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DailyKos: Conversion and Conformity

ccv3h71w8aasjtlPeter Daou wrote about Markos Moulitsos, founder of DailyKos, and his announcement that he will be shifting his support to Hillary as soon as the nomination is wrapped up. Sorry, Bernie fans, time to get in line.

Atrios yesterday wrote that he doubted that one person’s “Why I am Voting for So&So diary” is worth anything. I was happy to see Atrios embrace the idea that your vote is your own but I think he’s dead wrong about the value of the conversion diary. Maybe they’re not as powerful as they used to be but I saw DailyKos lose its collective mind and then get in line twice in 2007-2008. First, it went bat s^&* crazy over John Edwards, then when Edwards became non-viable, it became moonstruck over Obama.

During the infamous Rec List Hostage Crisis of 2008, the pivot from Edwards to Obama was incredibly smooth. I could almost swear that the same people were writing those diaries.

The value of the testimonial can not be underestimated. Maybe we should get John Dehlin, psychologist, former Mormon and host of Mormon Stories to come and explain how it works. The conversion or testimonial is particularly effective in groups that are also exercising other high control tactics, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

A typical conversion story relates how a person is transformed by a moment of revelation. They become “born again” in some important way. People who study high control groups might say the convert’s  behavior has been unduly influenced by informational, emotional and thought control. Go ahead, read about the BITE model and you’ll never see DailyKos in the same way again.

That’s why I think Markos’s conversion story looks like it might not be important to those of us who have figured out how he operates even if it eventually does. His life is only going to change if his revelation leads to more advertising revenue from the Clinton campaign. Deep down inside, I doubt that Markos is wed to any one particular candidate. If anything, he seems to swing Libertarian and attracts the same guys who are stuck in adolescence who aren’t going to let any woman be the boss of them. It’s his business model.

Also, the conversion story does not work in the absence of other features. There has to be praise of the convert. In many religions and high control groups, this would include love bombing. At DailyKos, love bombing is accomplished through the use of recommendations. If a diarist gets enough recommends, their diary can make it to the recommended diary list where its prominence will influence other Kossacks.

The more you toe the founder’s line, the more mojo you get. That is, your level of  authority, at DailyKos increases and you can achieve Trusted User status. A trusted user has very few privileges and while Kossacks are told they don’t mean much, they actually do. A Trusted user can demote recommendations. They are enforcers. A mob of enforcers can deplete a Kossack’s mojo completely. If you don’t stay with the herd, you can be excommunicated and banned from the site.

This is what happened to me in January 2008 when I used the word “jihad” to explain how Obama supporters were mobbing other candidate’s supporters on DailyKos in order to get them banned. In the span of a couple hours, I went from being a trusted user to an exile. I was on to them by the time I posted that diary and while my diary was not meant to get me banned, I watched in fascination how efficiently and quickly the process worked.  I guess to someone who likes to be one of a crowd, that might have been devastating and I saw other Kossacks try very hard to not it happen to them. But for me? It was no big deal. What I learned at DailyKos was that I could write well enough to make the rec list fairly frequently. So, I left and started The Confluence. I didn’t get the fame or the ad money but I’ve enjoyed it anyway.

Those of you who still visit DailyKos can correct me if I’m wrong on any of this. Some of the rules of the game have changed since I was there last. The parameters of the model can be tweaked to keep everyone in line. But Markos knows what he’s doing and he set up his site to enforce conformity and a single message. Yes, there is a bit of wiggle room there. It’s like the difference between being a Methodist and a Presbyterian but it’s still Christianity. And when Markos signs the contract or gives the nod of the head, the machine works of his site will kick into gear and everyone will fall in line, write conversion diaries and disfellowship the apostates.

It’s conformity on a grand blog scale.

Maybe it doesn’t mean as much as it did 8 years ago. But Markos still attracts a lot of the same kind of people. They talk amongst themselves, reminisce about when they had their revelation and swallow their disappointments on queue when their leader gets “new light”.  And when it came time to throw away rules, disenfranchise voters and abbreviate roll call votes in Denver, the Kossacks were enthusiastic supporters of all things not very Democratic. We ended up with an establishment president who is more conservative than just about anyone on DailyKos but by golly, they won, didn’t they? So what if they ripped their party in two in the meantime?

They have a lot in common with Trump supporters.

Yes, conversion diaries, especially many of them, written with the blessing and encouragement and sometimes the coding skills and public megaphone of the founder, can and do make a difference. It simply is what it is, regardless of what Atrios says.

 

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You know who you are

Some of you may be wondering why I go on and on about fundamentalists. Well, to be quite honest, it’s because my family has been ripped to pieces by religion in general.

