Monday, August 29, 2016


So I was at The Atlantic, and I found an article titled: Choosing to Stay in the Mormon Church Despite Its Racist Legacy. The subtitle read: "One black woman tries to reconcile her faith with the institution’s history of discrimination."

My first thought was "Are there any religious institutions in the United States that don't have a 'history of discrimination'?" Sure, I suppose there are some relative latecomers that simply aren't old enough to have been through the worst parts of American racial history, and depending on how you look at it, you could make the case that historically Black churches might not have that same history, but it seems to me that pretty much every Christian denomination that existed prior to the Civil War, or maybe even the Civil Rights Movement has a "history of discrimination" to contend with. Sure, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints went so far as to actually code a certain level of racial discrimination into its rules, and in doing so, may have gone farther than some other Christian denominations, but to the degree that it has a history of discrimination, it's because it's a home-grown religious sect in a nation that has a history of discrimination (to put it mildly).

The article itself was boring, a litany of Mormon racism that was new only in the details. And in this, it seemed unnecessary. Had the article actually been about the work that Ms. Graham-Russell needed to do to reconcile herself with a faith that has often been hostile to people like her (and me, for that matter), it would have been a worthwhile read. While I have no "yearning for a church home" and have never felt that "something was missing within me, spiritually," I do find the journeys that people find themselves on interesting, no matter where they lead. The absence in my life of deities, spirits or supreme beings does not prejudice me against the wisdom and serenity that other people find in such entities - even if I do look askance at the idea that its only in the submission to one's chosen divinity can wisdom and serenity be found.

Mormonism is burdened with a well-documented history of racism that most other faiths simply don't have to deal with. And this allows people to ignore those histories. And I suspect that the world wouldn't end if the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints received the same pass.

Friday, August 26, 2016


So I'm reading a short post by one of the many people I've circled over the years I've been on Google+ and there's a single comment. Of two words:

I read the post again. Had I missed something? No... everything seemed in order. Protocol 12.1.7(A) kicked in - Click the Link, Open the Profile, Block the User. Life is too short to have assholes cluttering up the comments section of people I actually want to read. I Clicked the Link, Opened the Profile and then stopped.
What in the name of Crack am I looking at?
Post after post after post after post of disappointment, bitterness and Rage. I scrolled down. It continued, without a break. I scrolled some more. It went on. It was all there was. The screen name he'd selected for himself was an incoherent mass of seething rage and self-pity. The banner image howled in despair.
Is this guy for real?
Message after message, pouring out anger and hatred at everyone who would listen. And anger and hatred at everyone, for refusing to listen. The place where he lived. The women who rejected him. The netizens who wouldn't follow his videos. The industry types who ignored his talents. The masses of humanity who wouldn't help him realize his dreams. The god who created him to be someone he loathed. He had bile and spite for all of them.
This most be Poe's Law in action. This can't be serious.
I closed the page, and went on about my business. Until there was a pause in my day, and he came to mind again. And I found myself wondering. Is this where it begins? Here was a person who was failing to attain the goals he had set for himself in life. And there was plenty of fault to go around. For everyone but him. He had ceded all control. Or had he?

There was a part of me that simply couldn't bring myself to take any of it seriously. No-one could be that, be that... That what? That self-pitying? That angry? That self-involved? That self-unaware? But of course, there had been people who were that, and more, before. And they had self-destructed. And they had often not gone to their ends alone. How real did I think them?

This wasn't a person who was part of my circles. He was just another Random Person on the Internet. Had he not chosen that one particular post to vandalize, or if the poster had caught it before I came along, I never would have noticed him. Just like it said in his screen name. And I began to wonder. Had they all started out this way? Screaming desperately into an uncaring void until they reached a point when they decided that they were going to make us care, at least for a moment. To become someone that an ever-hungry news cycle would make it impossible to ignore - that is, until the Next New Thing came along.

Home again. There he was, lurking in my History. Open the Profile. It's all still there. Post after unanswered post. There is one response, a lone question mark left by someone who didn't understand why he'd vandalized their group page with a howling screed. I took a screenshot.
No one will believe this, if I don't have proof. I don't believe this.
I didn't believe it. I scrolled down and down, looking for the punch line. The challenge. The "Bet you I can fool them all" post that I knew had to be there. I never found it. I had suspected that I wouldn't. And I wondered.
Where does this end?
Then I found the suicide post. Had it been the most recent posting, I might have believed that he'd set out to do himself in. Instead it was one of the oldest. It was a classic push-me pull-you post, where the writer pushes the reader away, in the hope that the reader will pull the writer back - and in doing so, show that they care. No-one pulled. Then the slide began.
In Fire, of course. These things always do.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Tiny and Afraid

During an online discussion of John Pavlovitz's Dear Offended Christian, From a Very Tired Christian, one commenter claimed to have never run into a hateful Christian, and hinted strongly that they were simply the fabrications of atheists. Well, for the record, I've never run into a hateful Christian, either. But I have run into any number of fearful ones.

