The Aspirin Papers

Henry James’ novella, The Aspern Papers, is about an unscrupulous obsessive who tries to deceive two vulnerable women to obtain the objects of his desire, the letters of a long-dead poet.

This, “The Aspirin Papers,” is about a group of unscrupulous obsessives who try to deceive all of America to fulfill their obsessive desire: a return to an ancient dreamtime when men ruled the universe and women, when not dutifully and passively prone before their masters, kept their mouths shut.

Reference is made, obviously, to the following comment from Foster Friess the Fabulous Plutocrat and Rick Santorum mega-contributor:

You know, back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.

Friess was commenting on the wildly anachronistic dust-up over contraception, during which some Catholic bishops and other members of Friess’ all-male club decided that employers ought to have the right to deny insurance coverage of contraceptives to their female employees.

The scoundrel and narrator of James’ story, says, “It is not supposed easy for women to rise to the large free view of anything.” Friess & Company agree, I assume, and call upon science to confirm that “the large free view” is simply unavailable to womankind owing to the decumbency of their holy and true vocations, pleasing men and birthing babies.

Implicit in Friess’ statement is the belief that women are always there before their male superiors, their legs open and inviting. Depending upon circumstances, this is, in the Friess frame, either proper, wifely duty or such devilish temptation that it is too much to ask even god-faring men to resist. Therefore, steps must be taken. Here, ladies, please hold this aspirin in place with your knees until you are called upon. Continue reading “The Aspirin Papers”

We’re No Angels: Americans, Church Doctrine, and the Pill

What’s all the fuss about Americans not following religious doctrine? Seriously, we all know that none of us dance and drink as passionately as Baptists. Few are as happy with the invention of the Pill as Catholics. Many seem grateful that Jesus’ plea to help the poor is taken no more seriously than an Ogden Nash poem.

Oh, I have no doubt that Catholic Church leaders are quite frustrated that their flock no longer does what they are ordered to do by the self-regarding, closer-to-god Church hierarchy. And, it’s probably true that Mormons are, as these things go, a little more obedient to doctrine, right down to their underwear, than members of most other faiths. Credit where credit is due.

Lurking behind the church/state controversy over the morally righteous effort to make contraceptives available to American women is the certain truth that even the most devout Catholics ignore the Church’s medieval doctrine on this one. The controversy was truly like arguing about the number of angels on the head of a pin. There are no angels; there are no pins. Just pundits and panderers.

Denial may not be a river an Egypt, as the 12-steppers say, but it’s broader than the Mississippi in America. If there’s anything we do better than escaping religious doctrine, it’s denying that we escape it.

Now, it must be admitted that many can get themselves into a righteous snit when they discover that others have also sawed through the bars and run away across the fields. High-tailing it to freedom like the trio of miscreants in O Brother Where Art Thou, they look over their shoulders and shout at the escapees behind them, “Get thee back to God’s House, sinners!” Their indignation is born of two parents: seeing themselves unhappily mirrored in their doctrine-denying brethren makes their denial a little more difficult; and, they are worried about the lack of parking spaces near the bars, the dancehalls, and the contraceptive-dispensing pharmacies.

Speaking of the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, the scene where Delmar is saved by the preacher may be the most accurate portrayal of Americans and faith on film:

Delmar: Well, that’s it, boys. I been redeemed. The preacher done washed away all my sins and transgressions. It’s the straight and narrow from here on out. And heaven everlasting’s my reward.

Everett: Delmar, what are you on about? We got bigger fish to fry.

Delmar: The preacher said all my sins is washed away,
including that Piggly Wiggly I knocked over in Yazoo.

Everett: You said you was innocent of that.

Delmar: Well, I was lyin’. And the preacher said that that sin’s been washed away, too. Neither God nor man’s got nothin’ on me now.

Secretly, we’re all thankful for the First Amendment’s separation of church and state. God forbid (pardon the reference) that the State should enforce church doctrines under penalty of the criminal law. If we think we have a prison crisis now…

So what’s behind all the hooting and hollering over the Obama Administration’s contraception initiative? Why is it that even some progressive pundits are arguing for more deference to the Catholic Bishops on an issue that’s not even about religious freedom, but women’s health? I think it’s because they feel we’re not showing enough deference to pretense. That the health of American women would be put at risk by such deference is kind of beside the point.

I don’t mean to in any way mock religion. Many – most – of us draw deep and abiding values from the faith traditions we were raised in or discovered on our own. I think humans come with a wonderful ability to look for answers beyond what’s immediately at hand, and religions can facilitate that and a give us a sense of community, too.

