Thursday, September 27, 2007


From the Archives

(May 2005) The climate on campus has changed considerably in the Bush years as conservative Christians have become defiantly vocal and increasingly proud of their ignorance. This anti-intellectual climate is sobering, especially to someone who was raised Southern Baptist and encouraged to embrace science-defying explanations of natural processes (coz those dinosaurs were, of course, right there on Noah’s ark y'all and those scientists who insist otherwise are just Devil worshippers who spend their careers thinking up new ways to make the, um, enlightened miserable for all eternity).

The freshman reading assignment at a university where some friends teach recently caused a flap because conservative donors and students accused the text of marginalizing Christianity. They also objected to the fact that budding adults were being exposed to Islamic culture at a time when so-called American patriots are killing Islamic um infidels.

A male student at this same state university enrolled in a seminar course that explored feminist issues in popular culture, then complained that his tax dollars were being used to support offensive texts that encouraged students to empathize with ho-ho-homosexuals.

(Let me guess: women were not instructed to submit graciously to men either.)

This student complained to legislators that his professor prohibited his right to free speech because she would not let him monopolize daily discussion time with his endless tirade against queers (which, when you think about it, provided a handy example of the patriarchal assumption of male privilege to his class. But I’m sure that never occurred to McBoy!)

The university reprimanded the professor but did not fire her, so McBoy's actions effectively contributed to a climate in which professors are now afraid to introduce new and controversial ideas in class or to give assignments that encourage students to expand their limited worldviews because we know we might be next.

(Perhaps Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale should be required freshman reading there this fall?)

For several years now, a co-instructor and I have opened our graduate-level seminars with an In Search of America episode about Christian conservatism and racial injustice in a small South Carolina town. We then incorporate this video into a series of persuasive-writing and intentional communication exercises.

Listening to non-Southerners depict the locals as stupid hicks (as the southerners among us bristle) proves to be instructive fodder, and course exercises have prompted much good discussion about the limits of tolerance and the need to at least attempt to understand how bias and religious intolerance affects others in a pluralistic civil society.

The town in this video has the distinction of having more churches per person than any other place in the country, and its mayor posts “character banners" on the lamp posts—you know, because public material about Christians' version of character (à la the gambler William Bennett) is the substitute of choice for Christians in places where religious material has been prohibited.

Town water bills include "character quotes." City officials attend weekly prayer sessions and character-building workshops as part of their professional training. And the mayor himself wants creationism to be taught in the public schools.

Meanwhile, professors at the state university's branch do “missionary work” to try to counter the lessions these children of creationists learned in the public schools. And at least one of the profs Peter Jennings interviews was queer in this place.

This kind of sanctioned ignorance is what happens when the government endorses Christian home-schooling and Moral Majority founder Jerry (cough) Falwell raises millions of dollars by declaring war on difference ... or should I say on us queer “brute beasts” who are “part of a vile and satanic system [that] will be utterly annihilated”?

Lou Sheldon, Falwell’s partner in bias and the founder of the Traditional Values Coalition, asserts that queers target children for recruitment. He also says that, given the chance, gay men will kidnap boys and convert them to queer sex ... and says this with an, um, straight face in a world where girls are raped by men, and especially male relatives, on an alarmingly regular basis.

Christian Coalition founder and resident wingnut Pat Robertson warned us that tornadoes and earthquakes would descend on Orlando unless Disney World canceled Gay Day (which queers, not Disney, organize). Robertson also insists that allowing queers to serve in the military gives “preferred status to evil.”

(Just an aside but, if you look at a map of where Florida was hit by those back-to-back hurricanes, almost all of the Republican counties were damaged but almost none of the Democratic ones were. Wonder if Robertson reported this on his Christian so-called news shows?)

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s most recent Intelligence Report includes a map designating the 762 active hate groups in our nation, by state. The tiny state of South Carolina comes in first in this category with a whopping total of 47 organized hate groups. (Does anyone see a correlation here?) Florida is second with 43 and California is third with 42. (And, interestingly, only 2 active hate groups have been organized in the entire tax-free state of Montana.)

The editor of the Intelligence Report points out that it is hard not to equate Sheldon’s statements with “blood libel” against Jews, or the accusation that Jews kidnap Gentile children and kill them so they can drain their blood to use in making matzohs.

Yeah. It’s hard to listen to evangelicals describe queers as voracious sexual beasts who recruit innocent kids—especially on this day when a father has just been jailed for stabbing his second-grade daughter and her best friend to death in a particularly gruesome fashion—without recalling the nineteenth-century racists who insisted that “lust-crazed, demonic nigra men” were intent on raping innocent white women.

I grew up a free thinker in the religious (tic) south and have had a fascination with and severe allergic reaction to organized religion ever since. I keep my Jesus allergy to myself in the classroom, but have had many lively one-on-one conversations with like-minded students over the years when they asked outside of the classroom what it was like to grow up here.

(More on that later, I'm sure, but let’s return to the classroom fo now because I'm in the midst of a story.)

So, last semester, my co-instructor and I noted that more students than normal bristled at the predictable stereotyping of my so-homeys but, for the first time in my teaching career, this did not result in healthy dialogue. Instead, several conservative students in these small classes used the exact same phrase to describe why they objected to completing assignments that require them to take opposing viewpoints on public-policy issues such as teaching creationism in the schools, same-sex/spousal-equivalent benefits, and other ripped-from-the-headlines topics.

They said "I have an internal moral compass that does not waver” and said that this means that they do not need to explore both sides of an issue or even entertain an opinion that is not supported by scripture.

