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In Beto O’Rourke’s own words

September 22, 2018

Ted Cruz tweeted a video of Beto O’Rourke speaking about the killing of Botham Jean, presumably because Cruz thinks the video makes O’Rourke look bad. And I suspect to Cruz’s core supporters, it might. To the rest of us, O’Rourke’s words are compassionate and understandable. And it is rather odd that Cruz would tweet this, unless he is intentionally giving some cred to his opponent. If that turns out to be Cruz’s intent, I will give some cred to Cruz. My suspicion is otherwise, and that the tweet might soon disappear. So watch below while it remains.

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The pretense

September 21, 2018

ConfederateFlagsPaul Waldman asks the question every Republican should answer, who wants to claim that the movement behind Trump doesn’t have white resentment at its core.

Part of that pretense is a fantasy that now has become common, pushed by people like D’Souza, that the GOP never had a southern strategy. That’s rather laughable to anyone who lived in the south in the 60s and 70s. Kevin Kruse takes it on directly.

Hat tip to ACB for posting that first article.

Symptoms and causes

September 20, 2018

Lili Loufbourow writes the sadly necessary piece about the misogynist defense being mounted for Kavanaugh. Just as the rise of Trump shows a danger more vicious and more lasting than him, the nature of the movement that he rode to power, some of the defense of Kavanaugh also reveals the ugly underbelly from which it comes.

Westward, ho!

September 19, 2018

JohnWestleyPowellThe pioneers moved west for a better life, settled land, largely overcame hardship, and made this nation. That is the tale every American likes to hear, with novelists and screenwriters happy to serve the desire.

In much of the west, there is another tale. Hundreds of thousands of Americans were seduced by slick marketing pitches, moved out west, managed for a few lucky years, then saw their fortunes lost, their families wrecked, and their lives wrung out. The ones who made out were the railroads, banks, and marketers. That tale’s lone hero is John Wesley Powell, a tough as nails surveyor (see photo) and geologist. And then, as now, those who stood to make money didn’t let science get in their way.

The 100th meridian — or rather, the divide it represents — may be shifting east. Due to global warming.

The times are weird

September 18, 2018

FullCircle.pngNot in my most extreme imaginings in 2016 did I ever dream that Trump would deprive his followers of the basic joys of watching the NFL, of slipping on a new pair of athletic shoes (NKE is up), of driving their Ford pickups without guilt, and of listening to their favorite country ballads.

All Democrats wanted to do was get them health insurance and push aside their conspiracy theories. That last was the step they would not take. They like their red pills. The thing about the deplorables is that they never seem to realize it’s their own shoes they’re pissing on.

The 70s were weird. But we sure were wrong in thinking we somehow had turned the cultural corner and left all that Bircher bullshit behind.

Decline of American Catholicism?

September 17, 2018

Every prophetic religion has to play one intellectual trick. It has to convince people that there are a special few to whom the gods have communicated. And that it alone correctly identifies those few, and distinguishes them from the millions and millions of people who think they have visions, visitations, angelic communications, spiritual insights, etc., but who in fact are just ordinary people sometimes fooling themselves, or worse, the outright delusional and clinically crazy, or possibly, people running a con. Those who put their trust into a certain set of prophets are trusting even more the religion that teaches: “these are the real prophets.”

No one knows who wrote most parts of the Bible, who edited them, who selected them. Why does the Bible include Revelations rather than any of the many other volumes of apocalyptic literature written about the same time and place? Why do most Protestant churches omit books that the Catholic Church includes? Hundreds of millions of Christians believe “the” Bible is the very word of their god, yet are completely ignorant of how it came to be.

To give it a bit of credit, the Catholic Church faces that dilemma a bit more squarely than most Protestant churches. Its answer is that believers can trust the scripture it offers, and as importantly the interpretation it offers, because they both come through it, the Church that Jesus established and leads. That explanation is a bit circular, but still more sensible than the Protestant notion of sola scriptura. Which largely shoves such questions under the rug.

The practical problem with pointing to the Church itself as a holy and trusted source is that the Church has a terribly ugly and untrustworthy history. Its recent cover up of the sexual abuse of thousands of children by priests is one of its smaller crimes. This is the Church that decimated southern France to destroy a competing Christian sect, that sided with Franco, that burned heretics alive. To name just a few. Most of its atrocities were done openly, many ordered by the Popes of the time, in Jesus’s name. I always laugh when I hear someone defend the Conquistadors, by reference to the Aztecs practicing human sacrifice. As if the Catholics didn’t carry the inquisition to Mexico, didn’t have auto da fes there, didn’t burn alive Jews there. Those who believe the Church uniquely among earthly institutions is and has been guided by Jesus need to take a more jaundiced look at its history.

Unlike protestants, Catholics who become disenfranchised from their Church have no place to run, except that they make a major change in their religion. Congregants of a Southern Baptist church whose preacher is caught in sexual scandal can fire that preacher and hire another and wash their hands of the mess. Or they can move to another Baptist church that has nothing to do with the first. Or to a protestant church in a non-Baptist sect, but almost indistinguishable from it.

There is no Catholic diocese that has nothing to do with the next, and all are bound to the Church hierarchy. When Pittsburgh priests are discovered to have run a child porn ring, when high Vatican officials are being prosecuted for child abuse, when multiple states are forming task forces to investigate child abuse by priests, and when coverups for sex abuse extend up the hierarchy, possibly to the Pope, a Catholic cannot find a religious home apart from all that, and still remain Catholic. That is the practical weakness to making a human institution a central part of theology. A grave weakness in this era when it can’t use torture to control dissenters.

So perhaps the recent scandals are part of the reason that the Catholic Church is the religion in America that is experiencing the most departure to other religions. It’s too bad most of those leaving land in some alternate church. Maybe they fear the cost of shucking religious faith entirely is too high?

What do these latest scandals really change about the Church? Not much. They are minor compared to its past acts. The vast majority of Catholics will remain faithful despite them. There is a large dose of irony when American Christians wonder how people in foreign lands can stay true to their barbaric religions, with Islam especially in the crosshairs. Religions work the same the world around. They are taught to children literally at their mother’s knees. They provide the rituals that people use to marry and to bury. They frame the cycle of the year with holidays. And the vast majority of people so raised then will stick to their mother religion, faithful for the rest of their life. Even though it teaches nonsense. Even though it has a history of atrocities. The very familiarity of one’s mother religion makes its warts seem manageable, while the strangeness of a foreign religion makes its warts seem cancerous. That is so even between sects of the same religion. Catholics cannot imagine how anyone belongs to a sect of snakehandlers. Yet they somehow manage with their own church still believing in witches.

P Z Myers writes a commonsense post on the historicity of Jesus. The bottomline for most people in the secular world is that there is little reason to think we know much at all about a historical Jesus.

Even if it shrinks, I expect the Catholic Church to remain a large part of America for decades to come. American Catholics can take some comfort that their church isn’t as doomed as the Church of England. The Catholic Church is declining only in the west. It is holding its own in the south. Photo shows a Pittsburgh restaurant and brewery created inside a former cathedral.

Losing faith

September 16, 2018

A-picnic-Henry-Nelson-ONeillNeil Carter has a good post on the real things he lost, when he left religion. I doubt that many people losing their faith are acting on any kind of cost-benefit analysis. If so, they likely should stick with their religion. Not as a result of such analysis, but because thinking that is how beliefs can be or should be chosen indicates they still have a mindset more fitting religion.

Nonetheless, it is good for those leaving a religion to have a notion of the road ahead. I suspect that road is a bit less bumpy today, than in decades past.