Valerie Tarico en The Ridiculousness of Gun Nuts Who Are Up in Arms Because the GOP Convention Bans Their Arms <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">It’s the equivalent of the Democrats holding their convention at a place that bans collective bargaining for its workers.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_409372213.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>If the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun—or better yet, lots of good guys with guns—then it goes without saying that the contentious GOP convention should be prickling with weapons: rock-hard glocks, pen-sized pistols and a whole array of AKs strapped across the backs of brave men who are ready to spray anything that moves with a shower of lead.</p><p>With threats on all sides, from Muslims and blacks to feminists and federal wildlife agents, the only way to make America safer again is more guns. So we are told after each mass shooting. Surely the GOP wouldn’t hold its convention in a place that fails to allow the kind of enhanced security that is so dear to conservative hearts, so core to the Republican political agenda, and so necessary to <em>keep Americans safe</em>.</p><p>Four months ago, a Second Amendment activist or troll going by the moniker Hyperationalist realized that Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, site of the GOP convention, bans firearms on the premises. It’s the equivalent of the Democrats holding their convention at a place that bans collective bargaining for its workers, and Hyperationalist was outraged. He created a <a href=""> petition</a>, quoting the NRA about the dangers of “gun-free zones” and demanding that Quicken Loans Arena change its policy, at least for the convention.</p><blockquote><p>This is a direct affront to the Second Amendment and puts all attendees at risk. As the National Rifle Association has made clear, “gun-free zones” such as the Quicken Loans Arena are “<a href="">the worst and most dangerous of all lies</a>.” The NRA, our leading defender of gun rights, has also correctly pointed out that “gun free zones… tell every insane killer in America… (the) safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.” (March 4, 2016 and Dec. 21, 2012)</p></blockquote><p>Although it was unclear at the time whether the petition was the work of an aggrieved gun lover or a public safety advocate trying to make a point, it quickly gathered 55,000 signatures from folks on both sides of the aisle. If the point of the petition was to advance an expansive interpretation of Second Amendment rights, it failed. Republicans who show up at the convention next week with weapons will be stripped at the door of their arsenals, no matter how large or small.</p><p>In a July 14 letter to supporters, Hyperationalist conceded: "Apparently in Crooked Hitlary Clinton’s 'politically correct' libtard America, some people would rather not be surrounded by high-powered semi-automatic assault weapons with high-capacity cartridges—and so the oppressive policies of Barack HUSSEIN Obama’s regime remain in place."</p><p>If the point of the petition was to show the public that Republican rhetoric about more guns making us all safer is <em>utter bullshit</em>, then it succeeded wildly, because the contrast between what Republican policy makers say they believe and actually believe couldn’t be on brighter display.</p><p>Republican leaders know full well that a convention hall teeming with mutually antagonistic adrenalin-jacked open- and concealed-carriers could be the safety equivalent of a convention hall decorated with gas cans and matchboxes. They may sell their souls for NRA dollars—they may be willing to sacrifice the 33,000 Americans a year who <a href="">die from guns</a>—but they’re too hypocritical actually to put their own bodies on the line. Confronted with the prospect of their own mortality, they know that the right to life trumps the right to bear arms, even if they’re too candy ass to say it.</p><p>These are the people who have been demanding that guns be allowed on college campuses, in hospitals, in churches, in public parks... everywhere but the halls of Congress and the RNC. They have proposed that kindergartens would be safer if the teachers were all armed. They have fought for the right of suspects on the terrorism-watch and no-fly lists to stockpile firepower.</p><p>But they couldn’t bother to take on Quicken Loans or move their convention elsewhere because, in reality, they want the kind of safety they’re unwilling to grant to the rest of us. They want to know that if someone around them is struck by a fit of rage or temporary insanity, or falls into a black hole of paranoia and decides he is surrounded by the hordes of evil, or wants to suicide in front of a bank of cameras, or aspires to go down in history as a hero or anti-hero—he’s going to have to pull off mass murder with his bare hands. They want to know that, to the best of professional standards, the crowd of strangers around them is unarmed, because they know that most bad guys with guns are good guys with guns until the moment they point at an innocent person and pull the trigger.</p> Fri, 15 Jul 2016 11:15:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1060207 at The Right Wing The Right Wing gun control gop convention It’s the equivalent of the Democrats holding their convention at a place that bans collective bargaining for its workers. Birth Control for Men—It's Loooooong Overdue <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Stephanie Page is researching male birth control, and everyone she meets agrees: It&#039;s about time!</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_187732277.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Everybody knows you can’t talk about women’s health without talking about birth control. But what about men’s health? Should birth control be high on that list, too? Of course, guys can’t get pregnant, but common sense suggests that a partner’s surprise pregnancy can be a major life <a href="" target="_blank">stressor</a> with potential health and mental health impacts. An unexpected pregnancy can exaggerate relationship tensions that erupt into fights, breaking up, or even <a href="" target="_blank">physical aggression</a>—especially if it leads to ill-timed or unwanted fatherhood. The bottom line is that men, as well as women and children, are most likely to flourish if they can decide whether or when to make a baby, and with whom. And this isn’t just a niche issue—it affects every man who has sex with women.</p><p>Each June, the Centers for Disease Control have a “<a href="" target="_blank">National Men’s Health Week</a>” as a way of encouraging guys to take better care of themselves. Typically, pregnancy prevention is not even on the list, which instead emphasizes sleep, tobacco, food choices and exercise.</p><p>Why no mention of family planning during National Men’s Health Week? Well, for one thing the health and mental health effects of unexpected and unwanted pregnancy on men are less direct than effects on women. But the other reason is that options for helping men prevent unwanted or ill-timed fatherhood—and related health risks—kind of stink.</p><p>Once a guy learns about condoms in, say, seventh grade, doctors have little more to offer until he is ready for a vasectomy later in life. Health care providers can offer a young woman a state-of-the-art IUD or <a href="" target="_blank">implant</a> that drops her risk of unwanted pregnancy to near zero. But the only thing they can offer a young man is advice: <em>talk to your woman about what she’s using, and keep rolling on those rubbers</em>. As a consequence, the typical young man is rarely asked whether he might like to become a dad, or what he might like to do before then, or what kind of parenting partnership he envisions, or how he would feel if he got an "I think I’m late" text.</p><p>Part of the reason doctors avoid the topic is because condoms aren’t great at preventing unwanted pregnancy. Each year, <a href="" target="_blank">one in six</a> couples relying on condoms will end up with two pink lines they weren’t really looking for. And once a woman is pregnant, the final decision rests with her. See why many doctors would rather not ask guys what they really want?</p><p>Stephanie Page is an endocrinologist at the University of Washington who would like to see that change. Page works with her mentor, Bill Bremner, and other researchers to develop safe, reliable, reversible <a href="" target="_blank">birth control for men</a>. Page spoke with me about their work and her view on why male <a href="" target="_blank">birth control matters</a>.</p><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="2048" style="height: 250px; width: 166px;" width="1360"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="2048" style="height: 250px; width: 166px;" width="1360" typeof="foaf:Image" src="" /></div> <em>Photo: </em><em>Dr. </em><em>Stephanie Page</em><p><strong>Valerie Tarico:</strong> <strong>What do people say when you tell them you’re working on birth control for men?</strong></p><p>Stephanie Page: Most people give me a high five. Women are incredibly excited about this idea because many would love to be able to share that responsibility with their partners. When I talk to people from all socioeconomic backgrounds—both men and women—they are thrilled and really feel that there is an unmet need. The universal reaction is, “It’s about time!”</p><p><strong>VT: And it sounds like you feel the same way.</strong></p><p>SP: Definitely! Half of people are male, so if we think about it, men are 50 percent of the game in contraception and they have very limited options. So there is a huge avenue to change how people think about this. But right now, condoms are the only reliably reversible method for men. That’s a huge void for half of the population.</p><p><strong>VT: But we have such great options for women at this point. The implant has a 1 in 2,000 annual pregnancy rate and 85 percent of women who get it like it. There must be people who say, why bother? </strong><strong>Why not just help get the best modern methods to women who want them?</strong></p><p>SP: Well, some women can’t use a long-acting contraceptive because of other aspects of their health, or maybe they just don’t like them. In that case, a male option could be what works best for a couple. But this isn’t just about men taking the burden off of women.</p><p>An unexpected pregnancy or fatherhood has huge economic and emotional consequences for a man. Financial responsibility for children from unintended pregnancies, even if they are loved after the fact, can be overwhelming. At the aggregate level, unwanted pregnancy drives population pressures and resource scarcities that affect everyone on the globe, half of whom are men.</p><p>Also, if there is a pregnancy, the man doesn’t have control over the outcome, so men can end up being fathers when they feel strongly that they aren’t ready. I can think of people I know who became fathers from pregnancies that they wouldn’t have chosen. Some have limited interaction with the mother and some work together more closely; either way it can be fraught with all kinds of issues.</p><p>More broadly, our culture has changed. Men now want to have more options for controlling their own fertility. The notion that a man’s manliness is represented by how many children he fathers is gone in a lot of societies. Men want to choose how many children they father, and they want to be more involved with the children they do have.</p><p><strong>VT: Tell me about the research team, the folks who are trying to make better birth control for men happen.</strong></p><p>SP: At the University of Washington, we are about six faculty investigators, plus trainees in endocrinology and laboratory/research staff—so about 15 of us in a core group who dedicate time to male contraceptive technology research. And then we collaborate with other researchers who have related interests, both at the University of Washington and other research institutions. Together with investigators at UCLA we test new compounds and delivery systems for men, everything from single doses of new agents evaluated for safety, to multi-center studies with couples using male methods as their only contraception.</p><p>There are two areas of research. One is based on hormonal methods that are parallel to some of the female methods available. Another cluster of methods interferes with how sperm develop or how they swim, but that don’t depend on hormones. But we all work together, which is why the University of Washington is a center for male contraceptive development—because both avenues are being pursued.</p><p><strong>VT: Which is your part?</strong></p><p>SP: I work on reversible hormonal contraception for men. Part of that means working to understand possible side effects so that we can avoid them as much as possible. The compounds we are testing are derivatives of testosterone—modified slightly with the goal of having a more specific effect. Sometimes they are taken orally, or used as a topical gel, or as a longer-acting injection.</p><p><strong>VT: Any exciting news?</strong></p><p>SP: We’re making progress! Starting around February 2017, there is going to be an international trial. This trial will take place at nine different sites around the world including Chile, Italy, Sweden, the U.K., the U.S. and Kenya. It will take us about three years before we have the final information back, but I’m optimistic.</p><p>There have been previous trials of male hormonal contraception in couples. They work well to prevent pregnancy and don’t have a lot of side effects. All of them to date have utilized drugs that are delivered in a clinic. This will be the first self-delivered method, meaning that the man is responsible for applying it every day.</p><p><strong>VT: How does it work?</strong></p><p>SP: It’s a topical gel, and men will be putting it on themselves. They are men in partnerships, and their female partner has also chosen to be in the study. Skeptics say men just won’t do it, but I don’t believe that. People are people, and they are invested in getting to decide about pregnancy—about their lives. That said, rather than daily gel, I think there may be additional methods that are more effective for some couples in the long run, for example a slow-release patch. Some other compounds might work as a daily pill or a long-acting injectable. Men, and women too, give themselves injections, so it’s possible that we could do that as a self-delivery as well. That would really expand availability.</p><p><strong>VT: You have a teenage son—do you think about him and his friends as you do this work? And what do you say to him in the meantime?</strong></p><p>SP: I didn’t get into this research because of him, but I do think about it. I wish we could have some of the conversations that I anticipate having with my daughter: "Here’s what could happen and here are all of your great options."</p><p>But there’s not a lot to suggest except abstinence—which is a message that doesn’t really translate that well into behavior—and condoms. We all know that condoms are poor contraceptives with high failure rates. They are good at preventing STDs, but they are poor contraceptives. They certainly aren’t comparable to LARCs (long-acting reversible contraceptives) or even the pill, so I talk to my son about female-controlled methods.</p><p>And of course I will encourage him to have partner conversations. The one good thing about having these conversations is that it brings a level of intimacy to the relationship; it communicates caring about the other person. But part of responsibility is taking personal actions. It would be nice to have the option of a long-acting contraceptive for young men.</p><p>It’s not just me. Fellow parents of boys have brought up that it would be nice to be able to introduce these choices to their sons. They are concerned about the outcomes for their sons, and their son’s female partner, if there is an unwanted or premature pregnancy. There is a consequence for the whole family if a boy fathers a pregnancy that leads to the birth of a child before he is ready.</p> Tue, 21 Jun 2016 12:38:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1058449 at Personal Health Personal Health men's health week birth control reproductive health Stephanie Page is researching male birth control, and everyone she meets agrees: It&#039;s about time! Why So Many Evangelicals Find Donald Trump Irresistible <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Powerful, sexist, war-mongering, and in need of constant attention, Trump is an awful lot like the God of the Old Testament.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/gungho061516.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>People have been scratching their heads about how so many "family values" American voters who claim to love Jesus can follow Donald Trump. What ever happened to <em>love thy neighbor</em>, and <em>if you have two coats give one to the poor</em>, and <em>turn the other cheek</em>, and <em>feed my lambs</em>, and <em>the meek shall inherit the Earth</em>? Some horrified Christian leaders have gone so far as to <a href="" target="_blank">say</a> a person can’t be a Christian and a Trump supporter.</p><p>Of course, times are hard, and in fairness, fear and downward mobility do weird things to some people, including Christians. And some folks, whether Christian or not, are congenitally horrid. But shouldn’t Bible belief inoculate earnest believers against someone who seems like the polar opposite of Jesus? </p><p>Perhaps the problem is that Trump is a lot like a different Bible character—one who also is the polar opposite of Jesus in many ways, but whom young believers are nevertheless taught to worship and praise. I’m talking about the character of Jehovah; Yahweh as some people call him; the Great I Am; the LORD God of the Old Testament who makes it into the New Testament as both the father of Jesus and his alter-ego, and later <a href="" target="_blank">into the Quran</a>.</p><p>One way biblical literalism screws with people’s heads is this: Children are taught from a young age that God is perfect—the essence of Love and Truth. But when you look a little closer at the stories in the Bible, it turns out he’s an awful lot like Trump.</p><p><strong>He is powerful, and He wants us all to know it.</strong> <a href=";version=NRSV" target="_blank">Isaiah 45</a> is just one of many egomaniacal diatribes about God’s unparalleled power and contempt for humanity, as if the force that created the DNA code and supernovas would need to brag and posture and lord it over lowly bipedal primates. It contains the word “I” 22 times, as in:</p><blockquote><p>“I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no god. I arm you, though you do not know me, so that they may know—from the rising of the sun and from the west—that there is no one besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things ... To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear... ” (Isaiah 45:5-7 KJV)</p></blockquote><p>Me, me, me, I, I, I, I, I.</p><p><strong>He’s an insatiable attention seeker. </strong>From Genesis through Revelation, the Bible lays out precisely how people should grovel and sing God’s praises and otherwise kiss up. God wants his adoring followers to beg for things he already knows they need. He loves the smell of burnt offerings and dictates just what should be burnt and when. He demands proof of loyalty, like cutting off the cover of your penis, or whacking relatives who don’t think he’s awesome, or being willing to turn your child into a <a href=";version=NRSV" target="_blank">human sacrifice</a>.</p><p>And he doesn’t like it <em>at all</em> if anyone pays attention to competing deities. “Thou shalt worship no other god!” <a href="" target="_blank">he roars</a>, “For the LORD, whose name <em>is</em> Jealous, <em>is</em> a jealous God!”</p><p>He issues <a href="" target="_blank">two sets</a> of 10 Commandments, one of which contains nothing but details of how to pay him homage. The other, better known set includes some basic, universal ethical principles—but even there, four out of 10 are about giving the Big Man the kind of exclusive adoration he wants. That’s why there was no room for <em>Wash your hands after you go to the bathroom</em>. Or <em>Don’t have sex with anyone who doesn’t want to</em>. Or <em>Treat other living beings like they want to be treated</em>. Or <em>Thou shalt not own other human beings</em>.</p><p>Imagine our world if Jehovah had been a little less concerned with attention and a little more concerned with compassion and sanitation.</p><p><strong>He’s mean.</strong> The internet abounds with articles, sermons and videos assuring us that the Bible-god isn’t really the embodiment of <em>mean people suck</em>. But what exactly would <em>you</em> call sending a bear to tear apart 42 boys who tease a prophet? Or slaughtering a son in each Egyptian peasant family and blaming the mass murder on their unelected ruler who is actually your puppet: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh will not listen to you, in order that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.’ Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh; but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land.” (<a href=";version=NRSV" target="_blank">Exodus 11:9</a>)</p><p>Or let’s go back to the very first Bible story. What would you call putting a tantalizing fruit tree in front of two naïve and inexperienced creatures you’ve just made out of dirt and then punishing them brutally when they eat from it? (<a href=";version=NRSV" target="_blank">Genesis 2-3</a>). Not long ago, an Alabama pastor wanted to teach a lesson about Christian obedience so he <a href="" target="_blank">starved</a> his chained-up dog for two days and then put food in reach but told the dog not to eat.</p><p>Yeah, sadistic. Sometimes Christians reveal a little more than intended about the deity they worship.</p><p><strong>He’s racist and prejudiced.</strong> God may claim credit for making us all, but that doesn’t prevent him from picking favorites or finding some people repugnant simply by accident of birth. The Old Testament narratives are about favored blood lines, whites—I mean Hebrews—who get the right to claim land already occupied by other ethnic groups. According to God’s rules, even <a href="" target="_blank">slaves</a> must be treated better if they are <em>Hebrew</em> slaves.</p><p>But being Hebrew won’t help if you’re handicapped. Jehovah, like Trump thinks that <a href="" target="_blank">arthrogryposis</a> is just gross. Stay away! “No one of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the food of his God. For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or one who has a broken foot or a broken hand, or a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a blemish in his eyes or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles.” (<a href=";version=NRSV" target="_blank">Leviticus 21:17-21</a>)</p><p><strong>He demeans women. </strong>If a guy with crushed balls might contaminate Jehovah’s inner sanctum, a menstruating woman would be far worse. Whatever you do, don’t let Megyn Kelly sit on the <a href="" target="_blank">furniture</a>! And by the way, a woman who gives birth to a girl baby is nasty for <a href="" target="_blank">twice as long</a> as one who gives birth to a boy. But don’t get too insulted. Women can be saved through <a href="" target="_blank">childbearing</a>.</p><p>Donald Trump may treat women like trophies, but Jehovah literally defines women as economic assets belonging to men—just like slaves, children and cattle, which is where the word chattel comes from. He actually sets up formal guidelines for sexual slavery. As chattel, a female who voluntarily gives up her virginity (thus reducing her economic value) <a href=";version=NRSV" target="_blank">can be stoned</a>, but a rapist must simply buy the <a href=";version=NRSV" target="_blank">damaged goods</a>. If a man suspects his wife of infidelity (again reducing her ability to produce purebred offspring of known origin), he can forcibly give her an <a href="" target="_blank">abortion potion</a>. Never say Jehovah is anything less than a bro.</p><p>(See also <a href="" target="_blank">Fifteen Bible Texts Reveal Why God’s Own Party Keeps Degrading Women</a>. Or, don’t take it from me, take it from Christian leaders themselves: <a href="" target="_blank">Twenty Vile Quotes Against Women By Church Leaders from St. Augustine to Pat Robertson</a>.)</p><p><strong>He’s bellicose and vindictive. </strong>Lists of Jehovah’s enemies and stories about how he ruins their lives or plans to ruin their afterlives occupy much of the Bible. First there’s Satan and all of those uppity angels who have apparently gotten tired of acting like everlasting groupies. Then come <a href=";version=MSG" target="_blank">giants</a> and people who build the Tower of Babel, which threatens to break through to God’s home above the sky.</p><p>Then comes everybody but Noah and his ark-building sons, and then the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Midianites and Amalekites and the Philistines (other Semitic tribes), and the Assyrians and Babylonians, and a long litany of foreign kings and queens like Nebuchadnezzar and Jezebel. And let’s not forget all of the traitors among his Chosen People, who—despite constant displays of divine temper and butchery—never seem to grasp how badly Jehovah will burn them if they fall down on sucking up. Unable to threaten lawsuits like Trump can now, Jehovah instead threatens all who displease him with eternal torture.</p><p><strong>His statements contradict facts and each other</strong>. Unless the Bible writers got things garbled, Jehovah’s claims are wildly contradictory. Jehovah says he created evil, and also says he can’t look on it. He shows up, then says no one has ever seen him (Exodus 33:11/John 1:18). He tempts people to do bad things, then denies having ever done so (Genesis 22:1/James 1:13). He declares himself unchanging but changes his mind at will (Exodus 32:14/Psalm 105:25-27). He apparently can’t remember if he created animals before humans or vice versa, so boldly tells the story both ways (Genesis 1 &amp; 2).</p><p>Add to the contradictions a surreal layer of ignorance.</p><p>Jehovah’s official biography is full of scientific hogwash. He creates day and night before the sun. He makes the sun stand still as a favor to some Iron Age fans—meaning he somehow stops the earth’s rotation without everything flying off the planet. He covers Mt. Everest in a flood which then dries up. He assumes that <em>pi</em> equals three. He predicts that a star will fall to earth. He warns against eating four-legged insects (which don’t exist). In sum, despite his claim to have created the world, he doesn’t have a freaking clue how it works.</p><p>But that’s OK, because all that really matters is ...</p><p><strong>He’s wildly rich, and he promises to make you rich too if you follow him. </strong>Jehovah’s version of heaven, which sounds rather hellish if you actually think about it for more than <a href="" target="_blank">five seconds</a>, perfectly sums up Jehovah as the protagonist of his own story. It’s a place of conspicuous opulence with streets of gold and gem-encrusted walls where everyone gets their own mansion. But these trappings of wealth are on offer only to those who are willing to spend a literal eternity standing around singing about what an awesome god he is. This, according to many Christians, is the pinnacle of human existence. And if you don’t find that appealing—it’s outer darkness for you, baby. Wailing and gnashing of teeth.</p><p>You can see why someone primed on Jehovah might admire a bully with an almost limitless sense of his own importance, who demands constant admiration, has an enemy list a mile long, and shows a perverse lack of empathy for those he perceives as lesser beings. These classic characteristics of <a href="" target="_blank">narcissistic personality disorder</a> are the reason we often refer to a narcissist as someone with a god-complex. Most of humanity’s gods are assholes, and the Bible-god is no exception.</p><p>Biologist Richard Dawkins once summed up Jehovah in a sentence: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”</p><p>Christians may make the head-spinning claim that Jehovah is a stand-up guy, goodness incarnate, and worthy to be worshiped by all of humanity, but he makes Donald Trump look morally intact. To the best of my knowledge Trump has no history of infanticide, genocide, filicide, or ethnic cleansing. Despite his god complex, Trump is a pale shadow of the Great I Am.</p><p>Even so, from an electoral standpoint, Trump’s likeness to Jehovah may be as valuable as his celebrity name. If Trump manages to get himself elected by Evangelicals looking for streets of gold and old white males who think they are the Chosen People, we may all be grateful that the worst he can do is build a big wall or nuke the Middle East rather than drowning the entire planet in a flood that covers Everest.</p> Mon, 20 Jun 2016 12:19:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1058638 at Election 2016 Belief Election 2016 The Right Wing religion trump donald trump evangelicals Powerful, sexist, war-mongering, and in need of constant attention, Trump is an awful lot like the God of the Old Testament. There Can Be Hope and Recovery for Rape Victims <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Inexcusable as sexual assault perpetrators are, the act doesn’t always mean a lifetime of suffering for the victim.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_256587241.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>As a mother of two daughters, and as a psychologist who has experienced sexual assault, I find myself troubled by some of the language that feminist women (like me) and progressive allies deploy to fight rape culture; in particular, the way those who have been violated are sometimes assumed to have psychological scars that inevitably will screw them up for life.</p><p>Let me be absolutely clear: Forcing, coercing, exploiting or manipulating someone for the sake of sexual pleasure is immoral because it is harmful and dehumanizing, and it’s long past time we made it a social outrage. For most of human history, women and children have been treated as <a href="" target="_blank">possessions of men</a>—as economic assets, trophies, slave labor, and objects of sexual gratification—rather than full persons with preferences and rights, starting with control of their own bodies.</p><p>This view is so deeply embedded in culture that the concept of sexual consent is wholly absent from the Bible, which continues to profoundly shape <a href="" target="_blank">modern culture</a>. In <a href="" target="_blank">Bible texts</a>, virgin females are given in marriage by their fathers, traded as slaves, kept as war booty, and sold as damaged goods to men who have raped them. The Quran is <a href="" target="_blank">no better</a>. This month, Pakistan’s <a href="" target="_blank">Council of Islamic Ideology</a> proposed legislation giving men the legal right to beat their wives “lightly,” as taught by the Prophet. A teen who turned down a marriage proposal was tortured and <a href="" target="_blank">burned alive</a> by the family of the rejected man, who felt entitled to her.</p><p>In most of the world today, a married woman doesn’t have the right to have a "headache," and many of these women are actually girls who are married off to older men whether they want to be or not. One in three girls in developing countries—<a href="" target="_blank">15 million a year</a>—become wives before they have finished growing up, legally bound to a man who has conjugal rights to their bodies. More than 200 million women and girls have had their <a href="" target="_blank">genitals cut</a> in a culturally embedded practice designed to reduce female sexual pleasure and ensure that their husbands maintain exclusive rights to their bodies.</p><p>Women are bought and sold across international lines as sex slaves. In Washington State, where I live, investigative journalists recently exposed rampant <a href="" target="_blank">sex trafficking</a>, with as many as 500 teens working as sex slaves on any given day, often serving men in Seattle’s tech industry. Even for women who have escaped the worst of these horrors, those who have the legal right to choose marriage and divorce and contraception, who can leave their parents or religion or city of origin and earn money and generally manage their own lives, unwanted sexual contact is the norm.</p><p>As a middle-aged professional, I mostly find myself in the company of women and men who have loving partnerships, warm friendships and mutually respectful collegial relationships. That doesn’t change the fact that virtually every female friend whose history I know has experienced one or more kinds of sexual violation—a hand in the crotch on public transit, an uncle’s incessant innuendo, intercourse pressured by a boyfriend, a brother in the night, date rape, a French kiss by a pastor in the church library—or worse.</p><p>I have two sisters. One sister’s first childhood exposure to sex was a demented grandfather showing her his penis while he played with it. Another, as a young adult, was tricked into the car of a serial pedophile who thought she was underage because she was small. While in college, I had a gang of young men pull a knife on me, force me to the ground and tear off my bathing suit on an isolated stretch of beach. I am not saying that these kinds of violations are equivalent. They are not. Nor am I saying they are acceptable. I am saying that they are ubiquitous.</p><p>The repulsive misogyny of fraternity culture may be what has finally captured public attention: cocky Wall Street-wannabees keeping tallies; drunk-off-their-asses bros humping equally drunk or passed-out or trapped women; intoxicants supplied by aging good ol' boys who feel nostalgic about their own sexual exploit[ation]s. But rape culture is something much broader than girls being pressured, forced or drugged on college campuses. Fraternity gender scripts like <em>women are conquests, taking them is our right</em> echo a pattern that is ancient, global and deeply systemic, one that degrades both women and men, and it’s going to take lifetimes to eradicate it, if ever we can.</p><p>It is precisely because sexual violation is so horrendously pervasive and pernicious that I worry about some of the language and framing deployed in our angry and anguished outcry against it. In both criminal court and the court of public opinion, one of the most powerful tools against offenders is sympathy for those they have harmed, and so it is tempting for litigators and advocates to foretell a future that is as dark as possible. But when we talk about psychological damage, the stories we tell can become self-fulfilling.</p><p>As a psychotherapist, I once worked with a child whose family had been in a devastating car accident. To get the best settlement possible, her lawyers wanted a report that, within the bounds of integrity, painted a dire picture of her psychological status and her future. But as her therapist, what I saw was a child who had a lot of resilience, thanks in part to the support of two loving parents who instinctively drew out her strengths even as they healed from their own injuries. My perspective as a therapist was that she needed to know that. Was she an accident victim? Absolutely. But she was also much, much more. So are we all.</p><p>In a recent rape case that made national headlines, advocates decried the six-month sentence given to a Stanford athlete convicted of sexually assaulting a passed-out woman after a <a href="" target="_blank">fraternity party</a>. Outraged commenters contrasted the man’s short jail term and his father’s comments about a “20 minute” crime with the plight of the woman who, some said, would “suffer for the rest of her life.” Perhaps she will, but to assume so risks making it true, and sends a terrible message to other young women, many of whom will experience some kind of aversive and unwanted sexual contact.</p><p>Blithe predictions of lasting scars from rape are particularly harmful because they play into the same misogynist narratives that have created and perpetuated rape culture: the idea that women are defined by our sex organs and reproductive capacity; that the touch of a man’s <a href="" target="_blank">almighty penis</a> can leave a woman permanently soiled; that a raped woman is damaged goods.</p><p>People don’t have to be scarred for life—or scarred at all—for bodily violations to be morally wrong or assailants to be held accountable. Boys need to be taught that sex without freely given consent is unacceptable whether or not they think someone is going to be harmed by it. Judges and juries need to prosecute sexual violation even if the victim is dry eyed and calm. Young women themselves need the right to say no, even if playing along might not feel like a big deal.</p><p>But for the foreseeable future, girls also need to hear that no matter what they do, and no matter how much this harsh reality sucks or how much we fight it, they most likely are going to experience some kind of unwanted sexual contact. They need to know in advance that when it happens to them they will still be normal, and not alone. That’s why the <a href="" target="_blank">message</a> I have given my daughters about consent and rape has two parts:</p><p>Part One is, no one has a right to your body without your consent. Ever. You may make mistakes or use poor judgment sometimes. We all do. But don’t think you’re going to be the exception, even if you are careful. Yes, you can and should watch out for yourself. Your choices are consequential. You should know who’s watching your back at parties. You should have a "fuck-off <a href="" target="_blank">fund</a>," and avoid dark streets, and try to be as clear as possible about what does and doesn’t fit for you in any given sexual encounter. But assume it’s probably going happen, because this thing is bigger than you or me.</p><p>And Part Two is this: Whether the violation is one time or repeated, ambiguous or violent; whether you were one of two drunk strangers or betrayed in a cherished relationship; whether you thought you might die or just felt slimed afterward; whether you feel confused or angry or stupid or traumatized—your experience is your own.</p><p>Don’t let anyone tell you you shouldn’t be wounded. Even small traumas sometimes stir up things we aren’t expecting, and a sexual violation or assault can shake your core sense of yourself or the world around you. You may beat yourself up about every little thing you could have done different, even if you know rationally that it’s not your fault. Your sleep and emotions and feelings about sex may get screwed up. You may need medical or psychological treatment. Both are available, and both can be powerful tools for healing.</p><p>But don’t let anyone tell you you <em>must</em> be damaged, especially for the long term, because that simply isn’t true. Around the world, every morning, millions of people who have experienced some kind of unwanted sexual contact get up and scrub up and find ways to go on. You are descended from generations of women who lived with sexual coercion in their most intimate relationships, who were traded by their fathers, taken by feudal lords, raped during conflict, and fucked at will by husbands whose conjugal rights were ordained by God—and who despite this loved and worked and raised healthy children and lived their lives in the sun<em>. </em>If they hadn’t, you wouldn’t be here.</p><p>That long lineage of strength is as much a part of your heritage as the culture that tells us women’s bodies belong to men. Never forget it.</p> Mon, 13 Jun 2016 14:48:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1058142 at Personal Health Gender Personal Health Sex & Relationships sexual assault sexual assault victims rape rape victims Inexcusable as sexual assault perpetrators are, the act doesn’t always mean a lifetime of suffering for the victim. The Religious Right's Policing of Sex Robs Pleasure From the Underprivileged <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Religious conservatives want an exclusive right to dole out the privilege of sexual pleasure and intimacy on their own terms—and leave a lot of people out.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_319172105.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Sexual intimacy and pleasure are some of humanity’s most cherished experiences. The so-called “best things in life” include natural beauty, fine dining, the arts, thrilling adventures, creative pursuits and community service. But love and orgasms are among the few peak experiences that are equally available to rich and poor, equally sweet to those whose lives are going according to plan and to many whose dreams are in pieces.</p><p>Religious conservatives think that these treasured dimensions of the human experience should be available to only a privileged few people whose lives fit their model: male-dominated, monogamous, heterosexual pairs who have pledged love and contractual marriage for life. Some true believers—especially those in thrall to the Protestant <a href="">Quiverfull</a> Movement or the Vatican—would further limit sexual privileges even within hetero state-licensed, church-sanctified marriages to only couples who are open to intimacy producing a pregnancy and a child. Take your pick: it’s either reproductive roulette or no sex—although you might be able to game God by tracking female fertility and then bumping like bunnies during the low-risk times of the month.</p><p><strong>Why Christianity Is Obsessed With Sex</strong></p><p>To be clear, I’m not saying that Christianity’s sex rules are <em>only </em>a function of patriarchal Christian privilege. During the Iron Age, from whence Christianity’s sex rules got handed down, society was organized around kin groups, and the endlessly warmongering clans of the Ancient Near East were more at risk of extinction than overpopulation. Legally enforced monogamy created lines of inheritance and social obligation, clarifying how neighbors should be treated and who could be enslaved.</p><p>Also, hetero sex necessarily carried the risk of pregnancy, which made it adaptive to welcome resultant pregnancies. Children do best in stable, nurturing families and communities, and in the Ancient Near East, “<em>No marriage? No sex!”</em> may have served to protect the well-being of mothers and children as well as the social power of patriarchal men. But in today’s mobile, pluralistic societies with modern contraceptive options and social safety nets, God’s self-appointed sex police have little credible excuse save their own compelling need to bully and boss and stay on top.</p><p>It should come as no surprise that Church authorities want an exclusive license to grant “legitimate” sexual privileges. Over the centuries, religious authorities have sought to own and define virtually all of the experiences that touch us deeply: the birth of a new person (christening, bris), art (iconography), music (chanting and hymns), eating, morality, mind altering substances, community, coming of age, family formation, and even our dying process. In each case religious authorities seek to legitimize some forms of the experience and denigrate those that don’t fit their model. Powerful people and institutions want to control valued assets so they can leverage those assets to get more power. And controlling sex is powerful!</p><p><strong>The Egotism and Cruelty of God’s Self-Appointed Messengers</strong></p><p>Religious authorities like Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan or Evangelist Franklin Graham or Religious Right icon Pat Robertson quote the Bible and talk as if their self-righteous sex rules came straight from God, which of course is hooey. Set aside for the moment the fact that declaring oneself a spokesman for God is stupefyingly egotistical. Anyone who claims to know the mind of God is simultaneously making a rather bold claim about the superior infallibility of his own mind. The same can be said for anyone who boldly declares that the Bible is literally perfect and that he knows what God was trying to say.</p><p>But beyond egotism, telling people they can’t have sex based on Iron Age rules collected in the Bible or medieval rules pontificated by some kiss-my-ring Pope is just plain mean. It’s cruel and selfish and heartless, because the sex rules that served Hebrew patriarchs 2,500 years ago and that helped the Vatican breed more tithing members 500 years ago deny sex to a whole lot of people who would otherwise find sexual pleasure and intimacy precious.</p><p><strong>No Sex for the Weary</strong></p><p>Who would men like Dolan, Graham and Robertson (or their predecessors like the Apostle Paul, Augustine, or Martin Luther) exclude from the privilege of sexual intimacy? Most of humanity—including, probably, you and a lot of people you love. The list is limitless:</p><ul><li>College students who face long years of study before being ready for partnership and parenthood.</li><li>Parents who want to commit their finite emotional resources to the children they already have.</li><li>Young singles whose bodies are at peak libido, but who aren’t ready to form families.</li><li>Queer folk.</li><li>Those who, whether married or not, want to commit their lives to some form of calling that isn’t parenthood.</li><li>People who perceive balance within the web of life as moral or spiritual imperative, whose conscience guides them to limit childbearing for the sake of other species and future generations.</li><li>Poor people who want to get a step ahead instead of (or before) having a child.</li><li>People who are saving up for marriage.</li><li>Cohabiting couples who don’t buy into the traditional marriage contract.</li><li>Empty nesters who are rediscovering why they like each other.</li><li>Travelers whose mobile lifestyle makes it impossible to offer a child a stable nurturing community and whose opportunities for intimacy flit past.</li><li>Unmarried soldiers.</li><li>Loners and eccentrics whose personal qualities or desire for solitude make partnership and/or parenthood a poor fit.</li><li>Puppy lovers.</li><li>Elderly widows and widowers for whom remarriage doesn’t make sense.</li><li>Famine-plagued women whose hungry bodies can ill sustain the risks of pregnancy or demands of incubating a healthy child.</li><li>The ill or those at risk of illness, who must navigate love in the time of chemo or love in the time of Zika.</li><li>War zone civilians and refugees who may not know whether they’ll survive or how, but know there is comfort in each other’s arms.</li></ul><p>I could go on but I suspect there’s no need. Under what set of delusions is the world a better place because people like these are denied the pleasures of intimate touch, or the respite of a sexual interlude, or the acute pleasure of orgasm?</p><p><strong>What the Sex Police Really Want</strong></p><p><em>Wait a minute</em>, a reader might say. <em>Don’t overgeneralize. A minority of lay Christians believe that married couples must give up sex if they don’t want a(nother) baby—even if that is the official word from the pulpit for Catholics and some Protestants. So, this fight is really about people who want sex without marriage.</em></p><p>True. Well, partly true.</p><p>It goes without saying that conservative Christians want above all to deny sexual intimacy and pleasure to people who are single—especially girls and women. That is because the Bible’s Iron Age Sex Rules were meant, first and foremost, to ensure that females, who were economic assets belonging to men, produced purebred offspring of known paternity, who were also economic assets belonging to men. The Bible sanctions many forms of marriage and sexual slavery but all converge on one point: they guarantee that a man can know which offspring are his. That is why, after the <a href=";version=NRSV">slaughter of the Midianites</a> in the book of Numbers, only virgins can be kept as war booty. It is why, in the Torah’s legal code, a rapist can be <a href=";version=NRSV">forced to buy and keep the damaged goods</a>.</p><p>The Old Testament <a href="">prescribes death</a> for dozens of infractions (<a href="">you yourself probably belong on death row</a>). But when it comes to sex, the death penalty is for females who voluntarily give it up (or who don’t scream loud enough when they are being raped). The meanest, sickest part of this archaic and <a href="">morally warping worldview</a> is the idea that, for women, sex itself should be a death penalty—or at least a roll of the dice. It’s simply divine justice that sex should sooner or later lead to the pain and potential mortality of childbirth, because that’s the punishment God pronounced on uppity Eve for eating from the Tree of Knowledge.</p><p>“To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.’” Genesis 3:16 NRSV.</p><p>There you have it. Female sexual pleasure and intimacy without the risk of labor pain and death is <em>cheating God—</em>as well as the male who rules over her.</p><p><strong>Control at Any Price</strong></p><p>The ways in which God’s Self-Appointed Sex Police try to obstruct intimacy and orgasms are legion. Denying young people information about their bodies, promoting sex negativity, fostering a <a href="">cult of virginity</a>, spreading lies about masturbation—and above all shaming, shaming, shaming anyone who might dare to have sex without their approval. But the surest way the sex police can stop single females from cheating their way out of Eve’s curse is by making sex risky, which is why the religious right is obsessed with denying women access to birth control and abortion.</p><p>Globally, today <a href="">215 million</a> desperate women want modern contraception and are unable to get it, thanks in part to American Religious Right politicians who explicitly excluded fertility management services from international HIV prevention. Church induced <a href="">hang-ups about sex</a> mean that reproductive empowerment gets left out of conversations where it is fundamental to wellbeing: family prosperity, early childhood development, mental health—even education of girls and career advancement of women.</p><p>At home, the U.S. squandered almost two decades and 1.5 billion dollars on abstinence-only “sex ed” that was an <a href="">abject failure</a>. Over the last three quarters of a century, conservative Christian obstruction of sexual literacy and family planning programs has driven humanity to the verge of collapse and has devastated families, condemning desperately poor people—like those who trusted <a href="">Mother Teresa</a> (who in turn trusted the Pope)—to lives of even deeper desperation.</p><p>Righteous men with access to the halls of power thwart sexual agency and then make criminals of women who abort the resulting ill-conceived pregnancies—all for the sake of maintaining their own authority and that of their institutions. And if the campaign to stop single women from having sex makes things hard for some married folks—the refugee couple, for example; or the poor parents trying to take care of the kids they already have; or those facing the prospect of a <a href="">Zika baby with calcified and deformed brain structures</a>—so be it.</p><p><strong>The Small and Large of It</strong></p><p>Think of the suffering as collateral damage—a form of collateral damage that is relatively benign by the standards of ecclesiastical history.</p><p>During the peak of Christianity’s political power, the Dark Ages, the Vatican launched a <a href="">crusade</a> against a sect of French Christians, the Cathars, who the Pope had declared heretics. When the crusaders arrived and began their slaughter, local people fled into churches, and sorting out who counted as a real Christian got confusing. So an inquiry was sent to the abbot, asking who should be killed and who spared. He replied by messenger: “Kill them all, God will know his own.”</p><p>By contrast with medieval butchery, collateral damage in the form of intimacy denied, or lives burdened with shame and stigma, or unwanted children born into the world with the odds stacked against them, seems minor.