Church as “public accommodation”?

I knew the logic, so I figured it was coming. I even started writing this blog some months ago.

But I was surprised to see it arrive so soon.

On Wednesday, two Christian churches filed a lawsuit in Hawaii federal district court claiming that individuals who are planning civil union ceremonies have already filed complaints with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission against churches that refuse to rent their facilities for same-sex civil union and marriage ceremonies. The complaint (full text) in Emmanuel Temple, The House of Praise v. Abercrombie, (D HI, filed 12/28/2011) claims that investigations launched by the Civil Rights Commission have a chilling effect on plaintiffs’ free exercise of religion. HRS Sec. 489-3 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in places of public accommodation.

(Religion Clause, emphasis added.)Read More »

Wikipedia Appeal

I’m forever linking to Wikipedia articles when I blog. I’m astonished at the breadth, and sometimes the depth, of its coverage.

So each year when Wikipedia fundraising time arrives, I give. Today, I got this e-mail, which speaks for iteself:

Dear [Tipsy],

Here’s how the Wikipedia fundraiser works: Every year we raise just the funds that we need, and then we stop.

Because you and so many other Wikipedia readers donated over the past weeks, we are very close to raising our goal for this year by December 31 — but we’re not quite there yet.

You’ve already done your part this year. Thank you so much. But you can help us again by forwarding this email to a friend who you know relies on Wikipedia and asking that person to help us reach our goal today by clicking here and making a donation. [I, Tipsy, have confirmed this this is a secure connection to Wikimedia Foundation.]

If everyone reading this email forwarded it to just one friend, we think that would be enough to let us end the fundraiser today.

Of course, we wouldn’t turn you down if you wanted to make a second donation or a monthly gift.

Google might have close to a million servers. Yahoo has something like 13,000 staff. We have 679 servers and 95 staff.

Wikipedia is the #5 site on the web and serves 470 million different people every month – with billions of page views.

Commerce is fine. Advertising is not evil. But it doesn’t belong here. Not in Wikipedia. Wikipedia is something special. It is like a library or a public park. It is like a temple for the mind. It is a place we can all go to think, to learn, to share our knowledge with others.

When I founded Wikipedia, I could have made it into a for-profit company with advertising, but I decided to do something different. We’ve worked hard over the years to keep it lean and tight. We fulfill our mission, and leave waste to others.

Thanks again for your support this year. Please help spread the word by forwarding this email to someone you know.

Thanks,
Jimmy Wales
Wikipedia Founder


You are receiving this email as a valued donor of the Wikimedia Foundation. If you do not wish to receive any future emails from the Wikimedia Foundation, unsubscribe instantly.

Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.
P.O. Box 98204
Washington, DC 20090-8204
United States of America

I gave. Go thou and do likewise.

“Most miserable” or “Christian Atheism”?

[N.B.: I inadvertently let a draft of this slip out briefly yesterday, and if you subscribe by RSS feeder, you may have seen it in all its flailing non-sequiturness. I apologize.]

I’ve blogged before, more times than I’ll take the trouble to count, how I had trouble believing the interpretive scheme of Bible eschatology I was taught from roughly age 14 until my repudiation of it in my late 20s. I believe I was quite right to doubt it and, from the three alternatives I knew, right again in the alternative I chose.

I guess I was a weird kid. Other scriptures – ones that nobody was obsessing about like they obsessed over Daniel 7 or Revelation 20 – attracted me.

Ephesians 4: 17-19 was one, and I love it still:

That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height — to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Sigh! I was in an Evangelical boarding school (whence the goofy eschatology) and the pious kids cited scripture in yearbook signatures. I cited that one again and again one year. Little did I know that I was asking for the deification of my classmates – a doctrine we all would have rejected (even as I was powerfully drawn to a scripture that teaches it and even though “sanctification” was officially in our soteriology).

Another attractor (which also was a puzzler) was Hebrews 5:12 – 6:2:

For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.

What the author describes as “milk” and “foundation” seemed to me like meaty and lofty graduate level stuff. And if you limit yourself to the Bible and Evangelical commentaries, I suspect it will seem the same to you. It doesn’t seem as puzzling to me any more. For one thing, what you build on that foundation is a life, not more doctrine.

But there was at least one passage the conclusion of which I thought was just plain wrong, or culture-bound, or something:

Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

I Corinthians 15:12-19 (emphasis added).

