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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.

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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.

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

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.

Weekend Assignments: Wolf Hall, Zealotry and other stuff

What a week, What a week! With one week of work at a new job under my belt, I feel normal again. It has been very rare in the past year for me to have a whole weekend off. In fact, I think it only happened once in the last 12 months. I am going to soak up all 48 hours and try to get some stuff off my to-do list. Like clothes shopping. I *hate* to shop for clothes. But for the next two months, I have to look presentable so maybe they will give me a permanent regular job. That would be nice.

In the meantime, here are some things to check out, consider, do:

1.) Hilary Mantel’s books Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies come to PBS this weekend. I was able to find extended snippets from this BBC production on youtube before they were banished and it is really good. It’s not a trashy bodice ripper like The Tudors and it’s not improbably soapy like Downtown Abbey (which I liked initially but lost interest in over the years). This BBC production is dark and quiet. Literally dark. Some of the scenes were shot by candlelight using a special camera. I’ve read that it drove the Brits nuts, which means that Americans will whine even louder.

This version of the tale is told from Thomas Cromwell’s point of view. You will have to know some of the backstory and be a little bit familiar with the Renaissance, the Reformation and the War of the Roses. Maybe there will be a host who can bring people up to speed. But in general, this is not primarily about Henry and Anne’s sexytime. It’s about a crucial period in history when a number of factors converge to turn kingdoms into nations. This is when religion starts to take a back seat to government with its rules and regulations for everyone. Spoiler alert: both the feudal lords and the church do not like it one bit. I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader as to whether this fight is over.

Also, towards the middle of the series, you may have a completely different idea about who is responsible for England’s break with Rome.

The books were very good. I’ve read them both twice. Mantel’s style is a little non-linear so if you’re going to use the audible book as a cleaning distraction device, be aware that you might have to stop and back up a few times to figure out where you are in the story. But I would still rate them five sponges.

Mark Rylance is brilliant here as Cromwell, Damien Lewis (Brody from Homeland) is Henry VIII and Claire Foy is the hard to like Anne Boleyn. Here’s a preview from PBS:

2.) I read Atrios’ puzzlement over at Eschaton yesterday about why religious people care so much about preventing gay people from loving one another. I’m not sure I can adequately answer his questions but I will give it a try. Some people are completely unhinged by the idea that two men are having sex with one another. They can spend hours haranguing you about all the various forms of gay sex. They know more about gay sex that you do. If you’re straight, you may never even think about these things for more than a minute or two but the people affected by Gay Sex Derangement Syndrome think about it quite a lot. And not because they are secretly gay.

Part of this may be due to the religious narcissism I’ve alluded to before. It is my unprofessional opinion that authoritarian religious churches and belief systems attract people with a tendency towards narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). We can go over what causes NPD at another time but I’ve done enough reading on the subject to make me want to do real research into the subject and study psychology. But I digress.

Basically, the theory is that people with NPD have had trauma early in their lives and they were too young to develop adequate coping skills. Their parents may not have recognized that they needed psychological assistance to help them deal with this early trauma. So these affected individuals have personalities that do not mature in some respects. They may have low self esteem, remain childlike in some aspects of their lives and demand attention from others. They are deeply insecure people. They are very envious of others.

Religion is like a life saver to these people. We’re not talking about average religious people who go to church in times of crisis and like to belong to the community of worshippers. No, we’re talking about people who are attracted to certain authoritarian religions because the rules and personal sacrifices give them status in the eyes of others. They go to churches that make the most demands on them because they stand out as being more holy, dedicated, superior.

That feeds their narcissism because others will look up to them, defer to them, consider them more moral people. These people go on and on about how they are “Christian”. If you want to see a younger version of this, check out this video of young Ben Seewald talking about faith and salvation with his sister-in-law Jinger Duggar. It’s a bit much. How much sinning can you do at 14 when you’re never allowed out of site from one of your same sex siblings and everything you do is videotaped for a nationwide audience? But never mind, the Duggar and Seewald kids have been thoroughly indoctrinated by their parents and there are few couples out there who are bigger religious narcissists than Jim-Bob and Michelle Duggar. They feed off their kids and there are no boundaries between parents and kids. This is also a classic characteristic of people with NPD. Family members are not allowed to have thoughts, feelings or opinions of their own. They must be controlled by the NPD parents.