</p><p>But that is the only standard by which denying people sexual intimacy and pleasure is trivial. As I said, these are among humanity’s most treasured experiences. There are few freedoms that we value more than being able to form the love bonds and families of our choosing. In Islamic theocracies like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan—and even among immigrant Muslims in the West—young people risk and lose their lives for love.</p><p><strong>Going for Broke</strong></p><p>Religious authorities fight to maintain monopoly control over sexual privileges precisely because these privileges are so valuable—so to the heart of who we are as human beings. Sexual pleasure sweeps over us; it can bring us to our knees. Sexual intimacy allows us to transcend the boundaries of time and space, body and psyche—to lose the self in the other.</p><p>If these seem like religious terms, they are. It is no accident that vocalizations during carnal ecstasy sounds a lot like prayer or that erotic music often has religious overtones: <em>Take me to church; I’ll worship like a dog. . . . In your temple of love . . . halleluja </em>(<a href="">Hozier</a>; <a href="">Rod Stewart</a>; <a href="">Leonard Cohen</a>). Or vice versa: <em>You hold my hand and hold my heart; I give it away now, I am on my knees offering all I am</em> (<a href="">Parachute Band</a>). The Church hierarchy’s determination to define and control “legitimate” sex may be cruel and transparently self-serving. But it is smart. Sex endlessly attracts and compels us, making sexual guilt the perfect currency for institutions trafficking in sin and salvation. When religious authorities hold exclusive power to forgive sexual transgressions and then dole out (or deny) sexual privileges, they can redirect sublimated love and loyalty and yearning and passion into the kind of peak experiences that religion itself has on offer—experiences like spiritual ecstasy, selfless service, or mystical union with the Divine—all scripted and doled out by the very same religious institutions and authorities, of course.</p><p>But God’s self-appointed spokesmen are losing their grip. If their proclamations seem crazier and their political maneuvers seem transparently cruel—as in recent bullying of <a href="">transgender kids</a>—that is because they are desperate. People are noticing that the cage door is open and that the world outside offers a rainbow of possibilities.</p><p>Sex and love that are not controlled by the Church compete with the Church. If individuals who are young and elderly, stable and transitioning, queer and straight, partnered and single, parenting and childfree, claim the right to pleasure themselves and each other and to form intimate bonds based on no authority save their own mutual consent and delight, the Church is screwed.</p><p>]</p> Sat, 28 May 2016 08:32:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1057346 at The Right Wing Civil Liberties Personal Health The Right Wing religious right sex conservatism Religious conservatives want an exclusive right to dole out the privilege of sexual pleasure and intimacy on their own terms—and leave a lot of people out. Texas Parents Go Mama-and-Papa-Bear on Behalf of Transgender Son <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Religious right politicians hoping to exploit transphobia are up against one of the most powerful forces in the world: parental love.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2016-05-12_at_12.59.06_am.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Jo and Jon Ivester don’t exactly have kind words for North Carolina <a href="">governor Pat McCrory</a> and religious right legislators who called an all-day session to push state-sanctioned discrimination against transgender people.</p><p>“Shame on you!” says Jo. “Shame on you, Governor McCrory, for spreading hate and fear when you could be doing the opposite! A true leader would recognize that transgender individuals deserve all the love and respect that is deserved by all. Our transgender son is a sweet, loving young man who has displayed more courage than anyone else I know. Stop being a bully and leave our child and others like him alone.”  Her husband Jon called McCrory and his religious right cronies haters and bullies, and says that sometimes he struggles to hold back his anger.</p><p>A decade ago, Jo and Jon Ivester struggled to describe their teenage daughter—a tomboy who played football with the guys in both seventh and eighth grades. Today they understand their son Jeremy to be transgender, and by telling their story, and his, they hope to help other families on a similar journey.</p><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image media-image-left" height="559" style="width: 160px; height: 222px; float: left; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" width="402"><img alt="" class="media-image media-image-left" height="559" style="width: 160px; height: 222px; float: left; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" width="402" typeof="foaf:Image" src="" /></div><p>The baby Jo and Jon named Emily was their third of four, and they knew from the toddler years that Emily didn’t fit the typical girlie-girl pattern, preferring hand-me-downs from her brother and stereotypical boy toys over the other clothes and activities on offer. But it would take two decades and a bridesmaid dress before the family—Emily included—realized that “tomboy” really meant “boy”—that Emily was transgender and needed a name and identity that fit. </p><p>In April 2015, at age 25, Emily appeared before a judge and legally became Jeremy Andrew, with Jo and Jon as witnesses. Afterward, Jeremy’s parents shed a few tears—not tears of sadness but of pride at their child’s journey of insight and courage. And maybe a few tears of regret that they hadn’t figured things out sooner so they could have made things easier along the way.</p><p>Not that Jeremy was an unloved or particularly lonely child. The family felt close. While Jeremy emulated his brother Ben, Jo and Jon’s elder daughter Elizabeth loved having a sister, even one who didn’t take much interest in being dolled up. And their youngest son, Sammy, adored Jeremy from day one, no questions asked. In the Ivesters’ kid-oriented Austin, Texas neighborhood, a close-knit group of half a dozen boys accepted the girl in cropped hair and T-shirts as one of their own. After school, they played rough-and-tumble games, baseball and football. Come summer, they all swam in shorts, and through grade school Jeremy was included in sleepovers.</p><p>But some experiences make a parent wince in hindsight. Jon recalls a trip to the mall when Jeremy was in second grade. Jeremy made a beeline for the boys clothing and Jon balked: “I said, ‘Hey, Emily, don’t you want to go to the girls’ section?’ And he said, ‘Daddy! I’m a <em>tomboy</em>!’ And now I realize that to him that meant he was some gender other than boy or girl. Things that wouldn’t have been important to me but were very, very important to him. I used to think he was just a particularly stubborn little girl. It didn’t dawn on me that it wasn’t a stubborn streak in his personality but a fundamental identity.”</p><p>Jo is an author. Her book, <em><a href="" target="_blank">The Outskirts of Hope</a></em>, chronicles her own experience as a child who didn’t quite fit in. In 1967, her father moved his Jewish family to the segregated Deep South, and set up a medical clinic in all-black Mound Bayou, Mississippi. At age 10, she was the only white student in her class; she knows what it’s like to feel different.  </p><p>For the past four years, Jeremy has recorded a video-diary describing his experiences and feelings, beginning before his top surgery. Jo and Jeremy together will use these recordings in Jo’s next book, with the working title of <em>Jeremy’s Journey</em>. In these recordings, Jeremy confessed that beneath the surface, from preschool on, he was already trying to make sense of how he fit into the world. As Jo describes it, “In his toddler and preschool mind, he thought he’d grow up to be like Daddy. He always pictured himself growing older as a man long before we had the terminology of transgender.”</p><p>Jeremy also says that almost every night from age five onward, he would pray as he went to sleep that he would wake up as a boy.</p><p>That’s what makes Jon wish they had known more when he was younger. It’s the thought of Jeremy struggling to sort things out alone, not knowing what to make of his own differences. It’s the thought of him trying to tell them with words they didn’t fully understand.</p><p>“What is our biggest regret?” Jo asks. “It’s that we didn’t figure it out sooner. If we had the language when he was three we might have recognized earlier who he is. If we had done so, the way that some children are being recognized now, his childhood and teen years could have been so much more fulfilling. He missed out on something we can never give back to him.”</p><p>Childhood had enveloped Jeremy in a cocoon of acceptance and love, but then came middle school. Jeremy played football well—to the point that his high school brother took some teasing about it in the form of <em>your little sister plays better than you do. </em>But increasingly, he didn’t really fit in anywhere. In Jo’s words, “If he hung out with his football buddies, they would clam up because they were talking about their crushes and their bodies. The girls were uncomfortable including him because he was too friendly with the guys they were interested in. Jeremy would walk out into the school lunch room with his tray of food and not know where to fit in.”</p><p>Jon sees this as a parallel to the fight going on in North Carolina and elsewhere about which bathroom transgender people should use. “Think about it,” says Jo. “Jeremy always used the women’s room, but once he made the decision to present as male—as Jeremy not Emily—he looked and sounded like a guy. If he were to walk into a women’s restroom, the women would say he is in the wrong place.”</p><p>For Jeremy to fit even in his own skin has taken time. Back when Jeremy was presenting as female, Emily could look quite pretty if she chose, and she sometimes got complimented for dressing up in feminine clothes. But that approval came at a price; it was praise for being something untruet. It felt good, but it also felt bad. </p><p>It all came to a head when Elizabeth got engaged and started planning her wedding. She asked if Jeremy would be the maid of honor, and he agreed. But when the dress arrived, Jeremy spread it out on the bed and started crying. He wanted to make his big sister happy and knew the wedding should be her special day, but he couldn’t bear to put it on. At that time, he was presenting very androgynously, but most family members didn’t yet know how deep his feelings were. Distressed and desperate, he turned to his parents, who already knew that he was thinking about surgery. And although Jeremy was not quite ready to speak openly, they said, “You have to tell her.”</p><p>Elizabeth’s love trumped her desire for a picture-perfect wedding, and she determined to make it work. Jeremy ended up wearing the same slacks as the groomsmen and a white shirt and then a vest the same color as the bridesmaid dresses. He didn’t quite fit on either side, but it was clear that he belonged. Shortly thereafter, Jeremy shared everything with his siblings, and three months later at his brother’s wedding, he dressed exactly like the groomsmen. </p><p>Jo and Jon find the recent flurry over transgender use of public bathrooms to be hurtful and cruel—callus political opportunism that they call <em>a solution in search of a problem</em>. “Trans individuals have been using the restroom of their choice for many many years without any problems!” Jo says. “We want safety for our children just like everyone else, and the idea of presenting trans individuals as sexual predators is an injustice to the loving individuals who are a part of that community.”</p><p>They were astounded when former GOP candidate Ted Cruz suggested that transgender people should be limited to using the bathrooms in their own homes. But they find comfort and hope from the fact that when people hear what it’s really like to be part of a transgender family, their attitudes change.</p><p>Recently the Anti-Defamation League of Austin gave Jo and Jon a humanitarian award for work they have done over the past 25 years to promote greater harmony and cooperation in the community. Trained as an engineer, Jo works today as a writer and an advocate for civil rights. Jon, a retired high-tech executive, has served as board chair for the Red Cross of Central Texas and for BalletAustin. Their lives carry forward the passion for racial and economic justice that defined Jo’s childhood in Mississippi.</p><p>At the ADL event, Jo and Jon were each given four minutes to speak, and they decided—with Jeremy’s permission—to talk about transgender issues and their family’s story. They announced that the award money ($1,000) would go to <a href="" target="_blank">Equality Texas</a>. With Jeremy in the audience, Jon gave a speech that left people crying across the room. As he left the podium, Jeremy jumped up, and before Jon could get halfway to his seat, Jeremy embraced him. Even people who had made it through the speech dry eyed found themselves fishing for tissues.  </p><p>Jon and Jo perceive North Carolina’s recent anti-trans “bathroom bill” and others like it as mean-spirited opportunism—politicians playing with ignorance and fear, preying on some of the most vulnerable members of society for political gain. But the whole anti-trans political strategy relies on exploiting unfamiliarity with what transgender actually is. That’s why the Ivesters are determined to tell their family’s story to whoever will listen.</p><p>“Our son Jeremy is still our son,” they say. “Finding out when he was in his early 20s, that he is transgender, didn’t change how we felt toward him. He is still the same loving, wonderful individual. Jeremey is entitled to live the life of his choosing in the gender that he has identified as his own. We want the world for him, in the same way that we did when we thought when he was our daughter.”</p><p>To parents like Jon and Jo, it feels enormously significant when a member of government, like Attorney General Loretta Lynch, speaks on behalf of trans people. Lynch’s <a href="" target="_blank">hard-hitting announcement</a> of a federal lawsuit against North Carolina’s anti-trans HB2 has been called historic. Lynch compared the bill to Jim Crow, saying, “They created state-sponsored discrimination against trans-gender individuals who simply seek to engage in the most private of functions in a place of safety and security, a right taken for granted by most of us. ... None of us can stand by when a state ... invents a problem that does not exist as a pretext for discrimination and harassment.”</p><p>Jo listened eagerly through the press conference, postponing an interview of her own so that she could catch it all, because what she heard was this: <em>Your</em><em> beloved son is not invisible</em>. <em>The trans community is not alone. </em></p><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="640" style="width: 650px; height: 650px;" width="640"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="640" style="width: 650px; height: 650px;" width="640" typeof="foaf:Image" src="" /></div><em>All photos courtesy of the Ivester family.</em> Wed, 11 May 2016 21:53:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1056364 at Gender Belief Culture Gender The Right Wing transgender transgender child texas texas parents transphobia Religious right politicians hoping to exploit transphobia are up against one of the most powerful forces in the world: parental love. The Astonishing Total of 400,000 Unexamined Rape Kits and One Determined Woman's Plan to Do Something About It <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Julie Smolyansky discusses campus rape and the outrage of untested rape kits.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_410200384.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>Swabs for wiping the lips, face, thighs, vagina and anus. A comb to collect fibers and hair. A pick for scraping debris from under fingernails. A blood sampling device and microscope slides. Baggies for underwear. Documentation forms and labels.</em></p><p>These are just <a href="" target="_blank">some</a> of the items in the standard sexual assault evidence collection kit, or rape kit, used by American hospitals and police departments. Sexual assault turns the victim’s body into a crime scene and the process of evidence gathering—prodding, swabbing and questioning—can take hours. Victims who subject themselves to this ordeal do so in the hope of justice and the hope that the perpetrator will be stopped from hurting anyone else. But over the last 30 years as many as 400,000 rape kits have piled up, untested, in back rooms and storage lockers across the country. Stacked together they would fill a warehouse the size of a football field and three stories tall.</p><p>The failure to test this evidence leaves victims waiting for closure that may never come and serial rapists free to roam. In 2009, a Detroit assistant prosecutor discovered over 10,000 kits gathering dust in a police warehouse. Many of the cases had been abandoned, with female victims dismissed as prostitutes or teens dismissed as attention seekers. Public outcry led to testing—and <a href="" target="_blank">shocking results</a>. A quarter of the kits contained evidence associated with criminal cases in other states—35 different states and Washington, D.C., to be precise.</p><p>Julie Smolyansky—CEO of Lifeway Foods, philanthropist, activist, and an executive producer of the Oscar-nominated documentary about campus rape, <a href="" target="_blank"><em>The Hunting Ground</em></a>, with an accompanying book out from <a href="">Hot Books</a> on May 17<em>—</em>is outraged when she thinks about mountains of evidence gathering dust while perpetrators move across the country leaving a trail of suffering and harm<em>.</em> She aims to do something about it.</p><p>Smolyansky, together with her husband Jason Burdeen, has launched an advocacy campaign called <a href="" target="_blank">Test400K</a>. In April they convened elected officials, technologists, DNA experts, activists, and survivors to identify a set of best practices for processing rape evidence. The group issued a call to action around a new standard: Every kit should be tested within 15-30 days and every criminal justice system should implement a transparent tracking system so that survivors know the status of their case. New technologies can and must be deployed to make this possible.</p><p>In the following interview Smolyansky discusses Test400K,<em> The Hunting Ground,</em> and her broader passion for empowering young women.</p><p><strong>Valerie Tarico: At one time, people knew you as the youngest female CEO of a publicly traded U.S. company. Now many probably know you best because of your association with <em>The Hunting Ground</em>. How does Test400K fit into the other parts of your life?</strong></p><p>Julie Smolyansky: My core passion is creating a healthier, safer, peaceful world and that includes justice and empowerment of girls and women. I spend a lot of time speaking about these issues and trying to elevate the issue of violence against women—and how society fails to respond. So, once I learned about the untested rape kits, I couldn’t just let it go. Fewer than 20 percent of the rape kits completed in the last 30 years have been analyzed. In Cook County, where I live, my sheriff found kits going back to 1978. The problem has gotten media attention in Detroit, Memphis and New York, but it is not unique to any city. Rape evidence has been disregarded and deprioritized, and it’s a symptom of discrimination, a symptom of the low status of women in our communities and our culture.</p><p><strong>VT: What got you focused on rape kits specifically?</strong></p><p>JS: Before I was the CEO of Lifeway, I was a rape crisis counselor. I always assumed there would be an investigation and that those victims would get some kind of justice. Then, in 2010, an acquaintance from Human Rights Watch sent me a book about violations that women face around the world. The Afghanistan chapter focused on child brides. Another chapter focused on female genital mutilation. And the U.S. chapter focused on these rape kits. I was appalled. That’s when we launched Test400K.</p><p>We advocate for the testing of the old rape kits but also for new technologies that would help communities speed up investigations. Robotics, for example, are being used in California. Louisiana and California are analyzing within 30 days. My home state of Illinois isn’t doing as well. Right now we have 1,600 kits that are backlogged about a year, and some survivors were told that it would be two years before theirs were analyzed. In many states there are statutes of limitations on rape and in Illinois it was 10 years, so last year we lobbied to halt the clock until a kit is tested. Now, even if it takes them over 10 years to analyze a kit, the case is still viable.</p><p><strong>VT: That’s quite a coup. I know that survivors of </strong><strong><a href="" target="_blank">religious sex abuse</a> have tried to get statutes of limitations extended; not for the same reason, but because it can take a while for survivors to come to terms with what happened to them. But the Catholic bishops have managed to defeat that. So far, the biggest win for the victims may be <em><a href="" target="_blank">Spotlight</a>, </em>which millions of people have now seen because it won an Oscar. Thanks to Lady Gaga’s song, “<a href="" target="_blank">Till It Happens to You</a>,” the Oscars also brought real attention to <em>The Hunting Ground—</em>which is stunning, by the way<em>—</em>and to campus rape more broadly.</strong></p><p><a href="" target="_blank"><div alt="" class="media-image" height="427" style="width: 640px; height: 427px;" width="640"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="427" style="width: 640px; height: 427px;" width="640" typeof="foaf:Image" src="" /></div></a></p><p><em><a href="">Photo</a>: Lady Gaga performs "Till It Happens to You" at the 88th Oscars in February 2016. Credit: <a href="" target="_blank">Disney|ABC Television Group</a> via Flickr</em></p><p>JS: Film can be powerful in creating conversation! It brings people around collectively to a topic, even a topic that is very difficult. <em>The Hunting Ground</em> exposed the coverups of sexual assault on college campuses. One in five female students will be a victim of sexual assault by the time they graduate, but administrators cover for sports teams and fraternity houses and safeguard their own fundraising. They need a clear-cut procedure, accountability for perpetrators and services for victims. These crimes have a high rate of recidivism, meaning one perpetrator will have many victims; it’s like the church abuse scandal or rape in the military.</p><p><strong>VT: In the Iron Age view that got handed down through the Bible and other sacred texts, women and children are literally </strong><strong><a href="" target="_blank">possessions of men</a>. Verse after verse reinforces that view, as do the teachings of some religious leaders from ancient times to the present. I once wrote an article on what the Bible </strong><strong><a href="" target="_blank">says about rape</a> and was horrified by what I found there. Some men still think they are entitled to take what they want, and our legal system protects them. Janet Heimlich, whose father invented the Heimlich manoeuver, has dedicated her life to <a href="" target="_blank">fighting for children</a> who get <a href="" target="_blank">harmed</a> </strong><strong>by these attitudes.</strong></p><p>JS: In our society there are all of these ways in which crimes against women and children are ignored. The financial costs alone are enormous, $20 billion annually in direct medical costs and missed work days from sexual assault. But even worse, we have a society of PTSD and after-effects of trauma on survivors and their communities.</p><p>As a result of <em>The Hunting Ground</em> and related exposure of campus sexual assault, there now are 228 open Title IX investigations at 181 universities. At the Oscars, I stood on stage with Lady Gaga along with other survivors. What Joe Biden said is that we have to change culture, and this is how we are doing it—through the activism of people, of students.</p><p><strong>VT: I find that most activism comes from something deep in a person’s identity, maybe even from a place that could be called spiritual, and often from personal experience. Would you say that is true for you?</strong></p><p>JS: My family are Holocaust survivors, which is why tolerance and learning from the past are so important to us, and confronting bullying and injustice is part of that. I’ve been doing this my whole life, speaking out against injustice and unfairness. Even in high school, I helped to create the first teen dating and violence curriculum in our community. It was just before the Nicole Brown Simpson murder.</p><p>Ever since I was a kid, I’ve seen the impact of gender and power and the lack of power—how gender dynamics play out in our society, whether it’s a friend being cat-called on the street or mistreated in a relationship, or in my own relationships or work. When I came to Lifeway to step in as the CEO—I became the youngest female CEO of a publically traded company after my dad died—one of the men said, “There’s no way a 27-year-old girl could run the company.” Yes, “girl.” That’s how people view women. As I built up the company I promised myself that I would do something about that.</p><p>I’m also a rape survivor, and that’s part of how I learned to use my voice. Out of that survival was born the spirit of activism with a laser sharp focus on where I want to leave an impact on society. I have a platform, and I’m comfortable with being uncomfortable. So I have decided to take on the most stigmatized issue in our society.</p><p><strong>VT: I understand that you also have two daughters, as do I. That can make this all feel a little too close to home.</strong></p><p>JS: Yes. I have two daughters, ages seven and a half and five and a half. They don’t understand all of what I do, but they know that I’m a fierce activist for women and girls—for health and safety. They had the opportunity to meet Malala, and that was something they could understand. We try to teach them the need to be an upstander and not a bystander. We teach them that their rights are as important as the rights of boys.</p><p>So, yes, being a mother is part of what motivates me. My daughters going to college shouldn’t be a risk factor for sexual assault! And if they are assaulted, what’s the response going to be? That said, I feel hopeful. <em>The Hunting Ground</em> continues to do amazing things. Over 15 pieces of legislation have been proposed—making sure that there are surveys done on campuses, that there is transparency, that there is a response to each survivor, and that students have advocates. There are the Title IX investigations. But the biggest thing is that after the Oscars performance, we are seeing survivors coming forward. That is the most inspiring part of all of this. That’s why I got involved in film; a film lets us raise awareness at scale.</p><p>But the problem isn’t just violence. We have only <a href="" target="_blank">24 women</a> running Fortune 500 companies—the companies with the most power, reach and scale—If only 24 women are running that kind of company and only 19 percent of congress is made up of women and only 6 states have women governors, women are under-represented and largely invisible. That means policies are going to be slanted. So, I’m passionate about women and girls being empowered more broadly.</p><p>I belong to the UN Foundation Global Entrepreneurs Council because entrepreneurship and girls in a position of leadership can drive change around the world, not just here. In Bangladesh I saw girls who were victims of acid violence. But one who was educated was able to write her story, and a politician saw it, and her perpetrator is now in jail. Education, empowerment, leadership, fighting back against gender violence—it’s all interconnected.</p> Wed, 11 May 2016 19:29:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1056279 at Personal Health Books Culture Gender Media Personal Health Sex & Relationships The Hunting Ground hunting ground rape kits untested rape kids julie smolyansky documentary interview Julie Smolyansky discusses campus rape and the outrage of untested rape kits. How America Can Avoid a Zika Virus Crisis <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">America can avoid a Zika virus crisis with a few simple changes in reproductive health care policies and individual choices.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_365183174.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Picture your next child or grandchild, or your neighbor’s child, with a head size “minus five to six standard deviations below the norm.” Cringing? According to experts, microcephaly may be just the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to fetal defects caused by Zika infection during pregnancy. The more likely scenario is one in which invisible brain damage shows up over time. Fortunately, this version of every parent’s nightmare doesn’t have to become a reality. Most future birth defects caused by Zika virus can be prevented via a simple upgrade in reproductive health services using technologies currently available.</p><p>But first, the bad news. </p><p><strong>Zika News Is Getting Worse, and It’s Not Just Microcephaly. </strong></p><p>Mosquitos capable of carrying the Zika virus can be found as far north as <a href="" target="_blank">Minnesota and Maine</a>. As of April 30, 2016, more than 400 cases of Zika had been reported in the U.S., and mosquito transmission may reach 40 states, beginning this summer.</p><p>The more developmental specialists learn about Zika during pregnancy, the more grave public health concerns have become. In mid-April, after months of uncertainty, medical researchers announced that all reasonable doubt was gone: <a href="" target="_blank">Zika causes birth defects</a>. The virus <a href="" target="_blank">attacks</a> neural progenitor cells that produce neurons in the developing brain. It attacks many brain lobes including those that control <a href="" target="_blank">thought, movement and vision</a>, eating away parts of the brain that already are developed and preventing new structures from developing. It is <a href="" target="_blank">not</a> clear that any point in pregnancy is safe.</p><p>Experts in developmental pediatrics and neurology who study microcephaly say that the damage in Zika infants is particularly severe. Neurologist William Dobyns at the Seattle Children’s Center for Integrative Brain Research <a href="" target="_blank">says</a> it is the worst he’s seen in 30 years of practice. “In these kids with Zika you see really severe microcephaly. The heads are probably minus five to six standard deviations below the norm, and that’s really small. If the appearance of the head seems problematic, the brain is worse. ... The idea that these children are mildly handicapped is a fantasy.”</p><p>On top of that, microcephaly is likely just the most dramatic and visible form of brain damage from Zika. Pathogens that impair fetal development produce a range of defects that depend on the severity and timing of infection, and the extent of invisible brain and nervous system defects will become apparent only as babies from Zika-infected pregnancies grow up. Marco Safadi of the Santa Casa Medical School in Sao Paulo, Brazil, <a href="" target="_blank">saw</a> a baby who looked normal at birth but whose mother had Zika-type symptoms during the second trimester. Two months after birth, CT and MRI scans showed hardened areas of “calcification” in the baby’s brain. His developmental trajectory remains to be seen. In the <a href="" target="_blank">words</a> of Sonja Rasmussen from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, “The microcephaly and other birth defects we have been seeing could be the tip of the iceberg.”</p><p><strong>Timing Pregnancy Is Key to Avoiding Birth Defects</strong></p><p>It appears that Zika, like some other pathogens, damages fetal development only when a mother has a new or "acute" infection during pregnancy. Unfortunately, the most critical period of brain damage is likely the first part of pregnancy, before most women know they are pregnant. Safeguarding against Zika after a positive pregnancy test is important, but may be too late.</p><p>With Zika and pregnancy, timing is everything. Although data are still coming in, once a person has contracted and recovered from Zika, pregnancy is thought to be safe and a second acute infection less likely. For a woman who wants a child, one of the most powerful ways to stack the odds in favor of healthy babies may be to delay or time pregnancy so as to minimize the risk of in utero exposure. A woman might choose to safeguard against pregnancy because of expected travel or because she knows that people around her are infected, or because mosquito season is coming. And of course, for a person who would rather not be pregnant or can't decide, Zika offers up a good reason to step up precautions.</p><p>Similarly, one of the most powerful ways a government can protect families and communities against a tidal wave of trauma and suffering is by quickly ramping up access to reproductive information and better birth control.</p><p>That means better than the Pill. Half of U.S. pregnancies are unplanned, and half of these occur when a couple is using some form of birth control. Relying on the Pill, 1 in 11 couples gets pregnant each year. With condoms, that’s almost 1 in 5. And, no matter what anyone tries to tell you, in the real world, pregnancy rates for withdrawal, barrier methods, or periodic abstinence are <a href="" target="_blank">far, far worse</a>. (Unprotected, about 85 percent of sexually active couples will experience a pregnancy within a year.)</p><p>By contrast three state-of-the-art “get it and forget it” contraceptives for women work <a href="" target="_blank">20 times better</a> than the Pill. Each has a failure rate below 1 in 500, with a rapid return to normal rates of fertility when a woman feels ready. Each has a different appeal: The copper IUD is completely hormone-free, the hormonal IUD offers lighter and less frequent periods, and the implant is as easy as getting a shot. But among the 61 million American women of <a href="" target="_blank">childbearing age</a>, 90 percent are playing reproductive roulette (soon to be Zika roulette) by using a far less effective family planning method.</p><p><strong>Delaware’s Simple Solution Could Radically Reduce Harms</strong></p><p>Most American couples are not rolling the dice because they prefer to; when women are offered the full range of options with no barriers, the vast majority choose a top-tier get-it-and-forget-it contraceptive. The problem is that when it comes to family planning services, our medical system is out of date. Right now, scheduling, billing, counseling, clinician habits, and consumer misinformation all erect barriers against women getting truly excellent modern care, the kind that could protect American families from Zika trauma.</p><p>The good news is that this is easy to fix.</p><p>If we wanted to reduce the number of Zika-damaged children by as much as 75-90 percent, we know how to do it. All it would take is a simple upgrade of America’s health-care system so that state-of-the-art family planning (already free under Obama's Affordable Care Act) is available in every clinic that serves women of reproductive age. This kind of system upgrade is <a href="" target="_blank">underway in Delaware</a> right now thanks to the foresight of Governor Jack Markell, and thanks to research in parts of <a href="" target="_blank">Colorado</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">Missouri</a>, we know it’s a radical game-changer. Unexpected and unwanted pregnancy—the kind that would drive an epidemic of brain damage—plummets.</p><p><strong>Religious Conservatives Have Committed to Obstruction</strong></p><p>So, has the U.S. government stepped up a massive public health campaign aimed at educating the public and getting top-notch birth control to everyone who wants it? Nope. Instead, some conservative politicians have thrown their weight behind banning abortion of defective fetuses. In March, following North Dakota’s lead, Indiana’s Republican Governor Mike Pence <a href="" target="_blank">signed</a> such a bill, based on a model <a href="" target="_blank">being promoted</a> across the country.</p><p>The United States Centers for Disease Control has assembled hundreds of experts and created an emergency operations center to deal with the Zika pandemic in real time. Yet, ironically, the <a href="" target="_blank">simple health-care upgrade</a> that would allow American couples to time their pregnancies and prevent devastating birth defects is inching forward at a pace that will take years rather than months.</p><p>Nationally, Republicans in both the <a href="" target="_blank">Senate</a> and House have refused to fund a fight against Zika, perhaps hoping that pandemic anxiety will tilt elections in their favor as it did during the 2014 Ebola epidemic. But even when they do at last fund all or part of the administration’s emergency offensive, it’s not clear how much of the money will go to upgrading family planning services and education so that at-risk families can delay pregnancy.</p><p>In contrast to rhetoric about family values, religious and political conservatives continue to <a href="" target="_blank">obstruct</a> every aspect of reproductive services that might help prospective parents deal with Zika: sexual education, funding for public health campaigns, contraceptive access, and—of course—the abortion care that <a href="" target="_blank">families rely on</a> as their last defense against ill-timed and unhealthy pregnancy. As a consequence, even though Zika poses little risk except during pregnancy, the vast majority of $743 million requested by the CDC to fight Zika is slated for the much more costly—and perhaps quixotic—project of stopping mosquitos from getting infected and biting people. </p><p>Lest there be any doubt, resistance to better family planning—even in the midst of a preventable crisis—is driven almost wholly by archaic theologies. This spring, as Zika and <a href="" target="_blank">heartbreak</a> spread across Latin America and pictures of malformed babies began appearing in the news, devout Catholics <a href="" target="_blank">cruelly condemned</a> the souls of women who sought abortions or even contraception. “Contraceptives are not a solution. There is not a single change in the church’s position,” <a href="" target="_blank">proclaimed</a> Bishop Leonardo Ulrich Steiner, secretary-general in Brazil’s National Council of Bishops. Pope Francis informally offered some wiggle room to desperate families, but later pontificated against even <a href="" target="_blank">sexual education</a>:</p><blockquote><p>Frequently, sex education deals primarily with “protection” through the practice of “safe sex.” Such expressions convey a negative attitude towards the natural procreative finality of sexuality, as if an eventual child were an enemy to be protected against. This way of thinking promotes narcissism and aggressivity.</p></blockquote><p>Catholic priests, ignoring the lessons of “<a href="" target="_blank">Spotlight</a>,” and Protestant leaders, ignoring their own scandalous inability to keep their pants zipped or their <a href="" target="_blank">hands off of children</a>, loudly promote their own failed solution for singles in the age of Zika: chastity. Some exhort married couples to rely on prayer or “let go and let God,” or the rhythm method, which has a 1 in 4 chance of pregnancy and is impossible for women who lack the power to say no to sex. </p><p><strong>All Families Are at Risk, but Lack of Care Hits the Poor Hardest</strong></p><p>Most people, including lay Catholics, look to their own <a href="" target="_blank">conscience</a> in family planning decisions—especially now that resource scarcity and epidemics like Zika have put the cruelty of the Church’s anti-contraception stance on display. As one pained Catholic put it, “How can being responsible be a sin?”</p><p>But church leaders have enormous influence over people who lack the education or confidence to question religious authority. This means that Vatican opposition to family planning hits young, poor, and psychologically vulnerable women the hardest. It widens <a href="" target="_blank">economic disparities</a> and puts the burden of ill health on those least able to absorb it. All families are at risk, but as in Latin America, most Zika-damaged babies in the U.S. will be born to poor or working-class women under the age of 30—the prime demographic for unplanned pregnancy.</p><p>The good news is that the Zika pandemic will sweep over us. And mercifully, lasting symptoms will be rare save for children born from infected pregnancies. At some point in the future, once widespread immunity is established, acute Zika during pregnancy likely will be rare. But with globalization and climate change, other pandemics are sure to follow, crises when parents will want to delay pregnancies in order to give their kids the best starts in life. If ever there was a time to ensure that families have unobstructed access to the state-of-the-art family planning information and services, that time is now.</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="560"></iframe></p> Wed, 11 May 2016 14:32:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1056170 at Personal Health Personal Health zika Zika virus health brain damage health care delaware America can avoid a Zika virus crisis with a few simple changes in reproductive health care policies and individual choices. Conservative Christian Tow Truck Driver Abandons Disabled Woman Because of Her Bernie Bumper Sticker <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">North Carolina Christian reenacts Good Samaritan story, plays role of Pharisee.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/9862025456_af20aefd4a_z.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>North Carolina tow truck driver and self-proclaimed “conservative Christian” Ken Shupe followed the example of Jesus on Monday by providing roadside assistance to disabled Bernie Sanders supporter Cassandra McWade even though Shupe himself professes loyalty to God’s Own Party. Oh. Wait. I got that backward. Shupe saw the Sanders sign in McWade’s car and drove off, leaving her stranded on the roadside—the exact opposite of what Jesus teaches in the New Testament story of the Good Samaritan.</p><p>In the Gospel According to Luke, a lawyer and member of the religious establishment tries to trap Jesus by asking him how to attain eternal life. Jesus gives a simple but difficult answer: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. <em>Ah</em>, says the lawyer seeing what he thinks is his opening, <em>and who is my neighbor?</em></p><p>In response, Jesus tells one of the most repeated stories in the Bible:</p><blockquote><p>A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. (Luke 10:25-37 NRSV)</p></blockquote><p><em>Go and do likewise, </em>Jesus says.</p><p>For those who weren’t raised on Bible stories, the priest and Levite are pious religious leaders, while the Samaritan is a member of a despised minority—despised to the depth that a self-described Christian might despise a Mexican atheist. The story, in other words, makes it graphically clear who the good guy is and who will be rewarded in the afterlife, and it isn’t the person who picks the right set of scriptures or devotional practices.</p><p>But tow truck driver Ken Shupe, from the (ironically named) town of Traveler’s Rest, apparently hasn’t read the story—or got a little confused—or doesn’t really care about the inconvenient teachings of Jesus. “I’m a conservative Christian, I’ve just drawn a line in the sand. I’m not going to associate or conduct business with them,” <a href="">he said</a>.</p><p><em>Them</em>. The generic other.</p><p>One can’t blame Shupe too much for getting things backward and inside out. Most Christians don’t actually read the Bible but instead get their marching orders from religious authorities and Christianity-claiming politicians. And of late Christian authorities have definitely come down on the side of the priest and Levite—<em>just walk on by.</em></p><p>In both popular lingo and legalese, “<a href="">religious freedom</a>” now means not the freedom to serve, but the freedom to deny service—everything from wedding cakes and pizzas to health insurance and the use of public toilets. Literal priests, meaning the American Catholic Bishops, and modern Levites, meaning other paid religious leaders, have fought all the way to the Supreme Court arguing for their God-given and constitutional right to deny care, even in public accommodations, even when <a href="">funding their enterprises</a> with public dollars.</p><p>Asked about his presidential candidate loyalties, Shupe named Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee and now Donald Trump—which further elucidates his moral confusion. The publically pious Carson waxed eloquent in support of a blatantly anti-queer “religious freedom” law <a href="">in Indiana</a>. Equally pious Huckabee <a href="">built</a> his stump speeches not Christianity’s call to service but <a href="">Christian persecution complex</a>. Trump couldn’t quote the Bible to save his soul, but his brand—however morally repugnant it may be—aligns <a href="">shockingly well</a> with that of today’s Evangelical establishment.</p><p>If Shupe wanted to call himself a follower of Jesus, rather than a “conservative Christian,” he might start by reading the Bible. But even that would be only a start, because the Bible itself is a <a href="">collection of texts</a> assembled over hundreds of years, many of which directly contradict what Jesus said about good Samaritans and how to inherit eternal life.</p><p>The simple commandment that attaches loving God to loving your neighbor is way, way harder than simply memorizing the Bible and living by a set of rules. Having the right set of beliefs and the right religious identity are what the priest and Levite did, and Jesus himself—at least in Luke’s version—said that’s not what life is about.</p> Thu, 05 May 2016 09:33:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1055930 at The Right Wing Belief Civil Liberties Culture The Right Wing tow truck disability christianity conservatism discrimination North Carolina Christian reenacts Good Samaritan story, plays role of Pharisee. Abortion Is Part of the Animal Kingdom, Not Unique to Humanity <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">What do whales, caribou and humans have in common? Abortion as an adaptive response to resource scarcity.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/4682386183_4b9c5ff30e_z.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p style="font-size: 12px;">Spontaneous abortion, also known as miscarriage, is an ordinary yet important part of <a href="" target="_blank">normal reproduction</a>; one of several ways nature promotes healthy babies who grow up to have babies of their own. But among the caribou of northern Alberta, Canada and the orcas of the Pacific Northwest, abortion has become alarmingly common.</p><p style="font-size: 12px;">Why?</p><p style="font-size: 12px;"></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="524" style="width: 600px; height: 491px;" width="640"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="524" style="width: 600px; height: 491px;" width="640" typeof="foaf:Image" src="" /></div><p style="font-size: 12px;"><em>Photo credit: </em><a data-rapid_p="55" data-track="attributionNameClick" href="" title="Go to Thomas PLESSIS's photostream">Thomas PLESSIS</a> / <a href="">Flickr</a></p><div style="font-size: 12px;"><strong>Caribou Abortion</strong></div><p style="font-size: 12px;">In the quest for tar sands oil, humans have altered the nutritional balance of pregnant caribou. Grazers and browsers may think of boreal trees, shrubs and leafy plants as food, but extraction companies think of them as “overburden,” meaning inconvenient stuff that lies between their powerful machines and the gooey tar sands that feed fossil fuel prosperity. The most efficient way to get at the tar is to strip away the boreal forests and meadows, and that’s what they are doing, across an area that, unchecked, will reach the size of Florida.</p><p style="font-size: 12px;">Most Canadians don’t like Alberta <a href="" target="_blank">looking like Mordor</a>, so the oil companies are required to recontour and “reclaim” at least part of the land that has been scraped bare. But a bulldozer and a <a href="" target="_blank">planting crew</a> can’t put back the intricate, ecosystem—the including slow-growing lichens pregnant caribou rely on for winter calories. To get a sense of the difference, imagine replacing a masterpiece landscape painted by Turner or Bierstadt with something painted by your average two-year-old. Even where the surface isn’t being stripped away, caribou are so vigilant and fearful of people that they avoid human activity, even at the cost of hunger or malnutrition.</p><p style="font-size: 12px;">Lichens are high in glucose and are the primary fuel that nourishes the caribou fetus. When a pregnant caribou can’t get enough lichens, her body tries to reject the project of baby formation to wait for better times. If she’s still around and fertile, she’ll start over in the fall.</p><p style="font-size: 12px;">We know about the high rate of reproductive problems among Alberta caribou thanks to a research program that sends trained scat detection dogs and human handlers out into Arctic conditions to find caribou poop. The dogs locate the poop, even under meters of snow, and the handlers package it for analysis at the University of Washington’s <a href="" target="_blank">Center for Conservation Biology</a>. Laboratory analysis of the scat reveals, among other things, pregnancy hormones and nutritional deficiency—and then, later in the spring, no pregnancy and no babies.</p><p style="font-size: 12px;"><a href="" target="_blank"><div alt="Orca!" class="media-image" height="364" style="width: 600px; height: 341px;" width="640"><img alt="Orca!" class="media-image" height="364" style="width: 600px; height: 341px;" width="640" typeof="foaf:Image" src="" /></div></a></p><p style="font-size: 12px;"><em>Photo credit: </em><a data-rapid_p="79" data-track="attributionNameClick" href="" title="Go to Christopher Michel's photostream">Christopher Michel</a> / <a href="">Flickr</a></p><p style="font-size: 12px;"><strong>Orca Abortion</strong></p><p style="font-size: 12px;">Off the coast of Washington, the same dogs and handlers ride in small boats, and the dogs point out orca poop that remains on the surface for about 30 minutes before sinking. As with caribou poop, the goo is packaged for laboratory analysis, and here again, the analysis reveals a pattern of pregnancy cut short.</p><p style="font-size: 12px;">According to Samuel Wasser, the biologist behind the <a href="" target="_blank">Conservation Canine</a> program, orcas are aborting 60 percent of their pregnancies—over 40 percent of those in the last few months of their 18-month gestation. Why? Because we humans are eating—and otherwise depleting—the salmon that orcas rely on to feed their young. With no adequate source of calories, a female orca’s body starts breaking down her own fat to feed her fetus. But that fat contains high levels of PCBs, a neurotoxic endocrine disrupter that is now banned but persists in the orca food chain. The cumulative effects slowly starve and poison the growing fetus until the mother’s body finally aborts a pregnancy now gone horribly wrong. Sometimes, when she aborts too late, she can’t fully expel the fetus, and the infection kills the mother too.