My own beliefs are nobody’s business but I’m going to tell you anyway. Here’s where I stand on the matter: I’m not an atheist but my concept of god is pretty abstract. I could be called a panentheist, that is god is ineffable and exists beyond space and time and we exist within that god. My concept of god has been very steady since I was a little kid. Yep, all those years trying to convert me were a waste of time. I don’t believe in a personal god, or an anthropomorphic god and I don’t think prayer is very useful. Meditation is and there’s something to be said for mindfulness. Ironically, I’ve always liked Catholic mass a lot but will never attach myself to a church where half the attendees are second class. As for religious texts, I don’t have any but I have always been drawn to Tolkien who was a devout Catholic who also had a peculiar interpretation of religion and myth with a healthy addition of neoplatonism. That’s about where I am. I’m not a practicing anything and I don’t want to be.

So, when it comes to what tore my family apart, I don’t have a dog in this fight. Since my beliefs do not come with a religious text or tradition, all the world’s religions that do have traditions that are thousands of years old look pretty much the same to me. Worship of Zeus and the pantheon or the Nordic gods once made  a lot of sense and now look silly to Christians and Muslims. But Christianity and Islam and Hinduism are all premised on equally silly things to me. Nevertheless, if that’s what floats your boat, and as long as you don’t stick your faith in my face by either overt proselytizing or covert banding together to reinforce your beliefs and shutting

mte1oda0otcxnza3mjm3otax

Luther started it.

others out, I don’t have any problems. What’s in your head should stay in your head and what’s in my head should stay in my head and as long as we don’t insist on everyone else thinking exactly like we do, we should all get along.

Butcha know, it just didn’t work out that way in my family. I blame Martin Luther. Oh for sure, he had some very legitimate points, over 90 0f them from what I can remember. Yes, the Catholic church had become corrupt. Yes, there was a lot to be said about priests keeping the bible out of the hands of common people. But in retrospect, they might have had a point. As Julia Sweeney said in “Letting Go of God” when referring to the bible, “have you read that book??” Sure a lot of people find some wisdom in the bible but that book is also awful in ways that modern humans in this modern world do not approve. And yet, there are people who are willing to kill, shame, pass judgment, and lock into roles other people based on confusing, and brutal texts, taken completely out of context.

Anyway, it started with Luther.

For some crazy reason, there are still people in my family who think that the Pope speaks for all Catholics and they do what ever the Pope says, like mindless automatons. Oh, and priests do all the bible reading and interpretation for Catholics despite the fact that the printing press has been around for 500 years now and Catholics have pretty much given up the battle of keeping vernacular bibles out of the hands of their parishioners. Yes, dear faithful protestants, you can read the bible if you are a Catholic and are free to interpret that nonsense any which way you like. But Catholic masses don’t differ a whole lot from other Sunday services except there aren’t any women at the pulpit and there’s incense and holy water and the communion disks taste like wall paper paste instead of the neat little cubes of wholesome bread you get at a Presbyterian service. It’s all pretty much the same damn service at every mainstream church. Trust me on this. You might even *like* a Catholic mass.

But in my family, we must still believe that there is some gigantic chasm between the protestants and the Catholics, even though, there isn’t. The pope isn’t the dictator everyone thinks he is, most Catholics practice birth control and in many respects, Catholics have a longer history of intellectual thought that many mainstream protestant churches are still struggling with. They have saints and it’s still slightly pagan. And? That just sounds like a brilliant marketing strategy to me and so what? There’s still a thread in Catholicism that reaches back to seasons and nature. But ok, whatever floats your boat. Nevertheless, I’m not going to condemn Catholicism just because Luther uncovered some rather significant problems 500 years ago. As far as I’m concerned, the fight is over. And anyway, I’m just an observer. It’s not personal to me.

But it was personal to others. Religion in my family is like a game of one upsmanship. Lutheranism was superior to Catholicism but not as superior as evangelicalism. Evangelicalism is genuine, until it wasn’t and you had to become a Jehovah’s Witness because THEY had The Truth. But then you had to be born again because that’s where it’s really at. And only if you practice the right brand of Christianity and believe in the signs and condemn the lives of people wholly unconnected to you, can you prove to this capricious, angry, mean and stingy god that you and you alone are worthy to be raptured before the end where you can sit in the clouds and feel smugly superior to all those relatives who didn’t listen to you. Oh, and homosexuals who do all those nasty, dirty things with their body parts (never mind that quite a number of married heterosexuals also do those nasty, dirty things with their body parts, mean spirited hypocritical inconsistencies are required in this version of Christianity), well, they need to be set straight, in more ways than one and it’s the fundamentalists job to be vocal, rude and obnoxious and ruin other people’s vacations.