But I do mean to mock those who argue that we must sacrifice women’s health on the altar of a religious doctrine no one in America takes seriously. On the other hand, Republicans who think this is a viable wedge issue might discover it’s a wedge between themselves and the rest of America. I’m tempted to say, go for it.

Real True Grit

“Well, there is no beat of a good friend.”

–Deputy Marshal Rooster Cogburn, in the novel, True Grit.

“He is not my friend.”

–Young Mattie Ross, speaking of Rooster Cogburn, in True Grit.

The American myth of the rugged, self-sufficient individual is ever-present in our culture. Think of Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name, a character based on the nameless “Continental Op” of Dashiell Hammett’s noir thriller, Red Harvest. The characters abandon the very concept of community. They no longer even want a name that could be known by others.

The myth, of course, is just a fictionalized reflection of a belief held by many Americans: the self-contained individual is all. The furtherance of individual liberty, with little regard for the fate of the community at large, is the only legitimate role of government. The belief comes with magical thinking (or cynical slight-of-hand) that unrestrained selfishness will produce more for all than selflessness, altruism, or compassion.

Charles Portis’s True Grit and the 2010 film version by the Coen Brothers turn the myth on its head. In the process, the works tell us something about loneliness, inequality and the pursuit of friendship in contemporary America. We can look at the “true grit” of the book and movie as a reference to the courage to befriend others selflessly despite differences and barriers.

Continue reading “Real True Grit”

For Japan

A community I visited north of Tokyo, the Asian Rural Institute, sent a message to its friends about shattered glass, structural damage, no electricity, and lots of aftershocks, but no fatalities. My friends and family in Japan are safe, as far as I know. But no one is OK. It will take more than one lifetime for people to recover.

Unless you’ve been to Japan, it’s hard to imagine the destructive force of the tsumami that raced as far as 6 miles inland. You have to imagine half the population of the U.S.–150 million people–living in an area about 20% of the size of California, most of that area on the coastal plains that hug the seacoast. Now, massive, sprawling garbage heaps have replaced the towns and villages that once were squeezed along the northeast coast. Profoundly worse, however, for the only country to survive two nuclear bomb attacks, is the threat of a nuclear explosion at Fukushima’s reactor.

I haven’t got words for how I feel. My friend Tyler Boudreau, a Marine veteran of Iraq and author of Packing Inferno, thought of me and sent me this song, “Requiem,” by Austin musician, Eliza Gilkyson. It’s from her album, “Paradise Hotel.” The Mother Mary reference may seem culturally out of place, but the primary deity of Shinto is the goddess Amaterasu. And during the 250 years of hidden Christianity during the Shogunate, Christians used statues of Kannon, the female Buddhist saint of mercy as a stand in for Mary (Kannon as the Madonna). Here are the lyrics. Amen.

Requiem by Eliza Gilkyson

mother mary, full of grace, awaken
all our homes are gone, our loved ones taken
taken by the sea
mother mary, calm our fears, have mercy
drowning in a sea of tears, have mercy
hear our mournful plea
our world has been shaken,
we wander our homelands forsaken
in the dark night of the soul
bring some comfort to us all,
o mother mary come and carry us in your embrace
that our sorrows may be faced
mary, fill the glass to overflowing
illuminate the path where we are going
have mercy on us all
in fun’ral fires burning
each flame to your myst’ry returning
in the dark night of the soul
your shattered dreamers, make them whole,
o mother mary find us where we’ve fallen out of grace,
lead us to a higher place
in the dark night of the soul
our broken hearts you can make whole,
o mother mary come and carry us in your embrace,
let us see your gentle face, mary

Rotten Wingnuts in an Age of Miracles

The current Geller-Palin-Gingrich-Beck-Fox-Tea Party syndicate, funded by the third richest family in the U.S., takes wingnuttery to a whole new level. They believe ordinary Muslim Americans (5 million of them) do not exist, because 19 terrorists from Al-Qaeda (maybe 10,000 of them) attacked us in the name of a fundamentalist form of Islam.

Conservatives have brains that work differently from the rest of us. They do not tolerate ambiguity, conflicts, or paradox well, and they prefer structure, clarity, and stability. This brain research might offer what one blogger called a  “Unified Field Theory of Wingnuttery.” Does the theory explain the last month of rabid anti-Muslim fervor stirred up by the Geller-Palin-Gingrich-Beck-Fox syndicate?