</p><p style="font-size: 12px;"><strong>Human Abortion</strong></p><p style="font-size: 12px;">Humans also have these natural mechanisms that cause them to spontaneously abort when things go awry. But what most mammals accomplish through instinct or automatic biological processes, we humans may accomplish via conscious decision: pick a mate, figure out how to earn a living, time a pregnancy, or end a pregnancy when conditions are wrong. Yes, we too have spontaneous abortions that stack the odds in favor of healthy children. (The wisdom built into a woman’s body <a href="" target="_blank">rejects most fertilized eggs</a> before anyone knows they existed.) But in determining whether to carry forward a pregnancy, we—unlike our caribou and orca relatives—can supplement biology and instinct with conscious reasoning. And we do.</p><p style="font-size: 12px;">The necessary conditions for a thriving child who grows into a thriving adult are so complex that any couple who wants to give their kids the best shot in life must also weigh factors that can be assessed only by the conscious mind. Human children need two decades of persistent loving nurture—seasons and years of attentive care, play and instruction. Raising a human child requires not only a woman’s body but also psyche and skill and parenting partnership and community support.</p><p style="font-size: 12px;">Prospective human parents often have a pretty accurate sense of their own limits. They can—at least sometimes, at least partly—look to the future and forecast that crucial resources will be in short supply. And they want to live deeply and well, and they want the same for their children. For the sake of prudence or aspiration or loyalty or responsibility or love, they may choose consciously to postpone or terminate a pregnancy.</p><p style="font-size: 12px;">Most women who choose abortion are already mothers and know quite well what kind of time and attention a child needs and deserves. Women cite emotional and financial resource scarcity as common reasons for <a href="" target="_blank">choosing abortion</a>. When they choose abortion, they are choosing to invest in their own future or the children they already have.</p><p style="font-size: 12px;"><strong>Foresight and Prudence</strong></p><p style="font-size: 12px;">No decision process is perfect, but the wisdom of women or couples in choosing therapeutic abortion in many ways complements the body’s own wisdom in choosing spontaneous abortion. A <a href="" target="_blank">Swedish study</a> in the 1960s found that children born to mothers who sought and were denied abortions were more likely to grow up under adverse conditions and to engage in criminal behavior. In 2001, American economists Steven Levitt and John Donohue analyzed post-Roe data and reported that legalized abortion in the U.S. measurably reduced the crime rate as the next generation came of age. Levitt and Donohue’s findings were fiercely disputed and reanalyzed, and errors were caught, but the effect <a href="" target="_blank">remained significant</a>, which coincides with similar studies conducted in Canada and Australia.</p><p style="font-size: 12px;">More recently, researchers at the University of California (UCSF, Bixby Center) found that “<a href="" target="_blank">turnaways</a>,” meaning women denied abortions, were more likely to <a href="" target="_blank">be in poverty</a> two years later, compared to their peers who got the abortion services they sought. In other words, they had reason for wanting to wait or limit their family size. The state overruled them at a cost that will be borne foremost by the women themselves, and their children and partners, but also—if social scientists are right—by their communities and society at large.</p><p style="font-size: 12px;"><strong>Don’t Like It? Change It</strong></p><p style="font-size: 12px;">Would you prefer fewer abortions? I would, even though I am pro-abortion and <a href="" target="_blank">not just pro-choice</a>. (Why mitigate harm if you can prevent it?) One <a href="" target="_blank">obvious solution</a> is to give people the means both to prevent unwanted pregnancy and time the pregnancies they do want. Universal access to state-of-the-art <a href="" target="_blank">contraceptives</a> that are 20 times as effective as the Pill could make most abortion a thing of the past.</p><p style="font-size: 12px;">The other equally obvious way to reduce abortion is to address the resource scarcities that lead a prospective mother, whether she is a caribou, an orca or a human, to abort a pregnancy and wait for better conditions. Caribou abortions, orca abortions and human abortions are driven in large part by greed and inequality—by the most powerful members of the most powerful species taking what they can and leaving prospective mothers with no path to sufficiency. That means you. And me.</p><p style="font-size: 12px;">Abortion isn’t the problem; it’s an adaptive response to an adverse situation. And if we think it’s happening painfully often either in humans or any other species, we need to look at our role in creating adversity.</p> Wed, 04 May 2016 12:08:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1055872 at Personal Health Culture Election 2016 Environment Gender Personal Health feminism reproductive rights women personal health health What do whales, caribou and humans have in common? Abortion as an adaptive response to resource scarcity. Is Penis Worship at the Root of the Bogus Notion of Fetal Personhood? <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The notion that life begins at conception is a variation on a very ancient—and very sexist—cultural theme.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_247448707.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>I’m slow sometimes, but after years of writing about abortion rights it finally occurred to me that “life begins at conception” is one more version of a multimillennial infatuation with the penis as symbol and proof that manliness is next to godliness.</p><p>On the surface, conservative Evangelical and Catholic insistence that <em>life begins at conception</em> appears to be aimed at elevating the status of fetus over woman. But just beneath the surface, what it elevates is the status of the penis—and anyone who has one.</p><p>What creates the wonder of a new person? Forget about the maturation of germ cells, and the nine-month labor of a woman’s body, and painstaking parental nurture. It’s a sperm, a penile projectile shot forth by the ultimate organ of demi-divinity. Sperm penetrates egg, and voila! A person! A new soul! All the extraordinary and unique value we accord to human life is created instantaneously.</p><p><strong>Three Millennia of Penis Worship</strong></p><p>Once noticed, the pattern is inescapable. Our ancestors thought that the penis was literally divine. Dharmic cultures worshiped it by whacking stalactites and stalagmites out of caves and air-roots off of trees and carving phallic shapes out of granite by the thousands. Abrahamic cultures took the opposite approach and insisted the penis was so precious and powerful that it couldn’t be seen, even in art, and had to be chiseled off of statues or at least covered with fig leaves.</p><p>They also insisted that a man’s magic wand could permanently transform a female from one kind of being to another, from a prized “virgin” into a worthless “whore.” In medieval Catholicism’s <a href="" target="_blank">recipe for sexual hangups</a>, the prior touch of a penis (or lack thereof) became <a href="" target="_blank">the most defining aspect</a> of a woman’s identity, economic value and moral virtue. Penis penetrates female, and voila! No longer a whole person! The same magic wand that made her valuable could also do the reverse.</p><p><strong>Same Old, Same Old</strong></p><p>Fundamentalists who are <a href="" target="_blank">anchored to the Iron Age</a> by sacred texts and patriarchal traditions still hold to this archaic view, though they may use updated terms like “licked lollypop” or “chewed gum”—and some do offer second chances through “born-again virginity.”</p><p>But at least in the West, millennials finally are catching on to how ridiculous the whole virginity thing is. As one Facebook meme put it recently, “I don’t believe in virginity. Why? Because nobody’s penis is important enough to change any part of my identity.”</p><p>The idea that a penis can permanently change a woman’s value and the idea that a penis can instantaneously create a new soul both derive from the idea that men uniquely, were made in the image of God and that the penis (circumcised, of course) is the supreme symbol of man’s divinely anointed headship. And once they are packaged together, the idea that <em>life-begins-at-conception</em> starts sounding as transparently male-aggrandizing and silly as the idea of<em> virginity.</em></p><p><strong>No, You Didn’t Build That</strong></p><p>Yes, the occasional sperm does end up inside an egg rather than a towel. And yes, sperm-penetrates-egg is a necessary—if insufficient—step in person formation. But the incredible process of making a new person begins long before conception and continues long after. To the trained eye, conception is no more or less magnificent—or critical—than the creation of the egg or the sperm itself, or of the many stages of transformation that come after.</p><p>In the subconscious of a patriarchal male or religious institution intent on preserving privilege, the claim that a penis can create a new person—or better yet, a new soul, almost ex nihilo—may flow naturally and logically from man’s god-like qualities and “rightful” dominance. But from an outside vantage the men making such claims seem rather like puffed-up architects who scribble partial plans and then claim they build buildings. Nice fantasy, but in the real world both buildings and people get made one step at a time. Construction is slow and hard and takes teamwork.</p><p><strong>Everything’s a Project</strong></p><p>In the case of forming a new person, two bodies produce germ cells that independently hold half of a biological blueprint. If each half works well enough and they meet, then a woman’s body starts the structural engineering to determine whether the design actually works. For very good reasons, <a href="" target="_blank">the answer usually is no</a>; the engineering team rejects the project and dumps it into the porcelain circular file. Most embryonic humans get booted out so fast that nobody even knows they existed. If and when engineering gives the preliminary go-ahead, a woman’s whole body gears up to start building a person. Her circulatory system pumps up blood flow. Her bones and teeth transfer calcium to the construction site. Her digestive system demands enough food for two.</p><p>Not only is the process slow and costly—like any construction project, it’s dangerous. Eight hundred American women die every year from pregnancy. Around the world, it’s <a href="" target="_blank">that many every day</a>. Most of us survive the project, but we do endure nausea and swollen ankles and fatigue, and irreversible wear and tear. When we women choose to incubate a child, which we often do quite gladly, we do so knowing our bodies and lives will never again be the same.</p><p>So, patriarchs, love your orgasms all you like, but don’t fall for the weirdly puffed-up idea that they make babies. Penis power is solely limited to fertilizing eggs. And a fertilized egg is a fertilized egg—no less, no more.</p><p><strong>Real Fatherhood</strong></p><p>Silly-willy worship aside, many men deserve real credit for making children, because they take on the actual parenthood project in a deep and devoted way. Wanting to be good parents of healthy children, they wear condoms till the time is right, put their lives in order, bring home prenatal vitamins and make peanut butter sandwiches in the middle of the night.</p><p>When pregnancy ends, they endure labor vicariously (yes, vicarious pain hurts), anxiously awaiting the slimy little creature that will spill out in a puddle of blood. Labor over, they gingerly hold a sweet-smelling, flannel-wrapped burrito and look into eyes that are seeing the world for the first time and fall in love.</p><p>Back in the home they have helped to create, they wipe spit-up off shirts and go to work bleary-eyed when illness strikes and a child can’t sleep. In better times, they get down on the rug and play pretend and read stories even though maybe—just once in a while—they’d rather be playing video games or reading the <em>Times</em>. They understand that making something as wonderfully complex as a fully fledged, thriving person takes everything a parent can give for decades, and they give it.</p><p><strong>Name It</strong></p><p>Conception worship is willy worship. It diminishes fatherhood by trivializing the many other parts of themselves that men can and do bring to the process of creating a new person—heart and mind, labor and love. And it diminishes all of motherhood.</p><p>So, if you’re one of the guys who either is or intends to be a real father—please call out posers who think themselves endowed with some divine instrument that can turn an egg into a precious little person. And if you would, while you’re at it, you could do us women a favor by calling out the equally ludicrous conceit that the touch of a penis turns a female from one kind of being into another. Men don’t have magic wands in their pants—just body parts, and exaggerating the power of your dick just makes you one.</p> Thu, 28 Apr 2016 19:09:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1055363 at Sex & Relationships Gender Sex & Relationships The Right Wing Life at conception fetal personhood sexism abortion rights penis worship reproduction rights pro-life The notion that life begins at conception is a variation on a very ancient—and very sexist—cultural theme. Can You Get Addicted to Religion? <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">When does spirituality start looking like addiction?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2016-04-18_at_1.11.11_pm.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>“I’ve never been happier since I quit my 30-year addiction to Jesus.” —A former believer</em></p><p>To a medical researcher, the word <em>addiction</em> has a specific biological meaning. But in common vernacular, it means approximately <a href="" target="_blank">this</a>: <em>the</em> <em>state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, such as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.</em></p><p>Based on this definition some religious experiences seem a lot like addictions—at least that’s what former believers say. </p><p>Blogger and former Christian <a href="" target="_blank">Sandra Kee</a> looks back at her family history and sees religion and addiction as a messy tangle: “My family for several generations was in a dysfunctional and addictive religious life, using God (or what we believed about God) as a drug. Many of the family who left religion simply traded for another addiction. The generations that entered into religion did so to escape alcoholism and other addictions (though it wasn't called addiction back then). Many who remained in religion developed additional addictions as well.”</p><p>Former Mormon Brandon Olson is even more emphatic: “Karl Marx said it right, ‘Religion is the opiate of the masses.’ I'm still recovering from it. Part of my recovery is helping others get free,” says Olson. “I quit believing in a god when I was a teenager, but I was afraid of hell/damnation until I was about 35. It took me until I was 40 to speak up and revoke my LDS cult membership. I am now 50, and I consider religion to be an imposed addiction—no different than holding a baby and shooting it up with small doses of heroin, increasing the doses as the baby grows.”</p><p>In recent decades, the idea of recovery from religion has taken root. Recovery websites provide platforms for sharing stories, like <a href="" target="_blank"></a>, or offer support and help, like <a href="" target="_blank"></a>. Many draw on the language and strategies of other recovery programs.</p><p>Even within Christianity, some people use 12-Step language to talk about religious addiction or what a newly released book calls <em>Sober Spirituality.</em> Author Elizabeth Esther <a href="" target="_blank">describes</a> how church experiences produce a “high”:</p><blockquote><p>There’s the ubiquitous mood lighting so that you can only see what’s meant to be seen … Loud music ensures you hear only what is meant to be heard … Several high-energy warm-up acts make you feel only what you’re supposed to feel … By the time the featured attraction steps on stage … you’re so amped up you’ll hand over your body, soul and wallet. It doesn’t even occur to you that this might be destructive, because feeling elated is the desired outcome.</p></blockquote><p>The result, says Esther, can be a destructive quest for righteous euphoria. Father <a href="" target="_blank">Leo Booth</a> similarly uses the language of Alcoholics Anonymous in his book, <em>When God Becomes a Drug</em>, which promises readers “practical ways to overcome excessive devotion and attain healthy spirituality.”</p><p><strong>Addiction Symptoms</strong></p><p>When does spirituality start looking like addiction? On the Internet, checklists abound (for example, <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">here</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>) and include symptoms that would sound familiar to any addict or Al Anon member:</p><ul><li>Do you use religion to avoid social and emotional problems?</li><li>Are you preoccupied with religion to the point of neglecting work?</li><li>Would people who know you describe your religiosity as extreme or obsessive?</li><li>Does your commitment to a religious leader or institution take precedence over your children or other family relationships?</li><li>Does religion isolate you from outside friends and activities?</li><li>Do you use religion as an excuse when you are abusive to friends or family members?</li><li>Are your religious contributions financially imprudent?</li><li>Do you feel irritated and act defensive when someone questions your religion?</li></ul><p><strong>Broader Mental Health Questions</strong></p><p>But religious addiction checklists and other self-help materials often also include symptoms that, while psychologically unhealthy, may have little to do with diagnosing addiction.</p><ul><li>Do you use guilt to beat up yourself or others?</li><li>Do you think of sex as shameful or dirty?</li><li>Do you use religion to manipulate or exploit others?</li><li>Does your religion threaten violence against people who believe differently?</li><li>Are you uncompromising and judgmental, quick to find fault in others or evil in the world?</li><li>Do you find yourself arguing against scientific evidence to defend your religion?</li><li>Do you wait for God to fix things in your life or blame your problems on supernatural forces?</li><li>Do you tell other people “what God wants” or the “right” way to interpret the Bible?</li><li>Are you preoccupied with sin and the afterlife?</li><li>Do you threaten others with divine punishment or otherwise try to control them?</li></ul><p>Without a doubt, a <em>yes</em> to any of these questions suggests that something is out of whack. Patterns like these can interfere with healthy self-esteem, personal empowerment, work, community service, and loving relationships. They are toxic. That said, a worldview can be toxic without being addictive, which may leave the question of religious addiction murky at best.</p><p>Looking back on his years as a Christian, non-theist Tony Debono says, “While I have no desire to return to religion, I definitely miss the highs of religious worship, as well as the friendship and support of the community. Is that more like missing a substance of addiction, or like missing the delirium and strange dreams of a high fever? I'm not sure.”</p><p><strong>Psycho-Social Benefits?</strong></p><p>To make matters even more complex, a set of beliefs can be false without being <em>either</em> toxic <em>or</em> addictive, and in some situation false beliefs may even be <a href="" target="_blank">adaptive</a>. Also, research suggests that participation in some forms of religious community or <a href="" target="_blank">spiritual practices</a> like <a href="" target="_blank">meditation</a> may have benefits independent of any truth-value in the community’s distinctive claims.</p><p>Recognizing this, humanist and atheist groups <a href="" target="_blank">have begun experimenting</a> with how to create <a href="" target="_blank">secular churches</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">humanist assemblies</a>—communities that lack supernatural beliefs but that nonetheless meet regularly to channel wonder, provide mutual support, talk about deep values and inspire service. These experimental communities are exploring how to keep some of the best of religion without supernaturalism and without the other parts that can lead religion to feel harmful. In the future, secular spiritual communities of this type may ease the transition for people leaving a religion that feels unhealthy or addictive, or that no longer fits for other reasons. </p><p><strong>Your Results May Vary</strong></p><p>The risk of any activity or substance becoming a compulsion depends in part on characteristics of the substance and in part on characteristics of the situation and user. We know, for example, that nicotine is more addictive than marijuana. But for even the most intense pleasures—those that create the highest rates of compulsion—some users retain their capacity for autonomy and balance.</p><p>Some people can ingest a pleasurable neurotoxin like alcohol or even cocaine in moderation, while others find themselves drawn inexorably toward self-destruction. The same can be said about pleasurable activities like running or gambling. And the same is likely to be true of powerful religious pleasures—intense feelings of euphoria, transcendence, hope, joy, absolution, security, immortality, certitude, purity, purpose, belonging or superiority.</p><p>In the end, the question of whether religion is addictive for you or someone you care about comes back to the definition of addiction itself, which includes words like enslaved, habit and trauma: Has your religion consumed your life? Is it freely chosen? (Try on the thought of what might happen if you let it go.) What price are you or others around you paying for the good stuff you get?</p><p>Addiction aside, the bigger question may be whether a specific set of religious beliefs or practices contributes to well-being or harm. Human development consultant Dr. Marlene Winell describes a pattern she calls <a href="" target="_blank">religious trauma syndrome</a>, which can be triggered either by experiences within religious communities—especially those that are authoritarian, isolationist and fear based—or as a consequence of leaving. Winell’s diagnosis is unofficial, but when she writes on the topic, former believers by the <a href="" target="_blank">hundreds</a> respond, <a href="" target="_blank">saying</a> that they see themselves in her words and stories.</p><p><strong>A Growing Array of Options</strong></p><p>Fortunately, for those who find their former religion to be harmful, addictive or otherwise a bad fit, options in most of the world are growing. It has been said that there are as many gods as there are believers, and some people who shake free from one form of religion find themselves at home in another. But a growing number of former believers, say they are <a href="" target="_blank">one or another kind of post-religious</a>, and that’s OK. There’s plenty of downside to all of these differences. As Jon Stewart put it sardonically, “Religion. It’s given people hope in a world torn apart by ... religion.”</p><p>But the upside is this: Anyone able to open their door finds a whole world of possibilities just outside.</p> Thu, 21 Apr 2016 10:08:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1054795 at Belief Belief religion god belief people When does spirituality start looking like addiction? Better Birth Control for Men: How Would It Work? What's in the Pipeline? <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A variety of potential contraceptives could finally offer men some real choices. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_384398770.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Most people think of contraception as an issue of women’s health and rights. But for millennia, men too have wanted choices—the means to decide whether, when and with whom they father a child.</p><p>Coitus interruptus or the withdrawal method, was practiced as early as 2,500 years ago, and from the 18th century till modern times has been one of the most common forms of contraception. Condoms, made first of linen or intestine, date to at least the 16th century. But today coitus interruptus, condoms, vasectomy and abstinence are still the only methods of contraception available to men. As Sightline Institute in Seattle <a href="">put it</a>, “Male contraceptive options haven’t changed since Elvis was thin, cars had fins, and Ike was stumping for your vote.”</p><p>Today almost a third of American couples rely on the man to prevent ill-timed or unwanted pregnancy, but for young men who may want a child in the future, the options stink. Condoms are the best means available to prevent STIs, but in any given year <a href="">one in six</a> couples relying on condoms will end up with an unplanned pregnancy. Withdrawal and episodic abstinence (the rhythm method) fail <a href="">even more often</a> because they are so hard to do perfectly. Vasectomy is highly effective, but since reversal may not work, it’s not an option for men who don’t already have the family they want.</p><p>By contrast, “get it and forget it” methods for women drop pregnancy risk <a href="">below 1 in 500</a>, have bonus health benefits, and return normal fertility. When it comes to people being able to manage their fertility, we are a long way from gender equality.</p><p>The good news is that the last decade has brought increased understanding of male reproductive physiology and revealed potential new methods to safeguard against an ill-timed pregnancy. No single method will ever fit for everyone, but a variety of potential contraceptives (mechanical or pharmaceutical, shorter or longer acting, reversible or permanent, some enhancing libido or sexual function and some sexually neutral) could offer men real choices that fit their age, culture and lifestyle. Some may even have bonus health benefits like increasing energy and muscle mass or preventing balding.</p><p>In addition, modern information technologies invite novel educational approaches and <a href="">distribution channels</a> for medical services including contraceptives. Technology now allows personalized education through the Internet and deliveries in hard-to-reach geographic locations, such as drone shipments to remote locations around the world. Social media opens up new opportunities to generate dialogue about men and contraceptive choice and the broader issue of intentional parenthood.</p><p>We finally may be at the point that a serious investment in male contraception could create real options for the half of the world’s population that currently has to rely on condoms, vasectomy, withdrawal, abstinence, or a trusted partner. Imagine if all people, regardless of gender, could enjoy sexual intimacy and pleasure without the worry of an unexpected pregnancy? Imagine if each person, regardless of gender, could fully choose if or when to become a parent, and with whom?</p><p>How might that work?<strong> </strong></p><p><strong>Potential Targets and Methods of Male Contraception</strong></p><p>Male reproductive physiology offers three broad targets for contraception. A potential contraceptive can target the production of sperm itself, or the maturation and function of sperm, or the transport of fully developed sperm out of the male body. Within each of these three broad targets lies a range of more specific targets and mechanisms for preventing unwanted fertility. Some <a href="">potential contraceptive approaches</a> are hormones, some are drugs and some are mechanical. Each is in very different stages of research and development.</p><p>Contraceptive approaches seeking to switch off sperm production:</p><ul><li>Testosterone</li><li>Synthetic androgens such as <a href="">MENT</a></li><li><a href="">Testosterone-progestin combinations</a></li><li>Antagonists of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (such as <a href="">Acyline</a>)</li></ul><p>Approaches that affect maturation and function of sperm:</p><ul><li>BET protein inhibitor <a href="">JQ1</a></li><li><a href="">Retinoic acid synthesis inhibitors</a></li><li><a href="">Lonidamine</a> derivatives–<a href="">Adjudin</a> and <a href="">Gamendazole</a></li></ul><p>Approaches that target a sperm’s ability to travel towards the egg:</p><ul><li><a href="">CatSpers</a></li><li>Polymer barriers</li><li>Mechanical barriers</li><li><a href="">Clean Sheets Pill</a></li><li><a href="">Epididymal Protease Inhibitor (EPPIN)</a></li></ul><p><strong>Turning off sperm production with a hormonal switch</strong></p><p>Sperm production begins in puberty and continues through adulthood, maintained by high levels of testosterone within the testes. The entire process takes between 74 and 120 days, and the testes produce 200 to 300 million sperm each day. That’s about 1,000 sperm for every heartbeat! (Think of this in contrast with the monthly ovulation cycle of women and the relative ease of targeting a single egg issued by a woman each month by comparison.)</p><p>Complex hormonal interactions between the hypothalamus, the pituitary, and the Leydig cells in the testes bring this about. These interactions are summarized in the figure that follows.<em> </em></p><p><em><img alt="MCE - Hormonal Regulation of Spermatogenesis" class="size-full wp-image-3791 aligncenter" src="" style="border: 0px; margin: 0px auto 12px; padding: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; clear: both; display: block; max-width: 100%; height: auto; background: transparent;" /></em></p><p><strong>Figure 1</strong> <strong>Hormonal Regulation of Spermatogenesis</strong><br />Source: <a href=""></a></p><p><strong><em>Testosterone</em></strong><em>:</em> Given that testosterone is so key to male reproduction, an obvious first choice of a reversible male contraceptive is testosterone itself. Most hormonal methods of male contraception seek to create a negative feedback loop that by increasing testosterone elsewhere decreases testosterone in the testes. The aim is to lower testosterone inside the testes while maintaining normal levels in the body as a whole. Possible modes of administration include injections, biodegradable microspheres, and implants which, when placed just below the skin, would work for 4-6 months. Testosterone is effective and reversible, but to date minimizing negative side effects has been a challenge.</p><p><strong><em>Synthetic androgens</em></strong><em>:</em> Androgens are the general class of hormones to which testosterone belongs. Some synthetic androgens suppress spermatogenesis at lower doses and with fewer side effects than testosterone. And some work better in combination with another class of hormone, progestins. The ideal androgen and the ideal mode of administration are still being investigated. <a href="">MENT</a> is a promising synthetic androgen that is being developed as a subdermal implant.</p><p><strong style="border: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background: transparent;"><em style="border: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background: transparent;">Gonadotropin-releasing hormone-based contraceptive therapy</em></strong><em style="border: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background: transparent;">: </em>Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) is a pivotal hormonal control that turns on fertility by increasing levels of other hormones including testosterone in the reproductive system. <a href="" style="border: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(116, 51, 153); background: transparent;">Acyline</a> and <a href="" style="border: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(116, 51, 153); background: transparent;">related drugs</a> are GnRH antagonists, meaning they inhibit the action of GnRH. This class of drugs has potential for fighting prostate cancer and turning off unwanted sperm production.</p><p><strong>Altering Sperm Maturation and Function</strong></p><p>To understand the next class of targets, those that alter sperm maturation and function, it is helpful to know a bit more about where and how sperm development takes place.</p><p>The <a href="">Sertoli cells</a> in the testes are the male equivalent of the ovaries. They harbor and nourish the developing sperm, then send them on their way when they are mature and ready to fertilize an egg. After maturing, sperm are collected and stored in the epididymis, where they develop motility, meaning the ability to swim. They also develop smell receptors that will sense and guide them toward an egg and the enzymes required to penetrate it.</p><p style="border: 0px; margin: 0px 0px 24px; padding: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Georgia, 'Bitstream Charter', serif; font-size: 16px; line-height: 24px; background-image: initial; background-attachment: initial; background-size: initial; background-origin: initial; background-clip: initial; background-position: initial; background-repeat: initial;"><img alt="MCE - Physiology of Sperm Production" class="size-full wp-image-3792 aligncenter" src="" style="border: 0px; margin: 0px auto 12px; padding: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; clear: both; display: block; max-width: 100%; height: auto; background: transparent;" /></p><p><strong>Figure 2: Physiology of Sperm Production</strong><br />Source: <a href=""></a></p><p>In the earliest stage of sperm development, individual immature “spermatocytes” split off from germ cells through multiple cycles of cell division. At this early stage of development they contain the DNA needed to create an embryo but lack the ability to move or fertilize an egg. It is here that <a href="">JQ1</a> and <a href="">retinoic acid synthesis inhibitors</a> block development.</p><p>After maturation ends, fully formed sperm are released into the epididymis in a process called <a href="">spermiation</a>. The investigational drugs <a href="">Adjudin</a> and <a href="">Gamendazole</a> target this phase, causing premature release of spermatozoa. One researcher likened this to teens leaving home before they are fully able to function in the outside world.</p><p>Although methods that target sperm motility and function are in their infancy, early stage research is breaking new ground. A large number of potential targets for this aspect of sperm production come from "<a href="">knock out" experiments</a> with mice wherein researchers disrupted their genetic profile. Preliminary results from this research indicate that many different genes when eliminated produce mice whose only characteristic appears to be infertility. Reverse engineering allows identification of the proteins produced by these genes. Some of the proteins discovered to be essential to fertility include:</p><ul><li><a href="">CatSpers</a> are a group of sperm-specific proteins that appear necessary for motility.</li><li><a href="">Odorant receptors</a> may be important in guiding the sperm toward the egg. Blocking them would inhibit the directional movement of the sperm.</li></ul><p>Even if sperm reach an egg, it may be possible to block the fusion of the two. Epididymal Protease Inhibitor (<a href="">EPPIN</a>) is a compound that binds an enzyme on the surface of the sperm, making it immobile and unable to penetrate the egg. A compound isolated from the Indonesian shrub <a href="">Gendarussa</a> may also interfere with enzymes that facilitate egg penetration.</p><p><strong>Preventing Sperm Release During Sex</strong></p><p>Even if sperm are allowed to mature and gain full function, fertility can be impeded by blocking flow of the sperm down the vas deferens.</p><p>Once fully formed sperm have been stored in the epididymis, all that remains is for them to be transported through the vas deferens and urethra and out of the male body during sexual intercourse. Two interesting aspects of male physiology allow this transport phase to be a contraceptive target. One is that a man can experience normal ejaculation with or without sperm in the ejaculate. The other (and most people would find this more surprising) is that a man can experience the intense pleasurable sensation of orgasm without any ejaculate whatsoever. Consequently, unwanted fertility can be eliminated by either gating the vas or by blocking very specific muscular contractions that propel the ejaculate forward. Figure 3 shows the structures that allow for the storage, transport and release of sperm.</p><p style="border: 0px; margin: 0px 0px 24px; padding: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Georgia, 'Bitstream Charter', serif; font-size: 16px; line-height: 24px; background-image: initial; background-attachment: initial; background-size: initial; background-origin: initial; background-clip: initial; background-position: initial; background-repeat: initial;"><img alt="MCE - male reproductive tract" class="size-full wp-image-3793 aligncenter" src="" style="border: 0px; margin: 0px auto 12px; padding: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; clear: both; display: block; max-width: 100%; height: auto; background: transparent;" /></p><p><strong>Figure 3: Male Reproductive Tract</strong><br />Source:  <a href=""></a></p><p>Interventions in this category seek to mechanically or chemically prevent sperm from traveling down the vas deferens.</p><p>One possibility that has captured the attention of researchers is the injection of polymers into the vas, creating a possibly reversible alternative to vasectomy. Part of the appeal is that this kind of outpatient procedure is non-surgical and does not require anesthesia. Projects focused on bio-polymeric plugs include <a href="">Reversible Inhibition of Sperm Under Guidance</a> (RISUG), <a href="">Vasalgel</a>, and <a href="">Echo-V</a>. In each case, a liquid polymer is injected and then hardens, either blocking or busting sperm as they pass through the vas deferens. When contraception is no longer desired, a solvent or ultrasound is used to dissolve the polymer.</p><p>A potential contraceptive called the <a href="" style="border: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(116, 51, 153); background: transparent;">Clean Sheets Pill</a> works at an even later stage, after sperm are mixed with the fluids that make up ejaculate. Once formed, ejaculate is propelled forward by different muscle contractions than those creating the rhythmic sensation and pleasure of orgasm. Consequently, the Clean Sheets Pill works by relaxing the muscles that would otherwise propel ejaculation, effectively turning off the flow of both sperm and ejaculate while still allowing the muscle contractions that create the pleasure of orgasm. Any ejaculate is simply reabsorbed by a man’s body just as it is routinely during cycles of arousal that don’t end in orgasm.</p><p><strong>Moving Forward</strong></p><p>The time may be right for male contraception. More and more young men, and men not so young too, want options—the ability to control their own DNA, their parenthood, and the trajectory of their future. What is missing for guys, to an unconscionably greater degree than with contraception for women, is available product and a societal mindset which demands this.</p><p>Getting real alternatives into the hands of men who want them won’t be easy or cheap. Most promising drugs get scratched off at some point between early lab research and final clinical trials—a process that can take two decades and hundreds of millions of dollars. The male contraceptive <a href="">nearest to market</a> (one that also treats low testosterone!) is languishing in clinical trials for lack of research funding. Most certainly, not every option listed in this article will pan out. But some may, and new possibilities are constantly being discovered, sometimes quite by <a href="">accident</a>.</p><p>Some people say that making this investment is a matter of basic fairness—that every person deserves the right to determine their own fertility no matter where they may fall on the gender spectrum. In the words of Aaron Hamlin at the Male Contraception Project, “It’s been 55 years since the Pill for women came to market in the United States. The Pill for men is long overdue.”</p><p><strong>Read More</strong><br />Scientific American: <a href="" style="border: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(116, 51, 153); background: transparent;">Beyond Condoms: The Long Quest for a Better Male Contraceptive</a><br />Sightline Institute: <a href="">Burning Rubber(s)</a><br />The Atlantic: <a href="">Block That Sperm!</a><br />NYT: <a href=";scp=1&amp;sq=amory&amp;st=cse">Scientific Advances on Contraceptives for Men</a><br />Huffington Post:<a href=""> Is Male Birth Control Coming? The Gates Foundation Thinks So</a><br />WSJ: <a href="">Honey It’s Your Turn</a><br />Popular Science: <a href="">How Not to Be a Dad</a><br />Salon: <a href="">Stop Our Sperm Please</a><br />Guardian: <a href="">Who Wants a Male Pill?</a><br />ValerieTarico: <a href="">Will Reproductive Rights Advocates Stand Up for Men?</a></p><p><strong>Make it Happen! Discuss, Fund or Get Involved</strong><br /><a href="">Male Contraception Initiative</a><br /><a href="">Population Council</a><em> </em></p><p><em>This article is a project of the Power of Intentional Parenthood hub. Thanks to Susan Arnold Aldea, Janice Magee Huseby, Phil Chambers, Laura D. Martin</em> <em>and Katharyn-Alexis Huseby for research and editorial input.</em></p> Wed, 20 Apr 2016 13:27:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1054973 at Sex & Relationships Gender Personal Health Sex & Relationships birth control A variety of potential contraceptives could finally offer men some real choices. Meet a Doctor Who Provides Abortion Services Because of His Christian Faith <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">What made a Christian doctor start what Esquire magazine deemed &quot;The Abortion Ministry&quot;?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2016-04-07_at_8.15.31_am.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>What kind of person becomes a full-time abortion provider, traveling across state lines to end unhealthy or unwanted pregnancy despite screaming protesters threatening death and damnation? Whatever image you may have in mind, Dr. Willie Parker probably doesn’t fit it.</p><p>Parker is a bald, athletically built African American whose soft-spoken presence contrasts his size. A committed Christian, Parker says he provides abortion care not in spite of his faith but because of it. When filmmaker Dawn Porter met Parker, she was inspired to spend the next phase of her life making the documentary <em><a href="">Trapped</a></em>, which focuses on the challenges faced by abortion providers—and Parker in particular—in the Deep South. Parker was “so open and thoughtful in talking about the work and about the whole political climate that it got me thinking about the intersection of politics, abortion and power. So I asked if I could follow him,” Porter says.</p><p>Trained as an ob-gyn, Parker did not perform abortions during his first 12 years of medical practice. But over and over he witnessed the suffering of low-income women, especially black women, forced to bear children when their own instincts told them that the time and circumstances weren’t right. Finally, Parker asked himself, <em>If not me, then who? </em>And so began the work <em>Esquire</em> magazine called <a href="">The Abortion Ministry of Dr. Willie Parker</a>.</p><p>Since most hostility toward abortion and abortion providers is religiously motivated and expressed in theological terms, I asked Dr. Parker about this seemingly incongruous dimension of his work.</p><p><strong>Valerie Tarico:</strong> <strong>Several other abortion providers and clinic owners have recently spoken in public about how profoundly meaningful their work is. Amy Hagstrom Miller, who runs a chain of Texas clinics, says she feels honored to be present with women who are making such important decisions: “The identity questions women examine when they have an unplanned pregnancy....It’s the big stuff—religion, family, life and death—and the decision about what to do allows the woman to think about what she wants from her life.” Curtiss Hannum of the Women’s Centers says, “It’s like God and sex and faith and motherhood and partnership...It’s literally everything.”</strong></p><p><strong>To many women this is the substance of spirituality, but you—perhaps more than anyone—talk about this in spiritual terms. And you say that explicitly recognizing this dimension of abortion care is particularly important for many of the black women you see in Mississippi.</strong></p><p>Willie Parker: Many women of color are deeply religious, and I’m quite comfortable talking about the moral and spiritual center. So, I add that dimension to the care I provide. I call it dignity restoration. I sense when a woman is dealing with guilt and shame and I’m offer a bridging conversation around faith and the sacred decision of whether to end her pregnancy. Yesterday, for example, one patient was praying and asking for forgiveness, and so I explored that with her.</p><p>For many women, there is a tremendous amount of relief in not being turned away. Some are surprised that they aren’t feeling judgment from me and my staff— that we see their pregnancy not as a personal and social failure but simply a biological reality. There is relief in no longer being pregnant but also relief in someone seeing that “I’m not a bad person.” Sometimes they tell us that they expected the doctor to be mean or harsh, and they are grateful.</p><p><strong>VT:</strong> <strong>I remember how grateful I felt toward the doctor who ended my </strong><strong><a href="">unhealthy pregnancy</a>—how grateful I am still.</strong></p><p>WP: The gratitude is humbling because I feel like you shouldn’t have to be grateful for something you deserve. Even if you are not a kind person yourself, you deserve good care. But I also understand. Life can be overwhelming, and I just put out one of 57 fires burning in their lives. They reflect on what it took for them to get there and get care in a compassionate way, and some are relieved and grateful to the point of tears. Others literally don’t have enough time to reflect or be grateful because they have to get home for their kids.</p><p><strong>VT:</strong> <strong>How do you know when someone needs to talk?</strong></p><p>WP: I’m reading body language and I try not to be presumptuous. I ask open-ended questions. Anyone who is getting an abortion has to tell me why they are tearful. If this is a jacked-up situation—I need to know that the tears don’t mean a person is conflicted or ambivalent, because, if so, I can’t proceed. Some people are criers and some are laughers; we all react differently to intense emotions like loss or relief, so you can’t assume you know what a person’s reaction means. But I do invite people into conversations.</p><p>For example, many of the young women I see have never had a pelvic exam. In an outpatient clinic I don’t have the opportunity to offer deep sedation, so I have to be skilled at engaging them or else I have to turn them away. So I have to be very discerning.</p><p>In my experience, when a woman is unusually guarded about a pelvic exam, about a third of the time she has been a victim of sexual abuse. Not long ago, a college student had difficulty with the speculum. I gave her 30 minutes and then she asked me to try again. In the end I asked; when people have so much difficulty I always ask because sometimes there’s a history of sexual abuse. And the answer was affirmative and she broke down into tears.</p><p>The medical assistant that day had also been a victim of molestation in her family and she was able to connect with the patient. A month later the staff person was still in contact with the patient and was supporting her through that history of trauma, helping her get into therapy.</p><p><strong>VT:</strong> <strong>Other abortion providers I’ve spoken with—<a href="">Charlotte Taft</a> and <a href="">Amy Hagstrom Miller</a>—express a passionate determination to do more than just provide medical care. One frustration they express is that TRAP laws (bogus safety laws) are forcing them to divert energy into unnecessary paperwork and medical procedures and creating a cold hospital-like environment that makes it harder to meet the emotional needs of their patients. But not everyone talks about this in spiritual terms.</strong></p><p>WP: After years or decades of being dehumanized and threatened and even having colleagues murdered in the name of God, some of my colleagues have PTSD about religion. And others simply don’t speak the language of faith. All of us, whether religious or not, live in a country that is an unofficial theocracy. All of us have been deeply rooted in religion or it has been forced on us. But for some it held no utility, and they have distanced themselves and found a home in empiricism and the scientific worldview. For some that provides all the explanation they need of the natural world.</p><p>But for the sake of our patients, I’ve tried to encourage my colleagues to remain conversant in “God talk.” Our patients have their own ways of understanding reality, and many need to address a metaphysical dimension as they process their experience. There are patients who ask their providers to pray with them.</p><p>As a care provider you are challenged if your patient is reaching out for some sort of validation that triggers you. We all bring our own history into the room when we are taking the patient’s history, and those histories can collide. But I ask them to be mindful and present when patients bring that dimension into the room, because many of them do.</p><p><strong>VT: It sounds like your abortion ministry extends to colleagues as well as patients.</strong></p><p>WP: For secular colleagues, I try to have a broader frame of reference. Many of my colleagues are theoretical atheists who are deeply humanistic and compassionate in their humanism. They don’t believe in a masculine supernatural master in the sky—it would be good for all of us to abandon that thinking—but they are quite observant of the deeper principles of the god that they don’t believe in. I don’t say you’re a Christian and you just don’t know it, but I hold their points of view in deep reverence. I respect their understanding of themselves. And I trust them to live out of their own spiritual values.</p><p>On the other side, for them, by being who I am I strive to embody the counter-narrative that holding a deep reverence for a religious standing is not the same as being anti-intellectual or self-righteous. I give them pause so that they don’t have to discredit or discount all people of faith—to see all believers like the worst abortion foes, who are aggressive and dishonest. It allows more dialogue between atheism and theism.</p><p><strong>VT:</strong> <strong>You and your colleagues must be closely watching the Supreme Court nomination and the Whole Woman’s Health decision.</strong></p><p>WP: If the Supreme Court allows the TRAP laws to stand, I’ll be heartbroken for Amy Hagstrom Miller and my friends who are emotionally and financially tapped out doing the right and moral thing. They are at the mercy of ideologically driven folk who for the sake of political power—not real reverence for the life of the fetus or women—are defeating their effort to serve.</p><p>My hope is that there will be a 5-3 decision. I hope that Justice Kennedy will be swayed to do the right thing. But I have to adopt a longer view. If the Whole Woman’s Health decision is 4-4, women in Texas will lose and many will suffer, but Amy will not fold. That is what happened in the civil rights movement. People never stopped struggling. They were committed then, and we are committed now. Inevitably people will understand that it’s not acceptable for us to put women in jeopardy. If we have to remake the Court then so be it: We have to elect people to appoint people who will be interested in justice.