Friday, April 21, 2006

Freedom of Religion

Amendment No. 1 (in part):

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .

But what, may I inquire, is "religion?"  Usually in legal matters, Judges favor the common, dictionary meaning of words.  According to, Religion's first definition is:

  1. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe.
  2. A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship.

That seems pretty straightforward and comprehensive.  Currently though, conservatives are using religion as a means of justifying discriminatory policies.  For example, in Boston, the flap over gay adoptions.  Religion does not equate with adoption.  Every rational person would of course concur that obstructing someone's freedom to worship as their conscience dictates is a bad thing.  But adoptions aren't worship. 

Likewise, a classroom is not a church.  Schools which accept public funds cannot unilaterally discriminate and justify that by freedom of religion.  When they unite with the state, then the state calls the shots.  One of the tenants of American society is equal access. 

I wonder if religion is really compatible with democracy.   

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Shun the Queer

In a remarkable feat of under-reporting, today relates the story of a bill up before the senate that will allow Christian colleges and universities to legally discriminate against homosexuals even if their local jurisdiction has laws which prevent it.  What's the name of the bill?  Who is opposing it?  How likely is it to pass?  Will it be able to overcome a constitutional challenge which might be brought against it under Romer v. Evans, the 1992 Supreme Court decision which invalidated Colorado's Proposition 2?  In that case Justice Scalia opined that proposition 2 was an attempt to inhibit a sexual morality which the majority of Coloradans disfavored, and was thus constitutional.  I don't pretend to understand that reasoning except that in Justice Scalia's view, discriminating against gays is A-okay, as long as a majority feels that way.

Moreover, seems to think that only students will be the ones affected by this bill.  Not so.  Faculty and staff will presumably be able to be summarily dismissed if the fact of their homosexuality becomes public.

One wonders why, though.  Why is it so important for the Christian colleges to exclude gay people from their community?  I believe it goes to the practice of shunning.

1 Corinthians 5:11-13: But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. Expel the wicked man from among you."

For many Christians, especially fundamentalists, homosexuality (even if it is physically unexpressed) is de facto evidence of immorality and wickedness.

The hypocrisy enters the equation when they take a "don't ask/don't tell" approach.  You can remain in our community only as long as you remain silent.  You can do wicked things as long as you don't speak wickedness.  For fundamentalists, homosexuality is irredeemably wicked and must not be tolerated in any way, even to speak of it, much less to speak of it as anything positive.  Thus they want the right to shun those with whom they disagree.  Shunning is a time honored practice among religious communities.  It is a method of exclusion and punishment.  Religious groups in the West can't put the wicked to death, but shunning becomes the psychological equivalent.  The shunned is symbolically put to death.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Write What You Know

There's a cache to the "based on true events" moniker that ad execs slap on the trailers to certain movies.  Most recently, Wolf Creek, which is based on two horrific stories out of Australia, the "Back Packer" killer Ivan Milat and the Snowtown bank vault bodies.  For one reason or another, the idea that a story actually happened has more gravitas than those stories which writers imagine out of whole cloth.  As we all know, truth is stranger than fiction, and if some author had written the central facts of the O.J. Simpson case, for example, or Gianni Versace's murder, such would have been labelled "unbelievable." 

Audiences, including readers, are constantly on guard for fraud.  If a tv show or movie is so convincing as to make an audience member wonder if it actually happened, this is a reaction that equates with success. 

Thus we come to the publishing industry crisis of 2005-2006: memoirs that aren't.  James Frey's A Million Little Pieces and JT LeRoy's The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things.  In the first instance, the author neglected to give full disclosure of his amplification of certain events from his experience.  This kind of tall tale telling or yarn spinning is fine as long as the audience is clued in.  But when one purports to have the high seriousness of absolute honesty, then accusations of hypocrisy or worse, downright lying, will attach.  These are chickens that come home to roost.  And they're so easy to avoid, so the author is at once disingenuous and stupid.  Doltish, even.  Then there's The Heart is Deceitful... which was marketed as a semi-autobiographical novel.  Fair enough, as long as the author, JT LeRoy's experience informed the circumstances in the novel.  Since it was about a youngster who grew up in sadistic surroundings and became a male prostitute as JT LeRoy was himself purported to have done, the novel achieved a certain gravitas. 

The problem was, JT LeRoy didn't exist.  He was the creation of a middle-aged female novelist from Brooklyn.  The fraud was further perpetrated by the author, who had her husband and sister pose as LeRoy for publicity purposes.  It is one thing to read about teenage and pre-teen sexuality from the point of view of a victim of sexual abuse.  It is wholly another to read it from the point of view of a fevered, middle-aged imagination.  The readership, confronted with evidence of their own hypocrisy, reacted with outrage. 

So, this brings me to my point.  Where are the boundaries between fiction, non-fiction, narrative non-fiction and memoir?  Impossible to tell as they are obviously subjective and mutable.  Full disclosure on the part of creative artists can do much to mitigate public outrage.  Readers will forgive you if they disagree with you.  But you can't lie.

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

The Judas Goat

The Judas Goat is a trained animal, who leads the other animals up the ramp to their deaths at the slaughterhouse. 

I have a big problem with Judas Iscariot, not the individual, but the way in which he's been portrayed in Christian dogma.  Supposedly, Judas committed the most unpardonable sin imaginable when he betrayed Jesus.  (I can't remember if it was to Pilate, the Sanhedrin, or Herod).  However, unless Jesus was crucified and rose again, His plan of expiating the sin of the world through his own suffering would not have come to pass.  So Judas performed a significant role in the salvation of mankind.  Yet most Christians are secure in the belief that Judas sits right between Adolf Hitler, Ted Bundy and Lee Harvey Oswald in Hell.

In The Greatest Story Ever Told, which I believe is the best cinematic depiction of the life of Christ--despite its many flaws--the relationship between Jesus and Judas is problematic.  Jesus is never explicit with Judas.  He allows Judas free will.  He knows that something is up with Judas, but as all things serve the Lord (i.e. Himself) then he can fully trust that Judas will take actions that benefit the glory of God even as the result of the most sinful conduct.

When Jesus says "my kingdom is not of this world" perhaps he meant Judas, too.  That Judas' struggle was internal: a problem of pride, a problem of misplaced idealism, and a problem of rebellion.  Perhaps Judas saw Jesus as a rival, someone who took control of an otherwise egalitarian sect.  Or perhaps Judas saw Jesus, in proclaiming his own divinity, as foresaking their earlier principles.  Or perhaps Judas saw some of the glory of God in Christ and recoiled from it--as its light exposed the most horrific sinful nature. 

But again, if it was God's will that Jesus suffer and die on the cross, is not Judas an agent of that same will?

I used to think so.  But not now.  We tend to accept that on face value because that's what happened in the story.  However, who is to say that if Judas had rejected temptation and in full humility accepted Christ and stayed by his side, Jesus wouldn't have fallen into Roman custody in some other way?  All Jerusalem was looking for him.  It was really only a matter of time. 

Judas was tempted and succumbed.  He heaped more sin on top of that by dying in despair by his ownhand.  However Jesus said, "Forgive them for they know not what they do."  That statement had to include Judas, too.  So I'm not sure.  I won't presume.  And if I find on the Day of Resurrection that Judas' name is written in the Book of Life, then I won't be astonished.