State of the Unions past and threw in some empty political rhetoric. He helped spread the crisis of confidence Americans have in their government by ignoring rampant corruption and cronyism on Capitol Hill and the White House. It is unfortunate that the President did not take head on the Republican culture of corruption with a true plan for reform.”

But this isn’t what it takes to get the approval of Democratic leadership. Bringing new voices and new voters into the Party threatens the elite Democratic establishment.

Hackett’s tremendous showing was clearly going to mean there would be a competitive primary campaign against Democrat Sherrod Brown, a career politician with insider connections to the entrenched Party operatives. Predictions were that Brown would announce raising only slightly more than Hackett despite serving in public office for more than 30 years and being the current US Representative from Ohio’s 13th district.

You could guess what would happen. A fresh, plain-speaking sense of outrage is too much for the Democratic Party today. The Democratic Party would push him aside for the “nice,” safe insider.

And that’s what they did. Hackett withdrew in mid February from the senate race, he says, “only after repeated requests by party leaders, as well as behind the scenes machinations, that were intended to hurt my campaign.”

Jennifer Duffy, managing editor of the nonpartisan online political analysis, The Cook Report, explains that Hackett “became an icon to the liberal bloggers because he says exactly what they have wished they would hear from a politician. On the other hand, the Senate is still an exclusive club, and the party expects a certain level of decorum that Hackett has not always shown.”

Hackett was outraged at learning that party leaders had been calling his donors to ask them not to contribute to his campaign.

“For me,” Hackett said, “this is a second betrayal. First, my government misused and mismanaged the military in Iraq, and now my own party is afraid to support candidates like me.”

I’m sorry, Paul, but welcome to the Democratic Party. You’ve learned an important political lesson. Anyone and any principle is expendable if they fear it’s not winnable.

National Democratic leadership is afraid of people who speak their mind. Even with Howard Dean as Chair of the Democratic National Committee, it’s clear that few Democratic leaders are willing to support someone who speaks convincingly out of their values.

You see, the party’s goal is to keep itself going. It’s caught in institutionalism as it chooses anti-choice candidates because the millionaire strategists who’ve given bad advice before and who’ll work for any party if it pays well, still believe Republican-lite will win.

LGBT people have learned that Democrats will betray their interests if the politicians are afraid it might cause them to lose. People of color have learned that the Party they believe is their only hope won’t necessarily push their issues – remember how the Congressional Black Representatives couldn’t find a single white senator to support their 2000 challenge to the stealing of the presidential election. Women are watching closely as the Party marginalizes a previously forceful stand for women’s personal choice.

The Party definitely needs retooling, Paul. It needs new blood. It needs leaders who don’t personally benefit from the economic strategies of the Bush administration. It needs people who speak for us. But they are, like you, forced out.

The Republicans already have a party. I’m not rich enough to benefit from its policies. It’s called the Republican Party.

I keep hoping that there will be another political party that won’t betray people to maintain itself. Watching the Democrats use, but move further from, their historical constituencies and cave in again and again to values of privilege like “decorum” leaves the unprivileged behind and betrays people who could be the Party’s future -- like you, Paul.

I still could vote Democratic if that’s my best choice, but I can’t in good conscience identify as a Democrat.

Presiding Over Armageddon


Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad must take pages directly from George W. Bush’s playbook on how to run a country. The eerie similarities are down-right scary.

The media called Ahmadinejad to American attention recently by reporting his public pronouncements that deny the Jewish Holocaust and call for Israel to be blown off the face of the earth. But they haven’t seen that his strategies to consolidate his hold on Iranian politics are exactly those Bush uses.

Like Bush, Ahmadinejad must show that his country is subordinate to none. That means he must define himself clearly against the US. He can’t embrace the moderate reform Islam America promotes. Claims that Iran is allying itself to the US were common in the Muslim world. Ahmadinejad had to boldly contradict them.

Like Bush, Ahmadinejad has little confidence in the United Nations and its actions. The Bush administration decided that the UN is useful when it’s subordinate to the US. Ahmadinejad will find it useful when it serves Iranian interests against what he considers US hypocrisy and hegemony.

Like Bush, Ahmadinejad’s strategy is to appear to be one of the people. He too is a questionable populist, but the politics of looking as if he’s just plain folk is central to his political image.

Like Bush, Ahmadinejad believes he’s on a divine mission. He reports that when he spoke before the UN General Assembly in September, at the moment he said “In the name of God, the almighty and merciful,” he saw a light surrounding him. He felt God, he says, holding the assembly in His hand, keeping the leaders of the world in rapt attention.

In June 2003 Bush, according to former Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Shaath told him and former prime minister Mahmoud Abbas: "I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, 'George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.' And I did, and then God would tell me, 'George go and end the tyranny in Iraq,' and I did."