I had no problem with the stuff about the resurrection, though an epiphany made the resurrection more real to me a few years later. But as for being “most miserable,” although I don’t recall having heard of Pascal’s Wager, I would have endorsed it emphatically — as I think many of my classmates would have.

I’d have said, and believe I did say in substance, “Despite all that, if in this life only we American Evangelical elite kids have ‘hope in Christ,’ we’re still having a really good time.” Even in public school, there was a Protestant hegemony, a civil religion with which we were all-too-comfortable. Christianity was just the Hap-Hap-Happiest Life in the World. And if we had immortal souls, what did the body have to do with it, and why did it need to be resurrected anyway?

For some reason, I started thinking about that again lately. I now agree much more with Paul, but then (a) I’ve gone through two pretty big religious changes since high school and (b) I’m an old coot now. But still, I started wondering why I used to think (although one would never had said such a thing aloud) that Paul was wrong, and why I don’t think so any more.

Well, for one thing, Christianity was in no way a status-enhancing choice in Paul’s day. Getting killed was a real risk. It just wasn’t all that uncommon for one to have a choice of denying the faith or suffering some manner of gruesome execution. And if you lived, you fasted regularly (food and sex), prayed seven times and day, were cast out of the synagogue (the worship in which became the foundation of Christian liturgy) and, in the earliest days at least, entered voluntarily into poverty.

Yup, it was pretty miserable unless you got heaven as a reward. And the body? Well, it was so much a part of who we are that The Word became flesh to redeem it.

By my high school days, Evangelicalism had much improved the faith. We’d given up silly stuff like fasting (“bodily exercise profiteth little” and “traditions of men” were our mantras). We were developing a parallel “Christian” commercial culture. We had some nationally-known preachers, including Billy Graham who hung out with Presidents, and touring Gospel Choirs for those who loved limelight.

Thus we had done unconsciously and in reality what Constantine had done mostly in our Romophobic dreams: made Christianity respectable and remunerative, and thus attracted a lot of lukewarm and even outright hypocrites (I could name some names).

Today, we’ve kicked it up another notch and another 5 decibels: Megachurches, with rock-star pastors; niche marketing of worship styles; Christian TV Networks; seven-figure salaries for “Ministry;” Jim and Tammy Fae; Stryper and the rest of CCM; Praise Bands; Phil DriscollChristian Yellow Pages; and abandonment of doctrine (unless it’s “God wants you to be rich”) as divisive.

Poor Paul. If only he had known then what we know now. You can have it all. It’s like a whole ‘nuther religion. There’s even a Wikipedia entry for “Christian Atheism” now.

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If you’re one of the weird kids, and you want to be the kind of Christian, like poor Paul, for whom little matters like the Resurrection really matter, I know it’s hard to find a Church that hasn’t abandoned doctrine, asceticism, silence and prayer. If you try to take  doctrine, asceticism, silence and prayer to your own Church, you’re apt to encounter dogs in the manger, yapping “traditions of men!,” “legalism!,” or some such.

You could try, in good consumerist fashion, to start your own quiet, fasting, prayerful Church. You could call it something like “emergent.”

But the Church has been here all along, though it has tended to be off-puttingly ethnic. That’s changing. We’re trying to get the word out. We just don’t know how to make some quiet good news audible over the clamor of the yapping dogs, cash registers and Praise Bands. (Does boldface help?)

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Standing advice on enduring themes.

Dan Terry, R.I.P.

My friend, Greg Kostraba, lost his Dad today at the V.A. Hospital in Danville.

Friends losing parents is becoming more frequent, and I’ve felt the cold breath on my own neck a time or two. But I think this is the first time a friend has lost a Dad who has a Wikipedia article about him. As a jazz lover, I’m intrigued:

Dan Terry (b. Daniel Kostraba, December 22, 1924, Kingston, PA, d. December 27, 2011, Danville, IL) was a big band leader, arranger, and trumpet and flugelhorn player who appeared in Birdland with Dinah WashingtonSarah VaughanChris ConnorJohnny Smith, and other jazz luminaries …

Check it out.

Thought crime?

