New Column at Salon: The Fiery Racial Gospel of Michael Eric Dyson

I began devouring Michael Eric Dyson’s work as a high school student, eager to learn about the world, and study the craft of essayistic writing. He quickly became inspirational and foundational to my intellectual and literary development. It is difficult to conceive of myself as a thinker and writer without the influence of Dyson.

Recently, I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with Dyson during the Chicago stop on his book tour. We discussed a new book, Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, along with a wide range of issues pertaining to race, culture, and politics.

In my new column for Salon, I appraise the high value of Dyson’s analysis and rhetorical style, and offer some of the most provocative and poignant excerpts from our conversation.

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New Column at Salon: The Right Wing Bubble

In my latest column for Salon, I address the boring bromide, in constant broadcast since the surreal victory of Donald Trump, that liberal Americans live in a bubble, rendering them unable to access reality or relate to the “real America.”

Logic and reason, as antiquated as they might be, demonstrate that it is actually the “real America” living in a closed-minded cocoon. An excerpt from my column:

When was the last time any mainstream commentator suggested that the rural, white Christian conservative Sunday School teacher escape her bubble, and befriend a group of black lesbians? Can anyone recall ridicule of a right wing, suburban housepainter who believes God watches his every brushstroke for not attending a public lecture from an award winning evolutionary biologist?

The absence of any criticism against the conservative bubble, which is undeniably smaller and tighter that the liberal bubble, demonstrates that American culture has condescended to the conservative with, to resurrect an old George W. Bush chestnut, “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

No one reasonable really expects the right wing Christian conservative to escape their own cocoon. People who applaud when a political candidate proposes banning Muslims from entering the country know nothing about Islam. Voters who support someone who called Mexican immigrants “rapists” who are “bringing drugs,” probably never knowingly met a Latino who emigrated from Mexico. The conservative bubble of bigotry and ignorance actually damages the country, and results in destructive public policy, while the liberal bubble results in nothing more that slightly damaged feelings. Insulated progressives might adopt snobbery when considering the daily routine of “hillbillies” and “rednecks,” but they actively support political leaders who aim to alleviate poverty. The rural whites who “cling to their guns and religion,” as President Barack Obama rightly said, benefit when the liberals they hate enter high office. One of the interesting numbers to track after Trump’s inauguration is how many poor white people lose access to health care if the President-Elect keeps his promise to “repeal Obamacare.”

 The coating of the conservative bubble is often so dense that it prevents inhabitants from accurately identifying their own interests.

Read the entire column at Salon.

Does the Right Wing Hate America?

Hostile opposition to immigration, mockery of diversity, advocacy of theocracy, and now the nomination of a man who routinely calls America an “embarrassment” and “hellhole,” has led me to wonder if the right wing hates the America that actually exists – a secular republic and nation of immigrants.

I offer my conclusions in my newest essay for Salon.

New Essay at Patheos – Religious At The Back of The Bus: An Interview with Rev. Jesse Jackson

For Patheos‘  feature on the 50th anniversary of the march on Selma – the real birth of American democracy – I interviewed Rev. Jesse Jackson about his Christian faith, the history of the religion, and how he applies his own spiritual devotion to his political activism and civil rights leadership.

From the essay:

The central problem of American politics and culture predates the country’s existence by nearly two thousand years. It is the same conflict at the heart of a close cousin to the American experience.

Sitting in the office of Jesse Jackson, whose political activism and civil rights leadership often cause people to forget he was first and is still an ordained minister, easily becomes a church experience when he launches into a sermon. All I needed to do was remind him of the topic of our interview (religion in America), and he transformed his desk into a pulpit and my chair into a pew, giving a homespun homily connecting religion with politics, theology with culture, and the past with the present.

Read Rev. Jackson’s profound insights and the rest of the essay at Patheos.
<> on March 25, 2012 in Sanford, Florida.

New Essays at Splice Today: My Take on Duck Dynasty and My Take On MSNBC

“Phil Robertson—the knuckle dragger of Duck Dynasty—is the most truthful and accurate representative of Christianity’s position on homosexuality in the public eye. More than liberal Christians who try to have their wafer and eat it too (the Bible is the “word of God” except for the parts that conflict with their politics), and more than the hypocritical and hollow Pope who makes a few friendly statements about gay couples, but does nothing to alter the anti-gay policies of the church he leads, Robertson had the highest degree of Biblical authority when he compared homosexuality to bestiality and paraphrased Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the Kingdom of God.”

Read the rest here: Duck Dynasty, Christians, Gays, and The Bible

Read my take on the failure of the contemporary left, and the need for obscenity, humor, and sexuality in cultural discourse here: Nerd Land and the Left

New Essay at The Daily Beast: Books to Transform Your Sad Life

In my new essay for the Daily Beast, I offer a syllabus for self-transformation. From my introduction to the book list:

As the New Year dawns, let’s admit that the American psyche is a dilapidated maze of funhouse mirrors that leads nowhere. It should not shock even the most credulous patriot that many people who spend their internal lives within this maze of narcissism and dysfunction have major problems. One in five Americans suffers from some kind of mental illness, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The New York Times recently reported that suicide rates are rising so rapidly and steadily that more Americans now die of suicide than in car accidents. In a turn that vindicates Aldous Huxley, one in ten Americans ingests their daily Soma supplement in the form of antidepressants.