Like I said before, I don’t really care what you believe as long as you don’t shove it down my throat by either 1.) overt proselytization or 2.) ostracism because you can’t for one second have anyone disagree with you. Both of those things tear families apart.

How did it happen in my family? Well, I think it all began when one family member who was a Lutheran was forced to accept some Catholicism upon marriage. That person wrecked revenge by becoming a Jehovah’s Witness and then relentlessly pursued other family members until they too became Jehovah’s Witnesses. If the whole family had converted, this might have been a different story. But only half converted. Then, when the original Jehovah’s Witness decided to get out after Armageddon didn’t come, the other Jehovah’s Witnesses had to shun her. Yep, no more social gatherings, no more family meals, nada. Scheduling a family event now requires familiarity with GRE logic problems:

“Bob, Sheila and Terry are JW’s and Nina is a JW apostate. Florence is an Evangelical, Ellis is a panentheist and George and Sarah are lapsed Lutheran and Catholic respectively. Bob, Sheila and Terry can associate with Florence, Ellis, George and Sarah but not on any holidays when working people have time off. They can not associate with Nina. Nina is a vocal dissenter of George and Sarah’s gay relatives so inviting her to Sarah’s family gatherings is awkward. Florence can associate with everyone but can’t invite Bob, Sheila, Terry to the same event with Nina. If Nina is not invited to an event, George and Sarah won’t attend in order to protest the JW practice of shunning. Bob, Sheila, and Terry can’t go to the funerals of Florence, George, and Sarah because they will be churches. What day during the year can they all be together?”

I might think shunning is a really stupid and painful practice that Jehovah’s Witnesses use in order to manipulate people into staying in the religion when they otherwise might not but it’s not like you don’t know what you’re getting into when you join the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Essentially, there is no unconditional love or grace with the Witnesses. This is the ultimate truth about Jehovah’s Witnesses that the rest of us have observed even if the believers are in denial about it. Their “friends” in “The Truth” will turn on them in an instant if they even think about putting their families first or decide they’ve spent much of their lives in too much self denial of, you know, just about every thing that brings a family joy.

It should be noted that of all the kids of three siblings that became Jehovah’s Witnesses, not one of us became Jehovah’s Witnesses in spite of the regime of fear mongering indoctrination.

The original instigator went on to become Born Again and watched Jim and Tami Faye Praise the Lord!, which to some of us looked like jumping from the frying pan into the fire but we just had to put up with it. This sibling was the one labeled “Most likely to end up a Buddhist” and, you know, that would have been a relief. But Buddhists are too soft and accepting. No, for this sibling, nothing but the most harsh and demanding fundamentalism would do. We put up with relentless pressure for decades to voluntarily lobotomize ourselves, admit that evolution was a lie, and embrace the end times. And some of the targets of this campaign did eventually give in and became belligerent, judgmental shadows of their former selves while the family continued to atomize. Now, that GRE question has a part B that affects a whole new generation.

Now, one half of us can’t speak to the other half. If we’re not actively shunning because our organization demands it, we’re shunning because the non-believer, and at this point, it looks like I might be the only one, still maintains that women are equal to men, evolution is in fact the way the world works, gay people are born that way and that, in general, all people, even poor ones, should be treated with dignity and respect. For some reason, that makes me the bad one. Well, that and I don’t think the bible is the inspired word of god (“Have you read that book??”) Thus, I am ultimately the one person who can unite the rest of the family in mutual distrust of the heathen.

Let’s face it, you can be a decent person, don’t do drugs, don’t steal, don’t kill people, put up with years of crazy and abuse at the hands of some very selfish people who hide behind their religion and never ask for a penny from anyone but if you do not believe that THAT BOOK is the inspired word of god, you are a baaaaad person and people will feel that it is Ok to not be nice to you.

That book, is subject to their interpretation, whoever they happen to be at the time. They can all contradict each other and ridicule each other’s interpretation, and they do, regularly. But they all agree that That Book is the ultimate authority. Of everything.

This is not mainstream Christianity. I can hang out with Catholics and Presbyterians and even some Methodists and never feel baaaaaad. No, it’s the fundamentalists who absolutely cannot tolerate any dissent. In the US, we don’t do honor killings. But it’s perfectly Ok to demonize anyone who is independent, who thinks for themselves without reference to that book, and who by their very presence threatens to tear a hole in the perfect fabric cover that protects the believer from the anxiety over whether they are good enough to survive the wrath of a god who seemingly does not appear to possess self control. This is a god that throws temper tantrums if gay people get married and smites innocent dying people who accept transfusions to save their lives. This is a god that demands that we disavow the laws of nature and choose deliberate ignorance over intelligent understanding. This is a god that would prefer that women suffer their entire lives for forgetting their oral contraceptives. This is a god that insists that we shame and dehumanize women so that their lives and the lives of those who would help them, are at risk of being snuffed out by a person vulnerable to speech that is nothing but an invitation to do violent things.

