Well, this was nice:
On a morning of countless firsts in U.S. history, add this: Barack Obama’s inaugural speech is the first time a president has ever explicitly acknowledged not only “Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus” but non-believers as well.
“This inclusiveness is a signature moment in American inaugural history,” says David Domke, professor of communications at the University of Washington in Seattle, who has analyzed religious language in seven decades of inaugural and State of the Union addresses.
Those of us who, while not hostile to religion, just don’t go there, do appreciate the shout-out. In hyper-religious America there may be few of us – or few willing to reveal that – but we are here. And we’re not bad people – we pay taxes and obey the law, and we’re generally quiet, pleasant people. We follow the rules, because the rules make sense – civilization is a good thing. Perhaps we are damned to eternal, excruciating pain – all the fire and brimstone and whatnot – by that loving God who demands our adoration and complete obedience, and demands cash for the Church, but we’ll take our chances. That’s our business, not yours. Try to save us and we’ll listen politely, and respect your beliefs, but you’re wasting your time, and it might be better to go clothe the naked and feed the hungry and minister to the sick and all the rest, if you want something useful to do. We try to do the same thing, just for different reasons – every decent person pitches in.
Still, for some of us, there’s always that temptation to make fun of the born-again evangelicals, always railing against Darwin, and science in general, and warning us about the unmitigated evil that is homosexuality – something God abhors, depending on which passages in the Bible you choose. We don’t see the problem, and the idea of gay marriage is not appalling, actually – just a rather boring matter of contract law, and a matter of making sure everyone is treated fairly. Tell us that gay marriage is against God’s law and we’ll listen, but the whole American experiment was about men (and eventually women) getting together and hammering out the laws we can all agree will give everyone the maximum freedom to do what they want with the minimum necessary restrictions to keep things running smoothly. Your bringing God into the negotiations, while interesting, was never really relevant. That was the whole idea. Everyone had seen what happened when you did that. And government is, really, mundane stuff – policies and procedures and wrangling over the most efficient and fair distribution of the funds everyone kicks in. You insult God by bringing Him into all that. Surely He has better things to do – the being that created the heavens and earth and set the stars in motion probably expects us to take care of tax policy and civil contact code on our own.
Still those born-again evangelicals can be amazing, and it’s tempting to make fun of them when you see news items like this:
Disgraced evangelical leader Ted Haggard’s former church disclosed Friday that the gay sex scandal that caused his downfall extends to a young male church volunteer who reported having a sexual relationship with Haggard – a revelation that comes as Haggard tries to repair his public image.
Brady Boyd, who succeeded Haggard as senior pastor of the 10,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, told The Associated Press that the man came forward to church officials in late 2006 shortly after a Denver male prostitute claimed to have had a three-year cash-for-sex relationship with Haggard.
Boyd said an “overwhelming pool of evidence” pointed to an “inappropriate, consensual sexual relationship” that “went on for a long period of time … it wasn’t a one-time act.” Boyd said the man was in his early 20s at the time. He said he was certain the man was of legal age when it began.
Reached Friday night, Haggard declined to comment and said all interviews would have to be arranged through a publicist for HBO, which is airing a documentary about him this month.
It is tempting to make jokes. Mind-numbingly obvious hypocrisy generates humor – it always has, and we love to laugh at those who hold themselves up for our admiration being total jerks, because they cannot help it. That makes us feel better about ourselves, as it nicely levels things out. Aristophanes knew that, Moliere knew that, Swift knew that, George Carlin knew that. It’s funny, and somehow liberating.
But really, this isn’t funny, even to those of us who are non-believers, and Andrew Sullivan seems to get it right:
At some point, surely evangelical Christians will have to ask themselves: are we going to continue to demonize homosexuality to such an extent that even our ablest preachers and leaders are led into destructive, secret and often abusive relationships because we cannot allow them to pursue open and honest and loving ones?
The countless gay men who are currently running many of the world’s leading Christian denominations are threats to themselves, to other gay men, to their wives and their churches because ancient doctrine forces them into twisted shells of human beings. In the Catholic Church, this led to a horrifying epidemic of child abuse, protected and enabled by the last two Popes. And their response to this? To ratchet up the psychological pressure even further on the men whose psyches and souls they have already permanently warped.
When will this end?
Sullivan is openly gay, and in fact in a stable and solid gay marriage, and a devout Catholic, but those of us who are straight and not religious at all see Sullivan is right. This isn’t funny, and making fun of Ted Haggard, and mocking the evangelicals, or the Catholic Church and its pedophile scandals, is far beyond mean. To do so would be indecent. And decency is not the sole province of the God People. This is a matter of common decency, when the adjective has nothing to do with God, just our common humanity.
Look at this through the eyes of “Mustang Bobby” at Shakesville, with this:
For those who either don’t get it or are still shallow enough to laugh and point – perhaps too loudly – the closet and all the baggage that comes with it is a lonely and claustrophobic place to live your life. What’s worse, the more you try to stay in there, bolting the door shut against the real world and perhaps holding your family, your wife, or your children hostage with you, the worse it is when you finally come out. Meanwhile you torture yourself with denial and the instruments you use to enable the denial like booze or pills until the pressure becomes too much. It’s like trying to compress water – you can’t do it – or it comes out in catastrophic ways.