</p><p><strong>VT:</strong> <strong>If there is one thing you wish the public could understand about your colleagues, what would it be?</strong></p><p>WP: In order to do this work in the face of constant opposition and vilification, abortion providers have to be more principled than average. We’re not superhuman—we are just like you. But to do this work my colleagues and I draw from a deep conviction that lets us endure the opposition and frank danger. Most doctors who refuse to perform abortions are consciously refusing, and the people who insist on providing are conscientiously providing the care. That is the way that the human spirit runs when we have a deep resolve about principles or values or people to which we are deeply committed. That is the only thing that has kept abortion access available for women.</p><p><em>Dawn Porter’s documentary <a href="">Trapped</a>, which features extensive footage of Dr. Willie Parker, will air on PBS (Independent Lens) on June 20. Dates and locations for community screenings can be found at </em><a href=""><em></em></a><em>. Amelia Bonow of #ShoutYourAbortion has created a <a href=";">thank-you video</a> for providers that includes Willie Parker and colleagues saying why they do what they do. </em></p> Thu, 07 Apr 2016 05:04:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1054113 at Personal Health Belief Gender Personal Health Sex & Relationships abortion pro-choice religion spirituality What made a Christian doctor start what Esquire magazine deemed &quot;The Abortion Ministry&quot;? Why Trump's Retraction Is Even Worse Than 'Punishing Women' <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Woman-as-victim rhetoric portrays abortion providers as predators.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_307005062.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>If Donald Trump’s <a href="">comment</a> about punishing women for abortions exposed the bloated belly of the Pro-Life Priesthood, his retraction exposed its sulfur-spewing rear end.</p><p>In his inimitable drumpf-ish way, Trump managed to follow conservative rhetoric to its logical conclusion. If abortion is murder and murderers deserve to be punished, then almost a third of American women should be treated like felons. When Trump said as much, Ted Cruz and likeminded Bible-quoting fetus fetishists freaked out for a very good reason: The Cruzes and the Rubios of the world don’t want Americans to think about where their talking points and policies ultimately lead. Most people, including Republicans, don’t think their daughter or sister or mother is a murderer; and they don’t really want her treated like one. Most Americans, including Christians, can tell the difference between an embryo and a child. They are capable of grasping both biological evolution and moral nuance. Punishing women does not resonate.</p><p>But to say that women are victims of abortion implies an even uglier attitude toward females, one with implications that go far beyond abortion.</p><p>The Christian Right wants to thread a bent needle. They want to argue that if a woman goes to a doctor to get an abortion, the doctor is a criminal and the woman is not—even after signing informed consent paperwork, being subjected to a forced vaginal ultrasound, and returning to the clinic two or three times to get the procedure done. What does that say about us?</p><p><strong>What They’re Really Saying</strong></p><p>Let me put on my Trump voice and spell it out: <em>Women are like little children or people who are mentally impaired and can’t legally be held responsible for their “decisions” or actions.</em></p><ul><li><em>Women are dumb.</em> They don’t know what they are doing.</li><li><em>Women are gullible.</em> They are easily duped by tricksters who just want to make money off of medical procedures and pills.</li><li><em>Women are incapable of managing their own lives.</em> Left on their own they will make bad decisions that they regret.</li><li><em>Women are weak.</em> They need to be protected by big strong men with lots of money and political power—men like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.</li></ul><p>If you feel yourself bristling,<em> Don’t you worry your pretty little head about this. Daddy knows best. Let go and let God. (Man is made in the image of God.) He will provide. A woman’s place is in the home; barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Come on, even <a href="">the Bible says</a> God put men in charge, that a woman’s glory is her hair—Muhammad got that one right—and women will be saved by childbearing! No sense of humor? You’re so cute when you’re angry.</em></p><p><strong>Banking on Disloyalty</strong></p><p>Since the whole rhetorical game depends on people not thinking about what’s being implied, let me spell out another way Trump’s retraction and the whole woman-as-victim thing stinks like a sulfur vent.</p><p>Woman-as-victim rhetoric proclaims the innocence of women seeking abortions while portraying abortion providers as predators. It denies the huge heart of compassion and moral determination that leads a person like <a href="">doctor Willie Parker</a> or clinic owner <a href="">Amy Hagstrom Miller</a> or counselor <a href="">Charlotte Taft</a> to get up in the morning and walk a gauntlet of protestors who are waving rosaries and dead baby pictures and yelling about hell, despite lies and denigration and bogus regulations and death threats and colleagues slain.</p><p>When Trump, Rubio, Cruz, Kasich and other self-described pro-lifers call women victims, they invite us to turn on people who have been there for us, people who recognize the depth and power of our moral agency, strength and intelligence. They invite us to turn on people who have supported us to make the best decisions we can and then live with the decisions we make. They invite us to trade in our gratitude and loyalty for a cheap get-out-of-jail-free card.</p><p>In extending this offer, they are betting on another bundle of stereotypes: <em>women are fickle, women are faithless, women can be bought with cheap baubles.</em></p><p><strong>Too Dumb to Notice the Fake?</strong></p><p>And adding injury to insult, the anti-choicers are letting women know that whether we are white or brown or “exotic,” with kinky hair or curly or straight, to them we’re <em>all dumb blondes </em>who won’t notice a rather important sleight of hand: the get-out-of-jail card is fake. If our doctors and nurses are murderers we are at minimum accomplices, and so are the partners who make the abortion decision with us, and so are all of the family members and friends who provide wise counsel instead of calling the police.</p><p>So to Trump and company, I say this: Call us murderers if you want, but you’ll have to call us all murderers. Don’t think you can divide Americans by painting women as victims. You may believe your own insipid stereotypes, but we know better. We know our own minds and hearts and dreams and goals and loves and loyalties. And they are formidable.</p> Tue, 05 Apr 2016 08:12:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1053974 at Election 2016 Civil Liberties Election 2016 Personal Health Sex & Relationships The Right Wing abortion donald trump drumpf The Donald trump pro-life pro-choice women's rights Woman-as-victim rhetoric portrays abortion providers as predators. How the FDA Is Helping to Thwart the Anti-Abortion Movement <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The FDA’s label change is good news for women who would rather not have priests and legislators in the room when they are making medical decisions.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/9146114223_d6172109dc_m.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Think of a medication you take. Now imagine that state legislators passed a law saying any doctor prescribing that medication had to administer three times the necessary dose—just because that’s the way it was done in the 1990s.</p><p>That is exactly what has been happening with mifepristone, one of two medications used to induce therapeutic miscarriage, also known as medication abortion. The same meddling legislators have forced doctors to prescribe the other medication, misoprostol, at a lower than ideal dosage, increasing the risk of an incomplete miscarriage. </p><p>In recent years, religious right abortion foes have passed a wide range of bogus restrictions they claim are aimed at protecting women’s health. Actually, these rules (the subject of the new documentary, <a href="">Trapped</a>) are intended to reduce the availability of abortion care and many actually increase health and safety risks. In Texas, bogus health rules have driven most clinics <a href="">out of business</a> and have led <a href="">over 100,000 women</a> to explore or attempt some form of self-abortion.</p><p>One of the bizarre rules forces doctors to administer triple the amount of mifepristone necessary to induce an early miscarriage. This was accomplished by legislating that doctors had to prescribe the medication exactly as it was done in the mid-'90s when the drug first passed clinical trials and was labeled by the FDA. On top of that, some states passed laws forcing doctors to march each woman into an operating theater and watch her swallow the unnecessary pills. </p><p><strong>How Prescribing Works</strong></p><p>Medical care is constantly evolving and improving. After the FDA approves a medication, doctors refine prescribing practices over time as research shows that a drug can be used safely at lower or higher doses or under different circumstances. With mifepristone, one of two drugs used in medication abortion, the standard of care for the last 10 years has been that doctors prescribe 200 rather than 600 milligrams of the drug. Although excess mifepristone has few side effects other than malaise and nausea, the forced overdose drives up the cost of medication abortion by hundreds of dollars. For religious right legislators, that was the point. </p><p><strong>Updated Label, Better Care</strong></p><p>As of March 30, the FDA, via a standard updating practice, has granted the drug manufacturer a new drug label that reflects the evidence and the modern standard of care. In places like Ohio, where legislators forced doctors to use the outdated 1990s regimen, women will now be able to get care that aligns with national medical standards. The updated regimen—which has been in place at Planned Parenthood for 10 years—includes a lower dose of mifepristone, which lowers costs and side effects; a higher dose of misoprostol, which increases efficacy; a longer time-frame (from 49 days gestation to 70 days); and the option for medications to be administered by advance practice clinicians like clinical nurse specialists. The new regimen also eliminates an unnecessary follow-up visit.</p><p>Research shows that each of these changes either increases the safety and efficacy of medical practice or reduces costs at the same level of efficacy. For example, advance practice clinicians are perfectly capable of completing both medication abortions and early surgical abortions with the same low complication risk as doctors.</p><p>In Texas, which over-regulates abortion in almost every way possible, doctors themselves will still have to administer pills in an operating theater. But in Ohio, the label change effectively nullifies a sham safety law and may dramatically change options for women. Prior to the bogus law, 10-15 percent of abortions in Ohio were early induced miscarriages. After legislators forced doctors and women to use the outdated regimen, that dropped to under two percent. With the FDA labeling change, Preterm Clinic in Cleveland says it will make the better regimen available immediately. And in more progressive states, the label change may give women a wider option of providers, especially in rural areas where doctors may be scarce.</p><p>Medication abortion is still over-regulated; if science dictated medical practice, at-home therapeutic miscarriage might <a href="">replace most abortions</a>. Even so, the FDA’s label change is good news for women who would rather not have priests and legislators in the room when they are making medical decisions. Now if only we could now find a way to update some legislators before they come up with their next faith-based “safety” law. </p> Fri, 01 Apr 2016 11:27:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1053761 at Civil Liberties Civil Liberties abortion fda medication The FDA’s label change is good news for women who would rather not have priests and legislators in the room when they are making medical decisions. Denied Contraception, Catholic Mother of Disabled Child Questions Church Teachings—at Her Peril <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Why would religious believers rain such abuse on a woman who is honestly struggling?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_155372147-edited.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Sonia Guizar used to attend mass regularly and teach at a Catholic school. But her Catholic employer’s refusal to cover birth control brought her an ill-timed pregnancy and a child with developmental challenges that stretch her family thin. When she publically shared her experience and questioned Church teachings in a <a href="" target="_blank">Washington Post story</a>, what she got from fellow Catholics was a heap of abuse from people whose urge to defend religious dogma and authority trumped their kindness and compassion.</p><p>Guizar’s story may be a very distant echo of the horrendous slaughter being perpetrated by Jihadis shouting “Allahu akbar!”—but it is an echo nonetheless. One of religion’s most heinous characteristics is that it elevates defense of faith above compassion, inspiring mean and aggressive behavior in the names of gods.</p><p>The American Supreme Court is considering a “religious freedom” claim by a Catholic charity, Little Sisters of the Poor, that wants to deny contraception coverage to employees in their chain of nursing homes—mostly working poor women who can ill afford either out-of-pocket birth control costs or a surprise pregnancy. They further want to block the same employees from gaining access to free contraception via an “opt out” mechanism, a religious exemption already established under Obamacare.</p><p>With the case making news and <a href="" target="_blank">drawing protests</a>, Guizar shared her own experience of needing birth control that she and her husband couldn’t afford. Fearing she would be fired by her Catholic employer if she tried to get the IUD recommended by her doctor, Guizar and her husband tried to make due with “natural family planning” and ended up pregnant. Their son, born from that pregnancy, has developmental delays and requires therapy multiple times weekly, and the whole ordeal has caused her to question her faith.</p><p>Her story is both ordinary and heartbreaking, and most people reading it would ache for her. But in dozens of comments, Catholic defenders of the faith saw fit instead to question the legitimacy of her devotion, or her strength or integrity:</p><ul><li>This is such an obvious hit piece--no catholic would ever say "I no longer celebrate mass" every catholic knows that only a priest can celebrate a mass. [<a href="" target="_blank">not true</a>]</li><li>You couldn't afford birth control? Really? That's ridiculous [<a href="" target="_blank">not true</a>]....And you call yourself a 'devout' Catholic and NOT following their doctrine? Again, you don't know what either devout and/or Catholic means. —Angie Sharp</li><li>Then you really were not a Catholic to begin with. Now you just write really dumb stuff! Congratulations you are progressing. I'm sure God will forgive your idiotic apostasy.—Wasachnorth [See <a href="" target="_blank">No True Scotsman Fallacy</a>]</li><li>The Apostle Paul was shipwrecked, tortured and thrown in different jails. You? Well you were told to not use birth control and your faith crumbled. —Give-me-Liberty</li><li>The amazing and great thing about America is that you can change your employment! Yes, I know it sounds incredible, but it can be done! If The Church has a tenet that you do not agree with, and it does, then you can adopt a creed more to your liking or get another job. Problem solved. —Steve Fotos</li><li>Go find another job. You signed an employment agreement. —Robert PS</li><li>I can't believe this lady ever was a devout Catholic, she may have though she was, but it is obvious she has little understanding of faith and a great understanding of the secular world. . . . If she were really a devout Catholic she might try to follow the example of Mary in saying yes to God, instead of the example of Eve who said no to God and yes to the Snake! —Yvonne Yadler Bean</li><li>Natural planning is just as effective as any other birth control method. [not true—1 in 4 annual <a href="" target="_blank">pregnancy rate vs 1 in 2000.</a>] . . . . If you really are devout catholic, you should known what the church teaches and if you don't like it work somewhere else. —pattyanna</li><li>Sonia is missing the boat as a "devout" catholic. She says she would have as many children as God intended but cant afford??????????? If her faith in God is solid, then he will take care of the financial "burden" that comes with having kids. As a fellow Catholic . . . .—Hannah Pharis</li><li>·Perhaps you should read the bible again. JOB would have loved to have been hit with the issue of contraception as opposed to having this faith tried by the loss of his entire family! But you are devout? —Jane1000</li><li>If you don't like your faith because your employer doesn't pay for contraceptives, than you've never had one in the first place. Go demagogue somewhere else. —Peter Gray</li></ul><p>There are many morals or themes that could be drawn from Sonia’s story: The incredible human cost of the Vatican’s anti-contraception stance when it leaves families struggling to care for children with developmental issues (<a href="" target="_blank">think Zika</a>). The fact that a modern IUD or implant (both of which have <a href="" target="_blank">bonus health benefits</a>) can be <a href="" target="_blank">life-changing</a> for a woman and her family. The <a href="" target="_blank">crass dishonesty</a> of any person or institution claiming to be a friend to the poor (or “Little Sister to the Poor) while denying poor families the means to delay or limit childbearing. The fascinating <a href="" target="_blank">psychology of religion</a> that <a href="" target="_blank">compels</a> people to <a href="" target="_blank">lie to themselves</a> and others once they accept a dogma. The fact most American Catholics follow their own conscience and use modern contraception at some point despite Papal edict. The fact that Catholic tradition itself <a href="" target="_blank">is conflicted</a> about individuals making this decision.</p><p>But during a month of jihadist violence—executions in Ivory Coast, a bombing in Brussels and a bombing in Istanbul, all by people who see themselves as defending the one true faith—what strikes me most about Sonia’s story is the mundane righteous cruelty of her detractors, the fact that even on a topic as ordinary as family planning or a setting as minor as a Washington Post comment thread, religious belief has the power to trump humanity’s deepest shared ethic—the Golden Rule—and our most cherished moral emotion: compassion.</p><p>I have written in the past about “<a href="" target="_blank">religion’s dirty dozen</a>,” 12 really bad religious ideas that have made the world worse. The idea that religious beliefs themselves matter more than love and kindness, more than our shared humanity, should be at the top of the list.</p> Thu, 24 Mar 2016 16:19:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1053265 at Belief Belief Gender Catholic faith abortion Why would religious believers rain such abuse on a woman who is honestly struggling? Why People Don't Take Right-Wing Evangelicals So Seriously Anymore <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The Evangelical brand has gone from being an asset to a liability.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/topstories_evangelicals.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Back before 9/11 indelibly linked Islam with terrorism, back before the top association to “Catholic priest” was “pedophile,” most Americans—even nonreligious Americans—thought of religion as benign. <em>I’m not religious myself</em>, people would say, <em>but what’s the harm if it gives someone else a little comfort or pleasure.</em></p><p>Back then, people associated Christianity with kindness and said things like, “That’s not very Christian of him,” when a person acted stingy or mean; and nobody except Evangelical Christians knew the difference between Evangelicalism and more open, inquiring forms of Christianity.</p><p>Those days are over. Islam will be forever tainted by Islamist brutalities, by images of bombings, beheadings and burkas. The collar and cassock will forever evoke the image of bishops turning their backs while priests rub themselves on altar boys. And thanks to the fact that American Evangelical leaders sold their congregations to the Republican Party in exchange for political power, Evangelical Christianity is now distinctive—and widely despised.</p><p>Another way to put this is that the Evangelical “brand” has gone from being an asset to a liability, and it is helpful to understand the transition in precisely those terms.</p><p><strong>How Brand Assets Get Depleted</strong></p><p>In the business world, a corporation sometimes buys or licenses a premium brand in order to either upgrade their own brand desirability or to sell a lower quality product. Coca-Cola acquired Odwalla. Dean Foods acquired Silk soy milk. Target and Walmart license various designer labels for their made-in-China housewares and clothes. Donald Trump sells his name to real estate developers who use it to set an expectation of quality.</p><p>Once a premium brand or label is acquired, the parent company often uses the premium label to sell an inferior product. Alternately, if they acquired the whole company rather than just the name, they may gradually change the product, ratcheting down input costs (and quality) to the point that the premium brand becomes just another commodity. The profit advantage comes from the fact that it takes people a while to notice and change their brand perceptions. Also, being creatures of habit, a person may stick with a familiar brand even though the quality of the product itself has changed. In this way, a corporation can draw down the value of a brand the way that a person might draw down a bank account.</p><p><strong>Republican Acquisition of the Evangelical “Brand”</strong></p><p>A generation ago, the Republican Party realized that Evangelical Christianity could be a valuable acquisition. “Evangelical” had righteous, “family values” brand associations, the unassailable name of Jesus, the authority of the Bible, and the organizing infrastructure and social capital of Evangelical churches. Republican operatives courted Evangelical leaders and promised them power and money—the power to turn back the clock on equal rights for women and queers, and the glitter of government subsidies for church enterprises including religious education, real estate speculation, and marketing campaigns that pair social services with evangelism.</p><p>As in any story about selling your soul, Evangelical leaders largely got what they bargained for, but at a price that only the devil fully understood in advance. Internally, Evangelical communities can be wonderfully kind, generous and mutually supportive. But today, few people other than Evangelical Christians themselves associate the term “Evangelical” with words like generous and kind. In fact, a secular person is likely to see a kind, generous Evangelical neighbor as a decent person <em>in spite of</em>their Christian beliefs, not because of them.</p><p>The Evangelical brand is so depleted and tainted at this point that Russell Moore, a prominent leader of the Southern Baptist Convention recently <a href="" target="_blank">said</a> that he will no longer call himself an “Evangelical Christian,” thanks—he implied—to association between Evangelicals and Trump. Instead he is using the term “Gospel Christian”—at least till the 2016 election is over. While Trump has received endorsements from Evangelical icons including Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Pat Robertson, other Evangelical leaders (e.g. <a href=";_r=0" target="_blank">here</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>) have <a href=";_r=0" target="_blank">joined Moore in lamenting</a> the deep and wide Evangelical attraction to Trump, which they say is antithetical to their values.</p><p>But how much, really, is the Trump brand antithetical to the Evangelical brand? <a href="" target="_blank">Humanist commentator James Croft</a> argues that Trump <em>is</em>what Evangelicalism, in the hands of the Religious Right, has become:</p><p>“The religious right in America has always been a political philosophy based on bullying, pandering, projecting strength to hide fear and weakness, and proud, aggressive ignorance. That’s what it’s been about from the beginning. Trump has merely distilled those elements into a decoction so deadly that even some evangelicals are starting to recognize the venom they have injected into American culture.”</p><p>Croft says that Pastors like Joel Osteen and Rick Warren use Jesus as a fig leaf “to drape over social views that would otherwise be revealed as nakedly evil.”</p><p>As a former Evangelical, I have to side with Croft: the Evangelical brand problem is much bigger than Trump and his candidacy or the morally-bankrupt priorities and theocratic aspirations of fellow Republican candidates Cruz and Rubio. Evangelicals may use the name of Jesus for cover, but even Jesus is too small a fig leaf to hide the fact outsiders looking at Evangelical Christianity see more prick than heart.</p><p>Here is what the Evangelical brand looks like from the outside:</p><p><strong>Evangelical means obsessed with sex.</strong> Evangelicals are so desperate to fend off their own complicated sexual desires and self-loathing that they would rather watch queer teens commit suicide than deal with their homophobia. They abhor youth sexuality and female sexual pleasure to the point that they have driven <a href="" target="_blank">an epidemic</a> of teen pregnancy, unintended pregnancy and abortion—all because accurate information and contraceptive access might let the wrong kind of people (young unmarried and female people) have sex for the wrong reasons (pleasure and intimacy) <em>without suffering for it.</em></p><p><strong>Evangelical means arrogant.</strong>Wheaton College put Evangelical arrogance on national display when administrators decided to suspend and then fire a professor who dared to suggest that Muslims, Jews and Christians all worship the same God.</p><p><strong>Evangelical means fearful and bigoted.</strong>While more secular Europeans and Canadians offer aid to Syrian refugees, Evangelical Christians have instead sought to exclude Muslims.  They have used their vast empire of telecommunications channels to inspire not charity but fear of imminent Sharia in the U.S. and of refugees more broadly. They have urged that Latin American refugees be sent home so that we can build a wall across the southern border before they come back.</p><p><strong>Evangelical means indifferent to truth.</strong>Evangelicals refuse to acknowledge what is <a href="" target="_blank">obvious to everyone</a> else, including most other Christians—that the Bible is <a href="" target="_blank">a human document</a> woven through with moral and factual imperfections. Treating the Bible like the literally perfect word of God has forced Bible believers to make a high art out of self-deception, which they then apply to other inconvenient truths. They rewrite American History, embrace faux news, defend in court the right of “Crisis Pregnancy Centers” <a href="" target="_blank">to lie</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">force doctors</a> to do the same. The end justifies the means.</p><p><strong>Evangelical means gullible and greedy.</strong>From televangelists and Prosperity Gospel to adulation of Ronald Reagan and Ayn Rand, Evangelicalism faces the world as a religion of <a href="" target="_blank">exploiters and exploited</a>—both of which are hoping to make a quick buck.</p><p><strong>Evangelical means ignorant.</strong>The only way to protect creationism is to keep people from understanding how science works and what scientists have discovered. As evidence accumulates related to evolutionary biology, insulating children requires a <a href="" target="_blank">constant battle</a> to keep accurate information out of textbooks. Insulating adults requires cultivating a deep suspicion of science and scholarship, an anti-intellectualism that diffuses out from this center and defines Evangelical culture at large.</p><p><strong>Evangelical means predatory.</strong>Evangelical missionaries prey on the young and ignorant. They have fought all the way to the Supreme Court to ensure they can <a href="" target="_blank">proselytize children</a> in public grade schools. Having failed to block marriage equality in the States, they <a href="" target="_blank">export Bible based gay-hate</a> to Central Africa, where gays are more vulnerable. Since Americans lost interest in tent revivals, evangelists now cast out demons, heal the sick and raise the dead among uneducated low-information people in developing countries.</p><p><strong>Evangelical means mean.</strong>Opposing anti-poverty programs, shaming and stigmatizing queers, making it harder for poor women to prevent pregnancy, blaming rape victims, <a href="" target="_blank">diverting aid dollars</a> into church coffers, <a href="" target="_blank">threatening little kids</a> with eternal torture, supporting war, denying the rights of other species, . . . need I go on?</p><p>Laid out like this—sex-obsessed, arrogant, bigoted, lying, greedy, ignorant, predatory and mean—one understands why a commentator like Croft might say that Trump <em>is</em>Evangelicalism. But reading closer, it becomes clear that Trump and Cruz and Rubio are not the problem.</p><p>The Evangelical brand is toxic because of the stagnant priorities and behaviors of Evangelicals themselves. Desperate to safeguard an archaic set of social and theological agreements, Evangelical leaders bet that if they could secure political power they could force a halt to moral and spiritual evolution. They themselves wouldn’t have to grow and change.</p><p>They also believed that they could get something for nothing, that they could sell their brand and keep it too. They couldn’t have been more wrong.</p> Mon, 07 Mar 2016 07:16:00 -0800 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1051998 at Belief Belief religion evangelical The Evangelical brand has gone from being an asset to a liability. Meet the Texas Abortion Provider Who Refuses to Cave in to Anti-Choice Extremists <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A brave doctor helps the women who need it most. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/via_raw_story.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>Amy Hagstrom Miller has defended her group of Texas clinics, Whole Woman’s Health, all the way to the Supreme Court despite tremendous personal cost. Here’s why.</em></p><p>Amy Hagstrom Miller will face the Supreme Court today in defense of her group of abortion clinics, Whole Woman’s Health. Hagstrom Miller is a mission-driven small business owner, inspired, she says, by her commitment to human rights and justice, a desire to be deeply present with women facing hard decisions and shaping their own futures with intention.</p><p>But in recent years, Hagstrom Miller’s goal of maintaining a safe, supportive oasis for the “whole woman” has become almost impossible. For almost a decade, she and her staff have jumped through hoops as the Texas legislature imposed more and more TRAP laws (Targeted Restriction of Abortion Providers), bogus “safety” laws aimed at driving clinics out of business and eliminating abortion access. But after each costly accommodation, Religious Right politicians imposed yet another demand.</p><p>In 2013, the Texas legislature passed House Bill 2 which bans abortions after 20 weeks, severely restricts access to medication abortion, forces doctors to seek (otherwise unnecessary) hospital admitting privileges, and requires that all abortion care take place in a surgical center. Under the law, staff are forced to walk a woman into an operating theater before handing her two abortion pills and a glass of water.</p><p>Next week, the Supreme Court will hear a challenge to that law, with Whole Woman’s Health as the lead plaintiff. One way or another, the litigation will be over by summer. What has life been like during years of never-ending legal battles? In the following interview Hagstrom Miller talks about the experience.</p><p><strong>Valerie Tarico:</strong> <strong>You’ve spent the better part of a decade simultaneously accommodating and fighting regulations that have little to do with women’s health and everything to do with putting you out of business.</strong></p><p><strong>Amy Hagstrom Miller:</strong> One objective of the opposition is to make abortion seem more scary, complex and complicated than it actually is. For the patient, that shows up in the language of health and safety, and the physical plant which is built for surgery. The intent is to make a 5- to 10-minute abortion procedure seem dangerous, and that is exactly what it does. Women who have heard this rhetoric come in and ask, Will I ever be able to have a child again? Are you going to cut me? Do you use knives?</p><p>In addition to the fear, women often say that they are the only one they know who has had an abortion. They say, I’m Catholic. I’m Christian. I’m a mother. And we let them know, “The majority of our patients are Christian. The majority are mothers already.”</p><p><strong>Tarico: It didn’t used to be this way, back when you first started providing abortion care. Tell us more about the changes.</strong></p><p><strong>Hagstrom Miller:</strong> In the 1990s antagonism to abortion focused on the external part of the clinic. It took the form of physical threats, invasions, and shooting physicians—like the murder at Brookline. Since that time opponents have moved inside the clinic. They penetrated the walls by using the regulatory and legal system as a way to attack women and providers.</p><p>Women are forced to look at an ultrasound, forced to listen to a script, forced to endure a waiting period. All of this puts forward the notion that women are stupid, that they have undertaken a difficult decision without having thought about it. The regulatory attack on the provider makes it difficult to stay open, but it also paints us as careless rather than caring, as unsafe and in need of constant oversight instead of as the compassionate medical professionals that we are. In the Texas regulatory system, you are guilty until proven innocent. So abortion foes file anonymous complaints about us and other providers, and we are put in the position of proving they are not true.</p><p>Not only that, we are in the position of being forced to explain and enforce laws we disagree with. We were required to make fetal development booklets with misinformation and pay for the production of those materials. Abortion providers are being assessed the fee to produce this propaganda that the state is requiring us to give out.</p><p><strong>Tarico: It sounds absurd.</strong></p><p><strong>Hagstrom Miller:</strong> Women see right through it. Sixty-five percent of the women we serve have one or more children. They’ve all seen an ultrasound before and yet we force them to watch another as if they don’t know what’s growing inside of them. They know, and they are committed: What do I have to watch? How long do I have to wait? I need an abortion, so what do I have to do to get one? It’s almost like an Onion article.What wall do I have to climb? How long do I have to stand on my head? Just tell me what I need to do.</p><p><strong>Tarico: It’s taken a decade of Right Wing ratcheting, piling one absurd “safety” regulation on top of another. What does that do to you? </strong></p><p><strong>Hagstrom Miller:</strong> I have a rigorous quest internally and philosophically to not let this onslaught change who we are. My commitment is to holistic care: one-on-one counseling; physical surroundings that are warm and comforting with fleece blankets and herbal tea and lavender walls; and freedom to talk about spiritual or cultural concerns. I am committed that these aspects of care not get sacrificed. We will comply with whatever we have to comply with and challenge whatever we have to challenge. But the hearts and minds of women are at the center of who we are.</p><p><strong>Tarico: What is it like from an emotional standpoint? I could imagine it being quite the roller coaster.</strong></p><p><strong>Hagstrom Miller:</strong> I feel really proud as a plaintiff, that we are standing in the light and welcoming this conversation. But internally, it’s been extremely disruptive, for my staff and for me as a small business owner trying to provide a stable environment for nurses and other team members who work for me and who deserve it. When the state forces us to close doors on a clinic, it feels heartbreaking because we know what that means for the women of that community.</p><p><strong>Tarico: Does it wear you down?</strong></p><p><strong>Hagstrom Miller:</strong> In my nature I’m extremely resilient. I’m super hopeful. But as a byproduct of all of this I’ve developed the skill of putting things in little boxes in my head. This could happen . . . but I can’t worry about that. I can’t have my feelings in advance. Sometimes I’m scared of how good I’ve gotten at this, but it contributes to my ability to lead. It lets me do what I can rather than sitting back and freaking out about the unknowns.</p><p><strong>Tarico: How do you try to support your staff?</strong></p><p><strong>Hagstrom Miller:</strong> There is a depth of connection with us at Whole Woman’s Health because of how much we’ve been through together—a deep sense of trust and respect for each other that has sustained us through a whole lot. Our clinic in McAllen on the Texas-Mexico border had to close and reopen, and we laid people off twice. It’s the only clinic south of San Antonio, the only one for 250 miles in any direction. When we re-opened in 2014, most of our former employees had other jobs, but they all came on the day we opened, even if they had to take sick leave. These are just medical assistants with an hourly wage and a couple of kids. Their justice commitment feeds all of us.</p><p><strong>Tarico: How do you take care of yourself?</strong></p><p><strong>Hagstrom Miller:</strong> I have really supportive family and close friends. I have an absolutely fabulous partner. We’ve been married since 1992 and together since 1988.  My parents are in their 80s. They are very proud of what I do, as are my in-laws. They’re proud of my standing up for what’s right, that I’m taking on bullies, that we are speaking on behalf of those who don’t have a voice.</p><p>I’m someone who relaxes by doing things. I swim. It’s a very physical way that I maintain my breath, because if you don’t breathe when you’re swimming, you drown. I also spend a lot of time with my family, going to my kids’ soccer games and cooking. Thanks to the pressures, I’ve become quite the gourmet chef in the last couple of years.</p><p><strong>Tarico:</strong> <strong>Would you say that this work has a spiritual dimension for you?</strong></p><p><strong>Hagstrom Miller</strong>: Absolutely. I was raised in a liberal Christian tradition, and I come to the work because of that background, not in spite of it. The Jesus that I was taught about would be holding the hands of women inside the clinic; he wouldn’t be screaming at them. Acting on Christian principles is holding the hands of people at difficult times in their lives, and being supportive and nonjudgmental and kind. That is very much what we bring to the work. I don’t know how to say it more clearly than that.</p><p><strong>Tarico:</strong> <strong>What can other people do to support you?</strong></p><p><strong>Hagstrom Miller:</strong> People need to understand that this isn’t just about Texas. All over the country politicians are trying to take away women’s ability to make decisions about ending a pregnancy. In the last five years, anti-abortion politicians in states across the country quietly passed 288 laws very similar to these Texas laws, making it harder for a woman to get an abortion.</p><p>So if people want to support us, speak up and show up so each of us can get the care we need with dignity and respect. Question the false narrative that TRAP laws serve a state interest in women’s health and safety. Ask who is benefiting from the stigma and challenge it when you hear it. Talk about why access to safe abortion with dignity is important to you personally, whether you have had an abortion or not.</p> Thu, 03 Mar 2016 09:00:00 -0800 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1051752 at Civil Liberties Civil Liberties Gender The Right Wing abortion abortion rights texas whole women's health amy hagstrom miller A brave doctor helps the women who need it most. How the Zika Virus Is Clashing With the Catholic Church <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Some women feel they are choosing between a brain-damaged baby and an eternity in hell. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_365183174.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>A brain damaged baby or an eternity in Hell—which would you rather risk? Some sincere Catholics believe that Latin America’s Zika pandemic forces practicing Catholics to choose between the wellbeing of their future children and the wellbeing of their souls. Consider these comments from a Catholic forum:</p><blockquote><p>“Since contraception is intrinsically evil, it cannot be justified by the good intention to avoid harm to the prenatal, nor by the difficult circumstance of the spread of this virus.” – <a href="">Ron Conte</a></p><p>“What’s disturbing is that any posters seem to think, in spite of clear and unequivocal doctrinal teaching on this topic, that there are still some (any) circumstances in which ABC [artificial birth control] for the purpose of preventing pregnancy is permissible. There aren’t. Period. Full Stop. End of Story. If you disagree, you need to work on better forming your conscience.” – <a href="">SMOM</a></p><p>“A couple conceive and possibly have a child with a birth defect . . . “Suffering” for decades. [or] a couple uses condoms or other forms of birth control. Eternal suffering as they are separated from God. . . Pushing condoms to reduce a small percentage of birth defects puts millions of souls at risk.” <a href="">Usige</a></p></blockquote><p>Over the last 1500 years, the Church has promoted some wacky <a href="">and harmful</a>ideas about sex and reproduction. But any Catholic parent or prospective parent facing the nightmare of Zika should know that the relevant Catholic history and theology are far, far from unequivocal, and that few Catholics—either clergy or lay—believe that using contraception puts anyone’s soul at risk. In fact Pope Francis himself <a href="">has now weighed in on the side of sanctioning contraception during the Zika pandemic</a>, citing Pope Paul VI’s 1960’s decision to allow nuns in the Belgian Congo to use contraceptives during a time of violence and indiscriminant rape.</p><p><strong>A Recent History of Catholic Debate about Birth Control</strong></p><p>There’s no denying that the Vatican has a long record of advocating against planned parenthood—broadly defined–and <a href="">lobbying globally to reduce contraceptive access</a>. And the “doctrinal teaching” mentioned above, a Papal encyclical called Humanae Vitae, does explicitly forbid any family planning except periodic abstinence. But the story of that document sheds light on why most practicing Catholics at the time immediately rejected it, and why most today use some form of modern family planning:</p><p>In the decade of the sixties, change was happening at an ever faster pace—in particular change in sexual mores and gender roles—and the Church was under pressure to reconsider traditional opposition to family planning. The Pill—first approved in the U.S. in 1961—was rapidly becoming available to married women. More and more couples were limiting their number of offspring—and the social benefits seemed obvious to many.</p><p>In 1966, a “Pontifical Commission on Birth Control” made up of 72 members including bishops, theologians, doctors, and even five women <a href="">issued</a> a report recommending that the Pill be accepted as an extension of the natural cycle. “For it is natural to man to use his skill in order to put under human control what is given by physical nature.”</p><p>Four dissenters signed onto a minority report <a href="">arguing</a> that a reversal would amount to conceding that Protestants had been right—a significant threat to Catholic moral authority, and in particular the Church’s 19th Century declaration of papal infallibility:</p><blockquote><p>“If it should be declared that contraception is not evil in itself, then we should have to concede frankly that the Holy Spirit had been on the side of the Protestant churches. . . It should likewise have to be admitted that for a half a century the Spirit failed to protect Pius XI, Pius XII, and a large part of the Catholic hierarchy from a very serious error. This would mean that the leaders of the Church, acting with extreme imprudence, had condemned thousands of innocent human acts, forbidding, under pain of eternal damnation.”</p></blockquote><p>In 1968, Pope Paul VI sided with the minority (and with papal infallibility), concluding the inquiry process with the Humanae Vitae encyclical, subtitled, On the Regulation of Birth. The encyclical rejects all modern forms of birth control as “artificial,” affirming that sex, while unitive, should be open to procreation. In a convoluted compromise, it does allow for periodic abstinence during a woman’s fertile period.</p><p>By the time the encyclical was issued, many Catholics had experienced the positive benefits of modern contraception on education, health, family wellbeing, and happiness. The Church’s anti-contraception stance slowed adoption of birth control in the poorest Catholic majority countries. But in Europe and the U.S., it instead did exactly what some Church authorities were trying to avoid: It undermined the moral authority of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. American priests who saw family planning as a positive social good made their <a href="">disagreement public within days</a>, and while a generation of devout Catholic women submitted to pregnancy after pregnancy—the price many paid was obvious to their own children. Former nun, <a href="">Mary Johnson</a> is the daughter of one such 1960s mother:</p><blockquote><p>“She had just started her nursing career—barely a year out of college. By the time I was seven there were five of us. Not that she would go back or say that she regrets us, but I know it was very very difficult for her. It was a huge burden on her which made it not so easy for us, either.”</p></blockquote><p>Today use of modern contraceptives among Catholic couples approximates that among non-Catholics, and the Vatican’s opposition to contraception continue to erode the credibility of the Church. In Johnson’s words:</p><blockquote><p>“Most Catholics realize that the Vatican is led by old celibate men who know little about families or women. People realize that there is a moral good in planning our families and being able to control what happens and how you build that family–or not. It’s more of a responsibility than a sin.”</p></blockquote><p>Some earnest believers do get stuck, says Johnson. They get caught up in the idea of papal infallibility, a sort of legalism on steroids. Hence the view of some that it’s now worth an eternity in hell simply to prevent one lifetime of microcephaly. But some Catholic authorities argue that such legalism itself is at odds with Catholic tradition, which from the time of Augustine has taught that the ultimate moral guide must be a person’s own individual conscience.</p><p>Individual Reason and Conscience the Final Guide</p><p>In his Summa Theologica, Church Father Thomas Aquinas wrote a <a href="">complex argument</a> that has developed into a Catholic doctrine now known as “the primacy of conscience.” Conscience, Aquinas argues, is guided by reason and comes directly from God, and so there is no sin in following one’s conscience, even if conscience is in error. Aquinas pointed to the writings of Augustine, who said, “Return to your conscience, question it…. Turn inward, brethren, and in everything you do, see God as your witness.”</p><p>During intervening centuries, theologians have vigorously debated what this doctrine means and when it applies. Philosophy professor John Kavenaugh <a href="">asserts</a> that each person has a responsibility to ground their own conscience in evidence:</p><blockquote><p>“As a practical moral judgment, conscience takes the form: “I ought to do X.” Aquinas points out that when I make such a judgment, I should follow it. But acting on my conscience is not enough. Like any other kind of judgment—business, artistic, scientific or athletic—we base our moral judgments not only on principles but on evidence, data and information. A judgment made without data, evidence or information is a foolish one indeed. Thus, Aquinas thought it is as important to inform one’s conscience properly as it is to follow it. If I refuse to look at evidence or information in forming my moral judgment, I am actually refusing to act morally.”</p></blockquote><p>Although the idea that the Pope is infallible traces back to the Middle Ages, it became dogma during the first Vatican Council, in 1869-1870. Protestants were alternately appalled and derisive, and Catholic theologians felt the heat. In 1875, John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote a <a href="">150-page letter</a> to the Duke of Norfolk, responding to accusations that Catholics had “no mental freedom.” Newman protested that Catholics didn’t deserve the “injurious reproach that we are captives and slaves of the Pope.” He famously remarked, “I shall drink – to the Pope, if you please – still, to Conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards.”</p><p>Another famous quote supporting the primacy of conscience comes from a document of the Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, a document which, while extolling the inviolability of conscience, also ironically insists that Catholic consciences be formed by church teaching regarding “blameworthy” methods of birth control: “For we have in our heart, a law inscribed by God… our conscience is our most secret core and our sanctuary. There we are alone with God whose voice echoes in our depths.” —Gaudium et Spes, #16</p><p>Primacy of conscience is reinforced in Catechism #1777–“When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking.”—and in Canon Law, which says that all persons “possess the right of embracing and observing the truth which they have come to know.” (#748)</p><p>The inviolability of individual conscience has been cited by Catholics who are theologically conservative as well as those who are theologically progressive, in the Hobby Lobby argument that Catholic owned corporations shouldn’t be required to cover birth control and—on the other side—in arguments for the ordination of women. It has led Catholics to defy ecclesiastical authority and tradition, as in Latin America’s liberation theology movement, in which priests aligned themselves with the poor. It has conversely led Catholics to argue that they shouldn’t have to supply pizza or flowers for gay weddings. Some of these arguments may seem either ludicrous or commonsensical from the outside, but the point is that the primacy of individual conscience is a profoundly central part of the Catholic tradition.