That book is not the cause of the problem. The problem is that as herd animals, some of us are still not able to tell when the herd is headed off a cliff. And some opportunists and politicians are all too willing to take advantage of that to attain power. They’ve spent the last half century dragging this country back. Where women are concerned, they’ve been very successful, because fully raw cannibals will have equal rights before women do. They’ve not been so successful when it came to gay marriage, probably because there are more powerful men with money backing that. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing but it does show what you can achieve if you’re male and have money. The fact that lesbians also benefit is just icing on the cake.

Recently, the Mormon church delivered a killing blow to any progressive Mormon who thought the church’s stance on homosexuality was softening. This new guidance from the quorum of the twelve Mormon apostles says that not only will married gay couples now be subject to disciplinary councils and expulsion for apostasy, their children would no longer be baptized or blessed. Yes, gay mormons do exist, probably in greater numbers than we think, and because the church strongly emphasizes marriage and families, some gay mormons have been compelled to marry heterosexually and have children. Then when they can’t deny their authentic selves anymore, and marry a same sex partner, their children are instantly ostracized from the church. Imagine what kind of message this sends to LGBT teenagers. Don’t tell, don’t step out of line, because we don’t want you here and your families will be condemned. Furthermore, your children will need to disavow your lifestyle when they become adults if they ever want to become members of the church.

John Dehlin at Mormon Stories has interviewed quite a number of people in the wake of this decision. Some people think this is a legal technicality to prevent the church from being accused of alienation of affection from parents because of its strict condemnation of homosexuality. But the only explanation that rings true to me is that the ultra conservative churches have won the battles but are losing the war. They are now circling the wagons, getting less inclusive, forcing out all dissenters, doubling down on the mean and the judgmental and the fundamentalism because that is what distinguishes them as different and purer and better than anyone else. In fact, making themselves more exclusive in some ways polishes their prestige. If you can endure this demand for perfection, conformity and hard edged faith, no matter how ridiculous that faith might be to the rest of the world, then you know the church must be true. You’re the only ones who see it, you are persecuted by the state for these beliefs and you’ll go down fighting all the way.

Fine. Just do it somewhere remote.

Leave the rest of us alone.

The shooting at Planned Parenthood is just the latest outcome from the barrage of hate and dehumanization that emanates from the mouths of Rush Limbaugh and fundamentalist churches and patriarchs and the politicians they support. It’s also the result of wishy washy Tut-tutting from the likes of Barack Obama who can’t seem to bring himself to stand with Planned Parenthood because he’s the father of two females. I find that almost as disgusting as the overt foaming at the mouth fundie speech. The most powerful man in the world either feels no confidence challenging the money fueled consensus reality or he’s just another conservative guy pretending to be a progressive. Either way, he’s no champion of females, not even his own daughters.

And then there is the media that doesn’t want to piss off the religious contingent by telling it like it is: we have spawned our own religious fundamentalist extremists right here in America.

Those of us who don’t have a dog in this fight see very little difference between the Islamic State and the right wing patriarchs in Arkansas who pick their daughters’ husbands so they can churn out “Christian Soldiers” who pray that they will one day enforce biblical law on the rest of us.

It’s not benign. It imposes suffering on people every day from family members to people whose lives are nobody else’s business.

If this is the last charge at the end of the war, then I can not wait for it to be over. And I believe it will eventually end. But not before it has wrecked destruction on our families and ruined what should have been love, support and friendship for some of us for most of our lives.

If there is a heaven, they have a lot to answer for before they get in.

 

 

 

 

Reasons etc

It’s after Labor Day and we all know that new stuff gets rolled out after Labor Day. It’s time for some freshening up around here. I’ve been thinking about that for some time now, what with the Presidential Election *finally* really getting under way at the end of this year. Wait, when is Iowa? And why is it so important? Don’t we ask ourselves this question every four years? Anyway, I am still seeing a lack of something for people such as myself. You know, the tail-end baby boomers who aren’t anywhere near retirement age but are expected to make our way in the world like Millenials. You know, incredible job uncertainty, vastly reduced wages, the expense of everything just dropped like a steaming pile on top of our heads, Here ya’ go, you pay for your retirement, medical care, education. You know the spiel.

But I’ve got to think about restructuring a little more. On to what I did during my summer vacation.