Defaced Sign at Islamic Cultural Center in Tennessee.

It might, though this batch of nuts is so profoundly rotten, they reek. Ordinary wingnuts cannot hold two ideas about one subject together if the ideas point in opposite directions, so they confuse fiction with reality. For example, the Tea Party-Beck rally in Washington D.C. gathered at the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of the great Civil Rights march while obeying instructions warning them to stay off the Metro lines to the Black areas of town, like Howard University.

Because they cannot hold opposing ideas together, Wingnuts believe: “we are good, ergo nothing we do can be bad.” These traits run on steroids when religion is involved—ergo, nothing rightwing white Christians do is bad. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed some of these traits among leftwing religious activists as well—these are my people. Religious left folks can be sure of our own rightness, making us unable to see our heterosexist, racist, or culturally offensive behavior. Christians have a trope about being sinners that softens the certainty somewhat. However, the true Wingnuts, left or right, prefer to spend 99.99% of their time denouncing the sins of others.

The current Geller-Palin-Gingrich-Beck-Fox-Tea Party syndicate, funded by the third richest family in the U.S., takes wingnuttery to a whole new level. They believe ordinary Muslim Americans (5 million of them) do not exist, because 19 terrorists from Al-Qaeda (maybe 10,000 of them) attacked us in the name of a fundamentalist form of Islam. Come to think of it, those terrorists also probably didn’t believe Muslim Americans exist; they certainly did not care whether or not they lived or died.

These extreme wingnuts have managed to make W look better, which is a flat out miracle; he did, after all, enlist the help of liberal Muslim leaders like Imam Faisal Rauf after 9/11 to spread the word that Islam is a religion of peace, whereas this new Wingnut gang has tried to turn Rauf into a terrorist. Another miracle: I’m feeling oddly grateful for Orin Hatch of Utah, who is no friend to feminists. But he’s the first Republican leader to support the building of the Islamic Cultural Center at Park51. Go figure.

I think the syndicate will fail to halt the Islamic Cultural Center in New York because over half of New Yorkers support its being built and the various arguments against it have started to bother even Orin Hatch. But the rotten wingnut propagation of negative views of Islam have increased vociferous anti-Muslim uprisings all over the country. Recently, the construction site for a new mosque in Murfreesboro, TN, was torched and is under federal investigation—an act of terrorism 886 miles from Ground Zero.

Such hate campaigns usually spawn apoplectic confusions, so that anyone who vaguely resembles a Muslim, like a Sikh or Hindu, may also be targeted for violence. This lumping of South and West Asians into the 1.5 billion people in the world who are Muslims, many of whom look nothing like the stereotypes, has been happening over and over since 9/11. Diane Marsh O’Connor, who lost her daughter and unborn grandchild in the 9/11 attack, knows the implications of such bigotry. She bemoaned the defensive replies to the charge that President Obama is a Muslim, as if the charge were a negative accusation. O’Connor does not want another group of American children to grow up believing something is wrong with them; the pain behind her concern was evident when O’Connor described the impact of racism on the African American children in her classroom.

I live in Oakland, CA, which has a thriving Islamic Cultural Center downtown and many Muslim communities around the city. They co-exist with Jewish congregations and Christian churches, as well as Buddhist, pagan, Hindu, Sikh, Unitarian Universalist, Mormon, and other religious communities. A year after 9/11, the Islamic Cultural Center opened its doors to a major peace march. I had just moved to Oakland that summer, and it was my first, but not my last, experience of Muslim hospitality in the city. I’ve been back to the Islamic Cultural Center a number of times. I’m grateful they are there and grateful to be able to pray with my neighbors. I’ll be joining them, along with folks from my UCC church in Berkeley, on September 10th to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the finish of Ramadan. We belong to a network called the Axis of Friendship, and we’ve been asked to bring a message and pray with our friends at the Eid festivities.

I don’t think all the wingnuts can be changed; then again, miracles do happen. But a miracle comes from a lot of good people working really, really hard against the odds, while other things line up to put the wind at their backs, and everyone is surprised by the outcome. Orin Hatch might have been persuaded by one of his Muslim American constituents—the University of Utah has had a center for Middle Eastern studies for 50 years. Or, perhaps, as a Mormon, Hatch is sensitive about religious persecution and the moral implications of Islamophobia.

Given that only 9% of Americans claim to be familiar with Islam, the first step in disempowering the rotten wingnuts is to get to know our Muslim neighbors, to support their rights, and to hold teach-ins about Islam in our local communities. We have to reach across the stinking wingnut pit of hate and violence, shared with the terrorists they demonize, and take the hands of our Muslim neighbors. That’s the only way to believe in miracles—by making them happen.