And that is just what he sees here:
I don’t know Ted Haggard personally, but I know a lot of people like him, and for a while I was in there with him. Fortunately I had a family that didn’t judge me – even though I was irrationally sure they would – and I felt strongly enough in my spiritual beliefs that I was able to let go of the community I grew up with and embrace another one that I knew would welcome me. I was fortunate.
For whatever reason, real or imagined, Ted Haggard was not. And now he is paying for it. He already has lost something he valued – his spiritual community – and he has endured the hatred, scorn, and mockery that came with his public outing. And while I may have been angry with him for his hypocrisy and his inability to accept the fact that being gay is hard-wired at the factory, so to speak, I always knew what he was dealing with.
So let me say this to him, speaking as one gay man who’s been out of the closet since he was 22 and who spent the ten years before that very aware I was in it: it’s okay, Ted, to come out now.
There are of course those who dispute that being gay is hard-wired at the factory, in spite of the evidence (an item that cites Benjamin Tutu staying that “if this sexual orientation were indeed a matter of personal choice, the homosexual persons must be the craziest coots around to choose a way of life that exposes them to so much hostility, discrimination, loss, and suffering.”). But being gay is hard-wired, for how else would you explain Ted Haggard here?
And Mustang Bobby hopes Haggard figures it out:
Being in the closet keeps you in the dark about what it’s like to live in the world as a whole person, and once you get out, the light can be disorienting. That’s okay, too. He’s going to stumble and perhaps try to get back in. But pretty soon, he will discover that once you get used to it, you stop thinking of yourself in the terms of gay, straight, or whatever. You are just you.
And that’s okay, too.
But that won’t be easy. Jim Burroway, in a long discussion of all of the details of the new scandal, and of the upcoming HBO special, here adds this nugget:
Earlier this month, Haggard described his sexuality as one that doesn’t fit into “stereotypical boxes,” saying “I have struggled and continue to struggle from time to time with same sex attraction.” He also expressed support for same-sex marriage, although he reportedly retracted that statement within the hour according to an HBO spokesperson.
John Cole at Balloon Juice says someone should help this man:
Could someone please sit this poor man down and explain to him those urges he keeps having to engage in sex with other men are not his soul under attack by Satan, and that he is not besieged by demons, but that he is GAY, it is 2009, and there isn’t anything wrong with it.
Maybe the president needs to do more shout-outs, lots of them, over and over. If anything, the Obama presidency seems to be about common decency. It shouldn’t be this hard.
Out here, in the Entertainment Capital of the World, the Los Angeles Times does the usual industry story here – the inside scoop on the torturous route from novel to screenplay to casting to production to distribution, this time of a Lifetime television movie, “Prayers for Bobby.” It’s the usual insider look at how these things get pitched, green-lighted, financed, cast and so on – but this time it’s the real-life story of Mary Griffith, an evangelical hard-ass with a gay son, who ridiculed him and tried for fix him and prayed for him, and after he committed suicide at twenty, became a major champion of gay causes, appalling her church. You know – common decency matters. Of course the kid is still dead, and it’s just a movie on the Chick Flick Channel. But it’s something.
Still, religion can be troubling. It seems a famous anti-Semite and Holocaust-denier has just been allowed back into the Catholic Church:
Pope Benedict XVI has lifted the excommunications of four bishops consecrated without papal consent 20 years ago by the late French ultraconservative Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the Vatican announced Saturday.
One of the four bishops was shown this week in an interview saying that the Nazi gas chambers probably didn’t exist. The report prompted Rome’s chief rabbi to ask the Vatican to halt plans to rehabilitate him.
But Benedict’s rationale:
“The Holy Father in this decision was inspired by the wish that full reconciliation and full communion can be achieved soon,” the Vatican said.
So the Jews can go to hell… literally.
See the London Times’ Ruth Gledhill – “Could the clock really be turned back this far on Nostra Aetate and the teachings of Vatican II?”
You could look that up – forgiving the Jews for murdering Jesus. There’ll be no more of that. And Gledhill covers another of the Marcel Lefebvre Four, Bishop Richard Williamson – he faces possible prosecution for Holocaust denial in Germany after an interview with a reporter from Swedish TV in which he claimed that six million Jews did not die in the Holocaust, merely a few thousand, and that the gas chambers did not exist. Bishop Williamson also endorsed the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – he says it’s not a forgery and the Jews are trying to take over the world:
In his previous utterances which have caused repeated deep offence to the Jewish community as well as many Catholics and other Christians who have heeded the message of Christian repentance towards the Jewish community as spelled out in the documents of Vatican II and elsewhere, the Society has refused to distance itself from him. He was actually ordained by its founder, Marcel Lefebvre, and has been an important voice in the society.
The pope doesn’t care, and Gledhill adds this:
If he brings them back in with Williamson on board, then truly it will be a disaster. Vatican II might as well never have happened and it won’t just be the Jewish community that would be justifiably disgusted. For many thousands of lay Catholics the world over, this could be the final proof that what the atheist bus campaign suggested was true: “There probably is no God.” At least not the God that Williamson and his like believe in. Who could blame them, then, if they put traditionalist Catholic guilt aside, and get on and enjoy their lives?
Yes, common decency matters.
See Andrew Sullivan:
I am truly, deeply ashamed of my church for this action and hope this provokes such an outcry it is reversed. These are not the words of Christ. They are the words of evil.
Even those of us who don’t have a dog in this hunt know that. And even those of us who are just not gay know what is going on with Ted Haggard is tragic, and not funny at all.
So why even mention it? It’s common decency. There’s a lot of that going around these days. And it’s about time.