The bright spots are that someone finally took out the Duggars. So, there’s that. It was one of the highlights of the summer. Maybe Josh Duggar will be the one to write the tell-all book. Or maybe it will be Anna Duggar. They’ve got to make money somehow. The show has been cancelled. It’s too late for Jill and Jessa. They done got married and knocked up. But their sisters might still have a fighting chance. In any case, the Duggars are toast. Oh sure, there will always be people like them and their fan base might not be ready to ditch them yet. But their golden halo is gone and now there is space to ask ourselves what the hell THAT was all about?? That whole “no kissing before the wedding” thing backfired spectacularly. So, maybe the rest of their schtick isn’t so wholesome either, eh?

In fact, it seems like the grip of authoritarian religions and cults is starting to weaken all over the place all at once. It’s like a tipping point. The Jehovah’s Witnesses also seem to be becoming unhinged in a relatively short period of time. Does it mean my relatives will start coming to family holidays? I doubt it. But with the BBC documentaries on them and the number of associations of the JWs to Scientology in culture and indoctrination, the Royal Commission in Australia looking into child abuse and the incredible increase in the number of YouTubers who are creating their own “How I got out” channels (Reaching Out, JW Survey and Katja Christian to name a few), it looks like there may be some kind of “Hey, we’ve been eating grass!” movement afoot.

(It’s ok, guys, Jehovah will not strike you dead if you start enjoying the rest of your family at birthday parties. For one thing, we’re not certain that that’s his real name anyway.)

The same phenomenon is happening to Mormonism. John Dehlin did not die after his excommunication. Nope, he’s alive and kicking and doing well in Cash Valley, Utah with his MormonStories Podcast. He just got his PhD in psychology and he and his family are thriving and forming a new community of ex-mormons who’ve had it up to here with prematurely decomposing old men posing as prophets and imposing 19th century rules of behavior on their wives, children and gay brothers in law.

By the way, if you want to know how I spent my summer vacation, check out Lindsay Hanson Park’s Year of Polygamy Podcast. Oh. My. She had no idea what she was getting herself into when she started it. Sweet Mormon housewife takes it upon herself to casually explain this quaint Mormon legacy to the rest of the world and a year later, she’s ditching her garments and wearing halter tops in church. One of her best episodes was on Mountain Meadows, aka, the original September 11 terrorist attack and massacre by a fanatic bunch of violent religious extremists.  Highly recommended.  Start from the beginning of a Year of Polygamy and listen as Lindsay’s realization and horror grows week by week. She deserves an award for this series. THAT, my friends, is the way everybody should research their religion. If your religion can withstand a Lindsay Hanson Park treatment, it’s a keeper.

But the authoritarians are not done yet, folks. Nope, there’s a new Mormon extremist group out there started by Julie Rowe who claims to have seen visions of the end of the world during a near death experience. Right now, there are tens of thousands of her followers who are leaving their jobs, cashing in their savings and becoming preppers in the desert for the great tribulations that are about to descend on us at the end of September 2015. Or over the next year. She can’t be specific. Visions rarely have a time stamp on them, you know.

The most troubling aspect of the Julie Rowe following is that in some respects, it shares a lot of similarities to what lead to the Mountain Meadows massacre. There’s a lot of anti-government rhetoric, fueled by the media, a paranoia that the government is going to crack down, a lot of extremely twitchy second amendment types, doomsday prepping on a massive scale, some tacit approval from the church authorities and many religious zealots who fear they’re going to be under attack soon. Not a good combination. Somebody’s going to get hurt. In this respect, the more legitimate media outlets are not doing their duties, obsessed as they are with trying to knock Hillary Clinton out of the presidential race. The next Great Disappointment and the accompanying fallout isn’t even on their radar yet but the west is full of some very deluded people and some of them have guns.

The general sense I’m getting is that the Witnesses and the Mormons are starting to panic. It’s making them more authoritarian, they’re excommunicating and disfellowshipping left and right and demanding complete obedience to the authorized earthly authorities while at the same time, broadcasting about their even more urgent needs for money. As John Dehlin has observed from his interviews with academics who follow trends in religion, people are leaving these religions in droves.

I blame the internet.

They probably do too, which is why the faithful are told to avoid it.

Catholicism on the other hand seems to be having a bit of a moment due to the new pope. It’s still a patriarchal religion that is *trying* to be authoritarian but can’t quite pull it off anymore. Catholics are on to the church. For many Catholics, it’s a cultural affiliation, not a religious one. Catholicism is comfortable with evolution, the Old Testament as mythology and many other modernities. They’re not cracking down on your conscience for trusting Darwin or reading real history. Plus, Catholics aren’t into shunning like real authoritarian churches are. They do have an indoctrination regime but it’s not significantly worse than Presbyterians at this point.And yeah, you can read the bible on your own. At some point since the birth of the printing press, Catholics stopped fighting that losing battle.