I’ve been suffering a bit of cognitive indigestion, as a cluster of blogs styled “Alternative Right” I’ve begun guardedly following has lobbed a timely but disconcerting claim my way:

Ron Paul has a real chance of winning next week’s Iowa caucuses. And not surprisingly “the Smearbund” (as Murray Rothbard termed it) has returned—along with discussion of those newsletters, which have haunted the Congressman for 15 years.

The GOP establishment will tolerate Paul so long as he remains a folksy and charming long-shot. (He’s even useful in that he keeps Constitution-thumping die-hards within the Republican fold.) But the second it looks like the man might actually win, the gloves come off.

To be sure, most of the smears of Paul’s brand of Old-Right libertarianism are unfair and ungrounded; and they usually amount to a variation on theme—“You don’t want to invade [Insert Middle Eastern Country], ergo you endorse [Insert cruel dictator]! Such logic is invariably accompanied by allusions to Hitler, “the lessons of Munich,” yadayadayada. (This past week Dorothy Rabinowitz shrieked that Paul is a “propagandist for our enemies.”)

That being said, the claim that Paul’s newsletters from the ‘90s are “racist” (at least as that word is commonly defined) is, in fact, quite fair.

One can defend most of what is written on libertarian, non-racial grounds, as Justin Raimondo did in his powerful 2008 piece from Takimag. But the fact remains that the newsletters were “racist” in the sense that race is real—it has a remarkable analytic and predictive capacity—and the newsletter authors (whoever they might be) were willing to “go there.”

(Emphasis added) You can read the whole thing here, if so inclined, though I suspect you may not be.

I’ve been much more inclined to the “race is a pigment of the imagination” view than the “race … has remarkable analytic and predictive capacity” view.

I’m a man of the Right, I think. Maybe off the right end of the modern scale, even, though there seem to be enough kindred spirits if only in cyberspace. I’m almost certainly off the right end of the lamestream media’s scale, which runs from right liberals to left liberals.

I’m willing to be contrarian. Since I’m not running for office, I’m willing to grab “third rails” like Social Security, suggesting that retirement age should be raised with life expectancies and that retirement benefits should be indexed to cost of living, rather than to wages of those still working.

I’m not overly solicitous of claims that words hurt someone’s feelings, or that we must crush every eccentric who, despite being in the marketplace, might choose not to serve certain people.

I’m even willing to say that human equality does not require deluding ourselves about every human being being equally gifted in all areas of life and art, and that the way things have developed over generations, some aptitudes may be broadly correlated with skin pigmentation. I won’t use examples, but if you can’t think of any prominent and high-paying jobs where people with dark skin are disproportionately represented – maybe during the commercial breaks in pro sports – you’re probably not trying very hard.

So why am I hesitant to grasp the nettle and celebrate all the little (and big?) indicia of possible racial differences?

I guess it’s because I intuitively grasp that we’re still living in black slavery’s denouement (I don’t think we’re to epilogue yet); because “Three generations of imbeciles are enough” and Lebensunwerten Lebens still ring in my ears; because I fear our judicially robed and medically smocked “betters” as much as our possum-eating “inferiors;” because I especially fear our scientifically smocked techno-triumphalists (H/T James Howard Kunstler, who uses the term differently), including the folks at Monsaton, who are just dying to try out various embryonic stem cell tricks, transhumanist gene-splicing, and patenting of life forms.

Race simply remains a minefield that I’m not willing to enter, as I think the risk of doing so – feeding some grand, hubristic social engineering project – vastly outweighs the potential benefit – changing our ill-informed individual and mediating structure biases and idiosyncrasies from reflexive to scientific.

I’m also reminded of the ambiguity of political spectra and terms like Left, Right, Liberal, Conservative and so forth.

Thanks for reading. This blog has very much been one of the “I write to see what I think (or why I feel this way)” variety.

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Standing advice on enduring themes.

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

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This always, for some obvious reasons, brings joy to my heart. It also brings a smile to my face.

Today is born of a Virgin He who holds the whole creation in His hand.
Today is born of a Virgin He who holds the whole creation in His hand.
Today is born of a Virgin He who holds the whole creation in His hand.
He whose essence none can touch is bound in swaddling clothes as a Child.

God who in the beginning established the heavens lies in a manger.
He who rained manna on His people in the wilderness is fed on milk at His mother’s breast.
The Bridegroom of the Church summons the wise men. The Son of the Virgin accepts their gifts.

We worship Thy birth, O Christ.
We worship Thy birth, O Christ.
We worship Thy birth, O Christ.
Show us also Thy divine Theophany.