Like Bush, Ahmadinejad had to show that he is different from the “liberal, secularist” administration that preceded him. For eight years reformists who talked of democracy and disparaged the influence of religiosity in politics ran Iran.

So, like Bush, Ahmadinejad has cozied up to his country’s radical religious right-wing. He consults with a senior conservative ayatollah, publicly sitting and drinking tea, while the Bush administration courts right-wing religious politicos like James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell.

Once president, one of Ahmadinejad’s first acts was to allocate $17 million to the Jamkaran shrine dedicated to the Twelfth Imam of Shi’ite Islam, Muhammad al-Mahdi. On November 16th, he spoke of his belief in the return of this twelfth Imam as the Mahdi, the messianic figure whose return to save the world in a time of final chaos Shi’ite Muslims await.

Like Bush, Ahmadinejad surrounded himself with right-wing advisors. Some reports say that his cabinet members are required to sign a pledge in support of the Mahdi. Four of his twenty-one new cabinet members are reportedly members of the Hojjatieh, an extreme right-wing group that believes humans can encourage the return of the Mahdi by promoting chaos and war.

This last parallel to the current US administration should give us pause. Fundamentalist Christianity today is dominated by one of the variety of Christian understandings of the future, a version promoted by rapturists. One need only read the “Left Behind” series of futuristic tales that are wildly popular among Christian rapturists to understand the similar mentality.

Signs of the end times are everywhere for them. The founding of the state of Israel in 1948 was considered a crucial signpost of the apocalypse. The success of Israel for the fulfillment of this Christian prophetic strand has made fundamentalist Christians the largest portion of the US pro-Israel lobby.

Signs of war and destabilization in the Near East are not seen by believers in the Shi’ite Mahdi or rapturists believing in the Second Coming of Christ as disturbing trends that all humans can, and must, work to solve. They are welcome signs of the end times that vindicate their beliefs against the infidels.

For the current Christian rapturists, it means they’ll soon be caught up in “The Rapture,” flying away to be with their triumphant Messiah. The bumper stickers that proclaim, “Come the Rapture, This Car will be Unmanned” will be vindicated. Non-believers, including Jews and Muslims who reject their “Savior,” will be left to suffer as God brings “The Tribulation” on earth.

Then the Near East will witness the great battle of Armageddon fought between the forces of God, or Allah, and the forces of evil. Both believe the battle will likely be a nuclear one, interpreting that as the meaning of end-time references to fire in the sky.

Christ in the Christian rapturist version will then rule with true believers as his subordinate lords over a Millennium. The Mahdi in the Shi’ite version will bring peace and prosperity through his rule of the world and the destruction of unbelievers.

There’s no reason to pursue peace, the Christian rapturist version preaches. After all, doesn’t the Bible say that “wars will always be with you”? Veteran journalist Bill Moyers in a stunning January 2005 op-ed analysis entitled “There is No Tomorrow” captured the spirit:

“That is why the invasion of Iraq for them was a warm-up act, predicted in the Book of Revelation, where four angels ‘which are bound in the great river Euphrates will be released to slay the third part of man.’ For them a war with Islam in the Middle East is something to be welcomed - an essential conflagration on the road to redemption.”

And on the other side of Armageddon is the result of that US invasion -- a Shi’ite Iraq closely allied to Iran, making the regional Shi’ite alliance the most formidable foe in the Near East.

Bush’s own thinking probably isn’t as sophisticated. Both men are caught up in macho posturing and gunfighting at "High Noon."

But those of us who believe peace is attainable must stop admiring the “sincerity” of radical right-wingers. We’ve got to say a clear no to their plans they have for our future.

The Annual War of Unbelief to Sell Christmas


An American holiday tradition that’s proven to be financially successful was observed again last month. It’s a tradition that reminds one of comedian Stan Freberg’s 1958 spoof of Dickens’ Christmas Carol called “Green Chri$tma$.”

Freberg’s Scrooge owns an ad agency geared to profiting off of Christmas. Among other ideas, they promote a version of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” where the last line of the chorus goes: “And please buy our beer.”

FOX News hypes this tradition annually to stir up ratings among viewers they fear might leave them in boredom to watch other network’s Christmas specials. Politically, it diverted attention to the right-wing’s default -- “the culture wars,” and away from a failing war, a flailing president, and the next episode of Republican culture of corruption.

This year it was also hours of hype promoting sales for FOX personality John Gibson’s book The War on Christmas, which has the typically FOX stir-up-the-right-wing subtitle, How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought.

Right-wing politico-religious organizations and leaders -- who invented the “cultural wars” in the spirit of “Onward Christian Soldiers” -- have another “war” on their hands.