I guess, to their way of thinking, such close-mindedness shows character.

I say that with a smart-ass tone, but this very different way of moving in the world is all too familiar to me (as are the collective chips on their shoulders). And it is not lost on me that someone trained them to respond in the exact same manner, like lemmings.

Most of the disenfranchised people in my southern town of origin and many people in my extended family move through the world in this same manner.

For example, when my younger (and evangelical) sister, who never left home, is threatened by new ideas (such as the assertion of her equal status with a man), she becomes agitated. And, if she’s threatened enough, she goes into a sort of trancelike state that involves her stringing together random Bible verses and prayers that she repeats aloud in what I can only describe as stream-of-consciousness Jezuschanneling.

I guess imagining herself as Other, as powerful, is so threatening that she must instead disassociate from the world and its opposing views.

When I think about the limits of what she has seen (or is likely to ever see) of this big wide world of possibility, I feel very sad for her and for women who are continuously told that they are second-class citizens who must be isolated, veiled, protectd.

I also recognize that the easy route for intellectuals is to make fun of such people—especially if they're southern and uneducated and trying hard to find some way to make sense of a world that is so threatening to them (even though I am guilty of making fun of them myself too, on occassion, and am more than a little impatient with such responses).

I place a high value on logic, am turned off by closed-mindedness and bigotry, and am INTP enough to be vocal when someone hits the right chord—and this reality can sometimes get me kicked out of extended-holiday gatherings and religious gatherings.

(For example, when my uncle asserted that God Hates Queers—that’s why he gave us AIDS, natch—I countered that God must prefer lesbians then, since we’re the least likely group to acquire this disease. This didn't go over so well.)

My mother’s religious sledgehammer frustrates the hell out of me and the fact that so many evangelicals attempt to dictate my life with their narrow worldviews does too.

Yet flinging around easy stereotypes shuts down dialogue and fails to acknowledge everyone’s experience in the world. I also know how easy it is for educated liberals to belittle the prescribed existences over people whose lives leave them with relatively little control over their destinies.

Some of my students were just not reachable last semester and this troubles me greatly. I think of them in terms of Plato’s Parable of the Cave.

There they stood, staring intently at the back of the cave and insisting that their world is comprised of undifferentiated darkness. Their moral compasses and those prescriptive character lessons and holy bible held them in vise-like grips that insisted that they not turn their heads and not see the light shining in through the cave’s opening.

And, for the first time in my teaching experience, some of my students still stared at that dark wall at the end of the semester.

I know, at some level, that willful ignorance is willful ignorance—that a dogged insistence on one particular mythology as truth is often based in deep-rooted fear of the randomness of the universe, of the unknown. And I know that pat black-and-white homilies, if you don't think about them too much, can allow you to maintain the illusion of safety.

But philosopher David Hume’s birthday was this week, so let's look at his experience.

In early 1700s Edinburgh, religious groups known as the Seizers grabbed people who skipped out on church and forcibly dragged them to mass right there in front of young David.

Perhaps then it's no big surprise that Hume lost his faith as a teenager. He lived near a university student who was found guilty of blasphemy and hanged for denouncing Christianity too though. Yet, despite the threat he felt around him, Hume wrote, "I found a certain boldness of temper growing in me, which was not inclined to submit to any authority. I was forced to seek out some new medium by which truth might be established."

In his Treatise of Human Nature, Hume argues that it may be impossible for any of us to know the truth about anything, that we humans can only experience the world but never fully understand it.

The Church of England tried, but failed, to prosecute Hume for this belief, and he continued to openly question the existence of a god ... and, thankfully, students in Philosophy 101 still hear this tale.

I worry that our country could become a Nazi theocracy like Hume knew, that the jihadists who are currently defining the conversation and attempting to dismantle our legal system and demonizing difference could create a landscape in which modern-day Seizers can, with Borg-like moral compasses, bully the rest of us until the ones who are left are all (publicly) assimilated.

Did anyone else notice that, when legal decision after legal decision in the Schiavo case failed to align with the so-called religious faithful’s insisted outcomes, that the conservative leaders merely announced that there was something wrong with the legal system (as opposed to their way of thinking)?

The speaker of the house and Tom DeLay are waging war on our legal system at a time when Falwell’s Heritage University is offering legal degrees to Christian activist judges to counter what they see as liberal activist judges.

This scares the living shit out of me.

SINGING IN THE SHOWER: I’m having an eclectic sort of day musically. Sang "I’m gonna tell you how it’s gonna be [insert happy thrashing about in a mosh-pit–like fashion to the guitar’s driving “duh-duh-DUH-duh-duh” beat here], soon you’re gonna be fucking me. I’m gonna tell you what your mama won’t say. She’s ashamed her daughter is gay .... [skipping to chorus now] "I’m gonna take you to queer bars [more mosh-pit–like thrashing to duh-duh-DUHs] I’m gonna drive you in queer cars...You’re gonna meet all my queer friends. Our queer, queer fun it never ends...." I believe Two Nice Girls sang this back in the early nineties, but can’t remember for sure. It certainly sounds like something Gretchen would write though. [OKAY, OKAY. WE DO RECRUIT!]

LISTENING TO: C Major Prelude from the Well Tempered Clavier, performed by Darron Flagg. God I love this piece! Was listening to Siouxie and the Banshees singing “Peekaboo” before that. Go figure.

READING: Switch by Carol Guess

SELECTED SPAM (Subject Lines): cheep erecction mads. you won't stop screewing thanks to it jest

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