My Arabic is essentially non-existent, but here’s a rendition of the same hymn (I think) in a concert setting by an aging Lebanese Cantor who’s a real inspiration:

… and nobody came?

What if they gave a Church service and nobody came?

To 10% of Protestant Churches, the answer is “preemptively cancel if you think that will happen.” That’s what’s happening this Sunday, as Christmas inconveniently falls on Sunday: Sunday yields to the commercial bacchanalia (“cherished domestic traditions” if you prefer sentimentalist delusion).

This is related to the tension between two Christmas calendars, the shopping mall calendar and the ecclesiastic calendar. The former officially starts on “Black Friday,” but may be creeping backward, the latter on December 25 (anticipated by Advent in the West, the Nativity Fast in the East).

… Washington Post scribe Hank Stuever, author of that snarky but fine book called “Tinsel: A Search for America’s Christmas Present[]” … told me that, while he was researching that book, he decided that big event is the day that the National Retail Federation releases it’s first official forecast of precisely how many billions of dollars Americans will be spend during any particular Holiday marketing season. Once that press release hits reporters’ email in-boxes, he said, “there’s no stopping it. Here comes Christmas, whether you’re ready or not.”

And what about the other Christmas, the supposedly religious one?

The problem on the religion side of this equation these days is that the overwhelming majority of American churches — especially the so-called megachurches of evangelicalism — are essentially doing Christmas according to the shopping-mall calendar, not the calendar of the church year.

Stuever thinks that’s the truth, and so does the dean of the School of Theology at the very, very conservative Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Pause and roll that duo over in your mind for a moment.

Moore told me:

Many evangelicals fear the “cold formalism” that they associate with churches that follow the liturgical calendar and the end result, he said, is “no sense of what happens when in the Christian year, at all.” Thus, instead of celebrating ancient feasts such as Epiphany, Pentecost and the Transfiguration, far too many American church calendars are limited to Christmas and Easter, along with cultural festivities such as Mother’s Day, the Fourth of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving and the Super Bowl.

(Terry Mattingly, emphasis added.) If the shopping mall calendar says that the morning of December 25 is for gift giving and cookies, well how dare the Bride of Christ a mere church say otherwise?

I guess canceling church makes perfect sense once Church becomes theater. No audience, no show, right?

But what if Church isn’t theater? What if it’s Liturgy and Eucharist? What if there’s always a great cloud of witnesses waiting for us to join them? I reflected on this early in the life of this blog, and it seems like a good time to reprise it.

Merry Christmas. Hope your Church is open. If not, mine is.

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Courts decide cases

There’s been considerable buzz about Newt’s dissing of the courts. Here, here and here are three not entirely random examples. I’m annoyed that some critics think it unnecessary to quote what he actually said or to provide context. The closest I can readily come now is this.

When I first heard of Newt’s comments, I thought, “he has half a point, and a venerable precedent, but this is demagogic campaign material” (or something that distills to that).

I’m not going to try to whitewash what he said. I’m not going to try to track down the exact quote. I’m instead going to utter a truth that too few people know: Courts decide cases.

Huh?! Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?! What’s unusual about that?

Well, let me digress a minute. I caught all kinds of flack a few years ago when our local newspaper editorialized that the Bill of Rights was the heart of the Constitution and I replied – accurately, and I stand by it still – that the heart of the Constitution was the establishment of our polity: three branches, separation of powers, how Congressmen and Senators were to be elected and all that boring stuff.

I then made the mistake of visiting the paper’s website, where the self-confidence is high, the IQs incredibly, depressingly low. I found myself roasted there (by people who couldn’t have discovered fire on their own) for being right-wing (a little lame, but reality-based) and stupid (utterly wrong).

Well, just as the Bill of Rights has captured the imagination of people who couldn’t tell you what the “Bill of Rights” was, let alone any of its history, but who are confident that “like, free speech and freedom from religion and stuff” are the heart of the constitution, so has precedent and constitutional law captured the imagination of the public as being what courts do.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Courts decide cases.