"God hates soft men. God hates effeminate men. If I was in a drugstore and some guy opened the door for me, I'd rip his arm off and beat him with the wet end."
Ken Hutcherson, pastor of Antioch Bible Church in Kirkland.
Anthony Robinson. "Articles Of Faith: Ridiculing gay men is hateful way to preach." Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 22 February, 2008
For many people, including Mr. Robinson, who is also a minister, that quote was proof of Pastor Hutcherson's hatefulness. And I can understand that. "The Hutch" was very much against marriage equality, taking credit for Microsoft backing away from its support of Initiative 957, an early attempt to put marriage equality on the ballot.

But for me, Pastor Hutcherson's words reveal fearfulness. The fearfulness of a man, who despite having been a professional football player (perhaps one of the most "manly" professions in the nation) is afraid enough that his god might see him as unworthy that he threatens violence over an act that most of us were lead to believe is common courtesy. And I've met other people whose religiosity was openly tinged by fear. When I worked for the YMCA in Chicago, our administrative assistant would conspicuously move away from you if you swore or did something else she considered immoral. She believed in a deity who would literally strike you down with a Bolt From the Blue - and had little concern for collateral damage.

Growing up Black, with some VERY Baptist relatives, it didn't take long to realize that they believed in a god who expected things from them, and was potentially very liberal with punishments when crossed. By the time I was in high school (and taking theology classes), I'd come to realize that a belief in collective (or at least somewhat indiscriminate) punishments was wider spread than I'd first thought.

A concern that the actions of another will cause you injury commonly leads to anger. And while some Christians may feel that they have an obligation to hate what they understand their god hates (perhaps Westboro Baptist Church falls into the category) many people are simply angry and upset that other people are so brazenly willing to upset the apple cart. Especially those who believe in an active, interventionist deity who directly controls what does and does not happen in the world. Even as a Roman Catholic, we were taught that God "allowed" certain bad things to happen because of the sinfulness of mankind. If God allowed disease and suffering to ravage mankind for not living up to expectations, is it really that much of a stretch to think that terrorist attacks might also fall into that category?

Fear and anger erode compassion. That's part, it seems, of human nature. It's difficult to be immune from it. And it often leads us to label people in ways that allow us to hold them culpable for what we see as their crimes against us. It's an urge worth resisting.

Monday, August 22, 2016

This For That

One of the issues that comes up in economics is the idea that there are no solutions, only trade-offs. And in this article in Bloomberg View, Megan McArdle points out some of the trade-offs of the march towards a $15 per hour minimum wage in Seattle. When compared to before the law went into effect, according to a study, the average worker who previously earned less than $11 per hour earned an extra $72 per quarter, while at the same time, working 4 less hours in that same timeframe. But as she points out, that 4 hours is an average. Some people kept all of their hours - but about 1.2 percent of low-wage employees became unemployed.

The best guess is that workers who remained employed saw a quarterly increase in earnings of about $184. If you live in a low-income household, $736 a year is a substantial sum. On the other hand, if you live in a low-income household, “no wages at all” is catastrophic.
The question becomes is one worth the other. And it's a trade-off that we have to make, if we don't have the ability to make labor more valuable, which would serve (to a lesser or greater extent) to obviate the problem of wages too low to live on.

There is a point to be made that it's definitely worthwhile. After all, unless one is making more than a little over $60,000 annually, that extra $736 is more than 1.2% of annual income. And in that sense, the portion of the pie that is going to people at the lower end of the income distribution has increased. But that's also what makes things like this tricky - because at the far end of that logical chain is an Omelas scenario, where some unfortunate few suffer greatly, to allow the rest to live better than they otherwise would.

This is the nature of trade-offs, and it's one of the difficult things about policymaking - opponents of whatever choices are made will always seize on the negative aspects of the trade and loudly proclaim that they have a method that eliminates the need for trade-offs - which commonly turns out be little more than an ideological commitment to ignoring the downsides of those methods.

The best-case scenario would be that some of the "extra" $736 a year would go into spending that would necessitate the hire of a new worker, to bring some number of that 1.2 percent back into the labor force. But wealthier people do not see keeping others employed as a reason to reduce their savings and investment rates - it's difficult to see how less affluent people would come to that conclusion.

This, of course, suggests something of a solution, although not a popular one. But eventually something will have to be done. Whether we chose it or it's imposed by circumstances.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Anti-Social Media

I feel that I'm starting to burn out on social media. Many of the interesting people that I first encountered on Google+ aren't posting regularly (or at all) anymore, and a number of the people that I follow who do post tend to post about the problems that they have in their lives, from severe medical conditions to being upset that other people don't listen to them well enough. So maybe I'll take a break, or maybe I'll try to build a new social media social life for myself - one filled with people who are a little more my speed.