</p><p><strong>Zika Creates a Crisis of Conscience</strong></p><p>For many Latin American Catholics, the Vatican’s opposition to family planning has long been simply background noise, a regrettable but ignorable quirk of old men—like excessive nose and ear hair. For others, it has been an inviolable article of faith. But the Zika pandemic has created a crisis of conscience for Catholics across the spectrum.</p><p>Evidence linking Zika to microcephaly is growing, as is concern that Zika may cause lesser forms of brain damage even when fetal cranium size is normal. Governments in plague-infected countries have advised women to delay pregnancy, but thanks to the influence of the Church, many desperate women have <a href="">few options</a> for managing their fertility and yet risk prison if they abort a high-risk pregnancy. According to the Guttmacher Institute, Latin American and Caribbean countries have the world’s <a href="">highest rate</a> of unintended pregnancy, and many women lack the power to deny sex to partners who demand it. Almost <a href="">a third</a> of women in the region report intimate partner violence.</p><p>Zika shines a harsh spotlight on the Church’s <a href="">disempowerment of women</a> and pervasive global interference in family planning policy, and the picture isn’t pretty. Condemning poor, desperate people to reproductive roulette seems cold and cruel under normal circumstances—but given present conditions even some conservatives are cringing.</p><p>As well they should be.</p><p>How well the Church itself fares through Zika will depend on how well individual women, children, families and communities fare. In the <a href="">words of Brian Green</a> at Santa Clara University, “At this point it becomes clear how there can be a tension in the Church’s teaching: we must never violate our conscience and our conscience should match Church teaching… but what if it does not? . . What is in dispute, then, is not so much the primacy of conscience, but the primacy of the Church’s authority for teaching conscience in a substantive way.”</p><p>Will the Church hierarchy assert, as some bishops have, that there can be no deviation from traditional teachings about family planning? Or will the hierarchy acknowledge, <a href="">as Pope Francis himself has hinted</a>, that there may be higher considerations? Either way, individual Catholics will have to weigh their spiritual priorities in light of their own lives and loves.</p> Mon, 29 Feb 2016 08:38:00 -0800 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1051621 at Gender Belief Gender Personal Health catholic abortion Some women feel they are choosing between a brain-damaged baby and an eternity in hell. Apple Search No Longer Directs Women Seeking Abortions to Adoption Centers <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Advocates for sexual and reproductive empowerment say the glitch was unacceptable.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/7e5cf2480855d33f9de9a64b8376ae25685a6a2b.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Ask Siri where to get an abortion and you get a list of adoption agencies. For <a href="" target="_blank">five years</a> that was the experience of Apple users in cities ranging from San Francisco to Philadelphia. Recent technical upgrades appear to have resolved the problem, but advocates seeking to end abortion stigma say they intend to keep an eye on Siri and her competitors.</p><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="246" width="252"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="246" width="252" typeof="foaf:Image" src="" /></div><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="240" width="256"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="240" width="256" typeof="foaf:Image" src="" /></div><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="241" width="251"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="241" width="251" typeof="foaf:Image" src="" /></div><p>The media called the problem to Apple’s attention as early as 2011, but until this month requests for a fix got little response other than assurances that technologies were improving. In January, <a href="" target="_blank">Fast Company searched</a> for abortion providers in and around San Francisco, and both Siri and Apple maps instead directed journalists to adoption agencies, including one 30 miles outside of the city. A researcher from UCSF, Alexis Hoffman, tested Apple products over the course of several months in cities across the country, and got similarly problematic results.</p><p>While few critics suggest that the misdirection stems from anything other than imperfect search algorithms, advocates for sexual and reproductive empowerment call this particular glitch unacceptable for two reasons.</p><p>People seeking abortion care already deal with shame and stigma imposed by religion or other cultural institutions, and whether intended or not, the suggestion that they should go elsewhere can feel like further judgment.</p><p>“Individuals are confronted daily with society’s shaming messages that if they seek abortion they are doing something morally wrong and are unworthy of support,” says Lauren Himiak at the Sea Change Program, which seeks to end demeaning abortion stigma. “Apple’s misdirection to adoption agencies or nurseries adds to that stigma, undermining an individual’s choice and implying they don’t know what is best for themselves.”</p><p>The Apple glitch inadvertently replicates a deceptive practice used by conservative Christian anti-choice activists, who set up and advertise decoy clinics known as <a href="" target="_blank">Crisis Pregnancy Centers</a> that are designed to dissuade women from aborting ill-timed or unwanted pregnancies. The <a href="" target="_blank">fake clinics</a> recruit customers primarily via mimicry: A distressed person with a pregnancy scare may see an ad offering what looks like clinical services—for free. The official sounding name, something like Crisis Pregnancy Care, Pregnancy Aid, CareNet, Life Choices, or Pregnancy Counseling Center, implies that the facility provides ordinary pregnancy-related medical care or unbiased counseling; and the location may be literally <a href="" target="_blank">across the parking lot</a> from a Planned Parenthood or another family planning clinic.</p><p>In actual fact, most Crisis Pregnancy Centers are run by volunteers who are recruited and organized through religious networks, and sponsoring churches describe them accurately to funders as “<a href="" target="_blank">ministries</a>.” (A somewhat terrifying app in the Apple store allows prayer warriors to receive an announcement every time a woman in their state schedules an appointment with a Crisis Pregnancy Center rather than an abortion clinic.) <br /><br />Despite the fact that volunteers and employees often wear lab coats, most CPCs employ <a href="" target="_blank">no licensed medical providers</a>. They do not provide health care or unbiased counseling, and may make <a href="" target="_blank">outdated or false statements</a> about birth control, mental health, breast cancer, or the gestational age of a fetus—the last being an attempt to delay an abortion until it is too late. That said, many of these centers do—at least in the <a href="" target="_blank">beginning</a>—connect prospective mothers with mentors, free diapers and other resources needed by poor women who decide to carry forward an unsought pregnancy. This has allowed the centers, despite their <a href="" target="_blank">deceptive practices</a>, to argue that they provide needed community services, and even on occasion to <a href="" target="_blank">obtain public funding</a> to cover expenses.</p><p>Ironically, the fact that they are not actual medical clinics exempts them from oversight and from meeting medical or psychological standards of care. A woman waiting for a “free” pregnancy test—otherwise available over the counter but at a cost—may be forced to watch anti-abortion films or engage in a conversation with a “counselor” whose goal is to direct her either to pregnancy support services or to an adoption agency—just like Siri does. And just like glitchy Apple maps, the volunteer counselor sometimes directs a woman into a dead end. And unfortunately, a life can be a lot harder to turn around than a car.</p><p>Research shows that unplanned pregnancy, carried to term, can <a href="" target="_blank">mire young parents</a> and their children in poverty. In a recent UCSF study, women denied abortion care were more likely to be <a href="" target="_blank">living in poverty</a> and needing public assistance three years later. <a href="" target="_blank">Fewer than half</a> of girls who give birth before completing high school will go on to graduate, and fewer than two percent go on to complete college by age 30. Without the benefits of financial planning and preconception care, a pregnancy is more likely to end in a high-risk delivery or <a href="" target="_blank">low birth weight</a>, and to create <a href="" target="_blank">financial and health challenges</a> families may struggle to overcome.</p><p>While improvements in technology seem to be fixing Apple search, the problem of deliberate misdirection is harder to solve. Public health advocates in some states have <a href="" target="_blank">sought regulations</a> requiring clear outside labeling and informed consent for people who may walk through the door of a pregnancy ministry with the misperception that it is a clinic. But <a href="" target="_blank">save in California</a>, free speech and religious privilege have <a href="" target="_blank">largely won out</a> against consumer protection. In the long run, perhaps the churches involved—like Apple—will come to recognize that people generally want the kind of information and services they are searching for and giving out <a href="" target="_blank">bad information</a> is bad for <a href="" target="_blank">Christianity’s brand</a>.</p> Wed, 03 Feb 2016 13:06:00 -0800 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1050097 at Gender Belief Gender News & Politics apple siri search abortion adoption technology Advocates for sexual and reproductive empowerment say the glitch was unacceptable. Sex for 'Mere Pleasure'? Shame on You! — 15 Sexual Hang-Ups We Can Blame on the Catholic Church <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The Catholic Church is obsessed with sex. Even if you&#039;re secular you&#039;re not immune from its noxious ideas.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_125255867_1.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>I thank God I was raised Catholic, so sex will always be dirty. ~John Waters</em></p><p>The Catholic Church is obsessed with sex: who does it, when, how, with whom, and for what purpose. In fact, I might argue that one of the most fundamental ways the Church hooks people is by creating deep psychological hang-ups about sex, for which it then claims to offer a solution. </p><p>Sexual intimacy and sexual pleasure are two of humanity’s most cherished experiences. A recent study showed that sex makes people <a href="">even happier than Jesus</a> does. The Church knows that. It also knows that forbidding something we crave—making it taboo—can make the craving even stronger. It’s the perfect setup for an institution <a href="">trafficking in guilt and redemption</a>. </p><p>Most people recognize that the old men running the Vatican hold some archaic and ignorant notions about sex. What we often don’t recognize is how many of our own sexual hang-ups are their doing. When I first started writing this article, I penciled in the title, “Six Really Screwed-Up Catholic Ideas About Sex.” But as I wrote, the list kept growing. Even if you are secular you likely have been infected with noxious ideas that come straight from the Ancient Near East and Medieval Europe by way of the Church. </p><p>If you want to live by your own values when it comes to sex, it might help to ask yourself which of these ideas and messages have gotten inside you and need to be gotten out.  </p><p><strong>1. Sex is for procreation, which means sex for “mere pleasure” is bad and safeguarding against ill-conceived pregnancy means you are cheap. If you don’t want a baby in nine months you should keep your legs together or your zipper up.</strong></p><p>Catholic “pro-life” theologian Monica Miller recently earned herself a Facebook meme when she <a href="">said</a> that Planned Parenthood should get no federal funding because “the kind of sexual ethic that Planned Parenthood promotes is sex for recreation, sex for mere pleasure.” If Miller spent more time studying biology instead of theology, she might not have made herself a laughingstock. Research shows that sex for “mere pleasure” improves mental and physical health, strengthens pair bonds and eases conflicts between partners, and it does so in a wide variety of species, not just humans.  </p><p><strong>2. Sex without marriage is “fornication—the kind of evil sin that can send you straight to hell.</strong></p><p>I honestly don’t know how adults can think eternal torture is a proportional punishment for anything, let alone consensual sex. Some Christians need to get a handle on their judgment and hypocrisy and <a href="">warped moral sensibilities</a>. Seriously. </p><p>Morality is meant to prevent harm and <a href="">promote well-being</a>. Our moral emotions and intuitions evolved because we humans are social animals. To survive and thrive, we need to get along with each other. Maybe in the Iron Age sex without a legal contract risked real damage to social structures that helped people survive in the fragile desert environment of the Ancient Near East (see Point 3). Or maybe it just threatened the power of patriarchal males who wanted to control female sex for the same reasons lions and chimps do. Either way, it’s worth asking yourself which is the greater evil:</p><ul><li>A teen having sex with their high school sweetie.</li><li>Telling a high school kid they are going to be tortured forever because they had sex with their sweetie.</li><li>Actually torturing them forever. </li></ul><p><strong>3. Girls should stay “pure” until they get married.</strong></p><p>Abstinence till marriage was designed for the Iron Age, when our ancestors had no other way to manage their fertility and society was structured around paternal genealogies. “Mama’s baby, Papa’s maybe” didn’t cut it. So, it makes sense that Iron Age males came up with a model of marriage that treated a fertile female <a href="">the way dog breeders treat a purebred bitch</a>: Keep an eye on her till she’s sexually mature. When she’s ripe and ready, sell her. Keep her away from stray males. If one rapes her, make him keep her. You break it, you buy it. That’s <a href="">the model in the Bible</a>. </p><p>Mercifully, a few things have changed in the last 2,000 years. We no longer think of a woman’s womb as an economic asset belonging to first her father and then her husband. We also have way better options for preventing pregnancy—abstinence, sure, if you like, but also condoms and pills, and even IUDs and implants that effectively <a href="">flip the fertility switch to “off”</a> till you want it on. Unlike our Iron Age ancestors, we can enjoy sexual intimacy and pleasure and still ensure that babies get born into families that are ready to welcome and care for them. It’s true that sex can be emotionally complicated, and sometimes abstaining is wise. But the sex rules in the Bible were designed for a technologically primitive society that no longer exists. </p><p><strong>4. Sex is disgusting. If cleanliness is next to godliness, then what could possibly be less godly than cum or period blood and vaginal goo (unless perhaps we add <a href="">santorum</a>, as defined by Dan Savage).</strong></p><p>Sex is squicky when you’re not into it (and sometimes even when you are), and the people who made up the sex rules for the Church lacked access to modern hygiene, so it was even more icky back then. They couldn’t shower or douche or rinse with a bidet. They lacked deodorants and wipes. The sheets, or whatever passed for bedding, had to be washed by hand. Rubbers weren’t rubber. Even Cleopatra had to rely on shoving crocodile dung up her vagina to prevent pregnancy. </p><p>So what. Something can be gross and still be a cherished, pleasurable, important or admirable part of life. Giving birth, for example. Breast feeding. Cooking and eating the flesh of other animals. Drinking from a cow. Composting. Doing surgery. Caring for a sick child. Having an abortion. Organ donation. Cremating the dead. Whether or not something triggers our “yuck factor” has little to do with moral virtue or the value that it adds to our lives.  </p><p><strong>5. Masturbation is degenerate and damaging, and Someone is watching every time you get off.</strong></p><p>Hair on your hands? Warts? Blindness? Like God doesn’t have anything better to do than hide in a dark corner with a stick and wait for us to wank or twiddle? </p><p>Masturbation is a very normal part of what it means to be a sexual being. It is the first way that most children experience sexual pleasure and a part of life for over 90 percent of people. It can help relieve stress, migraines, insomnia or menstrual cramps. </p><p>That said, it does mean less time thinking about Jesus. Or maybe not. <a href="">How did Jesus get to be so hot?  </a> </p><p><strong>6. Anal sex is called sodomy for a reason—God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah by raining down fire from heaven.</strong></p><p>As odd as it might sound to a modern audience, many Bible scholars think that the fatal “sin” in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is inhospitality, not anal sex. </p><p>But theological debates aside, <em>we’re talking about a story from the sexual dark ages</em>. In the Old Testament, a man can freely <a href="">fuck his wife’s slave or keep a harem</a> of his own, including girls he acquired as war booty. Israelite soldiers <a href=";version=KJV">collect foreskins</a> the way renegade American soldiers collected trophy ears during the Vietnam War. Women who can’t get pregnant <a href="">eat mandrake roots</a>, like in Harry Potter. A guy gets his descendants permanently cursed by seeing the dick of his <a href=";version=KJV">passed-out-drunk father</a>, and God is cool with a band of Semites <a href=";version=NIV">deceiving and then killing</a> all the men from another tribe because one is a little too interested in one of their sisters. </p><p>Is that really where you want to look for guidance on anal sex or queer love?    </p><p><strong>7. Virginity is a thing. In fact, it’s the thing, and only a girl with a pristine vagina could possibly be good enough to bear the Son of God.</strong></p><p>According to the <a href="">Cult of the Pristine Vagina</a>, your first sexual encounter changes you as radically as a caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a moth, and there’s no going back. The Catholic obsession with virginity has all manner of unintended consequences: Evangelical and Catholic youth, desperate to keep those vaginas pristine, are turning to the lesser sin of sodomy, hilariously spoofed in the Garfunkel and Oates song “<a href="">God’s Loophole</a>.” </p><p>In Quebec, most Catholic girls are given the middle name of Marie, in honor of a possibly mythic female who, we are told, was impregnated by God at age 13 without ever having done the nasty, and who has been known for at least 1,500 years as “The Blessed Virgin.”</p><p>What does the <a href="">Virgin Birth Story</a> say to our daughters about the relative value of their brains (or character) and their hymens? It sure doesn’t communicate what I want to say to mine: </p><p><em>Virginity is a <a href="">made-up social construct</a>—far too small to define us. You are your ideas, your values, your dreams and your loves. You are your sorrows and joys. You are what you experience and what you create. You are how you live and whom you serve. Sticking something in your vagina has about as much power to define you as sticking something in your ear.</em></p><p><strong>8. Women come in three models: Virgin, Madonna and Whore; she’s a cherry ripe for the picking, a beatific mother or a slut.</strong></p><p>God’s Loophole may be funny, but for generations the cult of female virginity has devastated lives. The Irish used to commit “fallen” women to institutions called <a href="">Magdalene Asylums</a> where inmates provided slave labor for profitable laundries run by the Church. By the time the practice ended in 1996, more than 30,000 women had been imprisoned, some for life, simply because they were raped or unmarried and pregnant, or judged promiscuous. </p><p>No, that date wasn’t a typo. The last Magdalene laundry wasn’t closed till 1996. How old were you? I was 36, with a graduate degree, two healthy daughters, and a husband I loved—living the life of my dreams in part because I had been free to explore my sexuality, manage my fertility and end an unhealthy pregnancy without being disowned or imprisoned. </p><p><strong>9. In men, sexual abstinence is a moral virtue and a sign of a good spiritual leader.</strong></p><p>The idea that sexual abstinence confers virtue isn’t unique to Christianity—think Buddhist monks or Hindu sadhus—but it is messed up any way you look at it. We have absolutely no reason to believe that men who don’t have sex are more compassionate, or smarter, or wiser than other men; or more kind or curious or discerning; or more devoted to love and truth (the two virtues most esteemed in the Bible). And we certainly have no reason to think they are better positioned to help guide ordinary people through the practical moral complexities of everyday life. <br /><br />Denying yourself pleasure (or causing yourself pain) has little to do with caring about the pleasure or pain of others. In fact, it can be distracting, creating a false sense of virtue when none is actually merited. Teetotalers of various kinds have a reputation for being self-righteous and judgmental, and sexual teetotalers have a remarkable track record of hypocrisy—not exactly spiritual virtues.  </p><p><strong>10. If a man is really devoted to God, then abstinence is no problem.</strong></p><p>Yeah, right. </p><p>For the record, clergy who exploit their power and authority to molest children must be held accountable for their own behavior, and stopped. Even so, at some level, pedophile priests, along with the tens of thousands they have molested or raped, are victims of cynical Church teachings motivated at least in part by greed. <br /><br />In the Middle Ages the Vatican saw <a href="">priestly abstinence</a> as a way to prevent the offspring and wives of clergy from being entitled to support or inheritance from Church coffers. Sex with adult females is financially inconvenient because, when women get pregnant, resources get divided among their offspring. The Church may be willing to impose this financial cost on desperately poor families, but God forbid that the Vatican’s vast wealth and real estate holdings get dispersed to the children of clergy. </p><p><strong>11. Female consent is not a big deal: A virgin should be given in marriage by her father, a slut always wants it, and a married woman has no right to deny her husband his due.</strong></p><p>Why have Christians and Christian-dominant cultures gotten mutuality and consent so wrong for so long? One reason is that the Bible never says that a woman’s consent is needed—or desired—before sex. In fact, <a href="">like many ancient myths</a>, the Bible accepts and even <a href="">condones nonconsensual sex</a>. Imagine how different Christian history (and derivative campus culture) would be if the Ten Commandments said, “Don’t have sex with anyone who doesn’t want to.” </p><p>The fact that a modern man can’t trade his daughter for a goat, as happened in Old Testament times, does mean things are moving in the right direction, but that’s exactly why we need to keep talking about consent.  </p><p>Our cultural agreements and norms are in flux, and that garbles social signals: A father may not hover over his daughter, but that doesn’t mean her body is up for grabs. A teen may dress like a hooker; that doesn’t mean she is asking for sex. The fact that a college student agreed to Netflix doesn’t mean she has agreed to “<a href="">chill</a>.” A sexually experienced woman can be just as traumatized by rape as one with no experience. And nothing kills arousal—or turns attraction into revulsion—faster than service station sex. If conservatives want people to stay married, recommending that women simply roll on their backs is a really bad idea. </p><p>The only way to navigate the evolution of sexual norms with a minimum of harm is to talk—a lot. Even then people are going to get things wrong, but that doesn’t mean we should retreat into the Iron Age. </p><p><strong>12. Having sex under less than ideal circumstances is going to ruin your life as well as your afterlife.</strong></p><p>Virtually every adult has had sexual contact they regretted. Sometimes it hurts, physically. Sometimes it messes with your head—and a really bad sexual encounter or relationship can do damage that needs healing. Sometimes—afterward—we need a good scrub or a good cry or STI treatment, or the morning after pill or an abortion or a therapist. But bad sex, stupid sex, or even assault doesn’t have to ruin your life. Most of the time we learn from our mistakes and heal our traumas, and then we move on to experience intimacy that feels wholesome and right for us. </p><p><strong>13. Sex is a sacrament—so important that it’s worth scripting your life around having the right kind and avoiding the wrong kinds.</strong></p><p>Yes, sex is wonderful. Orgasm is a pleasure unlike any other, and sexual intimacy releases powerful feelings of well-being and connection. There’s a good evolutionary reason for that. But honestly, life offers many other forms of intimacy and pleasure. Those of us who aren’t jacked on adolescent hormones or else devoting major psychic energy to sexual repression have better things to do most of the time—things like being kind, curious, imaginative, industrious or nurturing—or savoring one of life’s other delights. Just because the Church is obsessed with sex doesn’t mean we all are.  </p><p><strong>14. Children born outside of wedlock are called “illegitimate” or “bastards.” This means, biblically speaking, that they are not real sons (Hebrews 12:8) and that their mere presence can somehow contaminate their surroundings (Deuteronomy 23:2).  </strong></p><p>The Bible God sends very mixed messages about whether children should be punished for the sins of their fathers but enlightened societies judge a person by character, not paternity, and modern people generally think it’s wrong to punish a child for something their parent did wrong, even something so <em>horrendously</em> bad as having sex without marriage. </p><p>For 200 years Americans have been fighting to bring our society into alignment with our founding ideals—that all of us are created equal—regardless of the circumstances of our birth. No child is illegitimate. Nobody’s birthright should depend on the marital status of their parents. When the moral consciousness of the Church lags behind civil society by centuries, <em>maybe that should tell us something about where to look for inspiration</em>.</p><p><strong>15. As a woman, if sex or menstruation or childbirth hurts or a pregnancy test comes back positive at a bad time, accept your lot in life. Que será, será. Go with the flow. Let go and let God. And blame the misery on that uppity female, Eve, who just couldn’t resist eating from the tree of knowledge.  </strong></p><p>No. No. No. No. <em>No</em>.</p><p>Sex shouldn’t hurt, painful periods can be treated, childbirth doesn’t need to be hellish, and you are right to have dreams and aspirations. Being born female is not a punishment. Taking responsibility doesn’t mean simply accepting your lot in life; it means <em>shaping</em> it. </p><p>This world needs women who are strong and visionary, inventive and courageous, playful and bold—not women who are hobbled by miserable monthlies and unmanaged fertility that make their future (and that of families) a crap shoot. </p><p>When it comes to sexuality, the Church has bet big on keeping us all in the dark ages. But many Catholic teachings about sex are so irrelevant and cruel that they threaten the whole crumbling edifice. The Church is terrified of empowered women who take charge of their own bodies and destiny, and men who cherish creative equality, and queer folk whose mere existence invalidates archaic binaries. So, be one. Or partner one. Or raise one.</p><p> </p> Tue, 26 Jan 2016 06:40:00 -0800 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1049581 at Belief Belief Sex & Relationships sex catholic church The Catholic Church is obsessed with sex. Even if you&#039;re secular you&#039;re not immune from its noxious ideas. When Your Therapist Tries to Save Your Soul <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">What do you say if a therapist suggests that the solution to your depression is Jesus? </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_159755432-edited.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>More Americans than ever are leaving their religion. Many find the process liberating, but it also can bring social and emotional challenges. A husband and wife may find themselves unexpectedly on opposite sides of the faith divide, struggling with what to tell their children. A college student may hide her doubts at home for fear of being cut off emotionally or financially, and then feel like she is living a lie.</p><p>But trying to get help sorting things out can bring challenges of its own, like ending up with a therapist who thinks that the way to solve your problems is by returning to your old religion—or hers.</p><p>Clinical psychologist <a href="" target="_blank">Caleb Lack</a> is the director of the Secular Therapist Project. I asked him to talk about his experiences and how people who are questioning or leaving their faith can find support or mental health services that fit.</p><p><strong>Valerie</strong> <strong>Tarico</strong>: I should start by asking you about the Secular Therapist Project. </p><p><strong>Caleb</strong> <strong>Lack</strong>: The <a href="" target="_blank">Secular Therapist Project</a> was founded by psychologist Darryl Ray in 2012 as part of <a href="" target="_blank">Recovering from Religion</a>. One thing religion does well is build community. It provides financial support, emotional support, and coping resources—and people who question or leave faith can feel isolated. Organizations like Recovering from Religion make sure people don’t just drop off the face of the earth. They say, there are other people out there who empathize with you, who share your story, who want to help you come through this and be a stronger person on the other side.</p><p>The STP specifically is focused on helping connect those who are nonreligious and seeking mental health services with secular, licensed, evidence-based professionals.</p><p><strong>Tarico</strong>: What prompted you to get involved?</p><p><strong>Lack</strong>: I’m a clinical psychologist specializing in evidenced-based treatment of emotional or behavioral problems. Being trained this way really helped me to see that we as a species need more questioning of our particular beliefs–just in general and, specifically, for those suffering from mental illness—and strengthen my commitment to scientific skepticism.</p><p>Luckily, unlike many people, I’m in a position where I can be open about my secular nature. This combination of being a mental health professional and a nontheist has led a lot of people to share with me negative experiences they have had when they sought treatment for mental health problems. These negative stories had two common themes. First, people weren’t necessarily getting the gold standards of care and treatment. Second, a disturbing number of people were being evangelized by the very professionals they turned to for help.</p><p><strong>Tarico</strong>: Seriously? Evangelized?</p><p><strong>Lack</strong>: Yes, seriously. A lady contacted me seeking a therapist to help with stress and depression. She had gone for an intake at her Community Mental Health Center—this is a public clinic—and the intake worker told her that if she would only accept Jesus into her life, then her problems would be solved. The client was told that she needed to stop thinking so much and trust faith—and her depression would go away. She was just trying to get help and she was being evangelized by someone who didn’t know her. She hadn’t even seen this person for 20 minutes yet!</p><p><strong>Tarico</strong>: Ok, that’s egregious. And maybe I’m naïve because I live in Seattle, but something like that must be incredibly rare.</p><p><strong>Lack</strong>: Sadly, I hear stories like that regularly, which is why, when I learned about the Secular Therapist Project back in 2012, I thought, Yes, this is what we need. For example, as a college professor, I am in contact with a large number of young folks. As you are aware there is a huge shift among young people, and large numbers are leaving religion.</p><p>Not long ago, I was approached by a young man who had come to the conclusion that he was no longer religious. His mother and father were very involved in the church, so he wanted to talk with someone about the family struggle and he scheduled a meeting with a therapist. When he arrived at the office, she was wearing a large cross necklace and had religious icons on the wall, and once he started explaining why he had come, she went into evangelical mode—questioning him about why did he lose his faith and saying here is what you need to do to get it back. She essentially told this poor young man that being nonreligious was the problem.</p><p>All of this was completely unethical, of course, and he was totally put off therapy. He asked me, “Is this going to happen everywhere?”</p><p>Now, the majority of therapists who are religious don’t act that way. They practice ethically and don’t let their personal beliefs intrude into the therapeutic relationship. But a large enough number do, which is why there is a need for the Secular Therapist Project.</p><p><strong>Tarico</strong>: You make dozens of referrals per month for people seeking secular, evidence-based therapy. Are there themes in terms of what people need? </p><p><strong>Lack</strong>: People often need help with the transition from being religious to being nonreligious. “How do I come to grips with the fact that for 10 or 20 or 50 years I lived in this particular way and now I realize it wasn’t true?” <br /><br />We see a lot of people that are very angry, especially after being within a highly fundamentalist background where they were—maybe abused is a strong word—but told they were going to hell if they didn’t do things correctly, or told they were a bad person because of their sexuality.</p><p>There’s lots of sadness too, because it’s a loss, it’s a grieving process for many people. There’s a reason people use the term “I lost my faith.” Often they lose the community they’ve been in for decades and they don’t know if another community even exists. They say, “I miss my church family. I miss the people I used to hang out with, who now shun me. I miss the comforting fallback of being able to pray and tell God my worries.”</p><p>So there’s lots of grief and anger and also lots of relational issues. Picture, for example, a wife who has become an atheist while her husband is still in the church.</p><p><strong>Tarico</strong>: What do you say to people trying to live in a mixed marriage?</p><p><strong>Lack</strong>: Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. Even when people care about each other enough that they still want to be together, it presents some unique challenges. You have to come to some kind of decision about parenting. What are we going to tell the kids about holidays like Christmas? Then there’s social life. If the wife is going to church does the husband get to be open about his nonbelief or will she be shunned? There are lots of minefields to be navigated.</p><p>Last year, Dale McGowan came out with a great book for couples in this situation called <a href="" target="_blank">In Faith and in Doubt</a>. I often recommend it to those in mixed marriages.</p><p><strong>Tarico</strong>: Books can be great tools for healing. McGowan wrote a great book about <a href="" target="_blank">secular parenting</a> as well, and Greta Christina has one called <a href="" target="_blank">Why are You Atheists So Angry?</a> I’ve given away more copies than I can count of Marlene Winell’s book, <a href=";qid=&amp;sr=" target="_blank">Leaving the Fold</a>, and Chris Johnson’s book, <a href="" target="_blank">A Better Life</a>, which is about finding joy and meaning in a world without gods.</p><p>But if someone needs more than a book, how can they get a referral to the Secular Therapist Project?</p><p><strong>Lack</strong>: <a href="" target="_blank"></a> has two giant buttons: Click here to find a therapist. Click here to register as a therapist. You can search geographically after you register, although some of our folks do engage in distance counseling as well. It’s anonymous up front, so you don’t see the name of the therapist you are messaging with until you are both comfortable doing so. We do that because of continued stigma against people who are nonreligious. Many of our therapists would, unfortunately, face discrimination and likely lose clients if they were openly secular.</p><p>To date, almost 7,500 clients and about 250 therapists have registered on the site. That’s a bit of a size mismatch, so I encourage people to spread the word that we need more therapists on there!</p><p><strong>Tarico</strong>: So if nobody on your list is available, how can a person screen a therapist so that they don’t end up getting evangelized once they walk through the door? Nobody needs that.  </p><p><strong>Lack</strong>: First, seek out someone who practices evidence-based psychology—those things that have been shown to work through controlled clinical trials and research:</p><ol><li>Ask, "What is your primary therapeutic orientation?” Listen for words like cognitive behavioral, interpersonal, dialectical behavior therapy, or other therapies that have been shown to be effective.</li><li>Ask, “How do you know that the type of therapy you do works?” Listen for talk about research or meta-analysis and avoid someone who only talks about their personal experience or how long they have been doing therapy.</li></ol><p>Then, to make sure that your therapist doesn’t attempt to push their own personal values, you can say over the phone that you are nonreligious and are looking for a therapist who is comfortable with that.</p><p>Another option is to reach out to your local secular community and ask for recommendations. In my experience the secular community is very supportive of seeking mental health services, especially for people who are struggling with leaving religion. You could even try to connect through a local branch of Recovering from Religion’s support groups.</p><p><strong>Tarico</strong>: Assuming the worst case, what can a client do if a therapist pushes his own values or religion?</p><p><strong>Lack</strong>: You can give them a warning by saying that is offensive, that it makes you uncomfortable, or that it doesn’t work for you. If it happens again, let them know that you will be reporting them to the state licensing board. That is an entirely appropriate thing to do. Our state boards are usually good about acknowledging those kinds of ethical breaches. </p><p><strong>Tarico</strong>: What a rough situation to be in as a client. After hearing the painful stories, it must be gratifying to help people find a different kind of experience.</p><p><strong>Lack</strong>: As a mental health professional who has spent the last 10 years training mental health professionals to be ethical, competent providers, when I hear the stories like I talked about earlier, I get angry. Imagine being homosexual and growing up in a Southern Baptist household where you are told you are going to hell, or being trans and kicked out of your family, and then seeking help and someone telling you to pray away the depression. It’s a complete betrayal of trust. A therapist is supposed to create a nonjudgmental safe space.</p><p>For someone leaving their faith to get hit with that betrayal is unacceptable. Whether it’s a life transition or a mental illness like OCD or psychosis, people should be able to get the treatment they deserve without someone preaching at them and making them feel like there’s something wrong with them because they are not theistic.</p><p>Once a person has had one of these bad experiences, it’s incredibly rewarding to see them get the help they need. To see them actually get better and enjoy their life to a greater degree. That is why I do what I do.</p> Fri, 22 Jan 2016 12:20:00 -0800 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1049415 at Personal Health Personal Health health What do you say if a therapist suggests that the solution to your depression is Jesus? On Roe v. Wade Anniversary, Women Are Telling Their Stories of Abortion and Expressing Gratitude <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Women are defying social stigma to tell their abortion stories.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2016-01-18_at_3.26.42_pm.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>This week, two generations after the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the U.S., many women will be commemorating the 1973 <em>Roe v. Wade</em> decision by speaking openly, some for the first time, about their own abortions. While some <a href="" target="_blank">live with</a> regrets—as with any important life decision—most say explicitly that they do not. More often they <a href="" target="_blank">express gratitude</a> that the ability to terminate an ill-conceived pregnancy allowed them to become educated and financially secure, and to raise children they love with partners they love.</p><blockquote><p>“Because of my abortion ten years ago, we have the family that we want today—children that we are able to parent, provide for, spend time with and nurture to the best of our ability, with adequate resources.” —<a href="" target="_blank">Leilani</a></p></blockquote><blockquote><p>“I am grateful for the two healthy and successful children I have. I am grateful that I have a strong and wonderful 30-year marriage to a man I love. I am grateful that I was able to pursue the work I wanted as a young woman.” —Janet Levenger</p></blockquote><blockquote><p>“I am so grateful that I was able to finish business school, take an all-consuming job and have the time to fall in love and build a family when I was (at last) able to be wholehearted.” —Stephanie DeVaan </p></blockquote><p>From a private breakfast in Pittsburgh to a Town Hall gathering in Seattle to a day-long <a href="" target="_blank">Internet broadcast</a> out of D.C. to teen ‘zines in Mississippi, people are gathering to break the longstanding taboo on discussing their abortion experiences. Using <a href="" target="_blank">online sign-ups</a> to recruit hosts and guests, events as small as coffeeshop conversations are being organized by <a href="" target="_blank">Planned Parenthood</a>, Advocates for Youth (the 1 in 3 Campaign), and <a href="" target="_blank">#TogetherForAbortion</a>, a joint effort of playwright Karen Hartman and millennial feminists Amelia Bonow and Lindy West.</p><p>In October, frustrated by a <a href="" target="_blank">Catholic-led</a> smear campaign against Planned Parenthood, Bonow wrote a Facebook post about her own abortion. West added the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion and tweeted it and the combo went viral, receiving international attention including media stories and hundreds of thousands of follow-on tweets. “A shout is the opposite of silence,” West says.</p><p>In a <a href="" target="_blank">recent op-ed</a> at the Huffington Post, Bonow talks about why the unexpected response led her to take leave from graduate school to work full time on stigma busting:</p><blockquote><p>"Although abortion has been a common, legal medical procedure for 43 years, our opponents have leveraged our fear in order to snuff out our voices. We have never owned our own stories. This is how they have gotten away with calling one in three American women murderers....We cannot fight for legislative progress while ignoring the cultural toxicity of silence and shame."</p></blockquote><p>Many advocates for reproductive rights and justice believe that the most powerful way to defend abortion access is for women to defy the current culture of “<a href="" target="_blank">compulsory silence</a>," trading abstract political discourse for personal disclosure. Last fall, the <a href="" target="_blank">1-in-3 Campaign</a> (so named because one in three American women has had an abortion by age 45) premiered a play, <a href="" target="_blank">Out Of Silence</a>, modeled on <em>The Vagina Monologues</em>. The play adapts stories posted by women at the 1-in-3 website and embeds them within in a fictional narrative arc. It has been performed on college campuses across the country. </p><p>Advocates for women are hoping personal stories will influence a March Supreme Court case about Texas restrictions, that if sustained, will make abortion virtually inaccessible for most women in the state. This month, the Center for Reproductive Rights submitted an extraordinary <a href="" target="_blank">amicus brief</a> containing stories from 113 female attorneys. The brief aims to persuade the court that abortion access allows women “to fully participate in the economic and social life of the <a href="" target="_blank">country</a>.” It opens with a quote from one of the contributors: “To the world, I am an attorney who had an abortion, and to myself, I am an attorney because I had an abortion.” </p><p>The women who contributed to the brief hope to persuade the court that family planning, including abortion, allows women to pursue education and careers and to fully participate in America’s economy, a claim backed up by <a href="" target="_blank">research and statistics</a>. Less than half of women who give birth while in high school go on to graduate and less than two percent will complete a college degree. Collectively their lost income is <a href="" target="_blank">estimated</a> to cost the U.S. economy $154 billion. A recent <a href="" target="_blank">UCFS study</a> shows that women denied abortions are more likely to be living in poverty three years later.</p><p>If abortion foes are hoping the new wave of storytelling will reinforce the stereotype of abortion seekers as cold-hearted strivers who dislike children and eschew marriage, they will be sorely disappointed. The vast majority of stories gathered by 1-in-3 and #ShoutYourAbortion were written or recorded by mothers, grandmothers and young women who aspire to motherhood—women who, regardless of whether they have pursued demanding careers, worked 9 to 5 or stayed at home, love their children and care deeply about being a good mom in partnership with a man who can be a good dad. Most cite their values about parenthood or loyalty to their existing children as a factor in their decision to end a pregnancy and wait.</p><blockquote><p>“I had just had a baby and was breastfeeding, and knew there was no way in hell I could support another child at the time.” —Brigid F.</p></blockquote><blockquote><p>“When my son was born I could give him the stable, loving home every child should have....I’m very grateful that I didn’t have to carve out the single-mom life, for which I was categorically unfit, and that at the age of 66 I can look back on my life with a feeling of personal accomplishment. I’m also grateful that when I did have a child I was able to give him a good start on his own life.” —Cathy</p></blockquote><blockquote><p>“I’m not choosing not to have a child, I’m just choosing to do so at a better time.” —<a href="" target="_blank">Anna</a></p></blockquote><p>Even those who don’t want children of their own often express devotion to other children in their lives. I don’t mean to suggest that motherhood is somehow superior to the alternatives. There are many ways to live and love well, and some women see themselves as unfit for motherhood, or simply don’t prefer it, or are devoted to other dreams. But if there is one thing we learned from the marriage equality fight it is this: to the extent that negative stereotypes fail to reflect the more complex and tender reality of people’s lives, story sharing has the power to transform society. </p><p>It doesn’t have to start big. Last fall, as #ShoutYourAbortion erupted, two better known peers of Bonow and West—Jenni Konner and Lena Dunham—launched their own hashtag, #AskYourMother. If you have a mother, a grandmother and an aunt, most likely one of them had an abortion. Have you asked? Carrying secrets takes energy, and to a woman who doesn’t talk about her abortion, the question may be an enormous gift, a chance to find out that secrecy isn’t a precondition of respect or affection. Your ability to see her wisdom, courage and humanity in hard times may help her to see herself.  </p><p>If the wall of shame and stigma ruptures, abortion foes may find themselves up against something even more powerful: Love.</p> Mon, 18 Jan 2016 12:24:00 -0800 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1049152 at Gender Gender women gender abortion reproductive rights Women are defying social stigma to tell their abortion stories. God as the Original Terrorist: How the Bible Condones Atrocious Acts of Terror <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">There are quite a few prescriptions for terrorism in the Bible. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_162811745-edited.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Last fall, Dutch pranksters put a cover from a Quran over a Bible and then <a href="" target="_blank">asked passersby</a> to read aloud homophobic, violent or sexist passages that violate modern moral sensibilities. The texts shocked people who had never immersed themselves in the Iron Age world of the Bible writers, a world in which daughters can be sold as <a href="" target="_blank">sexual slaves</a> and most of us deserve the death penalty: <a href="" target="_blank">you included</a>.</p><p>By <a href="" target="_blank">one count</a>, the Quran has only 532 cruel or violent passages, while the Bible has 1,321. Christians respond that the Bible is longer, so the cruel, violent passages make up a smaller percent of the whole. </p><p>ISIS terrorists claim that their scripts for jihad, executions, sexual slavery and theocracy come straight from the Quran, and they <a href="" target="_blank">cite chapter and verse</a> to back up their claim. But Christians who find ISIS horrifying might be even more horrified to learn that similar scripts can be found in their own Good Book, including endorsements of terrorism that rival the most vile atrocities committed in the name of Allah.</p><p>Terrorism is notoriously <a href="">difficult to define.</a> Some limit terrorist acts to those committed illegally by groups seeking social power. Others argue that the state itself may systematically terrorize a civilian population. James Poland, author of <em><a href="" target="_blank">Understanding Terrorism</a></em>, defines terrorism as a means (intimidation) to an end (social control over someone other than the victim):</p><p>Terrorism is the premeditated, deliberate, systematic murder, mayhem, and threatening of the innocent to create fear and intimidation in order to gain a political or tactical advantage, usually to influence an audience.</p><p>Our Iron Age ancestors who wrote the Bible lacked explosive devices and the ability to spread gruesome images via mass media. They lacked jetliners and drones and napalm and nerve gas. But they definitely understood mass intimidation as a tool of social control, and they sanctified their own terrorist tendencies by projecting the same tendencies onto God himself. </p><p>Here are some acts of terrorism from the Bible. </p><p><strong>1. In the Bible God controls humans by raining down death, destruction and terror on those who defy or anger him.