Now, what happens when you dedicate a cable channel to fluffing people with NPD? We could be talking about the 700 Club or the Van Impe’s but they’re mostly religious channels. It’s quite a different thing when a news channel gets involved because news people have authority. History is replete with examples of propaganda and mob violence lowering the bounds of what is acceptable. Think of the French Revolution and fascist Europe. Little by little, propagandists were able to wear away the mental walls we put up between what we know is good and what we really want to do. Places like Fox News give permission to tear down those walls. It calls them politically correct. It flatters the religious authoritarian. It encourages them to intrude on people’s boundaries and tells them that those people who are suffering deserve it because they aren’t godly.

Now, throw in a soupçon of disgust. I think I have a previous blog post on it. Disgust is very powerful in propaganda. You can bet that Fox and their affiliates milk the disgust angle for all it’s worth. It’s both tittilating and revolting. That is why your 76 year old aunt may know all the details about fisting even if you never gave it a second thought. People have a visceral reaction to disgusting things. And a lot of women who came of age before birth control were conditioned to respond with disgust to sexual behavior. It probably didn’t help that some of them joined religions that TOTALLY FREEEEEEAAAK OUT over pre-marital sex. We are talking extreme over reactions. There is nothing normal about this. It is a pathological reaction to non-marital sex of any kind. As I said before, I think societal conditioning and especially a ton of guilt conditioning has something to do with this.

Nevertheless, we’re talking about regular human beings here. They might be conditioned to overreact but they still have hormones. Just because society may have come down like a hammer on them, doesn’t mean they don’t get what it’s all about. But why should other people be allowed to enjoy what they never were allowed to enjoy? Why should they have donned a life long hair shirt while two gay guys do what they’re going to do with all their orifices (ewwww, disgusting)? If they can get away with it, what was the point of all this self-sacrifice? Doesn’t it diminish their own status if society starts to find gay behavior acceptable?

The last part of this overly long explanation is that people suffering from NPD do not experience empathy for other people. You might say that religious authoritarianism encouraged their NPD but it’s a chicken-egg conundrum. Why would anyone voluntarily subject their families to these harsh, unforgiving, joyless religions, intrude on their personal boundaries and toss them out of their lives at the first sign of independent thought? This happens to many children in fundamentalist Christian families. Dissent is not allowed- at all. You could get thrown out of your house, cut off from your family and torn from the community you’ve known all your lives. You can bet the Duggar kids know this.

Lack of empathy is necessary to behave this way towards people. It means that the NPD affected individual does not have the capacity to look at another person and see that person as a unique individual with feelings that are as strong and personal as oneself’s. Gay people, poor people, other people, children and spouses, well, they’re not really people to the NPD sufferer. They aren’t perceived as having true emotions, or love. They’re not allowed to be sad. Jeez, never say you’re upset about something to a person with NPD. You have no right to your feelings or personal needs. They don’t recognize that humanity in you. Only they are entitled to feelings. You are not.

If you don’t have empathy, it’s easier to be mean, cruel, unsympathetic and still sleep at night. I suppose this can vary throughout a NPD sufferer’s life but from what I have read, NPD sufferers tend to get worse as they age. In a way, this is understandable, especially if they are the religious NPD kind. It is likely that throughout their lifetime of religious zealotry, no one has adequately challenged them. That’s because in this society, we revere the religious devotee. We don’t see them as people who potentially have NPD. We simply see them as moral and godly. It is impolite to challenge them. It’s OK to say they’re nutz behind their backs but normal people who have empathy do not do this to other people’s faces. It might hurt their feelings. The religious NPD person counts on you to have respect for their feelings even as they have no intention of respecting yours. If you never challenge them, they get the idea that this religious gig is working for them. That makes it easier for them to control others, pass judgement and crap all over your life. They’ve been conditioned to behave intrusively.

The solution is to challenge the religious NPD sufferer. I’m not talking about the normal religious person who goes to church on Sunday and tells you about all the fun they had there. I’m referring to the person who conflates religion with their privilege to be part of the moral majority to tell you how to live. We are talking about the people who derive status from their judgmentalism.

We are now at a cross roads of sorts. If our evolving society wants to be inclusive and non-judgemental towards people whose lifestyles are none of our business, we have to become unpleasant towards people who have used religion as a screen behind which they hide their personality disorder. Those NPD sufferers have a very powerful media microphone right now and they are being used unwittingly by some very wealthy and well connected individuals who have a very specific agenda. The weird thing is that even knowing that they are tools of rich, powerful people might not be the turn off you would think it is. So, persistence is key here.

(If you DO successfully challenge, expect to be subjected to narcissistic rage. That’s a whole other blog post. It’s not like the kind of rage people experience rarely because they’re tired or frustrated with an ongoing situation with uncooperative people. No, this is something completely different. The mask comes off and you can see the real person hiding behind it. Their status and image has been threatened snd they want revenge. But once the mask comes off, you can’t be fooled again. You will see what all that religion has been hiding and it is not. pretty. Needless to say, it is not religious or holy either. Bill O’Reilly does narcissistic rage extremely well.)