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, the American Family Association, and Jerry Falwell and the Liberty Counsel, among others, launched boycotts of such retail giants as Target, Wal-mart, and Sears. In a move that seems fully out of touch with the spirit of “What Would Jesus Do?” they crusaded to coerce people to say “Merry Christmas” instead of the inclusive “Happy Holidays.”

Since inclusivity in retailers really isn’t some grand “liberal plot” but a strategy of the conservative consumerism that determines the values of our culture, the right-wing’s weapon is the only one that will make American business less tolerant of non-Christians. In this, another move not inspired by “What Would Jesus Do?” they threatened the commercial success of the season, not its materialism. They financially boycotted commerce.

Now, I remember as a child the annual complaints of churches that produced the slogan: “Put Christ Back in Christmas.” But those were complaints in an era when right-wing religion wasn’t in bed with the politics of making money. The old complaint was that the county was too commercial, the focus was on Santa Claus not Jesus, and there was too much emphasis upon shopping. It was a call to stop to think of something other than business.

Today, though, it’s the left that complains that consumerism has taken over the season and that it would be better to back away from all the profit-oriented hype and its “Black Friday” to a simpler, non-commercial spirit. Focus on our relationships and peace and good will to all, not retailing.

But right-wing groups are scared that business doesn’t affirm them. Their fear is great enough to make this the issue. So, they actively promoted the packaging of accumulating money and their faith.

They seem to say, to contradict Jesus’ claim, “You really can serve God and mammon.” They’re telling American business that there are huge profits in supporting Jesus. The price of following Jesus isn’t a loss at all; it’s a gain in the financial assets column. That’s the bottom line.

It’s not surprising that the dominant form of Christianity that developed in the US had to adjust to bless our economic system, and has spent plenty of time justifying that adjustment. Theologians have developed all sorts of interpretations to protect America’s profit-oriented soul.

You’re never going to get Americans in the pews if you preach that today they should live by such sayings of Jesus as: “Give all you have to the poor and follow me” or “It’s harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than a camel to go through the eye of a needle.”

And you’re never going to get any preacher with faith in Capitalism to take literally the Old Testament command never to loan money and ask for interest. Too much of the Almighty Dollar is made that way.

In American Christianity you can post the Ten Commandments with its: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” and then believe that it’s really not a vain thing to put God’s name on a nation’s money.

FOX’s Bill O’Reilly saw visions of profits dancing in the heads of retailers if they’d just promote the homeless Jew of Nazareth. “Every company in America should be on their knees thanking Jesus for being born,” he told viewers of Your World with Neil Cavuto on November 30. “Without Christmas, most American businesses would be far less profitable. More than enough reason for business to be screaming, ‘Merry Christmas.’”

So, the troops were stirred up, the season was again profitable, and “Christmas” was forced on the lips of retailers in order for them to cash in on the season. The televangelists and preachers can take a long winter’s nap knowing that their offering plates, too are fuller because they’ve participated in the selling of “Christmas.”

The Christian right-wing has worked to correct Jesus’ claim that Caesar and God represent two separate allegiances, by seeking Caesar’s buttressing of their faith. God needs government subsidy. It’s a cultural war after all. God should be more patriotic.

All of this shows the dwindling ability of the Christian right to believe in their God. They don’t count on God and Church to change the world or be victorious. They buy the Left Behind books and videos to bolster their faith, to assure them that all will be well. They count on government and taxpayers to promote their faith, not their own good works or faith that their God is capable.

What we’re seeing in their faith in the government promotion of faith-based good works, the State advancing laws and amendments to force people to act “Christian,” and trust in retailers to sell Christmas is the end of right-wing belief.

It’s their fear that’s overwhelming us. If they ever believe again, maybe they’ll hear those angels who constantly assured humans: “Fear not.”

Living in Hope When You're Not an Optimist


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 can’t just look at the half of the glass that’s full and disregard the empty half.

In reality the glass is far from half full. It’s 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 doesn’t mean that pessimism is the only alternative. No matter how we feel about the future, there’s a better, empowering, and realistic choice that can change things. It’s 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 Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear (Basic Books, 2004). It’s a collection of voices that’s a must read today.

Loeb’s 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, it’s 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. Martin’s 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 one’s hope. We hear Susan B. Anthony’s 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 Alexie’s 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 there’s 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 didn’t 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 Walker’s 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 isn’t 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 who’d hurt us to destroy the outside. We’ve been made for more.

Loeb: “We can’t afford the sentimental view that mere self-improvement, no matter how noble in intention, is enough. Nor can we afford to succumb to fear.”

It’s 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 can’t resist the hope in words such as these from Benjamin Mays, mentor to Dr. King: “The tragedy of life doesn’t lie in not reaching a goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. It isn’t 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 it’s a choice.