</strong></p><p><em>I kill ... I wound ... I will make mine arrows drunk with blood and my sword shall devour flesh.</em> So says Yahweh in Deuteronomy 32:39-42, and this is no idle threat. You’ve heard the story of Noah’s flood, and about the fire God rains down on Sodom and Gomorrah, and about the 12 plagues of Egypt, but did you know that in the Bible God kills 158 times? The full list can be found in the Steve Wells book, <em><a href="" target="_blank">Drunk With Blood</a>.</em><br /><br />Like ISIS, God sometimes acts as an executioner with a laser focus, as when he kills a baby to punish King David’s sexual infidelity (2 Samuel 12), or strikes dead a couple who falsely claim to have given their money to the church (Acts 5: 1-10). But also, like ISIS, he often wreaks death and destruction on those who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time or who were born into the wrong culture. For example, when the same King David conducts a forbidden census, God gives him a choice of punishments: Three years of famine, three months of attacks by neighboring tribes, or three days of plague. David chooses the plague, which kills 70,000 Israelites who had done nothing but let themselves be counted (1 Chronicles 21:1-17).</p><p><strong>2. The Bible both opens and closes with graphic descriptions of torment and fear inflicted by God and designed to keep the faithful in line.</strong>In the Torah, God’s reign of terror is described in a series of graphic histories. In the book of Revelation, it is described in a series of graphic prophecies. In the books between, threats of torture and death hang over every interaction between God and humankind. God himself leans into his role as terrorist-in-chief.</p><p><em>I will send my fear before thee</em>, God promises the marauding Israelites (<a href="" target="_blank">Exodus 23:27</a>). <em>This day will I begin to put the dread of thee and the fear of thee upon the nations that are under the whole heaven, who shall hear report of thee, and shall tremble, and be in anguish because of thee</em> (<a href="" target="_blank">Deuteronomy 2:25</a>). <em>The terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them</em>, reports a narrator in Genesis<a href="" target="_blank">(35:5</a>).</p><p>The book of Proverbs advised Hebrew readers that <em>the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom</em> (Proverbs 9:10 KJV). Centuries later, in New Testament times, the “fear of the LORD” is alive and well—and still useful. <em>Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men</em>, says the writer of 2 Corinthians (5:11).</p><p><strong>3. In addition to inflicting terror directly, God does so via human and nonhuman agents.</strong>He sends a bear to tear apart 40 boys who are teasing a prophet, presumably as a warning to others. In the story of Job, God gives Satan permission to destroy a house in which Job’s sons and daughters have come together for a celebration, killing them all—this time as part of a divine wager that will become a morality tale. He later gives superhuman strength to Samson (the Bible’s version of Hercules) so that Samson can complete an Iron Age suicide mission. He pulls down the pillars of a pagan temple so that it collapses, killing 3,000 civilians. Samson himself dies in a blaze of glory (<a href="" target="_blank">Judges 16:27-30</a>).<br /><br />When Moses as leader of the Israelites catches some of them worshiping a golden calf, he orders those who have remained loyal to Yahweh to take up swords and slaughter their family members and neighbors (Exodus 32:21-24). They do so by the thousands. In the Exodus story, an angel of death passes from house to house, killing the firstborn son in each Egyptian family whether the parents are poor slaves or royalty and whether their child is an infant or youth (Exodus 7-12).</p><p>Of all the Bible writers who sought to terrify pagans and other sinners, none exceeds the writer of Revelation, who fantasized supernatural monsters, each with some special capacity for inflicting torture or death. In one passage, a cloud of giant insects with human faces and the teeth of lions descends on those who lack a special mark from God.</p><p>“And out of the smoke locusts came down on the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were not allowed to kill them but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes. During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them” (Revelation 9:4-6).</p><p><strong>4. During armed conflict, God and his messengers command the Israelites to slaughter civilians and destroy their homes and means of food production including livestock and orchards.</strong>During World War II, the American military engaged in “<a href="" target="_blank">terror bombing</a>” of civilian centers including Hamburg, Dresden, and Tokyo, as the Nazis terror-bombed London. If the Old Testament stories are to be believed, the ancient Israelites similarly targeted and terrorized ordinary villagers during their military campaigns, only they did so at God’s command and with his blessing.</p><p>Bible believers sometimes defend the slaughters depicted in the Old Testament by arguing that they serve a practical purpose. Ethnic cleansing is the only way to rid the Promised Land of evil idolaters, which is why God frequently orders the death of even children and slaves in conquered towns. But the stories themselves include graphic tortures and <a href="" target="_blank">humiliations</a> that would be of little value if the only goal were ethnic cleansing. A close reading suggests that many of the killings are simply God-sponsored terrorism: mass murder as a display of power and means of social control.</p><p>In one account, God commands human assassins to wreak havoc on civilians literally hundreds of years after an offense. Just when you think He has forgiven or forgotten....<em>Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass</em> (<a href="" target="_blank">1 Samuel 15:2-3</a>).</p><p><strong>5. As in ISIS, sexual enslavement of conquered women is one means of humiliating enemy combatants.</strong>In the book of Numbers, God’s messenger commands the Chosen People to kill every Midianite man, woman or child, except for virgin girls who are to be turned into sex slaves according to very explicit instructions. Many Americans were horrified at the story of an ISIS fighter who bound and gagged a captive girl, praying and <a href=";_r=1" target="_blank">quoting the Quran</a> to her before commencing rape. The Bible’s instructions for claiming a captive virgin suggest shaving her head rather than applying duct tape to her wrists and mouth (Numbers 31).</p><p>Why might this be considered terrorism? In the Bible, as in the Quran, women and children are literally <a href="" target="_blank">possessions of men</a>, which is why a man can sell his daughter into slavery or a rapist can be forced to <a href="" target="_blank">buy his victim</a>. In the Iron Age honor cultures of the Ancient Near East, female consent mattered little, but a man’s honor could be destroyed by the sexual violation of a female. Enslaving and impregnating the women of a conquered tribe or religion sends a graphic message to other men about who is on top.</p><p><strong>6. In the New Testament gospels, even Jesus threatens violence and torment against those who don’t fall in line.</strong> In one parable, he likens God to the Master of a great estate who says, “These enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence (Luke 19:26-27). In a sermon, he says that those who fail to repent in time will be cast into outer darkness where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Luke 13:22-30).</p><p>Jesus even uses words that invoke the slaughter commanded by Moses at Mt. Sinai, "Do not think that I have come to send peace on earth. I did not come to send peace, but a sword. I am sent to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law" (Matthew 10:34-35).</p><p>From Genesis to Revelation, God terrorizes those who fail to fall at his feet and worship in the way he demands. His followers inflict divinely sanctioned torture and death, knowing that if they don’t they may end up on the receiving end—or at least with less real estate and booty.</p><p>The Chosen People see the horrors God rains down on evildoers, meaning anyone who worships another god, and despite having dedicated themselves to the cult of Yahweh, they walk on eggshells, following an intricate set of rules and rituals and offering up burnt offerings in order to avoid his wrath. In the New Testament narrative, even these burnt offerings and rituals fall short, and the only way God can be appeased is with the sacrifice of Jesus, “the lamb without blemish.” </p><p>The Bible is filled with histories of God-blessed slaughter and threats of supernatural torture for a reason: <em>To create fear and intimidation. To gain political or tactical advantage. To influence an audience.</em>Specifically, to keep the faithful and to justify their recurrent bouts of conquest and mass murder.  And that is exactly what Bible texts have done for as far back as we can trace the history of Abrahamic religion.</p><p>Fortunately, most modern believers are both wiser and kinder than the writers of their sacred texts, who could not even imagine the varied, intricate world of landscapes and cultures. Many Christians claim what is spiritually nourishing from Bible (like <a href="" target="_blank">passages opposing terrorism</a>) and discard the rest.</p><p>But the rot remains. Christian fundamentalists who see themselves on a crusade against godless infidels, and right-wing politicians who pander to those fundamentalists, find biblical sanction for bigotry and atrocity when they seek it. This fact is not lost on Islamists, who assert that they are fighting defensive jihad while simultaneously inflicting their own Quranic version of bigotry and atrocity on anyone within reach.</p><p>As long as Christians continue to bind together the words of our Iron Age ancestors and call them Good and Holy and “God breathed,” they will have little argument against terrorists who cite other sacred texts to justify destruction and death in the name of God.</p> Thu, 07 Jan 2016 12:18:00 -0800 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1048573 at Belief Belief bible terrorism christianity fundamentalists There are quite a few prescriptions for terrorism in the Bible. Why the Christian Virgin Birth Is Seriously Messed Up <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The birth story of baby Jesus celebrates the promise of new life, but for girls it also sends a harmful message.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_19409776-edited.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Most Americans, even many who are not very religious, look forward to Christmas as a time to celebrate warmth, friendship, generosity and good cheer. Familiar festivities weave together stories and <a href="" target="_blank">traditions from many cultures</a>, which makes it easy to find something for everyone. But maybe it’s time to look a little closer at the Christmas story itself.</p><p>The birth story of the baby Jesus is heartwarming and iconic—the promise of new life and new hope in a time of darkness. It has inspired centuries of maternal art and is the best loved of all Bible stories. It also has a darker subtext, especially for someone like me—the mother of two daughters.</p><p>In the story, an angel appears to a virgin girl, announcing that she will conceive a baby boy. Her fiancé Joseph decides to stick with her only because her baby bump is of divine origins. The author of Luke makes a point of telling us that he refrains from sex with her till after the baby Jesus is born. All of this emphasis on Mary’s sexual history, or rather lack thereof, sends a message that can be shaming and harmful: Only an unbedded, unsullied, unused female—a virgin—could be good enough to birth a perfect child, the son of God.</p><p><strong>Virginity Equals Purity</strong></p><p>Girls who have sex are soiled. That may not be the first thing that comes to mind when we see a picture of Madonna and child or hear a Christmas carol, but the message is clear all the same, and the fact that it is subtext may make it all the more insidious for young women.</p><p>Mind you, Christianity is not the only religion that has assigned such extraordinary status to the pristine vagina or, conversely, treated female sexuality as something lesser or tainted. For example, Buddha’s mother Maya, called the “best of all women,” becomes pregnant after a god in a dream enters her womb from the side. Adding insult to injury, Buddhism tells us that a</p><p><em>“Bodisat leaves his mother’s womb erect and unsoiled, like a preacher descending from a pulpit or a man from a ladder, erect, stretching out his hands and feet, unsoiled by any impurities from contact with his mother’s womb, pure and fair, and shining like a gem placed on fine muslin of Benares.” — Mahapadana-sutra, Digha ii. 12</em></p><p>In the Ancient Near East, the birthplace of Christianity, some cultures saw the woman’s body as a vessel for a baby, which grew from the seed of a man or sometimes a supernatural being, much as a seed might grow in the earth. In this way of thinking, heroes and powerful men must have come from divine seed, and claims of a sexless conception underscored their supernatural origins. The Pharaoh Amenhotep III, Perseus, Romulus . . . even Augustus, Pythagoras, and Alexander the Great all were the subject of miraculous birth claims.</p><p><strong>Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe</strong></p><p>The enormous value that patriarchal cultures and religions place on female virginity has roots in biology. We’ve all heard the saying, “Mama’s baby, Papa’s maybe.” From time immemorial men have sought to control female sexuality to ensure that the children in which they invest their time, money and life energy are their own; and also to maximize their own offspring. Male animals of some other species do the same. For example, when a new male lion comes into a pride, he may kill all of the cubs from the previous male, which brings the females into heat so that he himself can mate them.</p><p><strong>Man’s Instincts Become God’s Edicts</strong></p><p>In the tribal, herding cultures of the Near East a young woman’s sexuality—her ability to produce purebred offspring of known origin—was an asset that belonged to her father. In the Hebrew Bible’s legal code, a rapist can be forced to purchase the goods he has damaged and to then keep her as a wife. </p><p>A woman’s reproductive capacity is also valuable booty of war. In the battle between the Israelites and Midianites, for example, God’s messenger instructs that the Israelites are to kill all of the women who have been with a man but to keep the virgin girls for themselves. (<a href="" target="_blank">These and other horrible references here</a>.)</p><p>Culture and religion transform biological urges into legally binding prescriptions from God himself. Once that happens, patterns that may have started for practical or biological reasons take on a momentum of their own, and we see this in the history of the Virgin Mary.</p><p><strong>The Sexless Union of Israel and Rome</strong></p><p>The earliest sects of Christianity disagreed with each other about when and how Jesus became uniquely divine. Some believed that he was adopted by God at the time of his baptism or resurrection. But as Christianity, with its Hebrew roots, adapted to the cultures of the Roman Empire, <a href="" target="_blank">the story of a supernatural, sexless birth won out</a>. It beautifully merged the god-man tradition of the Empire with Judaism’s obsessive and multifaceted focus on purity—pure bloodlines, pure foods, unblemished bodies, monotheism, unblended fabrics, and, of course, virginity.</p><p>The Roman Catholic Church took the last of these new heights, turning Mary into a <a href="" target="_blank">perpetual virgin</a> for life and then for all of eternity, and eventually making vows of sexual abstinence a requirement of monastic life and the priesthood.</p><p>Actress Julia Sweeney, in her funny, tender monologue, <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Letting Go of God</em></a>, describes an encounter with two fresh-faced Mormon missionaries. Finding herself incredulous at some their beliefs, she pictures door-to-door Catholics enthusiastically endorsing the faith of her childhood:</p><p><em>If someone came to my door and I was hearing Catholic theology and dogma for the first time, and they said, “We believe that God impregnated a very young girl without the use of intercourse, and the fact that she was a virgin is maniacally important to us . . .” I would have thought that was equally ridiculous. I’m just so used to that story.</em></p><p><strong>Aphrodesia or Death</strong></p><p>“Maniacally important” may be a quirky Julia Sweeney turn of phrase, but it contains an oversized grain of truth. The Catholic pantheon of saints and martyrs is peopled with females who, with Mary as their model of virtuous womanhood, valued their virginity (and their chaste yet semi-sexual devotion to Jesus) more than their lives: <a href="" target="_blank">St. Agatha</a>, in an attempt to break her virtuous resolve, was handed over to Aphrodesia, “an abominable woman, who, together with her daughters, publicly professed immodesty.” <a href="" target="_blank">St. Lucy</a>, “was yet very young when she offered to God the flower of her virginity.” <a href="" target="_blank">St. Barbara</a>’s “father, carrying out her death sentence, beheaded her himself, and in turn, legend says, was consumed by a fire from heaven;” and St. Ursula, was martyred on a prenuptial pilgrimage with 11,000 other virgins!</p><p>The glories of female virginity have spawned tributes ranging from paintings to pilgrimages and poetry to place names. Christopher Columbus christened the Virgin Islands in honor of St. Ursula and her untouched entourage, while the State of Virginia was named after England’s Elizabeth, “The Virgin Queen.” Virginia remains a popular girl’s name in the U.S., along with a host of variants such as Ginny, Ginger, Gina, Lagina, and Gigi. All of these mean chaste, fresh and maidenly—virginal.</p><p><strong>Promise Rings and Purity Balls</strong></p><p>Protestant Christianity is a rebel offspring of the Vatican, and even though the Protestant reformers rejected the cult of Mary, Catholicism’s supreme value on female chastity was deeply imbedded in their DNA, where it persists to this day. Among the more quixotic manifestations are purity balls and promise rings through which a young girl can pledge her maidenhead to her father for safekeeping until such time as he should hand it over to a mutually agreeable young man.</p><p>The image of a girl in a white dress dancing with her daddy, like a beautiful painting of Madonna and child, may evoke a feeling of sweet nostalgia. But rituals and icons like these are artistic residual of the ancient Near Eastern culture in which women (along with children and slaves and livestock) were <a href="" target="_blank">literally possessions of men</a>. As writer <a href="" target="_blank">Jessica Valenti</a> outlines in her book, <em>The Purity Myth,</em>they are the bright surface of a dark, deep cultural current that denies and shames women’s sexuality.</p><p>A woman used is a woman soiled. A woman raped is a woman ruined. A girl who explores her body with a boy is a licked lollypop. A divorced woman shouldn’t get married in white. Only an unbedded and so unsullied female—a virgin—could be pure enough to birth a perfect child, the son of God.</p><p><strong>Beyond Virginity</strong></p><p>How can sex-positive people who also enjoy Christmas affirm what it means to be fully female, including the physical pleasures of the female body, not merely its reproductive potential? How can all of us teach our daughters that their bodies are wholesome and beautiful, whether or not they have been molested or assaulted or have had sexual experiences of their own choosing? How can we help to break down the harmful virgin-whore dichotomy, with the only alternative being asexual motherhood?</p><p>Some Christian theologians have returned to emphasizing the earliest Christ birth narratives, in which Jesus came into the world in the normal way. Two Church fathers, Origin and Justin Martyr, mention sects of Christians who believed Jesus was the natural son of Mary and Joseph. The Apostle Paul and even the writer of Luke appear to have <a href="" target="_blank">held this perspective</a>, and the virgin birth is now thought to be a late addition to the gospel narratives.</p><p>Episcopal priest, Chloe Breyer summarizes the long history of Christian debate over the virgin birth in her article, “<a href="" target="_blank">The Earthly Father</a>.” Even after virgin birth stories emerged, a countervailing <em>illegitimacy tradition</em> persisted for centuries. By the time the Bible congealed in the fourth century, such perspectives were considered heretical, but they have been <a href="" target="_blank">revived</a> in recent years. Such arguments admittedly go against the current, but they show that belief in a virgin birth—with all that implies about female sexuality—is not <em>necessary</em>to Christianity or to appreciating many kinds of symbolism in Christmas story.</p><p><a href="" target="_blank">Progressive Christians</a>, do not treat the Bible as the literally perfect word of God but instead understand it as a human-made set of documents containing moral and spiritual insights (and failings) of our ancestors. <a href="" target="_blank">Secularists</a>, though they may not prize the Bible, understand all sacred texts in this way, which allows us to glean through, keeping the parts that fit and treating the rest as a window into human history and psychology.</p><p>For those who share this mindset, whether or not they retain some belief in the supernatural, the Christmas story and season offer valuable opportunities to open up conversation with young people about many aspects of humanity’s long moral arc, including perspectives on the female body. Simply leaving youth to internalize negative messages about sexuality or waiting for them to bring up awkward topics is asking them to do our job. The wise parent or aunt or friend tunes in to readiness and explores ideas and values as opportunities arise. Perhaps one of your gifts during this holiday season could be the gift of a conversation.</p> Tue, 22 Dec 2015 08:23:00 -0800 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1047784 at Belief Belief Gender mary jesus Virgin birth christmas virginity christianity The birth story of baby Jesus celebrates the promise of new life, but for girls it also sends a harmful message. Christian Conservatives Scramble to Deny Stirring Up Violence with Their Incendiary Speech <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> It&#039;s one big &quot;Who, me?&quot; from the religious right after attacks like Colorado Springs.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2015-12-01_at_12.20.43_pm_0.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>In what could be the greatest head-spinner of the season, Christianist Republicans, from presidential candidates and congressmen to Fox News anchors and sleazy video-splicers, are <a href="" target="_blank">scrambling</a> to <a href="" target="_blank">deny</a> that their words actually matter or have any real-world influence. <a href="" target="_blank">We had nothing</a> <em>to do with any shooting rampage at Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs. </em><em>Cough. Baby killers. Cough. Body parts for sale. Cough, cough.</em></p><p>To those of us on the outside, the relationship seems clear. Vicki Cowart, president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, which was targeted in the CMP video hoax, has experienced the terrorizing first-hand. “We’ve seen an alarming increase in hateful rhetoric and smear campaigns against abortion providers and patients over the last few months. That environment breeds acts of violence.” </p><p>Even Ben Carson managed to briefly add up two plus two. “There’s no question the hateful rhetoric exacerbates the situation," he said on "Face the Nation." But Laura Muzyka called Carson “sorely misinformed” and then, ironically, <a href="" target="_blank">underscored his point</a> by tacking on some hateful lies of her own. "The only thing that's extreme is Planned Parenthood's desire to see abortion without restriction through all nine months of pregnancy while they capitalize off dismembering preborn children and parting them out for sale.” She added that, “No one in the pro-life movement ever calls for violence in return."</p><p>No one calls for violence?! True, most calls for violence against clinics and providers are veiled, but some have been pretty darn explicit. <a href="" target="_blank">Here’s one</a> from popular Facebook evangelist Joshua Feuerstein (who has 1.8 million followers): “Planned Parenthood has hunted down millions and millions of little innocent babies, stuck a knife into the uterus, cut them, pulled them out, crushed their skull with forceps, ripped their body apart, sold their tissue, and threw them bleeding into a trash bin. I say, tonight, we punish Planned Parenthood. I think it’s time that abortion doctors should have to run and hide and be afraid for their life.” </p><p>Here’s <a href="" target="_blank">another</a> from Troy Newman, who was recently denied entry into Australia because the government feared he would incite violence there. According to Newman, the only way to purge “community bloodguilt” and protect America from God’s wrath over abortion is the “lawful execution of the murderers, which is commanded by God in Scripture." (Newman is the head of Operation Rescue and was <a href="" target="_blank">endorsed by Ted Cruz</a> just days before the Colorado shooting.) In fact, anti-abortion fanatics have made so many violent threats against clinic staff and patients that David Cohen recently published an entire book about them: <em><a href="" target="_blank">Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism</a></em><em>. </em></p><p>But if we are to believe the Republican talking heads, <a href="" target="_blank">all of this is irrelevant</a> to the eruption of violence.</p><ul><li>“This is so typical of the left to immediately begin demonizing the messenger because they don’t agree with the message. Anyone who tries to link this terrible tragedy to anyone who opposes abortion or opposes the sale of body parts is … this is typical left-wing tactics.” —Carly Fiorina</li><li>"It’s also been reported that he was registered as an independent and a woman and a transgendered leftist activist. If that’s what he is, I don’t think it’s fair to blame on the rhetoric on the left. This is a murderer.” —Ted Cruz </li><li>“It was absolutely unfathomable.” —Mike Huckabee</li><li>“It’s a tragedy.  It’s, I think, a mental health crisis.” —<a href="" target="_blank">Rep. Michael McCall, R-Texas</a></li></ul><p>Never mind that conservative Christians in high places have been fanning flames for months, calling women and health care providers murderers and pretending to believe Planned Parenthood kills big-eyed babies and sells body parts for profit. Never mind that we call such language “incendiary” because it <em>is</em> incendiary<em>. </em>For anyone who is linguistically impaired, an incendiary device turns raw materials into flames. But Christianist Republicans are shocked that some wingnut in Colorado actually took their <a href="" target="_blank">becking</a> at face value and opened fire in a family planning clinic. <em>Who could have possibly known all that posturing and lying for political gain might affect someone’s behavior? It was just talk!</em></p> Tue, 01 Dec 2015 09:15:00 -0800 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1046600 at christian It&#039;s one big &quot;Who, me?&quot; from the religious right after attacks like Colorado Springs. How the Extreme Christian Right Incited the Assault on the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">If you keep issuing calls to take up arms, someone is eventually going to take the message and run with it. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/f3404fa5d2f17a4bb8f65274dfeaa4f190e6e606.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>After months of verbal assault against Planned Parenthood and against women more broadly, Republican Christianists have gotten what they were asking for: bloodshed. </p><p>On November 27, a mass shooting left three dead and nine wounded at a Planned Parenthood clinic just miles from the headquarters of the religious right flagship, Focus on the Family. Was the shooting exactly what conservative Christian presidential candidates and members of Congress wanted? Maybe; maybe not. But it is what they asked for. Republican members of the religious right incited violence as predictably as if they had issued a call for Christian abortion foes to take up arms.</p><p>Inciting violence this way is called <a href="" target="_blank">stochastic terrorism</a>. “Stochastic terrorism is the use of mass communications to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable. In short, remote-control murder by lone wolf.” </p><p>In an incident of stochastic terrorism, the person who pulls the trigger gets the blame. He (I use the male pronoun because the triggerman is almost always a man) may go to jail or even be killed during his act of violence. Meanwhile, the person or persons who have triggered the triggerman—in other words, the actual stochastic terrorists—often go free, protected by plausible deniability.</p><p>The formula is perversely brilliant:</p><ol><li>A public figure with access to the airwaves or pulpit demonizes a person or group of persons. </li><li>With repetition, the targeted person or group is gradually dehumanized, depicted as loathsome and dangerous—arousing a combustible combination of fear and moral disgust.  </li><li>Violent images and metaphors, jokes about violence, analogies to past “purges” against reviled groups, use of righteous religious language—all of these typically stop just short of an explicit call to arms. </li><li>When violence erupts, the public figure who have incited the violence condemn it, claiming no one could possibly have foreseen the “tragedy.” </li></ol><p>Stochastic terrorism is not a fringe concept. It is a known terrorist modality that has been described at length by analysts. It produces terrorism patterns that are known to any member of Congress or any presidential candidate who has ever thought deeply about national or domestic security issues.</p><p>We can be confident that communications teams for Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum and others are scrambling at this very moment to figure out the nuances of plausible deniability. They are weighing how best to distance themselves from the violence that killed a police officer and two others without making their protestations of surprised dismay sound as hollow as they are.</p><p>For months, Republican presidential candidates and conservative Christian members of Congress have been following this script for political gain. Elected Republicans in the states have sought to intimidate women and providers by demanding the release (and even publication) of identifying information and addresses—essentially a target list for perpetrators. They know exactly what they are doing. Since abortion was legalized in the United States, providers and clinics have been the target of 41 bombings and 173 arson attacks. Since the 1990s, 11 providers, clinic staff or defenders have been murdered, including the three in Colorado:</p><ul><li>March 10, 1993: Dr. David Gunn of Pensacola, Florida was fatally shot after being depicted in “Wanted Posters” by Operation Rescue. </li><li>July 29, 1994: Dr. John Britton and a clinic escort, James Barrett, were both shot to death outside another Florida clinic, which has been bombed twice including in 2012. </li><li>Dec. 30, 1994: Two receptionists, Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols, were shot and killed in Brookline, Massachusetts by an abortion foe who had previously attempted murder in Virginia. </li><li>January 29, 1998: Robert Sanderson, a security guard at an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, died when the clinic was bombed. </li><li>Oct. 23, 1998: Dr. Barnett Slepian was killed at his home in Amherst, New York, by a shooter with a high-powered rifle.</li><li>May 31, 2009: Dr. George Tiller, who provided late-term abortions, was shot and killed in the lobby of his church, where he was serving as an usher. </li><li>Nov. 27, 2015: Two civilians and a police officer died during a five hour siege in which a “lone wolf” assaulted patients and providers at a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs. </li></ul><p>Since David Daleiden launched his deceptive “fetal squish” video campaign aimed at fueling outrage among abortion foes, and since Republicans in high places decided that assaulting Cecile Richards and all of the women she represents was good electoral fodder, Planned Parenthood clinics in Washington and California have been set on fire. Righteous Christian abortion foes have made death threats against providers and clinics across the country.</p><p>But the real perpetrators likely will continue to have access to pulpits, radio stations, town halls, and television, where they will express carefully crafted dismay about the carnage, hoping we won’t notice that the hands clutching the podium are covered in blood.   </p> Mon, 30 Nov 2015 11:25:00 -0800 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1046547 at The Right Wing The Right Wing terrorism white male violence abortion religion If you keep issuing calls to take up arms, someone is eventually going to take the message and run with it. When Satanists Act More Like Jesus Than Christians Do <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Members of the Satanic Temple find it easier than Christians to follow some of the teachings of Jesus.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_127525772.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>For those who think Christianity a fount of goodness and love, one of the more ironic images in recent weeks has been Christian youth loudly jeering a small group of Satanists who quietly tolerate their hostilities.</p><p>The <a href="" target="_blank">backstory</a> may be familiar: High school coach Joe Kennedy in Bremerton, Washington, turned the football field into a public forum for religious expression by hosting prayers at midfield after games. In response, several religious minority students, including the senior class president, invited prayers from the Satanic Temple of Seattle, a small sect that eschews supernaturalism and opposes state-sponsorship of religion, but places a deep spiritual value on religious equality. Temple members, who don’t believe in Satan except as a potent symbol of rebellion against cruelty and tyranny, requested that they too be allowed to conduct prayers after games.</p><p>But this soon became a moot point. Due to Kennedy’s refusal to cease conducting public prayers in his role as a school employee, the district placed him on paid leave—effectively halting public prayers of all sorts. Both Kennedy and the members of the Satanic Temple chose to attend the game as spectators.</p><p>Christian fans of Coach Kennedy didn’t take that too well. As members of <a href="" target="_blank">the Satanic Temple</a> approached the stadium entrance, a crowd gathered on the inside of the fence. Lilith Starr, head of the Seattle chapter describes her experience: “They were screaming at us and some were throwing water. We were really there to support the students who had invited us, but as those students were escorted through the crowd someone was yelling, ‘Dyke!’ and ‘Everybody hates you’ at them. We met the students and hugged them, but we didn’t really want to distract from the game. That was their last home game. So at that point we decided to leave.”</p><p>Members of the Bremerton school administration faced similar hostility from Christians who were angry about the suspension of Coach Kennedy, which the right-wing Liberty Counsel called a “hostile employment action.” The calls became so threatening and violent that the students had to be temporarily pulled from phone duty by the district.</p><p><strong>Seven Tenets vs. Ten Commandments</strong></p><p>While self-righteous or fearful Christians have been busy making themselves and their faith look ugly, Satanists have maintained their equanimity, followed the Golden Rule, and even, in the words of Jesus, “turned the other cheek.” According to Starr, she and fellow practitioners are simply living according to Satanic precepts. </p><p>The Satanic Temple, which is based in Massachusetts and has approximately 20 chapters across the U.S., lists its <a href="" target="_blank">seven fundamental tenets</a>:</p><ul><li>Strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.</li><li>The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.</li><li>One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.</li><li>The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo your own.</li><li>Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.</li><li>People are fallible. If we make a mistake, we should do our best to rectify it and resolve any harm that may have been caused.</li><li>Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.</li></ul><p>Anyone who is familiar with the <a href="" target="_blank">Ten Commandments</a> will immediately recognize that these seven tenets offer an easier path to equanimity than do the famous Ten. The first of the Ten Commandments—<em>Thou shalt have no other gods before me—</em>asserts the primacy of a single deity rather than the primacy of compassion and empathy. It prescribes competition between religious worldviews, the very antagonism expressed by Christian students in Bremerton and Christian callers from across the country.</p><p>More broadly, the seven tenets emphasize positive, pro-social values rather than bad behaviors to be avoided. They largely express egalitarian values that transcend tribal boundaries, in contrast to the Ten Commandments, which endorse the view that women, slaves and livestock are possessions of men. They invite inquiry rather than certitude and individuality over tribalism. </p><p><strong>Compassion, Acceptance, Meditation</strong></p><p>I asked Starr, the Seattle leader, what attracted her to the Satanic Temple. She said she first became familiar with Satanism through a relationship that has since grown into a marriage. At the time she and her husband met, she was struggling with addiction. Starr said, "Maybe because he was a Satanist or maybe because he was a good person, he was extremely honest and accepting. He didn’t make judgments; he just loved me for who I was. When that happened, I vowed to live a sacred life. I didn’t believe in God, but I vowed to engage in a sacred practice. "</p><p>Starr’s leadership in the Seattle Temple is part of that practice. She also says she was formerly a student of Zen Buddhism and still sits for meditation daily. She sees parallels between compassion as the highest value of Buddhism and that same focus in the Satanic Temple, and in fact has laid out this and related values in a manifesto of sorts at the beginning of her book, <a href="" target="_blank"><em>The Happy Satanist: Finding Self-Empowerment</em></a>. “I believe that every human being on this planet deserves love, compassion and connection, regardless of their race, religion, class, sexual orientation, gender, or any other meaningless category beyond ‘human being’....I believe compassion and working together will get us much further than judgment, shame and fear.”</p><p>If Lilith Starr and fellow members of the Satanic Temple are representative, the greatest threat to Christianity from Satanism may simply be this: that self-proclaimed followers of Satan seem more sane and kind than self-proclaimed followers of Christ.</p><p>This fall, Christianity’s brand is being battered but not by the behavior of Christians themselves. Catholic corporations have headed to the Supreme Court again, trying to prevent women from preventing pregnancy. GOP presidential hopeful Ben Carson declared on biblical authority that the Egyptian pyramids were actually built to store grain. The Mormon hierarchy issued a formal ruling that baptism and temple initiation (including protective undergarments) would be denied to children of gay couples. Christianists in Houston defeated gender equality legislation by whipping up fear of cross-dressing men lurking in women’s bathrooms. And <a href="" target="_blank">research</a> went viral showing that children from secular homes are more generous, less prickly and less punitive than children raised under Christian and Muslim parents. </p><p>In each case, one or more of the seven precepts of the Satanic Temple would have mitigated against the harmful and self-defeating behavior on public display.</p><p>Perhaps Christians should consider upgrading from a set of Ten Commandments that were written in the Iron Age to <a href="" target="_blank">a better set</a>. It might do wonders for Christianity’s public image—and for its ability to follow the teachings of Jesus himself. </p> Sat, 21 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0800 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1045661 at Belief Belief satanists bible christians christianity Members of the Satanic Temple find it easier than Christians to follow some of the teachings of Jesus. Why Conservative Lawmakers Are Deeply Threatened by Women Comfortable With Their Sexuality <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">It&#039;s not a war on women — it&#039;s a one-sided assault by conservative men drunk on power. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2015-10-20_at_4.19.51_pm.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>The so-called 'war on women' is not a war; it’s a one-sided assault. It is conservative men, drunk on power, calling women sluts and then rolling up their sleeves and knocking us <a href="" target="_blank">back into place</a>. It is conservative men letting us know that they own our bodies and reproductive capacity, which according to the Bible have been theirs since the <a href="" target="_blank">Iron Age</a>. It is conservative men making damned sure women get punished for failing to keep our legs together, for daring to pursue intimacy and sexual pleasure on our own terms and without their permission. It is conservative men ignoring our pleas that we don’t want to be pregnant and denying us the ability to resist impregnation as deliberately and aggressively as if they had our arms pinned. </p><p>If that’s not an assault, I don’t know what is. </p><p>We need to get our language straight because words we use carry associations and implications that change the way we think. Cognitive linguist George Lakoff (<em>Moral Politics; Don’t Think of an Elephant) </em>popularized the term “framing” among progressive activists. He explained why the metaphors we use can be more powerful than any amount of rational argumentation or evidence—undermining or supporting our position by activating a whole neural network of ideas and images that may operate below the level of consciousness.     <br /><br />Consider the implications of calling the right-wing assault on reproductive rights a “war”:   </p><p>Men aspire to be warriors. They play with toy guns as children and get addicted to fast-twitch war games as adolescents. They drive Humvees and pose in high fashion camouflage as adults. They liken the winner-takes-all competition of capitalism or elections or football to combat. They go out for drinks and tell “war stories.”  </p><p>In wars, both sides are armed. Soldiers are comrades whose loyalty to each other trumps all else. They are taught to dehumanize their enemies. They come home heroes. They get medals. </p><p>Politicians use war to arouse nationalistic pride. Philosophy teaches us that war can be just or noble or an art form. Religion teaches that it can be righteous or even commanded by God. <em>Onward Christian soldiers. </em>In the quest to win a war, lives and families destroyed are mere collateral damage. Economic devastation is a means to a higher end. Any man fighting in a war thinks he is one of the good guys. To paraphrase author Chris Hedges, war is a force that gives men meaning. </p><p>Assault, by contrast, is unequal and often unprovoked. One side is the clear aggressor. There’s nothing glorious about assault.  In fact, perpetrators are widely reviled. Nobody organizes a victory or veterans’ parade to celebrate assailants. A man who forces his will on a child or who forces pregnancy on a woman is a repulsive villain, not a hero. </p><p>Republican lawmakers and candidates who spend their days toying with women in front of the C-SPAN cameras in order to excite men who get off on female disempowerment may think of themselves as “culture warriors.” But let’s call them what they are: perpetrators of assault—the assault on women.</p> Tue, 20 Oct 2015 10:56:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1044428 at women men It&#039;s not a war on women — it&#039;s a one-sided assault by conservative men drunk on power. Why Right-Wing Christian Leaders Are Often Indifferent to Needless Suffering <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Conservative readings of the Bible demand suffering for women, the sick and the dying. And this has an impact on our lives today. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/hungry_child_2.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>The <em><a href="" target="_blank">American Life League</a></em> mobilizes devout Catholics against medical options that, to their way of thinking, violate God’s will. If you should drive past a Planned Parenthood and see elderly women fingering rosary beads next to pictures of the Virgin Mary, or young men holding Bibles and praying, American Life League probably had a hand in their presence there. Ironically, ALL also spreads misinformation about birth control, for example via a Pill Kills campaign -- which means they feed the line-up of Catholic women waiting for abortion services.</p><p>ALL promotes a passive, “let go and let God” approach to the dying process as well as family planning, so with <a href="" target="_blank">death with dignity approved</a> this fall in California, the group is fighting back—by touting the benefits of suffering. “Suffering is a grace-filled opportunity to participate in the passion of Jesus Christ. Euthanasia selfishly steals that opportunity.” So proclaims an ALL meme making its way across the internet. </p><p><strong>Mother Teresa – “The Kiss of Jesus”</strong></p><p>This is not a fringe position in the Catholic Church, which has long extolled the spiritual virtues of suffering. <a href="" target="_blank">Mother Teresa’s attraction to pain</a> shaped her ministry to the dying, and one of the most serious criticisms of her Calcutta homes was that patients were denied modern medical care to relieve pain even when the Missionaries of Charity had the funding to do so. <a href="" target="_blank">By her own report</a>, Mother Teresa once told a woman to imagine that her suffering was kisses from Jesus. “Suffering, pain, sorrow, humiliation, feelings of loneliness, are nothing but the kiss of Jesus, a sign that you have come so close that he can kiss you.” </p><p>“Tell Jesus to stop,” the woman responded. </p><p>The message the saint failed to absorb from her own story was this: Many people—Catholic or not, ill or not—reject the idea that suffering is a virtue. Whether we’re talking about nuns who would rather not self-flagellate, dying elders who would rather receive relief or even hasten the end, or desperate parents who would rather prevent the next childbirth—many people would rather not “let go and let God” manage their suffering or that of a loved one in their care. Many of us believe that causing unnecessary suffering or failing to mitigate suffering when we can is evil. Based on <em>our</em> moral and spiritual values, denying relief is not just wrong—it is horrific.</p><p><strong>Catholic Hospitals Subject to Pro-Suffering Directives</strong></p><p>One place this clash of values is playing out is in hospitals and outpatient clinics across the U.S. that have been absorbed by Catholic healthcare corporations. The mergers leave no non-Catholic care option in many communities—as, for example, in <a href="" target="_blank">seven Washington counties</a> where all hospitals are now Catholic owned or managed. By design, merger contracts between secular and Catholic health care systems often require that once secular institutions become subject to the “<a href="" target="_blank">Ethical and Religious Directives</a>” of the Catholic bishops. Like ALL’s meme and Mother Teresa’s homes, these religious directives promote suffering over patient choice in dying: </p><p><em>Catholic health care institutions may never condone or participate in [death with dignity] in any way. . . . Patients experiencing suffering that cannot be alleviated should be helped to appreciate the Christian understanding of redemptive suffering. </em></p><p>Although hospital systems vary in terms of how forcefully they apply the Directives, in theory <a href="" target="_blank">strict adherence is non-negotiable</a>; and the aim of the bishops is to move Catholic-owned institutions toward more rigorous enforcement: </p><p><em>Catholic health care services must adopt these directives as policy, require adherence to them within the institution as a condition of medical privileges and employment, and provide appropriate instruction regarding the Directives for administration, medical and nursing staff, and other personnel. </em></p><p>Watchdog groups like <a href="" target="_blank"></a> and <a href="" target="_blank"></a> warn that—thanks to increasingly bold religious freedom claims by Catholic institutions—unsuspecting Americans may find themselves, like Mother Teresa’s patient, experiencing the kiss of Jesus as they wait for the end. </p><p><strong>Suffering with Jesus</strong></p><p>The Bible teaches that the wages of sin is death. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned . . .” (<a href="" target="_blank">Romans 5:12</a>) This kind of thinking is used to explain why Jesus had to die, and why his blood cleanses all of our sins, preparing us for heaven. </p><p>But, as any moviegoer can tell you, a swift and painless death rarely makes a very satisfying story. In particular, a swift and painless death of Jesus might not seem sufficient to make up for all of the evil in the world since, according to the story, he remains dead for only three days. Consequently, Christians—and Catholics in particular—have long played up the protracted torture in the crucifixion story. </p><p>In the Middle Ages, painters and sculptors competed to create the most graphic, visceral depictions of blood and anguish in the crucifixion story. Even today, the interior of many Catholic churches is ringed by a series of images called “<a href="" target="_blank">The Stations of the Cross</a>,” which depict the stages of torment leading up to the death scene. Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ” turned this sequence into feature-length torture porn, and churches bussed children and elders to witness the spectacle. Gibson sought to convey the exquisite skill with which our Iron Age ancestors inflicted protracted pain, a skill our species mastered early. This is the “passion” story in which the American Life League invites us all to participate, holding it up as a preferable alternative to choice in dying. Only their invitation isn’t really an invitation, because what they actually want is to prevent any of us from choosing otherwise. </p><p><strong>Eve Cursed to Suffer</strong></p><p>Catholic opposition to family planning including abortion has many roots, but one of those roots is theological glorification of pain and even death during childbirth. According to the Genesis story, Eve brought sin into the world, and the trauma of labor is her divinely appointed punishment:  </p><p><em>To the woman he said, "I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you." (</em><a href="" target="_blank"><em>Genesis 3:16</em></a><em>)</em></p><p>Centuries later, the New Testament writer of 1 Timothy reminded his audience that “women will be saved through childbearing” (<a href="" target="_blank">1 Timothy 2:15</a>). </p><p>Church fathers and leaders through the ages have echoed the <a href="" target="_blank">Iron Age view of the Bible writers</a> that <a href="" target="_blank">women are filthy and morally vacant and must subjugate themselves to men</a>. </p><p><em>In pain shall you bring forth children, woman, and you shall turn to your husband and he shall rule over you. And do you not know that you are Eve? God’s sentence hangs still over all your sex and His punishment weighs down upon you. You are the devil’s gateway; you are she who first violated the forbidden tree and broke the law of God. It was you who coaxed your way around him whom the devil had not the force to attack. With what ease you shattered that image of God: Man! Because of the death you merited, even the Son of God had to die… Woman, you are the gate to hell. –Tertullian, Father of Latin Christianity </em></p><p><em>I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children. –Saint Augustine.</em></p><p><em>In this view—at its most extreme—if a woman should suffer or die in childbirth, that is simply the right and proper order of things. “Even though they grow weary and wear themselves out with child-bearing, that is of no consequence; let them go on bearing children till they die, that is what they are there for.” – <a href="" target="_blank">Martin Luther</a> [Erl. ed., 16 2 , p. 538].  </em></p><p>Given the words of the Bible writers, and given the words of Christianity’s patriarchs, one can understand the muddled mentality that allows right-wing Christians to feel virtuous while promoting policies that force people to suffer against their will. If only pain has the power to cleanse sin, and only God gets to decide when enough is enough, then offering people choices about the beginnings or end of life denies the devil his due.</p><p> </p> Wed, 23 Sep 2015 07:20:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1042875 at The Right Wing Belief The Right Wing christian suffering Conservative readings of the Bible demand suffering for women, the sick and the dying. And this has an impact on our lives today. 17 Biblical Rules for Marriage Kim Davis Should Really Take a Look At <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Can zombies get married, according to the Bible? Find out below! </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2015-09-14_at_6.59.48_pm.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Some people believe that Kentucky—or even all of America—should be subject to biblical law rather than constitutional law. They believe public servants like celebrity clerk Kim Davis owe their highest allegiance to the Bible, which means they shouldn’t be forced to give out unbiblical marriage licenses—like to gay couples. The issue is contested by a host of liberals, secularists, Satanists and moderate Christians. But assuming that Bible believers and religious freedom advocates carry the day, public servants will need to know their Good Book. The following 15-item quiz can be used to screen applicants for county clerk positions or as a guide for those already on the job. </p><p><strong>If Kentucky issues only biblical marriage licenses, to which of the following couples should a county clerk grant a license?</strong></p><p><strong>1. </strong><strong>A man with a consenting woman, but without her father’s permission.</strong><strong> </strong>No. <a href="" target="_blank">Numbers 30:1-16</a> teaches that a single woman’s father has final authority over legal contracts she may enter. </p><p><strong>2. </strong><strong>A man, a nonconsenting woman, and her father. </strong>Yes. According to the Law of Moses a <a href="" target="_blank">female</a> is male property, as are slaves, livestock and children. (See <a href="" target="_blank">Exodus 20:17</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">Exodus 21:7</a>.) Her father can give her in marriage or sell her to a slave master. Female consent in the Bible is not a <a href="" target="_blank">prerequisite</a> for marriage or sex.  </p><p><strong>3. </strong><strong>A married man and three other women. </strong>Yes. The Old Testament endorses polygamy, and the New Testament does not reverse this—except for church elders (<a href="" target="_blank">1 Timothy 3:2</a>). (See <a href="" target="_blank"></a>)</p><p><strong>4. </strong><strong>A childless widow and her husband’s reluctant brother. </strong>Yes. <a href="" target="_blank">Genesis 38:8-10</a> makes it clear that a man has a responsibility to seed children for his deceased brother. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus doesn’t alter the tradition but does say it will no longer apply in heaven. (<a href="" target="_blank">Matthew 22:24-28</a>)</p><p><strong>5. Two men. </strong>No. Leviticus is clear. Two men having sex is an abomination, just like eating shellfish, getting tattoos, shaving your beard, or wearing blend fabrics. (<a href="" target="_blank">Leviticus 18:22</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">20:13</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">11:9-12</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">19:28</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">19:27</a>)</p><p><strong>6. </strong><strong>Two women. </strong>No, not even with their fathers’ permission. Paul’s epistle to the Romans (<a href="" target="_blank">1:26</a>) makes it clear that this is degrading and unnatural.</p><p><strong>7. A Christian and a Hindu.</strong>No. The Apostle Paul calls this being <em>unequally yoked </em>(<a href="" target="_blank">2 Corinthians 6:14</a>). If the applicants balk at your refusal, you might respond gently with Paul’s own words: “What fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion has light with darkness?”</p><p><strong>8. </strong><strong>A soldier and a virgin prisoner of war. </strong>Yes, but you should provide written instructions on the purification ritual required before bedding her. The soldier must shave her head and trim her nails and give her a month to mourn her parents before the first sex act. Also, remind him that if she fails to "delight," he must set her free rather than selling her. (<a href="" target="_blank">Deuteronomy 21:10-14</a>)</p><p><strong>9. </strong><strong>A rapist and his victim. </strong>Yes, with qualifiers. The woman’s consent is not an issue, but her father should be present as he is owed 50 shekels (approximately $580) for the damage to his daughter. Also, the contract should have an addendum stating clearly that no divorce will be allowed. The rapist must keep her for life since, obviously, no one else will want the damaged goods. (<a href="" target="_blank">Deuteronomy 22:28-29</a>) </p><p><strong>10. </strong><strong>A man and his wife’s indentured/undocumented servant. </strong>Yes, although you might remind the man that in this case a marriage license is not a prerequisite for sex, since community property laws apply. However, should God bless this union with babies, any offspring will belong to the man and his wife, not the indentured woman. (<a href="" target="_blank">Genesis 30:1-22</a>) </p><p><strong>11. </strong><strong>A man and his mother, sister, half-sister, mother-in-law, grandchild, or uncle’s wife. </strong>Probably not. Although God’s law is timeless and unchanging, He does seem to shift on this one. In the book of Genesis, God rewards marriages between siblings—for example, the patriarch Abraham and his half-sister Sarah. But later texts specifically prohibit a variety of incestuous relationships (e.g. Lev. 18:7-8; Lev. 18:10; Lev. 20:11; Deut. 22:30; Deut. 27:20; Deut. 27:23).</p><p><strong>12. </strong><strong>A black woman and a white man, or vice versa.</strong> Absolutely not. Scripture is full of verses prohibiting interracial marriage (Gen. 28:6; Exod. 34:15-16; Num. 25:6-11; Deut. 7:1-3; Josh. 23:12-13; Judges 3:5-8; 1 Kings 11:1-2; Ezra 9:1-2, 12; Ezra 10:2-3, 10-11; Neh. 10:30; Neh. 13:25-27).</p><p><strong>13. </strong><strong>A gentile and a Jew.</strong>No. If the Jew should appeal to the Anti-Defamation League, remind them of how dangerous such a union could be: “Thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly.” (<a href="" target="_blank">Deuteronomy 7:3-4</a>) </p><p><strong>14. </strong><strong>A man and a pregnant woman who claims to be a virgin.</strong>Yes. You may feel personal misgivings about a marriage that is based in deception from the get-go, but judge not that ye be not judged. <a href="" target="_blank">One in 200</a> American women who give birth say they have never had sex. Rather than plaguing this young couple with your corrosive doubt, you can encourage them with the <a href="" target="_blank">biblical virgin birth story</a>, while taking care to avoid any <a href="" target="_blank">sex-negative implications</a> that might harm their marriage. </p><p><strong>15. </strong><strong>A man and a goat. </strong>Don’t be ridiculous. Can a goat sign a marriage license?</p><p><strong>16. </strong><strong>A man and a sex-trafficked teen he bought from a gangster. </strong>Yes, but not until Kentucky legalizes sex trafficking. Sexual slavery is quite common in the Bible, well regulated (Exodus 28:8), and frequently sanctioned or blessed by God. However, the New Testament teaches that we should <a href="" target="_blank">pay our taxes</a> and be law-abiding, even under a secular/pagan government. (<a href="" target="_blank">Titus 3:1</a>; <a href="" target="_blank">1 Peter 2:13-17</a>)  </p><p><strong>17. </strong><strong>Two zombies. </strong>Only if they are not Christians. Jesus states clearly that there will be no marriage for Christians in the afterlife (<a href="" target="_blank">Matthew 22:24-28</a>). Otherwise, marriage between the undead is not addressed in the Bible, and you should default to whatever the Supreme Court may have ruled on this matter.  </p><p>Note: Some liberal Christian license seekers may complain to you or your supervisor that these guidelines come mostly from the Old Testament, which has been replaced by a New Covenant under Jesus. Ask them if the Old Testament is still part of their Bible. Remind them that the Ten Commandments are in the Old Testament—<a href="" target="_blank">all three versions</a>. Lastly, quote the words of Jesus: </p><blockquote><p>Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven (<a href="" target="_blank">Matthew 5: 17-19</a>).</p></blockquote><p>Stand firm. If the Bible is the perfect Word of the living God, your detractors are up against the Almighty himself. And, as the <a href="" target="_blank">spiritual warfare hymn</a> reminds us, the hordes of (liberal, gay, atheist, feminist) darkness cannot quench your light.</p> Mon, 14 Sep 2015 08:05:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1042359 at Belief Belief kentucky bible religion Can zombies get married, according to the Bible? Find out below! The Christian Racket: Inducing Shame and Trauma Only to Sweep In and Offer Salvation <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">One of the key means by which conservative religion propagates.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/1670615fed16c5afb47a046779e69f0dd1eb894a.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>John Stewart famously said, “Religion. It's given people hope in a world torn apart by religion.”</p><p>The painful irony of Stewart’s words is obvious to us all. What may be less obvious is the underlying pattern: Offering solutions to problems <em>that religion itself has created</em> is one of the key means by which religion propagates. The Pope’s recent limited-time offer of confession and forgiveness for women who have aborted pregnancies perfectly illustrates this pattern.</p><p><strong>The Reality of Women’s Lives</strong></p><p>Few women end a pregnancy on a selfish whim. All around us—all around <em>you—</em>are women (or couples) who have chosen to end pregnancies <a href="" target="_blank">for reasons that are prudent, compassionate, service-oriented, or self-aware</a>. Sometimes the reason is simply, “I can’t do this right now,” or “I don’t want to, and children should be wanted.” Sometimes a woman commits to an education, or to take one step forward out of poverty, or to join the military, or simply to devote her finite energy to the children she already has or to her community or our world. Under most circumstances, these are kinds of decisions that we honor, even if they are difficult and require letting go of one possible future to embrace another.</p><p>But choosing to carry forward a new life—or not—is one of the most momentous decisions a person can make, and inevitably some people regret it, just as some people regret smaller decisions like the choice of a college or career or spouse. Each of us is far more likely to feel regretful or even eaten-up about a decision we have made if it violates our own values or if people around us say that it should. And when it comes to parenthood decisions, that creates an opening for religion to create (or at least feed) a problem it can solve. </p><p><strong>Turning Prudence into Sin</strong></p><p>The <a href="" target="_blank">Bible teaches</a> that sin came into the world through woman, that a woman’s reproductive capacity <a href="" target="_blank">belongs to man</a> (her father “gives her” to a husband), and that <a href=";version=NIV" target="_blank">women will be saved through childbearing</a>. Biblical literalists who have internalized <a href="" target="_blank">this view</a> actively work to induce shame and guilt in women who end pregnancies, because a woman actively managing her fertility and her life <em>fundamentally violates their worldview</em>.</p><p>To make matters more complex, abortion is about ending a <a href="" target="_blank">budding life that has the potential to grow into a person</a>. Normal, morally intact people feel emotional resistance to ending a life—even that of a bird or mouse. We also feel an instinctive protectiveness toward things that remotely resemble human babies or children (for example, stuffed animals, puppies or big-eyed LOL cats). This makes it very easy for religion to induce distress about abortion, even to the point of inducing pathological shame, depression or trauma, or a sense of personal worthlessness and irredeemable guilt—from which it then offers redemption.</p><p>In some Christian churches this may take the form of offering abortion support groups that—rather than helping a woman embrace her own courage and wisdom or helping her process normal mixed feelings or regrets—that instead deepens her sense of guilt and shame. “You have committed murder,” she may be told, “But the blood of Jesus cleanses even the most depraved of sins.” She may be told she will meet her “child” in heaven, and may be given the opportunity to practice asking forgiveness. She may be given a diagnostic label coined by abortion foes--“post-abortion trauma syndrome”—to validate her conviction that she is damaged, but can be healed by the solution they offer. All of this deepens her dependence on the religious community and their version of God.</p><p><strong>A Catholic Self-Correction</strong></p><p>The Catholic Church has long erred on the side of driving away couples or women who engage in thoughtful family planning, especially if this includes an abortion decision. Officially, since 1869 abortion has been a sin worthy of excommunication, for which only a bishop could grant absolution. But this harsh stance wasn’t working. Research suggests that Catholic women in the U.S. seek abortions <a href="" target="_blank">at about the average rate</a>, approximately <a href="" target="_blank">1 in 3</a> ends a pregnancy at some point during her childbearing years. The Catholic stance simply led women to avoid the Church and sacraments. By granting a reprieve and allowing women to confess to priests, Pope Francis puts a kinder, gentler face on Catholicism and invites these women back into the fold.</p><p>What he fails to do—and what the Church fails to do more broadly—is to recognize and honor their courage, wisdom and moral autonomy, the deep commitment to love and compassion that guides so many abortion decisions, and the extraordinary lengths to which women go to help ensure that their families can flourish. It fails to recognize that for women who choose abortion (<a href="" target="_blank">like me</a>), an acorn is not an oak tree and a fetus is not a child; that we women can hold ourselves deeply responsible to the people around us—their hopes and dreams and needs—that we can love our children to the point of giving our lives for them, while remaining convinced that a fetus is only a potential person like the potential people we decline to bring into the world each time we use birth control or abstain from sex.</p><p><strong>The Broader Pattern</strong></p><p>The reason the Pope’s announcement so perfectly illustrates the Church’s broader pattern of inducing problems and then solving them is that (unlike the sectarian conflict cited by Jon Stewart) most of these problems are psychological in nature. They come from ways in which religious teachings create fear, guilt, helplessness, self-doubt, and even self-loathing that wouldn’t otherwise exist.</p><p><strong>Guilt, Self-Loathing, and Absolution:</strong>If you listen carefully to the words of the beloved hymn “Amazing Grace,” you will hear the phrase “<a href="" target="_blank">a wretch like me</a>.” In contrast to Hinduism, which teaches that each child contains one spark of the divine light, Christianity teaches that we are all born bad thanks to Eve’s “original sin” in the Garden of Eden. Calvinists use the term “utterly depraved” to describe a person who isn’t saved. Fortunately, the perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross offers us redemption. We are “<a href="" target="_blank">washed in the blood of the lamb</a>.” As one hymn puts it, <em>Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.</em></p><p><strong>Helplessness, Dependency and Authority:</strong>According to Christian tradition, everything bad we do is either our fault or the fault of Satan working through us, but God or the Holy Spirit should get credit for the good we do. “The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God,” says the Apostle Paul (Galatians 2:20NIV). Christians are taught not to trust their own moral core, their own strength, or even their own intellect. “Lean not unto your own understanding,” says the psalmist (Proverbs 3:5), and his words are echoed in modern vernacular: <em>Let go and let God.</em>This attitude undermines autonomy and agency to the point that one Episcopal theologian, John Shelby Spong, commented in frustration that “Christians don’t need to be born again, they need to grow up.”</p><p><strong>Fear of Outsiders and a Safe Haven:</strong> Many religious groups teach that outsiders lack a moral core and are not to be trusted, and even interfaith groups may teach this about atheists. Outcry erupted in Britain recently about Orthodox Jewish school materials teaching children that <a href="" target="_blank">non-Jews are “evil.”</a> This type of belief is common among Muslims and Christians as well, and it serves to create in-group cohesion and interdependence. Some <a href="" target="_blank">former Christians</a> describe being frightened of outsiders and even of themselves when they first left their church. If the outside world is a scary place, that makes the religious in-group all the more important, and it serves as a deterrent to leaving. Walls that might otherwise feel restrictive instead offer a sense of security.</p><p><strong>Protection from Eternal Torture:</strong> “Devote yourself to me or I’ll torture you.” Wife abusers, dictators, gang members, and Italian mobsters use demands of this sort to elicit demonstrations of loyalty and faithfulness. And yet we all recognize that when a mobster provides “protection,” he is offering a solution to a problem he himself has created—the threat of his own violence. In an abusive home, this trade-off may be hazier, as in Pat Benatar’s song, “<a href="" target="_blank">Hell is for Children</a>,” in which she says “love and pain become one and the same in the eyes of a wounded child.” For centuries, Church leaders terrorized the faithful and those who were wavering with horrendous images of hell—from Dante’s Inferno, graphically <a href=";view=detailv2&amp;qpvt=botticelli+inferno&amp;id=5893B0710BC77AF71B46AC912087C294AE491E7B&amp;selectedIndex=18&amp;ccid=hxXnmLgG&amp;simid=607992886768175836&amp;thid=JN.%2fGTcHnbYd%2f4Nmpire9PGTA&amp;ajaxhist=0" target="_blank">illustrated</a> by Botticelli (and now the underlying structure of a <a href="" target="_blank">best-selling Dan Brown novel</a>), to the iconic sermon by Puritan Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” to the hellfire and brimstone tent revivals of the 20th Century. Today many evangelists prefer to focus on the (<a href="" target="_blank">dubious</a>) delights of heaven, but few reject altogether the powerful threat of eternal torture.</p><p>Exemption from this torture is precisely what Pope Francis now offers women who have ended pregnancies, with the implication that it is otherwise deserved. For those who think it through, his proclamation rivals Jon Stewart for irony:</p><p>In his attempted kindness and mercy, Francis offers women the means to be forgiven for <a href="" target="_blank">prudent, responsible, courageous, compassionate</a> actions that the Church has twisted into sins. The offer extends only for those who accept the burden of theologically-induced guilt in order to be relieved of it, and only for a limited time. In exchange, women are granted protection from after-life horrors conceived in minds of Iron Age men and elaborated in the Dark Ages, when the Church’s inquisitors sought to foreshadow here on earth the tortures God had in wait for those who fail to repent.</p><p>But perhaps the greatest twist is this. Women are expected to be grateful and to see this as an act of conciliation—which, ironically, it is.</p> Thu, 03 Sep 2015 09:18:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1041877 at Belief Belief Gender News & Politics religion Pope Frances abortion vatican One of the key means by which conservative religion propagates. 4 Reasons the Christian Right's Claims of Moral Superiority Over the Rest of Us Just Don't Hold Water <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Atheists — even Satanists! — are exhibiting more moral behavior than the Bible thumpers.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2015-08-31_at_9.37.15_am.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>When Bill O’Reilly recently tried to pin America’s spree of mass shootings on atheism rather than guns or mental illness, he hoped to tap a specific set of beliefs that is common among Bible believers— that morality derives from religion; that Born Again Christians are a <a href="" target="_blank">light unto the world</a> while atheists (who lack any basis for ethics or morality) spend their empty lives in pursuit of money and sex; that when Christians get raptured or otherwise lose the upper hand, America will descend into the orgy of sex, violence and anarchy depicted in the <em>Left Behind</em> books and movie. </p><p>This view feeds both righteous superiority and genuine anxiety among conservative Christians. Calvinists and other fundamentalists teach that humanity is “utterly depraved,” and that the only hope for our fallen world and for fallen individuals is the saving blood of Jesus. In the words of megachurch minister Mark Driscoll, “If the resurrection didn’t literally happen, there are guns to shoot, there are people to shoot, there are parties to be had, there are women to be had.” </p><p>In this view, the architects of America’s much lamented moral decay are godless atheists, and the growth of secularism means the growth of moral bankruptcy. Modernity is a grim slide into an end-times world where everybody lies, cheats, and takes whatever they can get. And here in America, this dark tide can be held back only by Christians in high places. </p><p>But this common wisdom among right-wing Christians is being challenged by the public behavior of both the godly and the godless, by atheists who publicly embrace humanity’s moral core and spiritual quest; and by Christian leaders who keep getting caught, literally or metaphorically, with their pants down. The combination paints a picture that more than anything reveals our shared humanity—that the godless have their share of moral leaders and inspiring spiritual values, and the godly have their share of scoundrels. </p><p><strong>Atheists Bare Their Beliefs and Values </strong></p><p>Tired of being stigmatized and shunned, some atheists have set out to daylight the moral values they live by, and why. Some are specifically reclaiming words like morality and spirituality, which have long been owned by the religious sector. This summer, photographer and filmmaker Chris Johnson began screening <a href="" target="_blank">A Better Life: Joy and Meaning in a World Without God</a>. The movie follows a <a href="" target="_blank">related coffeetable book</a> in which prominent atheists (and full disclosure: a few ordinary nonbelievers like me) discuss the values, loves, dreams and projects that give their lives purpose. <br /><br />Small <a href="" target="_blank">Sunday Assembly</a> congregations around the world are continuing to experiment with building community around a three-part motto: live better, help often, wonder more. Blogger Neil Carter, a theology-trained former teacher, has amassed a following of thousands who read his wry, tender musings as he navigates being <a href="" target="_blank">Godless in Dixie</a>. Humanist chaplaincies like the <a href="" target="_blank">Harvard Humanist Hub</a> have been springing up on college campuses. Even the Satanic Temple (actually an atheist religion that eschews supernaturalism and embraces Satan as a literary rebel against tyranny a la Milton) has stepped into the public eye with a <a href="" target="_blank">mission and a manifesto</a> affirming broadly held humanistic values.     </p><p><strong>Scandals Expose Hypocrisy, Rock Christianity </strong></p><p>Meanwhile, scandals have been hitting conservative Christianity, hard and fast. </p><p>After Christian abortion foes launched a blood-and-guts media campaign based on staged entrapment interviews with Planned Parenthood staff, public opinion wavered. The campaign crumbled as forensic experts found <a href="" target="_blank">42 splices</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">including in “unedited” videos</a>, rendering them useless as evidence. A seemingly unimpeachable witness, a disgruntled Planned Parenthood employee who claimed she had been forced to sell body parts, was impeached by past statements contradicting recent testimony, suggesting she was unreliable and a likely plant. Anti-abortion leaders found the moral high ground crumbling beneath their feet. </p><p>Another Christian publicity stunt turned out to be fabricated by—to borrow a phrase from investigative journalist Chris Rodda—<a href="" target="_blank">Liars for Jesus</a> in the military. Republican presidential contender Ted Cruz has built his campaign around religious opposition to anti-discrimination laws, which some Christians claim violate their religious freedom and cause them to be persecuted. One ad features the story of Air Force Sergeant Phillip Monk who was fired by a lesbian superior for “expressing a traditional view of marriage”—<a href="" target="_blank">except that he wasn’t</a>. Oops. So much for the Bible’s prohibition against false witness. If Cruz had read some of the <a href="" target="_blank">anti-Semitic, homo-slurring</a> hate mail sent by military Evangelicals in the name of Jesus he might have been more wary. </p><p>A John Oliver August <a href="" target="_blank">expose of televangelists</a> exposed so much corruption, from multi-million-dollar tax-exempt parsonages, to personal trips on private jets, to manipulative but unfulfilled promises of healing, that if religion wasn’t exempt from truth-in-advertising laws the ministries in question would have their butts sued off. The wide blanket of “religious freedom” may provide legal cover for preachers like Robert Tilton or Joel Olsteen but it can’t cover the up the fact that their ministries stink of moral rot. Oliver launched his own church, <a href="" target="_blank">Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption</a>, with <a href="" target="_blank">dollars</a> (and seeds and beef jerky) that flowed in from eager viewers, challenging the IRS to investigate—and not just Oliver. </p><p>And then, of course, there’s the <a href="" target="_blank">ongoing scandal</a> surrounding Ashley Madison, the matchmaking site for would-be adulterers hacked by possible extortionists who released member names to the public. Early controversy focused on the membership of Christian patriarchy leader, <a href="" target="_blank">Josh Duggar</a>, whose teen pattern of molesting younger girls—and the family’s response—recently cost his parents their multi-million-dollar reality show. “Family values” politicians like Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz, who flaunt their Christian credentials and lament how gays and feminists are destroying marriage appear to have <a href="" target="_blank">lost their voices</a> when it comes to adultery, a sin that—in contrast to gay marriage or abortion—the Bible unambiguously condemns.  </p><p><strong>Moral Decay or More Transparency?</strong></p><p>Have traditional Christianity’s claims of moral superiority always been mere conceit, now visible to all, or has something changed? Certainly the internet has made it harder to live a double life or hide hypocrisies, or to protect the faithful from outside information. I wrote about this in “<a href="" target="_blank">Religion May Not Survive the Internet</a>.” But there’s also reason to believe that Bible-believing Christianity <a href="" target="_blank">once worked better</a> than it does today as a guide for individual and community behavior:</p><ul><li><strong>Archaic sex and gender scripts drive hypocrisy. </strong>As gender roles and intimate relations become more flexible in modern society, the <a href="" target="_blank">rigid Iron Age sex script</a> gets harder and harder for Bible-believing Christians to impose, not only on society at large but even on themselves. Trying and failing, young Evangelicals vow abstinence until marriage but <a href="" target="_blank">instead engage</a> in impulsive, high-risk sex (because planning and protection would signal premeditation). Pastors, priests and patriarchal men—who often find the old script equally impossible—pay queer prostitutes, exploit their positions to fondle children and female parishioners, and <a href="" target="_blank">fill the coffers</a> of Internet porn providers, all the while loudly condemning the sexual obsessions of gays, women and youth.</li><li><strong>Clinging to creationism drives rabbit hole reasoning.</strong> As evolutionary theory gets <a href="" target="_blank">incorporated</a> into computer science and the next wave of engineering and even manufacturing, creationists find themselves backed into a corner, needing to <a href="" target="_blank">cast aspersions</a> on the whole scientific enterprise(with a peculiar corollary emphasis on undermining climate science). More and more, the only way to preserve and protect a biblical world view is to engage in self-deceptive <a href="" target="_blank">rabbit hole reasoning</a>—a very bad habit for any individual or group that hopes to be a moral light in the midst of humanity’s darkness.</li><li><strong>The quest for political power drives corruption. </strong>The fusion of conservative Christianity and conservative politics into the Religious Right has corroded Christian values and priorities in America and soiled Christianity’s good name. In the words of <a href="" target="_blank">Sean Illing</a>, “This unholy union of religion and politics has proven disastrous, particularly in the era of PACs, which allow economic libertarians to manipulate conservative Christians for political purposes.” Politics is a notoriously ruthless no-holds-barred affair in which power corrupts—sometimes absolutely. Right-wing candidates and politicians who tout their close relationship with God may baptize their own reputations, but they simultaneously foul the Church.</li><li><strong>Bibliolatry drives moral stunting.</strong> As culture continues to evolve and moral consciousness deepens, the tribal, <a href="" target="_blank">racist</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">sexist</a> worldview of the Bible writers appears ever <a href="" target="_blank">more cruel</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">morally stunted</a>. Bible literalists, who insist on treating ancient texts as if they were the literally perfect word of God, and their own interpretation of these texts as if it were the only one possible, end up coming across the same way. As their views become less appealing, young people motivated by an <a href="" target="_blank">honest search</a> for truth and compassion find the Church less and less appealing, leaving those with other priorities to wave the Christian flag.  </li></ul><p>In sum, conservative Christians are being Left Behind morally and spiritually; and they have responded by looking for love—and answers and power—in all the wrong places. If they find that Americans increasingly turn elsewhere for inspiration and moral values, maybe they should do a little soul searching instead of pointing the finger at atheists.</p> Mon, 31 Aug 2015 09:26:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1041729 at Belief Belief News & Politics conservative bible Atheists — even Satanists! — are exhibiting more moral behavior than the Bible thumpers. Why Atheists Are as Moral as Any Religious Group <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">An interview with a sociologist of religion and non-belief. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2015-08-21_at_8.55.30_am.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>When most people think about Las Vegas, they picture some combination of gambling, burlesque, night clubs and legalized prostitution—the pleasures that earned Vegas the nickname Sin City. But when sociologist Lori Fazzino thinks about Las Vegas, she pictures churches.</p><p><a href="#.VYV-NGfbLgU">Seventy-seven percent</a> of Las Vegas residents say they are religious, mostly Christian; and Vegas caters to a largely Christian population of tourists, many of whom party hard on Saturday night and then attend one of the <a href="">30 churches</a> surrounding the strip on Sunday. And yet, the city’s public image makes it a target for revival meetings, “church planting” and missionary outreach by conservative Christians who see the city as ripe for redemption. According to Fazzino, that makes Sin City a fascinating place to study religious belief and non-belief.</p><p>Fazzino is an instructor and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Nevada, and a former Evangelical Christian. Her research explores social movements and identity, religious conversion and deconversion, and in particular how people leaving their religion arrive at a new worldview and community. In this interview she discusses challenges faced by secular groups and individuals in a city that is enamored with both sin and salvation.</p><p><strong>Tarico:</strong>You’re a former Evangelical, a former erotic dancer, and now an academic sociologist studying religion in Las Vegas. That combination is a bit dizzying. How in the world did you end up where you are?</p><p><strong>Fazzino:</strong>I was raised Catholic and got saved at an Evangelical mega-church at age 16. But in 2007, I was excommunicated, well as much as you can get excommunicated from a Protestant church. I was living just south of Seattle, very involved in a church called <a href="">Real Life</a>. I also was in a very bad marriage with a man who lied to get me down the aisle. About a year in, I learned that we were deeply in debt to the point that we almost lost our house.</p><p>Well, I'm a survivor. I used to dance at a club when I was 18, and so I decided to go to Alaska and dance. On the way, I got in a very bad car accident; I was hanging upside down in my car. After they got me out, my husband called our pastor. When the pastor learned why I was on the road, he basically said, “Lori is nothing but a whore, and if she comes around here we will have her arrested.” He didn’t want me tainting the church teenagers.</p><p>I was devastated. Although I decided on my own to end my marriage, my deconversion was precipitated by my former pastor. I remember thinking that church was the one place we were supposed to be protected from backstabbing, lying, judgment, and betrayal; if this was part of religion I wanted no part in it. I could find all of that outside of the church.</p><p>In 2010, now single, I moved to Nevada for graduate school, and a colleague brought me onto a case study about religious deconversion and spiritual abuse. Until then I had forgotten how interested I was in understanding religion from the standpoint of sociology. I’ve been doing research in this area ever since.</p><p><strong>Tarico:</strong>So a key driver was your personal experience.</p><p><strong>Fazzino:</strong>Absolutely! So much so that I had to constantly check my biases. When I started focusing on deconversion, I found myself questioning—Am I just doing this to get back at my pastor? But my answer was no. I was angry for a period of time, sure, but today I’m more interfaith: How can we have our respective worldviews and still work in a way that minimizes the harm? That’s what interests me. There is an incredible lack of research on deconversion, and I knew from my experiences that people had a story that needed to be told. I wanted to help facilitate that process.</p><p>I also am drawn broadly to giving voice to misrepresented minorities. My specializations are religion and cultural movements, but before focusing on secular groups I worked with people who identify as vampires.</p><p><strong>Tarico:</strong>Do secularists and vampires have something in common that I don’t know about?</p><p><strong>Fazzino:</strong>Both are marginalized, misunderstood, have to face people who are dismissive of their experiences, and are assumed to be unethical. The vampire community lives by a <a href="">Bill of Ethics</a>, and research has shown that <a href="">atheists are no less moral than theists</a>.</p><p><strong>Tarico:</strong> So tell me about your research.</p><p><strong>Fazzino:</strong> Part of what I do is look at the everyday experience of irreligion and specifically how nonbelievers navigate the cultural landscape of Las Vegas. This includes the lived experience of religious deconversion, and the construction of irreligious morality, for example.</p><p>Another part of what I do is examine secularism as a social movement. I’m particularly fascinated with the rise of groups that come together around secular identity—how do they compare to groups that come together around religion? Some people seem to think that religion is going to be eradicated, but as a sociologist I don’t think so. We know from history religion and what being religious looks like will change. But completely disappear? I’m extremely skeptical.</p><p>You can’t dismantle a social institution without putting something in its place.</p><p><strong>Tarico:</strong>What are you finding as you study secular groups?</p><p><strong>Fazzino:</strong>One of my preliminary findings is that there’s nothing special about the secular groups with regard to social dynamics. They have drama and interpersonal dynamics just like church groups, just like any other group.</p><p>I think there are some specific growing pains in the secular groups. Most are new so there’s no institutional memory. People come together spontaneously and so they may not know how to be leaders or how to organize groups or events. (As cultural institutions, churches have models and structures in place for all of this.) Also, people are mixed about how to interact with faith groups. Some want to go out of the way to provoke them; others see themselves as part of the broader spiritual landscape and want to join inter-faith community service. Some people need to be angry as part of the de-conversion process; others are more interested in building bridges.</p><p>One challenge in the current landscape is that secular folks who want community have limited options. On the UNLV campus we have 30 religious organizations, 20 of which are Christian based. That’s in Las Vegas, not the Midwest! Contrast that with one secular group, an affiliate of the Secular Student Alliance. Where do people go if it’s not a fit?</p><p>By the way, that’s where I got my start, the <a href="">Secular Student Alliance</a>. After being forcibly ejected from my church, I found the one secular club at UNLV. The Secular Student Alliance is where I met people and where some of my deconversion trauma was healed. It is also where I realized that these are amazing people who need to have a voice.</p><p><strong>Tarico:</strong> As a psychologist, I’m most intrigued by this part of the deconversion process—personal healing and people <a href="">finding their voice</a> and reclaiming their lives, whether that means learning to trust their own basic goodness and ability to think, or whether that means recovery from <a href="">religious trauma syndrome</a>. But as a sociologist, you are particularly interested in the dynamics around culture shift.</p><p><strong>Fazzino:</strong>We need a better conversation about religious discrimination and privilege. Scholars have traditionally approached discussions about discrimination as an us-vs-them dichotomy rather than talking about it as multidimensional. We talk about male privilege, white privilege, Christian privilege instead of cisgender privilege, race privilege, and religious privilege. If we want people to understand discrimination, we need to stop setting up inherently adversarial conversations. Each one of us knows what it feels like to be treated badly because of one or more of our social identities. The key is to open up these conversations from a place of common ground. Then perhaps people might have a better understanding of why secular activism is necessary!</p><p><strong>Tarico:</strong> Talk to me a bit more about this—the secular activism that you think is valuable or even necessary.</p><p><strong>Fazzino:</strong>Atheists have been largely invisible in the past, and in my research I argue that we need to rethink what activism looks like. Findings from my research indicate that, on the local level, secular groups engage in three different kinds of activism: <em>We’re going to sue the city because atheists can’t perform marriage ceremonies — </em>that’s political. <em>Let’s participate in a Light the Night march wearing Friendly Atheist t-shirts — </em>that’s social. <em>Let’s talk about being open about our worldview to friends and family — </em>that’s personal.</p><p><strong>Tarico:</strong>So in your research on the secular movement in Vegas, you identify these three levels of activism: political advocacy, social theater, if you could call it that, and creation of personal networks.</p><p><strong>Fazzino:</strong> One place this all comes together in Vegas is the <a href="">United Church of Bacon</a>.</p><p><strong>Tarico:</strong> The United Church of Bacon?</p><p><strong>Fazzino:</strong> In 2010, a former marine named John Whiteside and some friends of Penn and Teller decided to disrupt the status quo by starting a real church with a funny name and then, as they put it, pursuing the same “silly privileges” as other churches. The United Church of Bacon (UBC) has legal standing as a church. It raises money for charities and ordains secular celebrants who have now performed hundreds of weddings; and it claims 4,000 members around the world. So it’s both playful and serious, community and advocacy, on the ground and online.</p><p>The political part focuses on challenging religious privilege and misuse of public funds. For example, members of one Vegas mega-church used to illegally park on the streets and corners to the point that it was dangerous, but the metro police department didn’t want to get involved. So, <a href="">UCB drew attention to the issue until it got fixed</a>.</p><p>At a social level, last year, John Whiteside wanted to get a document notarized for a secular celebrant, but the notary at his local Wells Fargo refused, presumably because of the church name. John asked for an internal investigation and then asked Wells Fargo to update materials on religious discrimination, but they refused. So UBC organized a <a href="">protest</a> that engaged secular groups from across the country. David Silverman from American Atheists, August Brunesman and Gordon Maples from the Secular Student Alliance, and Jason Torpy from the Military Association of Atheists came to Vegas. Almost a hundred people participated in a two day protest, and several thousand signed petitions. Many closed their Wells Fargo accounts. The protest prompted <a href="">media discussion</a> across the country about discrimination against atheists.</p><p>Besides garnering earned media, the United Church of Bacon has now put up <a href="">several secular billboards</a> with quotes from America’s founding fathers. The goal is to end discrimination against atheists.</p><p><strong>Tarico:</strong>The third layer of social activism you mentioned was the personal layer, individual people coming out about their secular worldview or loss of religious belief. The idea is that when people know a member of a stigmatized minority and care about that person, their views tend to change.</p><p><strong>Fazzino:</strong>There’s a lot of power in simply being visible. That’s why the <a href="">Openly Secular</a> campaign is near and dear to my heart. It’s not about advocacy in the sense of picking political or social battles. But we know that when people actually know an atheist they look on them differently.</p><p>One way I apply my academic research to help people outside of academia is that I have researched and written (or co-written) several toolkits for the Openly Secular campaign. One that is currently in press discusses how to deal with death and grief, which is an unrealized area of discrimination. Last year the Las Vegas secular community lost three members in a very short time. Despite clear instructions, family members co-opted the grieving process and made it about God, for example saying in a memorial service, “I know my sister is in heaven and when I get there I’ll tell her she was wrong.” For secular people sitting in the service, it was like a jab right on top of the grief. How do you handle it when you are told to be quiet at your father’s funeral?</p><p><strong>Tarico:</strong>How do other faculty in your department react to this work?</p><p><strong>Fazzino</strong>: The professors and other graduate students in my department are phenomenal. This summer the College of Liberal Arts gave me a Dean’s award, which means that people on the committee see my work as important. That was a big deal because I have high visibility as an atheist who also does qualitative research on atheists. I have a number of <a href="">Youtube videos</a>. That could be problematic for many reasons, but the award was validation that I’m doing something right for my city and my movement. Anything I can do to allow more of these marginalized voices to emerge, that’s what I’m about. If my research can help reduce stigma and create deeper understanding of why someone would self-identify as a vampire or want to be an atheist, maybe it will increase compassion.</p><p><strong>Tarico:</strong>You clearly aspire to be not just an ivory tower academic but a change agent. As someone who is doing research not just out of intellectual curiosity but to address harms in society, does it ever get discouraging?</p><p><strong>Fazzino:</strong> Absolutely! When I’m passed over for an opportunity because I openly identify as an atheist, I get discouraged. When I see intra-movement fighting between secular organizations, I get discouraged. When I see the lack of racial/ethnic and gender diversity in the movement, I get discouraged. When I see antagonism from secular activists towards religion and religious people, I get discouraged.</p><p>But as I was collecting data for my Master’s thesis about deconversion, one participant named Adam said something that changed the face of my work. He said, “I feel like I’ve won the cosmic lottery just by being here.” I was operating on the basis of deconversion being negative, but there are many people like Adam finding <a href="">and embracing</a> a <a href="">more authentic life</a>. So, yes, I may get discouraged, but discouragement is part of living authentically. And that is precisely why I need to keep doing what I’m doing.</p> Fri, 21 Aug 2015 09:47:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1041093 at Belief Belief atheists las vegas Lori Fazzino An interview with a sociologist of religion and non-belief. So You've Decided There's No God—Now What? Finding Love, Meaning and Purpose in Atheist World <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Atheist filmmaker Chris Johnson discusses his new documentary, &quot;A Better Life.&quot;</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/better_life_film_poster.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>In 2014, photographer and filmmaker Chris Johnson published <em>A Better Life</em>, a coffee table book that profiles atheists from around the world as they discuss the pursuits and relationships that give their lives joy and meaning. This summer he has released a documentary film based on the same set of interviews with atheists including comedian Julia Sweeney, philosopher A.C. Grayling, climber Alex Honnold, cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett, science journalist Cara Santa Maria, human rights activist Nahla Mahmoud, and more.</p><p>“Our public conversation about atheism is two dimensional,” says Johnson. “It’s time to open the next phase. For ten years we’ve talked about what we don’t believe in. The dialogue kicked off by the New Atheist movement was much needed, but after we strip away gods and superstition, what is left? How do we see ourselves and our lives and our relationships? That’s what we need to talk about next.”</p><p>Johnson grew up in Seattle, Washington—dubbed the heart of the religious “<a href="">None Zone</a>,” with an atheist mother and a liberal Christian father; he currently resides in New York. Nonetheless, he is keenly aware of the stereotypes that make atheists one of America’s <a href="">least electable</a> minorities: male, white, hyper-intellectual, hedonistic, untrustworthy, and living empty lives devoid of purpose and meaning. By contrast with the common image, Johnson’s documentary reveals a diverse tapestry of people who live in “a world without gods.”</p><p>In this interview, Johnson discusses why he made the film and how audiences are responding.</p><p><strong>Tarico:</strong> You started touring <em><a href="">A Better Life</a></em>in May and since have screened the film in cities from London to Lima, and from America’s godless “left coast” to the heart of Texas. How are people responding?</p><p><strong>Johnson:</strong> It touches a nerve. In San Antonio, a woman came up to me afterwards in tears because the people interviewed in the film talked about meaning and happiness in a way that she hadn’t encountered before. They expressed her own feelings and ideas in a way she hadn’t been able to.</p><p>In Peru some people travelled eight hours on a bus to see the film. Peru is one of the most religious countries in the world—97% Catholic—so things like this aren’t talked about very much. We had Spanish subtitles done and the film was featured in national publications there.