The Cordoba Initiative Should Not Cave to Hate-Baiting

On top of what the Muslim communities near Ground Zero endured from the 9/11 attacks, bigots have associated them with the terrorists who murdered those they loved and destroyed their neighborhoods.

Imam Faisal Rauf speaking at Intersections, an Interfaith Understanding Organization in NY

At the beginning of August 2005, a DogCanyon friend in Austin, Texas, Glenn Smith, called me and said, “you’ve gotta get down here and help Cindy. She’s camped in a muddy ditch in Crawford with a bunch of veterans and military families, and she’s doing too much. She needs some support.” We had met Cindy Sheehan when we invited her to speak at an interfaith peace service at Riverside Church in New York on the April 4th anniversary of Dr. King’s speech against Vietnam.

In response to the call, another clergy friend and I flew down to offer pastoral care—this was just before the media feeding frenzy that summer, which turned Cindy into a national figure and shifted the polls against the Iraq War. We got there as the asphalt had begun its afternoon heat blast. Someone had found Cindy a tiny trailer as shelter from the unforgiving sun, sudden thunderstorms, swarms of mosquitoes, and fierce armies of fire ants. After walking down the road with her and meeting other campers, we took shelter inside for a half hour.

As we talked and prayed, there was a knock on the door. When we opened it, we saw a somber-looking man and woman. She was dressed in a hijab and long pale coat, and he wore slacks and a long sleeved white shirt; they looked Middle Eastern. The woman held a small picture frame with a portrait of a handsome, smiling young man wearing a mortarboard. As the man spoke, the woman wept and wiped her eyes:

We are sorry to bother you, but we came today from New York to speak to you personally, and we must return tonight. We came to thank you personally for what you are doing. [The woman handed Cindy the portrait and nodded as her husband spoke.] This is our only child; he was a good son. He was killed in the 9/11 attack. He was the most important thing in our lives; we loved him very much. We are so sorry you also lost your son. We want you to know our son would not have wanted your son to die for him. He would not have wanted a war; killing is wrong. The terrorists who killed him, they are not true Muslims. We want you to know Muslims believe in peace; we are Muslims and we want peace. We want you to know we support you. What you are doing honors us and our son. Thank you so much.

We’ll never know exactly how many people were killed in 9/11, but we know that at least 59 Muslims died and that Muslims were among the first responders who rushed in to help. Muslims suffered deeply in the wake of 9/11. One mosque was just 4 blocks from Ground Zero, and for 27 years, Imam Faisal Rauf led a community just 10 blocks away–Rauf also spoke at the same interfaith peace service we organized at Riverside in 2005.

On top of what the Muslim communities near Ground Zero endured from the 9/11 attacks, bigots have associated them with the terrorists who murdered those they loved and destroyed their neighborhoods.

We’ve seen this kind of hate-baiting before. Many of my older Japanese American friends were imprisoned in World War II on the basis of similar guilt-by-association ignorance and hysteria. The U.S. government eventually apologized for that travesty of justice. I hope we stop the travesty of Islamophobia now, this ignorant tossing of all Muslims into the cauldron of Al-Qaeda.

Fundamentalist terrorism is not Islam’s problem alone. I am a Christian, but I am in no way the fringe kind of Christian Tim McVeigh was. The Christians I have known all my life uphold compassion, love, hope, a fierce commitment to justice, and a desire to heal and transform the world, not blow it up. We know we often fail to be our best selves; we support each other in trying to be better people so we can help build a better world. We share this commitment with our Muslims neighbors. McVeigh’s kind of Christians, like his Al-Qaeda counterparts, believe God is a terrorist, ready and waiting to destroy the entire world on behalf of “true believers” when the time is right. Their ilk foments the emergency politics of fear, resentment, isolationism, outrage, and a murderous heart of violence.

A rabid Islamophobe and right-wing liar, Pamela Geller, founder of “Stop the Islamization of America,” stirred up this crazy fuss about the Islamic Cultural Center. Loonwatch.com called Geller “the looniest blogger ever.” She originally claimed the Center was an insidious terrorist plot. When it turned out Imam Faisal Rauf was a progressive Muslim leader who helped Bush reach out to Muslims after the 9/11 attack, the tactic shifted to claiming that the Center will violate sacred ground.