Many Americans are like Soren Kierkegaard’s allegorical corpse who did not realize he was alive until the morning he woke up dead—aimlessly wandering around in a drug addled haze, indulging smart phone addiction, disconnected from reality and community, while wondering why they feel unhappy and unfulfilled.

To worsen their condition of alienation and dejection, many Americans, in an attempt to feel better, read books that manipulatively sell mindless optimism and pathological hope. The cult of positive thinking turns out one hit after another, both secular—The Secret—and Christian—Joel Osteen’s prosperity gospel. The delusion that changing a life is as simple as believing it will change, and the poison that pretends God wants people who pray early and often to win the lottery, only raise expectations to unrealistic heights, and set desperate people up for a crushing fall with a crash landing.

Since Americans seem to love making New Years resolutions, now might be a sensible time for many to resolve to gain maturity and perspective in 2014. Such a process of self-education can and should begin with the close reading of books containing wisdom that will alleviate their anxiety, provide edifying purpose, and begin to transform their minds from circuses to cathedrals.

Check out my ten book recommendations, including Albert Camus, Ernest Hemingway, Gore Vidal, American history books, sexual advice, and a “loafer’s manifesto”, at the Daily Beast.

New Column for Indianapolis Star: State Has No Business Banning Gay Marriage

State Has No Business Banning Gay Marriage

Indianapolis Star: December 5, 2013

The Indiana State Constitution is based on the United States Constitution – perhaps the most important document in the history of humanity’s fight for freedom. Considering the legal brilliance, political empowerment, and spiritual hope that the Constitution embodies, it would set a dangerous precedent, and betray the meaning of America to amend the constitution – at the state or federal level – to limit liberty, rather than enlarge it.

The ink that the American founders used to write the Constitution doubled as the concrete that provided the foundation for Republican Democracy around the world. An essential part of its vision is the separation of church and state. While that actual phrase might not appear in the Constitution, the founders, especially Thomas Jefferson, made it clear in letters that they intended to keep bureaucrats out of the business of religion, and keep clerical bullies from imposing their dogmas on the duties of governance. The Supreme Court has upheld and validated the separation interpretation of the Establishment Clause in dozens of cases dating back hundreds of years.

It is for these reasons that any thoughtful, reasonable, and moral person must vehemently oppose the proposal to change the Indiana State Constitution to include an amendment banning gay marriage.

It is not the State’s role to make judgments on the consensual sex lives of adults. If America is to remain a friendly home for freedom, it must extend that freedom, and the equality of opportunity and dignity that goes along with it, to gay Americans – the majority of whom are law abiding, taxpaying citizens who conduct themselves with decency and responsibility.

Homosexuality is not only a form of sex. It is also a form of love. All Americans, but especially those who wear the label of “family values conservative,” should seek to honor that love in the maintenance of a society that values romantic commitment and familial care.

The entire debate surrounding gay marriage is cartoonishly absurd, given that there is no credible argument against it. One side uses legal precedent, philosophical argumentation in keeping with the American tradition of individual liberty, and simple kindness, while the other recites passages from a book written thousands of years ago.

The Bible, along with any other religious text, is to have no influence on the laws of our secular government. Any religious doctrine can influence the way people think and behave in a free country, but the Constitution clearly prohibits the exercise of religion during legislative activity or judicial decision-making.

When gay marriage opponents claim that their argument is The Bible, they are confessing that they have no argument.

American opinion is reaching a favorable consensus on gay marriage, and when legalization does inevitably occur, no church will have to marry a gay couple. The beauty of the separation of church and state is that it is mutually protective of religion and governmental autonomy and interest.

That being said, on the issue of religion, gay marriage opponents have yet to answer important questions.

The Bible prohibits adultery, divorce, eating shellfish, working on the Sabbath, wearing clothing of mixed fabrics, wearing gold, and touching a woman experiencing her period. For most of these crimes – including working on Sundays – the penalty is death.

Why are the loudest defenders of Biblical law, who so eagerly denounce gay marriage, not insisting that these injunctions also influence government legislation?

Might it be that they are not truly motivated by religion, but that they are using religion as a cover story for the exclusion and hurtful treatment of people they just don’t like?

David Masciotra is the author of All That We Learned About Living: The Art and Legacy of John Mellencamp (forthcoming, The University Press of Kentucky) and Against Traffic: Essays on Politics and Identity. For more information visit http://www.davidmasciotra.com.

New Article at The Daily Beast: Atheist Ex-Pastor’s Mission to Red America

Last weekend, on the Sabbath, the Daily Beast published an article I wrote after interviewing an inspirational man named Jerry DeWitt.

DeWitt is a former Pentecostal minister, who after years of study, wrestling with doubt, and finding that his personal experiences could not justify his faith claims, left the church and discovered he was an atheist.

The community he loves and cherishes of DeRidder, Louisiana does not look too kindly on heretics. He planned to live a quiet life of introspection and secular employment. A strange series of circumstances led to his outing as an atheist, and rather than run, he decided to stand strong and tall in defiance against hatred and commitment toward honesty, authenticity, and secular advocacy.

Book-cover-for-Hope-After-Faith-An-ex-PastHe is currently working hard to make the Community Mission Chapel – a secular congregation – successful in the deep South. It is no easy task, but DeWitt is not a man who cowers from a challenge.

While celebrity atheist provocateurs, like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, write bestselling books from the comfort and friendly quarters of elite universities, DeWitt is taking heavy fire in one of the most ballistic battles of the culture wars.

Read about his important story and inspirational work on the Daily Beast.