Also, to challenge them, you simply need to reassert your boundaries. Their goal is to get you to lower your boundaries and allow them to control the conversation. They will rely on your conditioning to be polite to let them get away with it. Just don’t let them get away with it. If someone is intruding on your boundaries, THEY are the ones being rude. Assert your opinion until they either back down or go away. You have a right to believe that is not right to treat people badly, their families and loved ones unequally, just because some religious people find what they do behind closed doors icky. You have a right to demand that all public places and businesses treat everyone with courtesy, dignity and equality. You have the right to tell people that they’re being mean and their behavior is bullying and they need to stop or you’ll have nothing more to do with them. Deprive them of their status.

As Seth Andrews said last week, coexistence is not possible. Because if you back down in the name of coexistence and comity, they’re going to be the only ones speaking out about whatever the hell they want. Challenging the religious narcissist is not going to be easy or pleasant but it is vitally important because they are not going to stop with gay people.

Finally, people with NPD do not change. They aren’t going to have an epiphany and realize they have being bigoted jerks all their lives and suddenly become enlightened human beings. If they do, it’s because they see some advantage to it. They won’t change because NPD is a personality disorder. It is the way they see the world. They can’t change because they are not able to step outside the world they have carefully constructed for themselves. They will go to the grave wrecking vengeance on people who stood up to them. But eventually, they will go to their grave. That’s a prospect that the religious narcissist finds extremely unappealing. I predict you’ll find more religious NPD sufferers in rapture sects of Christianity because it is the ultimate status high. You never have to die but all those ungodly types who didn’t listen to you will.

So much for the whole resurrection concept. Happy Easter.

3.) The bus thing is going very well. Someone wrote in the comments yesterday that there is an attitude that only poor people take the bus. Well, I am here to tell you that if that’s true, they are incredibly smart poor people. The people on my bus are a diverse crowd but I’m just as likely to see businessmen in suits with briefcases and ladies in heels as anyone else.

In the last week, I’ve walked from a cold parking lot to a clean warm bus, read on the way, didn’t have to pay for parking and got off at my desired stop just a block from a Crazy Mocha where I was able to pick up a coffee and enjoy a nice brisk walk to my office.

I’d be stressed silly if I had to take a car downtown and pay for parking. So, mega Kudos to the PAT bus system, route P1 for making my life so easy last week. It was so much fun, I’m going to do it again next week.

The calculations of politicians: Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall is coming to America in April. I can’t wait. I’m relistening to Hillary Mantel’s books, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies right now and am fascinated by the precarious tight-rope walking job that Thomas Cromwell has to do in nearly every interaction he has with the aristocrats in King Henry VIII’s court. The following scene from the BBC2 production illustrates what it’s like to be the white trash playing in the blue blood pool. Here, Cromwell, an accomplished soldier and statesman from humble background, takes archery practice with Henry and his furry pack:

.

Let’s discuss the subtleties. Cromwell is thrice the man any of Henry’s hangers on are but he has to undercut his proficiency. He misses the target but gets close enough to make the others take notice. He is self deprecating. The target is not that far away, he says. Henry proposes he come down and meet the general populace, maybe even attend a practice with the butchers and the grocers. “We’d win for sure”, Cromwell says. But does he mean the team from Austin Friars would be unbeatable with Henry or does he mean the grocers and the butchers would deliberately lose to assuage Henry’s pride? Henry thinks the former, Cromwell means the latter and he drives this point home by neatly hitting the middle of the ring. Cromwell doesn’t need any help from the King where archery is concerned. Henry is delighted.

The nobles look uncomfortable.

The last thing they want is a competent, intelligent upstart who comes to trash the town and it isn’t even his town.

Ahhh, well. We only have to wait a few years before the nobles get their revenge for being shown up time and again by Cromwell. It’s all well and good that he made them a lot of money but why should they be forced to share it? Cromwell is too focused on the state and government and bureaucracy while their primary concern is government getting in the way of their personal property rights. They were bred for battle. Cromwell thinks wars are a waste of money. Cromwell thinks putting people to work on infrastructure projects would keep insurrections at bay. The nobles think poverty is just the way things are and why mess with God’s will?

Same as it ever was.

And it’s probably the same for any skillful politician who has a different agenda from the pedigreed who like things just the way they are, thank you very much. They find themselves having to talk in double entendres, deprecating themselves while excelling and trying to keep the wolves at bay. It requires the slickness of a serpent who speaks with a forked tongue to inch the aristocracy towards modernity.