That doesn’t mean it’s still not run by a insular band of red beanie boys in Rome for whom sticking to the script is part of some political pissing contest that has nothing to do with their worldwide constituency. But Pope Francis seems to be successfully changing the focus of the church from an obsession with sexual morality to global economic inequality. I’m sure his upcoming visit is going to get a lot of attention and make many people uncomfortable. Maybe the next Pope will see the light on women. This one seems to be channeling Occupy Wall Street. Pass the popcorn.

Finally, the 2016 Reason Rally has found a venue at the Lincoln Memorial. I went to the last one with my then resident atheist who surprised me with her Beatlemania reaction to the prospect of seeing Richard Dawkins in person. I had NO idea. So, I took her. It rained like crazy but there was a substantial mass of thousands of people. I expect that the one next year will be even more crowded.

You don’t have to be an atheist to go. I’m not. I’m more of a panentheist who doesn’t believe god is a supernatural being but I digress. All that is needed is that you believe that the people screaming about being oppressed over their “religious liberties” have been getting far too much attention and it’s time for them to grow up and realize they’re not the only people in this country who count.

I’m going to start saving my pennies for that one. It’s reasonable.

Finally, Happiness is former Jehovah’s Witnesses waking up and dancing for joy. Cue the music John Cedars:

Wolf Hall, Arkansas and New Zealand #WeAreApostates

Mark Gattis as political priest Stephen Gardiner in Henry VIII’s court.

There’s a tryptych that doesn’t seem to go together, eh?

On this side of the Atlantic, there wasn’t that much of a big deal about Wolf Hall, the BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s two novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. If you haven’t had a chance to see the series, check out PBS before it’s too late and you won’t be able to find the episodes on it’s unnecessarily complicated website.

One complaint I have about the television version is that it was too short. It could have easily been three times longer. It left out several characters that I liked, like Thomas Wyatt, and skimmed over the enigma of Jane Seymour.  And then there was the impact of the Renaissance and international banking on the medieval, feudal world. It’s the three estates all over again. What was lost was the reality of who ran the government, what little there was, back then. Primarily, it was the nobility who were appointed to their offices through birth. “Oh, yes”, you say, “I learned that back in 8th grade. There’s nothing new about that.” I thought that too until I really understood what that meant. It meant that all you needed to become the treasurer or whatever was to be born into the right family. You didn’t need any other qualification. You could be perfectly shitty at your job. Didn’t matter. Your inherited wealth and status gave you automatic access to the Privy Council. A self-made, educated man who rose on his merits, had no real right to be there.

Same with the clergy. They ran a good chunk of England. During the Peasant’s Revolt of the late 14th century, the abbeys and monasteries did not side with the peasants. No, no, no. They were as much a part of the feudal aristocracy as the nobility and had even less of an incentive to cooperate with any national government. Their liege lord was in Rome. In order to bring England into the 16th century, Cromwell had to strip them of their power locally. You can bet they had their daggers poised for him after that.

Mantel has been praised for her research on Cromwell and what he tried to accomplish. He thought wars were a waste of money and thought that infrastructure projects would be a better way of keeping the population calm and under control. He was opposed in this by the nobility and the clergy who thought that poverty was God’s divine will. Why mess with it by taxing the rich? Somewhere recently in a podcast I’d heard that the stronger the social safety net in a country, the less religious it is. That’s because the common person doesn’t have to continually turn to God and charity to have his or basic needs met.

Well, the religious will have none of that. No wonder they joined up with conservative and politically connected rich people in the 30s to undermine the New Deal. You can read all about it in nauseating detail in the book One Nation Under God: How Corporate America invented Christian America.

So, you know, nothing new under the sun. And we’re still fighting the same wars between the aristocracy, the clergy and the commoner.

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I’ve never been a Duggar fan, as many of you well know. Still, I find it really sad that this family has been brought down by their actions 12 years ago when their eldest son Josh was found to have been forcibly fondling his sisters while they were sleeping. First it’s sad because if he were just a regular kid instead of a TV celebrity, he might have been forced to register as a sex offender. This is what the Duggar fan base would have demanded of any other person. Secondly, but no less importantly, it’s sad for his sisters who were brought up to consider their bodies as a no touch zone for any other reason than procreation. I can only imagine what they were thinking. Were they now impure? Would any man want them after that? Instead of getting family counseling, they probably were cautioned to not tempt their older brother.