As Jon Stewart asked, how is an old, closed Burlington Coat Factory sacred ground? More sacred, say, than a space where Muslims can gather to pray? How many visitors to Ground Zero have ventured out far enough to notice the shuttered store or even remember it if they passed it? How many visitors have walked the neighborhoods around the area and seen the closed stores and struggling businesses? A thriving cultural center in the area could be an important part of neighborhood renewal.

Because of the venom of the attacks against Imam Rauf and the Cordoba Initiative, some Muslims are afraid moving forward will only lead to making it a flashpoint for Islamophobia. Though it took awhile, the U.S. eventually got over demonizing Japanese Americans, and, once the hateful and hate-filled nature of the campaign against the Center is more fully exposed, the hostility and uproar may eventually subside. Someday, we’ll able to point to the Center with pride as a symbol of all that is good about being an American and having the freedom of religion, and we’ll be grateful that the Cordoba Initiative built their Islamic Cultural Center at Park 51 in New York. What else could affront Al-Qaeda and Geller more than Muslims who welcome their neighbors, live peaceably with those of other faiths, and work to build a better world for everyone?

Jesus Supports Marriage Equality

While Jesus and Paul differ on marriage, they differ for the same reason: love. They … do not make the purpose of marriage procreation, which separates sex from love.

Adam And EveJudge Vaughn Walker’s decision to allow resumption of legal same-sex weddings in California has right wing Christians claiming his ruling against Proposition 8 threatens “Bible believing Christians.” I’ve read the Bible pretty carefully myself (I read it cover to cover when I was in high school) and even taught it as a college professor. It is not a source I’d turn to defend traditional marriage. But I think it does offer ways to think about ethical marriage.

First, let’s just dispense with thinking the Bible offers us good examples of real marriages. What woman wants to marry under duress or by deception, kidnapping, adulterous seductions, theft, rape, and/or murder? The book of Hosea likens the mercy of God to a husband who has the right to beat or kill his adulterous wife, but spares her—for this, she was supposed to be grateful. The ideal of a housewife that Diana Butler Bass recently lifted up in Proverbs 31 –as opposed to reality shows about nasty “real” housewives–suggests that a decent married life for women might have been possible in biblical times, but actual examples are as rare as they currently are on TV.

Jesus and Paul disagreed about marriage, radically. Jesus thinks of marriage as divinely sanctified while Paul thinks of it as an option for the morally weak who need to avoid fornicating. They lived around the same time, and both were Jews, so why did they differ so extremely? As extremely as, say, how some Christians today vehemently oppose marriage equality while others like myself think it is essential, if you are going to have marriage at all? Even evangelicals differ; poll data show that, in 2008, 84% of those under age 30 supported same-sex civil unions or outright marriage equality while only 54% of their elders did.

So let’s at least get clear about one important fact: there is no Christian view of marriage; there are different Christian views, even for Bible believing Christians. For over a millennium, the Christian church in Europe leaned toward Paul. It did not sanctify marriage but regarded it as a civil ceremony instead.
Continue reading “Jesus Supports Marriage Equality”

The San Antonio Missions

Since I moved here in November, I have appreciated that Seattle offers some amazingly diverse subject matter for photography.  Whether I am in the mood for urban street scenes or rocky beaches or temperate lowland forests, I can find a new place to explore from behind my lens every day.  That is, every day that it isn’t raining.  After two weeks of pretty much straight overcast and gloom, I found myself thinking about a photography trip I took to San Antonio last September.  My plan was to stay for five days and photograph as much as I possibly could, rain or shine.  So rain or shine, mostly rain, I went out every day, knowing I would enjoy seeing this history-rich city whether I got any strong shots or not.  Each time I set out to travel to one of the historic missions, the sun would shine and the clouds would let enough bright blue sky through to make mental shots I took in transit so stunning that my adrenaline pumped for fear that I would miss the opening by the time I arrived.  Crossing my fingers that the sun would stay, I rushed into the parking lot.  Every time and more specifically, five times, as I pulled in to the parking lot for each mission, the clouds would come together like they had just had the sudden realization that I was some naughty neighbor kid trying to sneak a peek at their lacy undergarments. The rain would pour as I would hide my camera under my coat, sometimes led on down the sidewalk by groups of stray-looking, soaked to the bone dogs. Yet, as I approached each mission, the clouds seemed to understand that I was there to genuinely appreciate the moment and to respect these stunning Spanish sanctuaries.  Abruptly, the fluffy white clouds would turn dark around the edges, would open up to blue sky in and allow the wet sidewalk to become a mirror for the arches and domes above. Continue reading “The San Antonio Missions”

