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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.

***************************************************************************************

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.

*********************************************************************************************************

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.

 

Happy Pioneer Day

Today is Pioneer Day, a sort of holiday for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, otherwise known as the Mormons.  As you may know, I’m not religious at all but I find uniquely American religions interesting.  Mormonism grew out of the Second Great Awakening, a protestant revival movement that came into being as a response to deism and the enlightenment.  If we want to know where the religious liberty mantra of fundamentalist evangelicals got its start, we should probably revisit this era in our nation’s history.

The geographical locale for the hotbed of religious fervor was in western New York state, otherwise known as the “burn over district” because by the time the Civil War came along, everyone there had been converted to something and had burned themselves out.  It was this area where the Millerites waited out the end of the world.  Their legacy survives in the Second Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  It was here that the Shakers built their first communities.  This is where utopian experiments were tried.  And it was in Seneca Falls where the American feminist movement started. 

Joseph Smith was born in Vermont but his family settled in Palmyra, New York when he was young and he was still in his teens when he had angelic visions.  He must have been incredibly charismatic.  He was also a canny organizer and knew how to get his followers to vote en bloc in order to influence local election outcomes.  It was that ability to mobilize his saints to vote that got him into trouble and had him tarred, feathered and chased from town to town, state to state, with all his saints in his wake.

He finally ended up in Nauvoo, Illinois.  How many of us have ever heard of Nauvoo?  At one time, it was one of the most populous cities in Illinois.  There were something like 12,000 saints living there during Smith’s era.  It was in the mid 1840s that Smith started to either experience megalomania or was severely tempted by forces unseen.  He made some sketchy real estate investments, experimented with plural marriages and destroyed a printing press all while referring to himself as a general and declaring his intention to run for president.  It didn’t end well.  He was shot to death while trying to escape from the local jail where he was being held for trial on a first amendment violation.

His saints had a succession crisis but the bulk of them rallied around Brigham Young and they headed out of Nauvoo on the way to the west where they were determined to live by their faith without interference.  Some of them used handcarts to transport their belongings.  It was an arduous journey.  

 

 

The Mormons are currently undergoing a sort of reformation. It isn’t of the Church’s making but there are a growing number of progressive members who are forcing it upon the church leadership.   So history repeats itself but this time it is turning back to reason.  The LDS church is no longer growing.  More and more members are leaving, troubled by the hierarchy’s slow evolution on the subject of homosexuality and women in the priesthood, as well as faithful members disturbed by what the church is covering up in Joseph Smith’s biography.  I’ve been listening to these dissident voices at the podcast MormonStories, hosted by John Dehlin.  What I find is a rich cultural tradition that is uniquely American, forged in the fire and fervor of religious revival, and hardened by pioneers making their way across America to live in Zion.  After the religion is stripped away, the Mormon experience is still a forceful one that brings people together and whose ancestors shared a common story that is as powerful as any religious mythology.

I’d like to have the progressive and secular Mormons on my side.  They’re a determined bunch.

This song, Come, Come, ye Saints, was written by Mormon poet William Clayton in Iowa on his way from Nauvoo to Utah.  The music is based on an old English folk tune, All Is Well.  Enjoy.