And let’s just be honest here, although he was 14-16 when this all happened, it’s probably not all that uncommon. It’s serious because it went on for a long period of time and the parents did almost nothing when they became aware of it. But I still don’t think that makes Josh the kind of pedophile that some Christians would like to make him out to be. I think it made him a troubled young person in the middle of adolescence with a ton of younger siblings and parents who admit that they parentify their older kids. That’s negligence on their part. What’s awful is that the Duggar parents have isolated these young people in an artificially created world where they imagine the only hormones their daughters will come in contact with will be from the outside world through the discerning curating eye of their father. It’s insane. Something like this was bound to happen.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a lot more going on between the siblings than we think, even without Josh present. It could happen. They’re not allowed to date, they’re not in proximity with future mates for long enough to make their own choices. Should we be surprised that some of them turn to each other? They’re human beings, not model Christian soldiers. And with 19 kids in the family, some of them are going to be gay. Whether the parents approve or not, whether that poor kid(s) has to stay in the closet for a very long time, gay is going to be there. That kid or kids knows that the minute they are exposed, they’re going to be permanently ostracized or retrained. That’s sad.

But what really annoys me is that all of the focus is on making Josh Duggar to be some kind of pedophilic monster at the age of 14 when he really needed a good psychologist, and almost no attention on the radical, reactionary, mean spirited messages that his work with the Family Research Council promoted. Specifically, he and his family has gone on a tear hooking up with right wing politicians to portray LGBT individuals as disgusting, sex-crazed pedophiles who do not deserve equal protection under the law.

So, let this be a teachable moment for Josh. A lot of the godly types will find it in their hearts to forgive him for his adolescent indiscretions. But there will be quite a few who will now insist that he’s a sick, twisted sex addict who shouldn’t be allowed to be around children, whether or not his hormones have achieved their proper balance and outlet or not. Ah, yes, the backlash has started already. So much for Christian redemption. Once a 14 year old violator, always a 14 year old violator. Let’s see how he likes being treated like a paraiah by the fear conditioned Fox News junkies who used to worship his family.

They thought the Duggars had self-control. Apparently not. That smells like betrayal. Will it make them sit and think about why it is so important that right wing religious leaders feel it’s important to make the poor, women and the LGBT community out to be lazy, subservient and disgusting and how that might be tied to a 80 year initiative by the wealthy and religious to take back their feudal rights and getting rid of programs they hate like Social Security?

Probably not. That requires changing the channel.

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I recommend to you another podcast from John Dehlin’s amazing podcast, Mormon Stories. (I wish I could donate, John, but no permanent full time job yet. Sorry.)

I can’t stress how good Dehlin is in terms of interviewing people. But it’s more than that. Mormon Stories is about the evolution of religion through the experiences of one man as he journeys out of the faith of his ancestors to, well, we don’t know what yet but it’s very exciting.

His latest podcast is with Gina Colvin, a half Maori Mormon from New Zealand. The first part of the podcast is about Gina’s background. It’s very colorful and entertaining. But the second part is the one that got my attention. In it, Gina describes her interaction with “Utah” Mormons, which are very different from Kiwi Mormons. She expresses her surprise and anger with the way that American Mormons are using their power to export an extremely conservative religious and political brand on the rest of the world. In one instance, she recounts how the Utah Mormon church has been trying to rouse its Christchurch Mormons to oppose gay equality in New Zealand. That, Gina says, was a lost cause. Gay equality and marriage in New Zealand was already part of the constitution. There was no going back, no way for the local Mormon church to oppose it and, more importantly, nobody cares.

She also says that a Utah Mormon official told her that Mormons are politically conservative. They are not allowed to be lefties. You just need to hear it to get a sense of how determined the unholy alliance of religion and right wing politics is to spreading its messages of fear, exclusion and cruelty around the world.

True story.

I liked this podcast because it was so cheerful and optimistic at the end, in spite of the crazy excommunications.

Worth a listen. Check it out here.

I get the feeling that the tide is turning against the religious right. It might be finally happening that it’s iron grip on the world is starting to slip. The world is evolving without them and getting impatient.

I especially like this brief post about Puritanism over at Lance Mannion’s blog:

Is this what we want, a grim, self-accusing, self-scolding, self-denying, self-abnegating, perversely and masochistically stoic, fearfully church-going citizenry, jealous, suspicious, defensively accepting of their lot in the certain, complacent, and stubborn knowledge that things could be worse without considering that they could also be better and asking why they’re not and how they could be made that way?

I’ve asked myself the same question for four decades. The answer is no, but how we reduce the influence of the Puritans without reprogramming is going to be very hard as long as we as a country reward the religious, no matter how fundamentalist they are.