Staring into the Eyes of the Universe

The eyes of the man facing me opened wide, revealing a fathomless black depth ringed by his sparkling brown iris. The world around me was silent, as if the thirty men on the platform with me, the hundreds of spectators, and the carnival that filled the village of Tenganan had simply evaporated. I was alone suspended in the blackness. Time had taken a rest from its eternal and steady march forward, leaving me to drift free from the anchors of light and sound, suspended upon the delicate thread of now. With nowhere to go, nothing to see or hear, what had formerly been confined to “me” expanded to become “we”, reveling in the glory of connection. And then with the sensation of falling up from the bottom of an inky black well, I crashed back onto the bamboo and rattan platform. My glasses were knocked from my face and the music of the carnival, the murmurs and shouts of the spectators, and the breathing and heartbeats of the men around me flowed back into the world; and I found myself beneath a large man clothed only in a loincloth wielding a shield and a spiked weapon.

Double Ikat on a Little Girl
Double Ikat on a Little Girl

The eyes of the man facing me opened wide, revealing a fathomless black depth ringed by his sparkling brown iris. The world around me was silent, as if the thirty men on the platform with me, the hundreds of spectators, and the carnival that filled the village of Tenganan had simply evaporated. I was alone suspended in the blackness. Time had taken a rest from its eternal and steady march forward, leaving me to drift free from the anchors of light and sound, suspended upon the delicate thread of now. With nowhere to go, nothing to see or hear, what had formerly been confined to “me” expanded to become “we”, reveling in the glory of connection.

And then with the sensation of falling up from the bottom of an inky black well, I crashed back onto the bamboo and rattan platform. My glasses were knocked from my face and the music of the carnival, the murmurs and shouts of the spectators, and the breathing and heartbeats of the men around me flowed back into the world; and I found myself beneath a large man clothed only in a loincloth wielding a shield and a spiked weapon.

I had walked into the ancient and walled village of Tenganan on the eastern side of the island of Bali, Indonesia in 1996 wearing flip flops, shorts and a light shirt. On my back was a small daypack containing a water bottle, a Bali guidebook, a sarong, and the almost golden ceremonial sarong overwrap I had been drawn to purchase a few days earlier. At my side was my new friend, traveling companion and eventual girlfriend, Tracy.

Our heads were both filled with an excited energy fed by the stories we had heard and read in preparing to visit Bali. We shared a certain nervousness about what we were there to see. It was the second and most important day in the Usaba Sambah festival in this ancient, extraordinary village. A day when three ancient rituals all occur to ensure or celebrate the rebirth of the village for another year.
Continue reading “Staring into the Eyes of the Universe”

Victimocracy: Everybody’s a Victim of Everyone Else

Dr. James A. Forbes, the retired senior pastor of New York’s Riverside Church, is preaching today at the National Cathedral in Washington. (the full sermon can be found here.) He’s a friend, and he asked me to look over an early draft. I haven’t been the same since, and I told him so. “That’s a sign of a good sermon,” he said.

Forbes can preach. Newsweek named him one of the twelve best preachers in the English-speaking world. When he headed off to New York in 1982 to study at Union Theological Seminary, his mother gave him two books: the King James Bible and Martin Luther King Jr.’s Stride Toward Freedom. His compassion is legendary. Bill Moyers, who wrote the forward to Forbes’ new book, Whose Gospel, praises the depth and power of Forbes’ ethical vision.

Still, I didn’t expect Forbes’ sermon on “the spirit of victimization” to so unsettle me. I was prepared to agree with him that we are in danger of becoming a nation of victims. Arizona Anglos see themselves as victims of brown-skinned immigrants. Some bigoted whites think they are being selected for extinction by an African-American president. We are all under the sword of Islam, according to Glenn Beck and Dick Cheney. At least it seems to have momentarily taken the heat off those white Americans used to call “the heathen Chinee.”

What Forbes did was force me to think about how I was a little too familiar with the spirit of victimization. Didn’t I think George W. Bush happened to me? Listen, it’s hard to be a liberal in Texas and not feel a little victimized now and again. And there are, let’s leave no doubt, victims aplenty in America, victims of cruelty, violence, prejudice and enforced poverty. The ongoing struggle for social justice is all about reducing their numbers. But Forbes points out that there’s a big difference between being a victim and living with desperate passivity as a victim.

Continue reading “Victimocracy: Everybody’s a Victim of Everyone Else”