What do I mean by that? First, that there has to be a beef between/among two or more people. If there isn’t, you can’t get into court. You and your buddy can’t go to the court and say, “Hey, we were wondering about the meaning of Indiana Code 30-5-3-4(b) and wondered if you could explain it.” One of our problems  nationally has been to put too much stock in court decisions where the parties were, if not in collusion, sharing a lot of presuppositions that were dubious. Think, for instance, of the recent spate of liberals refusing to vigorously defend laws they don’t like — Proposition 8 in California, DOMA at the Federal Level. Excuse me, but I’m not going to prostrate before a decision where one of parties threw the game, (“Say it ain’t so, Jerry.”)

Second, that most case are not appealed and not reported. They set no “precedent.” But after the time for appeal has run, the judgment is final and precludes most re-opening of the dispute between the parties. There’s no precedent set. There’s no constitutional law invoked or made.

Third, let me illustrate with some abbreviated history. When the United States Supreme Court (you do know that each state has a Supreme Court too?) decided the notorious Dred Scott case, it became a bone of contention between Lincoln and Douglas, and on June 26, 1857, Lincoln set forth his position:

And now as to the Dred Scott decision. That decision declares two propositions—first, that a Negro cannot sue in the U.S. Courts; and secondly, that Congress cannot prohibit slavery in the Territories. It was made by a divided court—dividing differently on the different points. Judge Douglas does not discuss the merits of the decision; and, in that respect, I shall follow his example, believing I could no more improve on McLean and Curtis, than he could on Taney.
He denounces all who question the correctness of that decision, as offering violent resistance to it. But who resists it? Who has, in spite of the decision, declared Dred Scott free, and resisted the authority of his master over him?
Judicial decisions have two uses—first, to absolutely determine the case decided, and secondly, to indicate to the public how other similar cases will be decided when they arise. For the latter use, they are called “precedents” and “authorities.”
We believe, as much as Judge Douglas, (perhaps more) in obedience to, and respect for the judicial department of government. We think its decisions on Constitutional questions, when fully settled, should control, not only the particular cases decided, but the general policy of the country, subject to be disturbed only by amendments of the Constitution as provided in that instrument itself. More than this would be revolution. But we think the Dred Scott decision is erroneous. We know the court that made it, has often over-ruled its own decisions, and we shall do what we can to have it to over-rule this. We offer no resistance to it.

There you have it: “Judicial decisions have two uses—first, to absolutely determine the case decided, and secondly, to indicate to the public how other similar cases will be decided when they arise.”

Lincoln gave absolute deference to the Supreme Court’s determination of poor Dred Scott’s fate: “Who has, in spite of the decision, declared Dred Scott free, and resisted the authority of his master over him?” (That’s called a rhetorical question, you denizens of newspaper comboxes, and the implied answer is “Nobody, stupid!”) Dred Scott was, more’s the pity, a slave.

But Lincoln did not bow to the precedent, the court’s indication “to the public how other similar cases will be decided when they arise.” Rather, he promised to seek overruling of the precedent.

So far, so good. Few who understand jurisprudence would disagree.

Now I’m going to take it one step further, into territory where people with IQs higher than the Farenheit thermometer on an August Hoosier day might disagree. I think that when an elected official vows to uphold the constitution – and they all do – it is legitimate to ignore a precedent – a prediction of how similar cases will be decided henceforth – where the official has a deep-seated and defensible view of the constitution contrary to what the precedent implies.

The vow, after all, is to uphold the Constitution – not to bow to the United States Supreme Court’s interpretation thereof, let alone to the interpretation of some lower court.

I thought there was a hint in Newt’s original remark, now lost in a fog of bombast, that he might actually understand that point. And I thought of the Dred Scott precedent.

But whether or not Newt gets it, you now should, gentle reader.

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After I wrote this, and even after my first “dawn’s early light” revision of something I “put to bed” last night (I inserted the requirement of a real legal beef), Newt got a defense on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal. E.g.,

Congress routinely asks executive branch officials outside the White House to testify about their decisions. It occasionally subpoenas them to compel attendance, and arrest would be a last resort. It’s unclear why applying the same rules to the judicial branch threatens the separation of powers, especially if done in the context of considering judicial reform proposals like Mr. Gingrich’s.

I’ve got a problem with that. Courts already explain their decisions, officially, in writing. That’s why they call them “opinions.” That’s why one Judge/Justice may write an “opinion” that “concurs in the result” but offers a materially different rationale. I fear the only reason for asking judges to explain their decisions to Congress is to badger and grandstand.

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Standing advice on enduring themes.