In my new essay for Salon, I write about the vomitous insistence on religious pandering in nearly every presidential election, and long for the day when a major presidential candidate gives an address to the American Humanist Association.
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.
In a new feature at AlterNet, I interview documentary filmmaker, Dawn Porter, about her important and moving new film, Trapped.
Trapped tells the story of abortion practitioners, and the women they serve, in Southern states where prohibitive regulations have all but stripped away the constitutional rights of women seeking reproductive health services.
Read the feature at AlterNet, and keep an eye out for the film, which is set to air on PBS soon.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m happy to call author Gregory Harms a friend. He is not only a good conversationalist and generous person, but he is also a formidable voice of reason and justice on American foreign policy, international relations, and the history and politics of the Middle East.
This week the news and commentary website Truthout, which also ran my essay on the ten year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and ran a reprint of my tribute to Gore Vidal, is running an interview I conducted with Mr. Harms on the topic of his new book, It’s Not About Religion.
In the interview, Harms lays waste to much of the malicious lies and misguided perceptions about the Middle East, Islam, and the reasons many Arabs feel hostility towards the policies of the United States government. Readers will learn that Muslims are not frightening monsters hell bent on the destruction of all things American. They will also learn that much of the turmoil and tension in the Middle East is a direct result of American and Western policies, and that the tired expression “religion is the cause of all wars,” comes nowhere near reality.
Throughout the conversation, but more importantly, throughout Gregory’s brilliant and brave book, which I strongly recommend reading, he challenges the bigotry and aggression, that much to the pain of millions of people in the Middle East, dominates American political discussion of foreign policy and influences intervention abroad.
As I recall in my introduction to the interview, I met Mr. Harms at a bar called McBrody’s in Joliet, Illinois. We were reaching the wee hours of the morning, and Harms heard me make a positive remark about Neil Young. Harms agreed and incited a conversation , and a few years later, I’ve delighted in reading his three books (The Palestine-Israel Conflict, Straight Power Concepts in the Middle East, and the aforementioned It’s Not About Religion).
Anyone looking for truth to cut through the noise of the American media will experience the same pleasure and intellectual growth from reading his work. The new interview is a great place to start.
I’m particularly happy to have been associated with the interview, even if most of the insight in it comes from Harms, because Joe Macare, the editor of Occupied Chicago Tribune, gave it the highest praise imaginable. He called it a “middle finger to Sam Harris.”
In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, I often feel like a “man without a country.” I’m at odds with much of American culture, and am strongly opposed to much of American politics. Front Porch Republic – a website founded by the excellent writer, and fellow Gore Vidal admirer, Bill Kauffman – is the closest thing I have to a political and philosophical home. Their “about” page summarizes their mission and position well:
The economic crisis that emerged in late 2008 and the predictable responses it elicited from those in power has served to highlight the extent to which concepts such as human scale, the distribution of power, and our responsibility to the future have been eliminated from the public conversation. It also threatens to worsen the political and economic centralization and atomization that have accompanied the century-long unholy marriage between consumer capitalism and the modern bureaucratic state. We live in a world characterized by a flattened culture and increasingly meaningless freedoms. Little regard is paid to the necessity for those overlapping local and regional groups, communities, and associations that provide a matrix for human flourishing. We’re in a bad way, and the spokesmen and spokeswomen of both our Left and our Right are, for the most part, seriously misguided in their attempts to provide diagnoses, let alone solutions.
Though there is plenty we disagree about, and each contributor can be expected to stand by the words of only his or her own posts, the folks gathered here more or less agree with the above assertions. We come from different backgrounds, live in different places, and have divergent interests, but we’re convinced that scale, place, self-government, sustainability, limits, and variety are key terms with which any fruitful debate about our corporate future must contend.
Most of the Front Porch Republicans are more conservative than I am on a bevy of issues, but we all share a fundamental distrust in centralized power. A philosophical cousin of the Front Porch Republican movement is the Catholic subsidiarity theory of governance, which Robert Barron explains well in this video:
A regular reader of mine once asked me in an email to give a succinct statement of political philosophy. Although, it is not perfect, I answered back with this: I have a Christian concentration on the neighbor and the stranger. I oppose large, unaccountable entities, such as big government and big business, that are forms of concentrated and centralized power, which rob from the individual and community, dignity and autonomy.
I believe the federal government and Welfare State have a helpful and important role to play in the creation of a fair and just society. Like Robert Barron, I believe that local control, neighborhood action, and individual autonomy are the ideals, but that some tasks are so large and complex that governmental intervention is necessary. Health care is an instructive example here. It seems obvious that the most efficient and most humane way to distribute medicinal resources and services across a sizable population is with federal government involvement. Even with all of its flaws, senior citizens prefer Medicare to the private insurance scheme. Mitt Romney and Barack Obama’s ongoing wrestling match to emerge as the champion of Medicare indicates as much.
That being said, I reject the popular political distinction between big government and big business. They are flipsides of the same coin. Bureaucrats and billionaires are aligned in the destruction of human scale community. The useless Democratic and Republican debate, along with the antiquated liberal and conservative divide, obfuscates this reality, and it is the central reality of American life.
I make this point in my new essay for Front Porch Republic called “The Dangerous Alliance of Big Government and Big Business.” The essay – my fifth for Front Porch – largely wraps up my political philosophy, undresses both political parties as equal offenders, and includes a reference to a properly functioning and benevolent institution – The Rolling Stones (the underrated populist anthem, “Salt of the Earth”):
To illustrate my indictment of big government and big business collusion, I use the examples of eminent domain, the bailouts for “too big to fail” banks, the Prison-Industrial Complex, and the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). I also refer to the “export of big government and big business collusion” that comes in the form of defense contractors, private army firms, and massive Pentagon funding. I could have added student loans to the list. What else could anyone call them? Colleges charge burglarizing rates for admission, requiring students to incur staggering amounts of debt from student loans. After universities get their money, the students not only pay the government, but must do so with interest. If they fail to comply, the government will destroy their credit and garnish their wages.
Most political conversations – whether they take place on the equally nauseating networks of Fox or MSNBC – have little relevance or meaning for the average American. With my new essay, I attempt to contribute to the creation of a real conversation. Front Porch Republic is committed to this cause, and I’m proud to be part of it.