A Mandate to Teach Stupid Design


In all my student years, I never thought the teaching of biological evolution was anti God or religion. Even when I studied the two creation stories in the Bible’s first book, Genesis, it didn’t seem as if they forced anyone to choose between God and evolution.

Later when Pope John Paul II agreed that a Christian could be a theistic evolutionist, many thought that he made good sense. Right-wing Protestants such as radical commentator Cal Thomas criticized him, accusing the Polish Pope of embracing Communism for doing so. It became obvious, then, that the Pope was more theologically and scientifically nuanced than such fundamentalists.

I certainly wouldn’t have respected my own beliefs more if my public school had taught them. As kids we made fun of so much of the national piety the schools already taught (“I pledge allegiance to the wall,” I can still hear kids laughing.), that mandatory prayers would have probably encouraged another set of childish mocking.

We kids respected those who died for our country — those stories intrigued us. But we sensed something shallow in schooltime’s compulsory rituals.

I certainly would have thought that our teachers praying at the beginning of classes was hypocritical. My teachers were dedicated, honest, moral, and hardworking, but I never expected them to be models for my spirituality.

It took the politicization of right-wing, Republican-Party-style Christianity to revive the political argument that teaching evolution in science classes (along with such dangers as gay people, female control of their own bodies, and racial equality) was a major cause of crime, disease, and the declining belief in the fundamentalists’ Judgmental-Divine-Father-way of seeing the Universe.

Fundamentalists created another debate they framed in the simplistic political way they defined most things, in either/or terms. You were either for them or against them. There was no place for the relative intellectual sophistication of Pope John Paul.

Then they went further. In a new testimony to their unbelief, they wanted the government to push their sectarian religious ideas. Having so little faith that God could do it successfully, or that their arguments could win on their own merits, fear-filled leaders began to fight for the backing of political institutions and human governments, to see to it that their beliefs would win. So much for “WWJD.”

I doubt if up to this point there had been even one public school science teacher in the whole county who had spent a single minute of classtime arguing that evolution proved there was no God. It would have been out of place and unscientific. I haven’t even heard of any urban legends ­ the fabricated kind the right-wing usually passes around -- about this.

The radical religious right-wing wants that all changed.

Unable to get a sectarian Christian creationism taught blatantly, their think-tanks came up with something called “Intelligent Design.” They want their claims that scientific evidence implies an intelligent, Divine Designer to be taught in tax-payer-funded schools as if it’s a viable scientific option, not merely a dogma from their faith.

The result would be that public school science classes would have to present “evidence” for the fact that the human body, for example, is so well and intricately made that an “Intelligence” must be responsible. They want teachers to teach that these things couldn’t have developed merely by chance.

So, a new type of discussion must take place in science classes. Teaching evolutionary theory as a scientific explanation to understand and predict biological change, is no longer enough.

The new mandate that results is one that requires teachers in the end to start presenting arguments against the existence of an Intelligent Designer, too. It actually requires schools to argue against the right-wing’s view of God.

The first new question about which the schools will be required to present “both sides” is: Does evidence such as the human body, for example, actually prove in any way that an intelligence has designed it?

The right wing apparently assumes a ‘yes’ answer. In their hope to prove that there is a God like theirs, they assert one of the classic religious “proofs” -- that the universe is so ordered that we must conclude that there is a Designer. They assume there’s an order that other philosophers have questioned.

With the new mandate, science classes will also have to present apparent evidence that argues that nature, the “product,” is scientifically flawed enough to conclude that there may be no Designer, or that the Designer was sometimes asleep at the switch, mentally flawed by designing lapses, short-sighted, or just plain stupid.

This follows from the latest strategy for inserting the right-wing position in science curricula.

The strategy sounds fair enough at first. Frame this as just a matter of presenting all sides in the way Bush did in response to a question asking him if the public schools should teach “Intelligent Design.”

"I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought," Bush said on August 1st. "You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes."

Science teachers now will have to point out what would be “design” flaws such as the human spine, the existence of the appendix, the susceptibility of human beings to viruses such as the common cold, the fragility of certain joints in the body, the fact that human bodies at some point flip into a non-renewable mode. They’ll have to teach how people use such evidence to conclude that there is no Designer at all.

Right-wing religion may explain any design stupidity as the result of sin, evil, the Devil, or even the Designer’s desire to make us fragile and see to it that we all will die. But that’s not science at all. It’s more dogma.

The atheist can explain this as the result of chance, the absence of a Designer, or even proof that there is none.

But the result of the “Intelligent Design” mandate will be that schools will now need to point out to students the evidence that argues that there is no Designer.

That would be scientifically fair, wouldn’t it?.”

© 2006 Robert N. Minor

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