More on religion

The Publican and the Pharisee

My post on religious narcissism is getting a lot of hits.  The hits come and go.  It’s clearly hit a nerve probably because it feels truthy.  But I’m not the only one who has made the connection between some religious people and narcissism.  And I’m not condemning all religious people, not by a long shot.  I have no problem with those people who know their boundaries and can coexist peacefully without insisting on sticking their beliefs into our heads.  I’ve long been a proponent of God 2.0, that is, a new kind of experience that is independent of bronze age mythology.  In other words, god needs a rewrite and a makeover but I can live with the metaphorically minded in the meantime.

We can not rule out the possibility that the right, seeing a potential push back against their ramming religion down our throats, is going to fight dirty.  I’m not Frank Luntz or Karl Rove and I am not employed by Fox News (or I would be a lot wealthier right now) so I can’t tell what form their coming attack is going to take but I’m pretty sure that there are agents out there combing the blogs looking for trigger words and memes. I’m not being paranoid or inflating my influence.  It’s just something they do and they wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they didn’t scour political and cultural blogs for potent memes.  It happened in 2008 and it’s going to happen more and more leading up to the 2014 and 2016 elections.  There’s a lot at stake.

This meme has legs so I expect them to start conjuring a response.  No one likes to be called a narcissist, even if they only think that it has something to do with vanity while they miss the bigger personality disorder.  It might put the religious off their kibble if they start looking undesirable or if they start to sense that the rest of us are on to them.  It could trigger narcissistic rage, which is Bill O’Reilly’s forte, or it could mean that the rest of us can gain a toehold to resist them.  They’re not going to like it in any case so I’d keep my eyes and ears open for a response.

I’m trying to put together a post that explains how to deal with people with narcissistic personality disorder but it’s not an easy one to write because there is no magic bullet that will make these people stop behaving the way they do.  It’s harder in America because the critical mass of “nones” hasn’t been reached here that would be a more powerful counterweight to the religious narcissists.  The “nones” category is growing rapidly (I suspect there are many god 2.0 people among them) but our culture still reveres the religious and because these people have a powerful microphone right now, they will get a greater amount of attention than they are entitled to.

So, I’m going to punt for awhile while I continue gathering my resources and instead recommend a podcast from Mormon Stories.  Mormon Stories is hosted my John Dehlin, a Mormon on the liberal end of the spectrum, who is studying for his PhD in psychology.  I highly recommend this podcast in general because Dehlin’s interview style ranks right up there with Terry Gross, IMHO.  Where has this guy been??  He should be way more famous.  Another great podcast host is Seth Andrews of The Thinking Atheist, whose warm, resonant radio voice reassures thousands of disaffected new atheists that they’re not alone.

Anyway, what I really love about Dehlin’s podcast is he is documenting the struggle that modern Mormons are having with their church in terms of gender equality, homosexuality and the history of their church.  These Mormons want to stay connected to the culture they grew up with for many good reasons but they need the church to recognize their concerns.  Dehlin takes a rigorous approach to religion in general and some of his podcasts have explored the types of religious believers that exist in this country as well as why religion is so compelling from  a social psychology perspective.  Here are a couple episodes from that latter category.

Episode 417: Dr. Ryan Cragun on his new book, “What You Don’t Know About Religion (But Should)”

Episodes 339-342: The Psychology of Religion with Dr. James Nagel

One of the things I took away from these podcasts, as well as Seth’s podcast, is the importance of knowing you are not alone.  Just because your entire family, neighborhood, culture appears to be spouting anti-birth control nonsense or is obsessed with the pedophile that is lurking behind every tree, doesn’t mean everyone is going nuts.  If you speak up, you may find you have a lot more people on your side than you thought.  They tend to keep quiet when they think they are outliers.

The other thing I learned, that Ryan Cragun confirmed, is that it is a LOT harder to organize people on the left side of the spectrum because they don’t consider themselves to be joiners.  This will always be an advantage to the right.  Now, we might want to try to figure out why the left and the skeptical community don’t join forces in the same way the right’s disparate communities do but I suspect that it might go back to our childhoods.  If you are forced to join a religion or social structure that you may not feel affinity for, you may resist any attempts to join a sympathetic one in the future.  That’s just one working hypothesis.

One final thing, Cragun says that religious fundamentalists are a lot more unpopular than they or we are lead to believe.  He says the problem with popularly reported surveys is that the participants are rarely asked to rank fundamentalists in the same way they are asked to rank atheists.  Consider those surveys in the same light as the ones commissioned by WaPo where people are asked to rank taxes, the budget deficit and every other thing except unemployment as the most important things that government should tackle.  So, yeah, fundies are living in denial when they think they are universally loved and admired.

Gotta go now.  Get your headsets on and enjoy.