</p><p>Some people were expecting to hear the same thing from everyone—why religion is wrong. But instead, the atheists in the film were talking about really big questions: How do we find meaning and purpose? How do we relate with each other? How do we deal with our own mortality? How do we interact with the world around us? They talked about dimensions of the religious experience that are accessible to people outside of religion. So many people get incredible experiences going to church. But if you assume that all of this is natural, then these powerful experiences have natural causes. So we can ask, how can we have the same rich experiences without the things we don’t like about religion?</p><p><strong>Tarico:</strong> As you travel around you’re getting glimpses into a variety of atheist communities in different places and cultures. What do you see?</p><p><strong>Johnson:</strong> A lot depends on the society surrounding these communities. In London, for example, people don’t really care if you are an atheist. That’s very different in Peru or Texas. Atheists in Lima or Houston need more validation because they are pushing against the stigma imposed on them by a religious culture. The movie resonated most where people hold on to religious labels more strongly and so atheists embrace their own label as a way of holding their distinctive identity.</p><p>It’s a new thing that atheists are forming communities and I think it’s a good thing. One reason churches are so successful is because they provide spaces for people to come together—so much so that some atheist churches have to use religious spaces because those are the only community gathering places in town. Churches are very successful at getting people to support one another. If we can get that without the false truth claims of religion, we get the best of both worlds.</p><p><strong>Tarico:</strong>The stereotype, at least here in America, is that without gods and heaven, life is dreary—with no basis for love or morality. That makes your title, <em>A Better Life</em>, rather bold. Even some atheists would say, “Why claim our way is better? It’s all good. Religious people have a right to their own opinions as long as they aren’t imposing them on others or undermining civil society.”</p><p><strong>Johnson:</strong> I honestly think that if we all were to adopt a more rational, evidence-based view it would be better. Religion makes you <a href="">worry about things for no reason</a>–the concept of sin, etc. Or like all the money that gets put into opposing same sex marriage–and for what? To stop two consenting adults from being happy? It’s just crazy that people waste so much time on things that don’t affect them. When you strip away all of the unnecessary rules and worries, you can focus more on the things that really do matter in the short time that we have to be alive.</p><p><strong>Tarico:</strong> People would not be surprised that you, and the folks you interview, promote rationality, but some might be surprised at the moral <a href="">or even spiritual</a> dimension to some of the conversations. What comes across in the interviews is a deep sense of purpose, a strong ethical structure.</p><p><strong>Johnson:</strong> I’m glad that comes across. People think that to have profound meaningful experiences and commitments takes religion or some higher power outside of yourself. But it doesn’t.</p><p>In fact, an evidence-based rational perspective can make you more understanding and compassionate. The naturalist worldview recognizes many complex causes and effects in people’s lives and that can lead to compassion. If you look at the bishop in <em>Les Miserables</em> who lies and saves Jean Valjean from going back to prison, that is an act of grace—an act of compassion. This idea of grace, the idea of undeserved forgiveness—we tend to think of that in a religious sense. But if you look at the world as purely natural, then you could be inclined to think of that in the same sense. I’m an atheist and the story of <em>Les Miserables</em> resonates with me in the same way it does with many believers. The ideas of compassion and forgiveness are universally human and not strictly religious.</p><p>The other way that a naturalistic worldview can make us more compassionate and caring is the recognition that <em>it’s up to us</em>. To me, the world looks as if there is no-one pulling the strings. If you were to imagine what would a world look like with no gods, good things would happen to bad people and bad to good, and there would be pain and suffering, and things would happen arbitrarily from a moral standpoint. That seems to be the world we live in.</p><p>If there is no god pulling the strings, then all that is left is the world and the people around us.</p><p><strong>Tarico:</strong> In <em><a href="">Letting Go of God</a>,</em>Julia Sweeney described getting hit by a similar realization when she tried on the idea that there is no god. She’s so awesome that I have to quote her: “’Wait a minute. What about those people who are like…unjustifiably jailed somewhere horrible, and they are like…in solitary confinement and all they do is pray…this means that I think they’re praying to nobody? Is that possible?’ And then I thought, ’We gotta do something to get those people outta jail!’ Because no one else is looking out for them but us; no God is hearing their pleas. And I guess that goes for really poor people too or really oppressed people who—I had this vague notion—they had God to comfort them. And an even vaguer idea, that God had orchestrated their lot for some unknowable grand design. I wandered around in a daze thinking, ’No one is minding the store!’”</p><p><strong>Johnson:</strong> Yes! If there is no external presence in our lives, it’s just you and the people around you. It’s just all of us together. It forces us to look inward to ourselves and each other for strength, support, compassion, love, community. All of the things that people think they get from gods we can get from each other. These other people actually exist and can manifest in your life and help you and you can do the same for them.</p><p><strong>Tarico:</strong> Have there been any surprises along the way since you started touring the film?</p><p><strong>Johnson:</strong> I’d say that the film has impacted my own life in a way that I wasn’t expecting. Julia Sweeney—who is in the film, by the way—talks about dwelling on the happiest moments in your life, not just reminiscing afterwards but as they are happening, because in the end that is all you have. I found myself being more mindful of moments in which I am happy—taking the time to think <em>this is a happy moment</em> and savoring that. It makes me remember it even more because I made a mental note of it.</p><p>One night I was on a bus in Peru, up near Cuzco. I looked out the window at a sky full of stars that I had never seen before, the stars of the southern hemisphere. In the film, A.C. Grayling talks about growing up in Africa—how bright those stars were and being able to read by starlight. So there I was in Peru, on this bus, and linking it back to the Africa of Grayling’s childhood.</p><p><strong>Tarico:</strong> What is your big hope for this film, your piece of art?</p><p><strong>Johnson:</strong> I like to sum up the film in a single line: There is no god—now what?</p><p>People gravitate toward religion because it deals with the big questions in life. How do we deal with death, life, love, the world around us and the people around us?</p><p>We have receptors for these questions, and religion has found a way to latch on to those. Letting go of religion creates an opening and unless people can fill that void it will fill back up with superstition. The opposite of religious thinking isn’t “nothing.” So we need to take the next step. Hopefully by engaging these questions in a naturalistic way, we become less susceptible to old answers that have <a href="">harmful baggage</a> attached. Yes, there are difficult realities, but we can discuss them in ways that don’t involve making things up.</p><p><strong>Tarico:</strong> Anything else you’d like to add?</p><p><strong>Johnson:</strong> Just this: You don’t get much time. AC Grayling in the film talks about the fact that each of us gets less than 1000 months to live. A third of that you’re asleep, another third you’re waiting in line somewhere, so you have 300 months to do what is really important to you. Letting go of gods is just a starting point. <a href="">A better life</a> means embracing our sense of awe and wonder, our place in the universe and creating a new understanding of our most profound experiences—whether that is a glimpse of the night sky or an intimate relationship.</p> Tue, 18 Aug 2015 09:29:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1041092 at Belief Belief A Better Life atheists atheism Chris Johnson Atheist filmmaker Chris Johnson discusses his new documentary, &quot;A Better Life.&quot; America Is Obsessed with Sex, But That Doesn't Even Remotely Mean We're Screwing Each Other 24-7 <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A silent majority of us are sex-obsessed only once in a while, or not at all, or used to be but aren’t anymore.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_99769598-edited.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>From Madison Avenue to Sunset Boulevard, from the Las Vegas Strip to Miami’s club scene, America is obsessed with sex. Titillation sells everything from fast cars to grapes to laundry soap. Porn fuels Internet innovation. Male arousal defines female fashion from earlobe to stiletto heel. Hollywood treats actresses as eye candy to the point that <a href="" target="_blank">almost half</a> of movies lack named female characters who talk with each other about something other than men.</p><p>In fact, the only subculture in America that may be more sex-centric than Hollywood is the religious right, which sees sex as having the power to bring on floods, droughts, economic collapse and Armageddon. In this worldview, unless we all adhere to an <a href="" target="_blank">Iron Age script</a>, the world will become a raging orgy of <em>sex without consequences! </em>And God will get very, very angry because He cares enormously about what we humans do with our hoo-has and weenies.</p><p>Capitalists who see sexual pleasure as an addictive commodity that can be refined and sold—like sugar or heroin—and devout conservatives who offer salvation from the moral abyss via procreative purity are not, as the religious conservatives like to think, opposites. In fact, their sex obsessions might be better thought of as two sides of the same coin.</p><p>What gets lost in all of the frenzy about sex—pro and con—is that many Americans simply don’t care. A large, and largely silent, minority thinks the whole sex obsession is weird, boring or even annoying. As psychologists say, the opposite of love isn’t hate—it is indifference, which is what millions of Americans feel about sex.</p><p><strong>1. Young people have sex later and less often than popular media or abstinence advocates would have us believe.</strong> If real life were a coming-of-age movie, popular high school students would spend most of their energy getting laid and the rest would wish they were popular. In movies, high schoolers act a lot like stereotypical members of fraternities and sororities—partying, getting drunk and hitting on each other. They have hot clothes and hot cars, but almost no family life or responsibilities.</p><p>In the real world, teens spend most of their waking time going to classes, doing homework, doing chores, doing sports, babysitting siblings, going to church, volunteering, working and eating. A big part of their energy goes into relationships with people who aren’t other teens—like parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, coaches, counselors, youth pastors, bosses, co-workers and more. They are busy! The average teen doesn’t have sex for the first time until age 17, or around the senior year in high school—in other words, as he or she is transitioning to the next phase of life. A fifth of young people <a href="" target="_blank">have not had sex</a> when they turn 21.</p><p>When conservatives recently learned about <a href="" target="_blank">pregnancy prevention services</a> offered by school-based clinics, they took to the airwaves ranting about 11-year-olds seeking IUDs behind the backs of their loving parents. In reality, fewer than <a href="" target="_blank">2 percent</a> of adolescents initiate sex before their 12th birthday—and the younger the kid, the more likely any sexual encounter was actually exploitation or abuse. (This is why young people in some states have the legal right to seek confidential reproductive healthcare at any age and why caregivers have mandatory reporting requirements when they suspect abuse.)</p><p>By their 16th birthday, about a third of kids have had a wanted sexual encounter, but that doesn’t mean they are having sex regularly. Contrary to media hype, <a href="" target="_blank">today’s adolescents are having less and later sex than any cohort in the last 25 years</a>. The reason health and mental health experts want developmentally appropriate sexual education starting in grade school and birth control access throughout the teen years is because kids need information and access <em>before </em>they become sexually active. Parents worry that conversations with kids about sex and pregnancy will somehow “bring it on,” but the <a href="" target="_blank">opposite is true</a>. Candid conversations with either educators or parents tend to delay sexual initiation.</p><p><strong>2. Waning libido is a normal part of aging for both males and females. </strong>Sex drive that declines over time can feel like a failure—or like a disorder—because we often are told that it is. Scattered across the Internet lie articles discussing medical (or psychosocial) causes and cures for sexual indifference. “A Lively Libido Isn’t Reserved for the Young,” one New York Times headline <a href="" target="_blank">reassured</a>. But the fact is, as people age, decreased interest in sex is as <a href="" target="_blank">normal</a> as decreased interest in jumping rope or building tree forts.</p><p>Several years ago, a group of my friends consisting of couples in their 40s got into a late night conversation about sex and discovered that, in each pair, one partner had little interest in sex—to the disappointment of the other. Later, I described the conversation to an older relative who seemed to be enjoying his retirement years with his wife. “Don’t worry,” he joked. “Eventually you both forget that you ever had any interest and then things are balanced again.” While most people have sex during their 20s once or twice per week, for those 70 and older, <a href="" target="_blank">average sexual frequency</a> is around 10 times per year. As a therapist, I once had a client in her 70s who met the man of her dreams, an 80-year-old who wanted to have sex every day—<em>just like her. </em>They, and I, considered it a match made in heaven.</p><p>Physically, decreases in libido are associated with declines in testosterone. In females, the ovaries produce half of the body’s testosterone and as ovarian function ceases many women experience a corresponding drop in sexual interest. Most men maintain some level of sexual desire into their 60s and 70s but, as with women, <a href="" target="_blank">changes in testosterone</a> correspond to changes in interest. That said, hormones are just one of many factors in the mix. Stress, depression or medical conditions associated with aging like diabetes or heart disease or cognitive decline can quash sexual desire altogether. Sometimes loss of interest in sex is reversible, sometimes not.</p><p>Many couples enjoy sex in their golden years, despite desire that is less frequent or less urgent. But even those who enjoy sex may be on the “semi-annual plan.” Champions of elder sex generally talk about couples being able to maintain physical intimacy and pleasure, not regain the lust of youth.</p><p><strong>3. As early as the 20s, the longer women are in relationships the more they tend to lose interest in sex. </strong>When couples seek sex therapy, the most common complaint voiced by women is low interest in sex—known in clinical terms as “hypoactive sexual desire.” <a href="" target="_blank">According to</a> researcher Sarah Murray, sexologists are changing how they think about this problem. “The concept of an absolute level of ‘normal’ or ‘low’ sexual desire is being replaced by the view that low sexual desire is relative to one’s partner’s level of desire.” In other words, it’s only a problem if one or both partners think it’s a problem.</p><p>Even so, therapists take this concern seriously. Sexual intimacy is a pleasure in its own right and sex releases hormones that help relationships stay strong through other challenges, like parenting stress. So, therapists address any genuine psycho-sexual dysfunction, help partners understand their remaining differences and then explore patterns of intimacy that can fit for both.</p><p>But as with aging, libido differences that emerge over time in young couples appear normal. When Murray and her colleague Robin Milhausen studied young college-age couples, they <a href="" target="_blank">found</a> small month-to-month declines in sexual interest among females in monogamous relationships. Murray called this a transition from “passionate intimacy” to “compassionate intimacy.” By contrast, young males tended to have a more persistent level of desire. Murray wants couples to understand that this pattern is normal and doesn’t necessarily signal that the relationship is flawed or in trouble.The key for healthy couples is setting realistic expectations, adapting to each other and getting creative about physical intimacy.</p><p><strong>4. Asexuality is part of the normal spectrum of desire.</strong> When my daughter was in middle school, she interrupted her after-school snack one day to ask me a question: “Mom, I know that there are people who are gay and people who are straight and people who are bi. Are there people who are asexual?” I blinked because—to be honest—until she asked, the question had never crossed my mind. But it took me only about five seconds to answer, “Well, there must be.” I explained that all human interests and desires exist in different degrees in different people. Then, after she went off to do her homework, I went to the Internet where I found the <a href="" target="_blank">Asexual Visibility and Education</a> network.</p><p>In a world plagued by slut shaming, burkas, female genital mutilation, rape culture, sexual performance pressures, homophobia, sexual “sin” and punishment babies, plenty of people have hang-ups that get in the way of sexual desire or pleasure. Also, a host of medical issues ranging from cancer to depression to obesity can nuke interest in sex. But that doesn’t mean all lack of desire is a function of hang-ups or medical problems.</p><p>This past spring the mainstream media drew attention to asexuality as a normal sexual orientation and identity. Several young people who identify as either asexual (not experiencing sexual attraction) or gray sexual (having very little sexual interest) have written or spoken to journalists about their experience in a culture that constantly bombards people with sexual images and expectations. (See, for example, the New York Times: “<a href="" target="_blank">Asexual and Happy</a>“; or Wired: “<a href="" target="_blank">Young, Attractive, and Totally Not Into Having Sex</a>.”)</p><p>Not that awareness of asexuality is new to researchers. In a <a href="" target="_blank">1983 survey</a>, approximately 5 percent of male respondents and 10 percent of females said they weren’t attracted to either sex. A <a href="" target="_blank">British study in 2004</a> found that 1 percent of people said they had “never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all.” What distinguishes asexuality from waxing or waning desire is consistent and persistent lack of interest, which can leave “Aces,” as some call themselves, feeling alienated. As one commenter <a href="" target="_blank">put it</a>, “Imagine the most ridiculous thing that you can, and then imagine that it’s all anyone else cares about.”</p><p>5. <strong>The real world includes shades of gray—and brown and gold and the colors of the rainbow</strong>. Between most opposites lies a spectrum—myriad shades of gray that might not make good ad copy or blockbuster footage or religio-political theater, but that do make up the real world. Sexual desire is no exception. To make matters more complicated (and wonderful), sexuality is tangled up with romance, intimacy, aesthetic attractions, friendship and partnership, which can vary independently and which can be either static or fluid over time. A YouTube celeb, SwankIvy, who describes herself as an asexuality educator, <a href="" target="_blank">lays out</a> an array of variations (asexual, aromantic; asexual, gray romantic . . . ) that is dizzying and yet instantly credible as a reflection of life’s multifaceted intricacy. As when I faced that first unexpected inquiry about asexuality, SwankIvy’s unpolished video introduced questions I had never thought to ask.</p><p>By the time my daughters finished high school, they lived among young people who had moved beyond sexual (and gender and racial and cultural) binaries. To their peers, asexual is just another kind of queer, which they treat with the same live-and-let-live acceptance they would give to any other sexual or gender identity. <em>Oh, and it’s OK if tomorrow you feel different and want me to call you something else.</em> What they can’t wrap their brains around is why old people like me have such a need to put everyone in tidy boxes.</p><p>Is the wearisome tug of war between sex-sellers and finger-waggers another binary their generation will cast aside? I suspect so and I look forward to the possibilities. Imagine a future in which people are free to be as interested in sex as they are or aren’t, without stigma, the way that some of us are and aren’t interested in, say, reading. Imagine that young people no longer get pressured to either bullshit about their sexual prowess or glorify their untrammeled twats by swooshing around in white dresses and making vows of abstinence that they then break. Imagine college-age couples knowing in advance that they will move from passion to compassion, that their bodies are unlikely to change in unison and that long-term physical intimacy will likely require an ever-changing creative commitment. Imagine elders who don’t feel diminished as men or women simply because their libido hasn’t stayed “lively.”</p><p>Sexual intimacy and pleasure are precious to most of us at some point in our lives, but there are many ways to embrace life fully and deeply, to love well and live well and experience waves of delight. A silent majority of us are sex-obsessed only once in a while, or not at all, or used to be but aren’t anymore. If we became more visible, I wonder who would be most disappointed—the executives who are betting that titillation will keep us buying or the religious right who might find that their prohibitions aren’t needed, and never were.</p><p> </p> Tue, 28 Jul 2015 13:11:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, Salon 1040051 at Sex & Relationships Sex & Relationships sex relationships indifference A silent majority of us are sex-obsessed only once in a while, or not at all, or used to be but aren’t anymore. Fox and Co. Go Psycho Over Clinics That Give Teens Birth Control <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Nothing gets some people more riled than the thought of unsupervised teens or women managing their own bodies.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_149095553.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>As right-wing news outlets have it, untrained government workers in Washington State are doing secret gynecological procedures on 11 year old school girls, implanting dangerous and unhealthy birth control without consent from doting parents who have no idea they are losing their daughters! Liberal priorities are so messed up that it’s easier for an 11 year old to get an IUD than a Coca-Cola at a Washington school.</em></p><p>Despite being <a href="" target="_blank">flayed by Snopes</a>, this Chicken Little story is wildcatting across conservative media including Fox and Breitbart, and is getting tens of thousands of Facebook shares because it’s so omg time-to-homeschool-your-kids-and-stockpile-weapons shocking(!). The <a href="" target="_blank">real story</a> is much less Hollywood, but it’s also way cooler to anyone who actually gives a shit about sexual health, chosen childbearing, flourishing families, broad prosperity, or creating a better future.</p><p><strong>Yes, IUDs and Implants. “Fit and forget” birth control is the new standard of care for teens.</strong> Long acting IUDs and implants are, in fact, the standard of medical care <a href="" target="_blank">recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics</a> and CDC for sexually active teens because they lead to the best health outcomes. On the Pill, <a href="" target="_blank">1 in 11</a> women gets pregnant each year. For a couple relying on condoms, which do prevent STI’s, that's 1 in 6, and abstinence commitments and other barrier methods belong in the worm bin! Ordinary adults suck at using every-day or every-time methods consistently--only 15 percent of women miss three or fewer Pills each month--and sexually active teens are even worse! With a state-of-the-art IUD or implant failure (meaning unsought pregnancy) drops below 1 in 500, yet normal fertility returns within months after removal.</p><p>Of girls who give birth before finishing high school, only 3% graduate from college, and over half end up mired in poverty long term. The hardship <a href="" target="_blank">can ripple</a> for generations, affecting health, mental health, economic prosperity, and more. But the good news is this: as more young women switch over to IUDs and implants, unintended pregnancy and abortion are plummeting. During a <a href="" target="_blank">Colorado program</a> that provided top tier birth control free of charge, the rate of teen pregnancies dropped by 40 percent.  </p><p>Better birth control is helping young women and men to finish school and get settled before starting their families. A twenty year old nursing student who got a free implant through the Colorado program said she hoped to marry, move, and become a dental hygienist. When young people are able to finish high school, find full time work and a committed relationship, and wait till age 21 before becoming parents, their lives are <a href="" target="_blank">radically different</a> in the decades that follow.</p><p><strong>Not dangerous and unhealthy but healthy and safe.</strong>Modern birth control is far, far safer than pregnancy and has bonus health benefits. Conservative fear mongers love to point out that all contraceptives can have side effects and no one method is right for every teen or woman. True. But do you know what else has side effects? Pregnancy. Over 650 American females die each year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth, and tens of thousands are left with long term disabilities. For example, some women worry about blood clots from estrogen-containing pills, but clots actually <a href="" target="_blank">increase far more--by a factor of 10</a>--during the 12 weeks after delivery. Since health risks of pregnancy overshadow any risk from contraception or abortion, the birth control methods that best prevent pregnancy (that means IUD’s and implants) end up being safest overall for most women. Being female is inherently risky, and if conservatives are going to talk about “dangers” of birth control (or abortion for that matter), they should put those numbers in perspective.<br /><br />Besides reducing the life and health risks of unwanted pregnancy, modern contraceptives offer an array of <a href="" target="_blank">bonus health benefits</a>. Depending on the method, bonus benefits can include less acne, protection against some cancers, or lighter and less frequent menstruation. Since painful, heavy periods are the most common health reason teen girls miss school, a method that <a href="" target="_blank">reduces cramps and bleeding</a> can help prevent a downward academic spiral or allow more participation in extracurricular sports.</p><p><strong>Not faceless ‘government workers’ but trained healthcare providers.</strong> School-based clinics in Washington typically are public-private partnerships run by familiar health care systems including Swedish Medical Center, Seattle Children's, Neighborcare Health or Group Health. They provide comprehensive medical and mental health care for adolescents, with vaccinations and mental health care being the most common services. These school based clinics work in partnership with the schools and families they serve.</p><p>School-based care has been around for a quarter of a century, but it is expanding across the country because busy working parents (especially in less privileged families) have difficulty getting time off to get routine medical care for their kids. Locating clinics on school grounds makes health services accessible to young people who might not otherwise get care they need.</p><p><strong>Behind a parent’s back?</strong> <strong>You be the judge.</strong> Parents typically receive information about the full range of services available in school-based clinics at the start of a school year; and as a standard practice, clinicians encourage teens to involve their parents even for those services that don't legally require parental consent. In research published this spring, a staff member said, “We decided we should probably focus on parents in implementing the services and doing LARCs [long acting reversible contraceptives] with students who really want to do it, and who are well educated about it, and also with the support of their families.”</p><p>Seattle’s school based providers strongly encourage minors seeking contraceptive services to involve parents and even facilitate discussions with families. It’s not possible or safe in every case, but the goal is honesty and family reconciliation, not the anti-parental collusion the Breitbarts of the world would have you believe. </p><p>A Grist story about contraceptive implants quoted one high school student who didn't talk with her parents about her reproductive healthcare, but most teens involve their mother in the decision to get an IUD or Implant and count on Mom to pamper them afterwards. With a little encouragement, many teens find that parents are more open and supportive than they expected.</p><p>That said, Washington law eloquently states, “The sovereign people hereby declare that every individual possesses a fundamental right of privacy with respect to personal reproductive decisions” and “Every individual has the fundamental right to choose or refuse birth control.” This means that, like half of states, Washington <a href="" target="_blank">does allow teens</a> to access both mental health and reproductive health care without parental consent. Want to know why? Because not all girls have parents who are sober, who don't hit them, who are mentally intact, and who aren't fucking them, literally. Also, since adolescence falls somewhere between childhood and adulthood developmentally, the law broadly recognizes that teens have greater self-governance abilities and responsibilities than children do, and that these abilities and responsibilities develop over time.</p><p><strong>11 year old IUD seekers? Get real.</strong>The most disingenuous and insulting aspect of the Right’s paranoid fantasy is that the protagonist—for shock value—is a mythical 11-year-old sex-kitten shopping for birth control behind her parents back, and health care providers are so blind or morally bankrupt that this doesn’t trouble them.  (In 2013, conservatives waxed eloquent about a <a href="" target="_blank">similar mythical 11 year old</a> who would soon be shopping for Plan B at $50 a pop.) In reality, the <a href="" target="_blank">average</a> teen doesn’t become sexually active till their senior year in high school, and school based clinics mostly serve these older teens.</p><p>If a health or mental health counselor learns that an 11 year old is sexually active, a common consideration is whether to involve CPS, because usually (though not always) the child is being exploited/victimized by an older adult, not infrequently a family member. Medical providers, educators, and mental health counselors (like me) take very seriously the responsibility to weigh these delicate and complicated situations, whether we are employed by the public or by a private healthcare provider. Do conservatives really think teachers, counselors and healthcare providers are so callous or stupid that we wouldn't feel concern if an 11 year old came in asking for an IUD on her own?</p><p><strong>Same old same old.</strong> Conservative “shock jocks” will say almost anything that arouses their audience, and nothing gets some people more riled than the thought of unsupervised teens or women managing their own bodies. <a href="" target="_blank">Handed down gender scripts</a> that trace clear back to the Iron Age teach that males (who were made in the image of God) get to control females and decide who has sex with whom. The Pill radically disrupted this script in the mid-20th century, so it should be no surprise that patriarchal traditionalists are obsessively trying to undermine family planning, even if that means promoting transparent falsehoods. And some of those falsehoods are doozies! </p><p><em>Birth control is really abortion. Birth control pills cause cancer. Birth control pills will make you infertile. Birth control pills will make you fat. Birth control pills will make your hair fall out. If any aspect of your health declined since you were 20, it’s because of your birth control. IUD’s cause infections. IUD’s poke through your uterus and wander around your body. An IUD isn’t really contraceptive; it’s an abortion factory in your uterus. HPV vaccines will make girls go wild. Sex ed makes kids have more sex. Birth control makes teens have sex. Slut shaming prevents sex; Girls who have sex are licked lollipops. Condoms don’t work but abstinence vows do. Obtaining birth control in advance makes sex a premeditated sin. Abortion is psychologically traumatizing. Abortion causes cancer. Abortion makes you infertile. Abortion kills a person. When you get to heaven, you’ll have to face the all-grown-up fertilized egg you aborted. Plan B isn’t really contraceptive; it’s an abortion pill. If Plan B is sold over the counter, 11-year-olds will buy it. If school-based clinics provide confidential family planning services, 11 year olds will line up at the door for IUDs and stop talking to their parents about important life decisions, and the sky will fall in.</em></p><p>Given the list, all the conservative hype and fear about Seattle’s school-based care seems almost tame.</p><p> </p> Thu, 09 Jul 2015 07:05:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1039082 at Personal Health Gender Media News & Politics Personal Health The Right Wing fox birth control clinics teenagers right-wing Nothing gets some people more riled than the thought of unsupervised teens or women managing their own bodies. When Slavery Won’t Die: The Oppressive Biblical Mentality America Can't Shake <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">An interview with black theologian Kelly Brown Douglas on America&#039;s greatest sins. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2015-06-30_at_9.34.24_am.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>“You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” </em>So said white supremacist Dylann Roof to black members of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston as he systematically executed nine, leaving one woman and a five-year-old child to bear witness to the slaughter. </p><p>The horror of the mass murder defies rational analysis. And yet, if we have any hope of a better future, we must analyze it—not just the circumstances or persons or events that led to this particular slaughter on this particular day, but the root attitudes and assumptions—the ancient strands of brutality and inequality that are woven into the fabric of our society.</p><p>In her article, “<a href="" target="_blank">The Lethal Gentleman: The ‘Benevolent Sexism’ Behind Dylann Roof’s Racism</a>,” sociologist Lisa Wade outlines how racism and sexism intersect in Roof’s comments. The phrase “benevolent sexism” sounds jarring, but it is the term social scientists use when people attribute “positive traits to women that, nonetheless, justify their subordination to men:” <em>Women are beautiful and fragile; women are good with children; women are emotionally weak; God made woman as the perfect ‘helpmeet’ for man</em>. Roof’s implication that white women need protecting from rape falls into this category. </p><p>One striking aspect of sexism and racism in Roof’s statement is the sense of ownership it conveys: “Our women” in “our country” need to be protected from black men who either don’t know their place or won’t stay in it. White men can and should kill black men because they are having sex in our home territory with women who belong to us. We own America and we own the women who live here, and black men don’t because if all was right in the world we would own them too. </p><p>The idea that women and minorities (along with children and members of other species) at some level <em>belong</em> to men of the dominant tribe can be traced all the way back to the culture and laws of the Iron Age and the concept of chattel. The term <em>chattel </em>is related to the term <em>cattle, </em>and human chattel, like cows, exist to serve their owners and must stay where they belong. In this view, dominant men have a right or even responsibility to enforce social hierarchy. If women or slaves or children or ethnic and religious minorities or livestock step out of line, they must be punished to keep society in its proper order. </p><p>I have written in the past about how Iron Age chattel culture underlies Religious Right priorities that might otherwise seem at odds: <a href="" target="_blank">Why</a> do the same people who oppose abortion also oppose protections and rights for children once they are born? What do opposition to marriage equality and opposition to contraception <a href="" target="_blank">have in common</a>? Why is the line between marriage and slavery <a href="" target="_blank">so blurry</a> in the Bible? How was American slavery <a href="" target="_blank">influenced</a> by the Iron Age worldview? Why does biblical literalism so often <a href="" target="_blank">incline</a> people to embrace sexual and racial inequality?  </p><p>From within Christianity, Episcopal theologian and author <a href="" target="_blank">Kelly Brown Douglas</a> has written extensively about some of these same questions, with a particular focus on sexuality and the Black body. After the Trayvon Martin killing, she channeled her grief into a book, <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God</em></a><em>. </em>In the interview that follows, Brown Douglas talks about the ancient concept of chattel, how it leads to the assumption that black bodies are “guilty, hypersexual, and dangerous,” and how it underlies the slaughter, from Florida to New York to Charleston, that has left America reeling. </p><p><strong>Tarico: </strong>You are the mother of a black son, so the horrendous epidemic of shootings we all have witnessed in recent years strikes very close to your heart.</p><p><strong>Brown Douglas: </strong>I just couldn’t shake the Trayvon Martin killing. At the time my son was 21 and I knew—as a 6’ tall young man with locks that people would perceive him as a threat. My husband and I have tried to help our son understand how others perceive him as a black male. As his mother, I find myself continually reminding him that, while I will defend him to his death I don’t want to defend him in his death. I have said, <em>If you are ever stopped by the police, even if they tell you to get on your knees, do it. A moment of humiliation could save your life. </em>When he’s out there’s not a moment that I don’t fear for him, not because of anything he would do—he is a very responsible person—but because of how people might perceive him. So I am passionate about what is going on now, what is going on with our children. Somehow we have to change this world to make it safe for our children. </p><p><strong>Tarico: </strong>In <em><a href="" target="_blank">Stand Your Ground,</a> </em>you explore cultural values and beliefs that contribute to America’s plague of racial violence including the sense of exceptionalism and manifest destiny—the idea that Anglo-Saxon European culture is fundamentally good, a light unto the world, something to be exported. When any of us has that kind of self-perception, it’s hard to see ourselves as the bad guy, hard to see when we’re doing harm.  </p><p><strong>Brown Douglas: </strong>To stop the harm, one of the first things that we have to understand is the complexity of violence. We have to understand that this Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism is inherently violent because it is unjust particularly as it suggests that certain people deserve the benefits of being treated with decency and dignity while others do not. Systems of injustice—racism, sexism, heterosexism—the ways that these systems manifest themselves systemically and structurally is violent. Anything that does harm to another is violent. </p><p>We seldom name the violence that is imbedded in the structures and systems of our society. We don’t ask, where is the violence behind the violence? Yes, there are too many guns, and we should change that. But I’m speaking about the violence of injustice. Inasmuch as we don’t begin to dismantle unjust discriminatory systems then we will consistently have violent eruptions that people respond to with more violence. Systemic and structural violence perpetuates a cycle of violence on all levels of society.</p><p><strong>Tarico: </strong>Our handed-down cultural and religious traditions contain the concept of chattel, the idea that some people (and other species) exist for the benefit of others. Slavery is an extreme example of this. But even beyond overt slavery, you and I both write about how the residual of this concept continues to ripple down in our society. </p><p><strong>Brown Douglas: </strong>When we talk about American slavery we have to talk about chattel slavery. Chattel doesn’t mean simply that one person serves another, it means that one belongs to another. Black people were property. They were never meant to own their own labor or their own bodies. While I truly appreciate the way that female and black bodies intersect, the black body <em>came to this country as property.</em> When we talk about chattel in U.S. history, the only people who were considered nonhuman were those of African descent.  </p><p><strong>Tarico: </strong>Yes! Mercifully, by the time this country was founded, outright ownership of women was no longer the overt norm. In the Old Testament, women were literally <a href="" target="_blank">governed by property law</a> rather than personhood rights. A man, a father, essentially sold his daughter to another man to be a wife or slave. She was a valuable reproductive technology that produced economically valuable offspring that also belonged to the patriarch, who could beat or sell them or send them into war or even sacrifice them.</p><p>The notion of women as fully autonomous persons rather than property has <a href="" target="_blank">taken centuries to emerge</a>. During the American colonial era, single women could own real estate and other assets, but thanks to a legal concept called coverture, <a href="" target="_blank">married women couldn’t</a>. “All men are created equal” really meant <em>men, </em>well, men who were white. A woman <a href="" target="_blank">couldn’t get a credit card</a>on her own in the U.S. until 1974! When I was young, a woman couldn’t obtain birth control without her husband’s permission because her reproductive capacity belonged to him. Women in the South, including black women, have been of the last to get rights to control their own property and bodies. But that is a long way from literally being bought and sold in chains, as in the slave trade!</p><p>So this idea of people owning people is changing. But, damn, the process is slow. From your point of view, where do you see the residual of chattel culture in America today?</p><p><strong>Brown Douglas: </strong>What we see is that some people have certain privileges because of who they are while other people are penalized because of who they are. Clearly the white male heterosexual body is the most privileged body and in as much as you lose one of those attributes you lose certain privileges. In your person you have less freedom, less right to the wages of freedom in your body. That is what we are struggling through in this country. </p><p><strong>Tarico: </strong>The rape culture that we are struggling with on college campuses is rooted in the idea that men are entitled to women’s bodies. Economic exploitation is rooted in the idea that might makes right, that powerful people have a right to exploit and consume the time, energy, productive capacity and reproductive capacity of the less powerful. The same could be said about environmental exploitation, that those who are most powerful have the right to exploit, consume, and take what they can; that other beings and their desires are secondary, if they matter at all.</p><p>As a theologian, you say that one way chattel culture gets justified is via “natural law” theology. What is that? </p><p><strong>Brown Douglas: </strong>Natural law theology is a way of sanctifying this hierarchy of exploitation. It suggests that this wasn’t just a human creation, but divine law. This was the way God designed things to be. For example, the whole idea was that God created black people as slaves not as full human beings. Slavery was legitimated specifically through Christianity. </p><p><strong>Tarico: </strong>What are some echoes of natural law theology in the way that conservatives think today? How does it get translated into the modern language of the Religious Right? </p><p><strong>Brown Douglas:</strong> We know that the discourse around women has been that God created women to serve men and to reproduce. Women have had to fight that battle for years, and continue to fight the battle that they were indeed not created to be subservient to men or to be reproductive machines. That is about natural law. The other way you see it is that marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman—that’s God’s law according to various religious communities. Those are ways that we see “natural law” functioning in our culture today. </p><p>In racial relations, if one scanned some of the white supremacy rhetoric you see that too. Historically it is part of the rhetoric of the Klan. Today most people don’t argue that in polite conversation, but we see it all the time when we place this religious canopy over discrimination. We sanctify discriminatory patterns. <em>If God wanted men and women to be equal, God would have created women to be different –not to be the bearers of children.</em> Or, <em>God created Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve.</em> Those are remnants of natural law. It functions in those places where people attempt to elevate social constructs and human laws so that they seem as if they are divine laws.</p><p><strong>Tarico: </strong>I write mostly about women—about reproductive freedom and empowerment, and in our fight to create a new norm of chosen childbearing, this notion of women as chattel is hugely problematic. <a href="" target="_blank">Specific verses from the Bible</a> get cited to justify the GOP’s assault on women. “Women will be saved through childbearing,” for example. In the sphere of racial relations and justice, this notion of human chattel also gets tied in with sexuality—how black sexuality is seen, why blacks are seen as dangerous. </p><p><strong>Brown Douglas: </strong>One thing that you’ll notice is that marginalized oppressed people often are sexualized by the dominant narrative. You see that with LGBT people—the rhetoric is that they are indiscriminately promiscuous—as with black people and women. A couple of traditional cultural narratives come together here. In the conservative religious mindset, the only good sex is procreative sex. If you suggest that people are engaging in sexual activity for non-procreative reasons that’s sinful and lustful—that’s the Apostle Paul. </p><p>On top of that is this oppression narrative in which identity and sexuality get bound together. The late French philosopher Michel Foucault asked, Why is it that sexuality has become so significant in Western society that it becomes the source not just of reproduction but of truth? Why has it become the way the way people think of themselves and others? Foucalt suggests that it is because sexuality is where the body and identity come together. If you can control the sexuality of a group of people, then you can control that <br /><br />Women are said to be driven by their passions and women’s sexuality has to be controlled, and is only acceptable if it’s procreative, which means men are controlling it. Sexualizing black people allowed black women to be used as breeders. It became a rationale for a black man to be lynched—because he was preying on white women. This is one way we have an overlap in how all women and black men are perceived as well as other marginalized groups. I wrote a book, <em><a href="" target="_blank">Sexuality and the Black Church</a></em>, in which I discuss this in more depth.  </p><p><strong>Tarico: </strong>How does this all play into a presumption of guilt? At the opening to your chapter on the Black body, you echo L. Z. Granderson’s question, <em>Why are black murder victims put on trial? </em>Why <em>are </em>black murder victims put on trial?  </p><p><strong>Brown Douglas: </strong>Black people don’t have the presumption of innocence. The concept of black people as chattel, that black people are not meant to occupy a free space and are dangerous when doing so, has been transformed into a notion of black people as criminal. If a black person has been accused of something then people assume that he or she is probably guilty, and our media representations of black people continue to reinforce this in the collective unconscious. There have been various studies [for example, <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>] which reveal that people have visceral automatic reactions to black bodies in which they see them as threatening. In one study police officers who were shown pictures of white and black men with and without guns were more likely to perceive that a black male had a gun even when he didn’t and to miss a gun in the hands of a white male even when he had one. The stereotypes of the criminal black male and the angry black woman lead to the presumption of guilt.  </p><p><strong>Tarico: </strong>I write largely for an audience of non-theists and people who describe themselves as former Christians. Many of them look at the black community’s response to an incident like the mass murder in Charleston and say, <em>I don’t get it. How can so many Black people be Christian when Christianity has been such a tool of racial oppression against blacks?</em> <em>How can oppressed racial minorities embrace a sacred text that talks about chosen people and privileged blood lines? </em>What do you say to that?  </p><p><strong>Brown Douglas: </strong>That is the very question that compelled another book of mine called, <em><a href="" target="_blank">What’s Faith Got to Do with It?</a></em> In the Black Christian tradition, the first time that Black people encountered God was not through their slaveholders. They knew God in freedom, as they encountered God through their African traditional religions. As black Christianity emerged during slavery, it emerged from an entirely different place than white Christianity. Black people understood that they were meant to be free, so God stood for freedom. Throughout history you see a black critique of White Christianity. The sum of the critique is this: If Christianity is used to oppress another that’s not Christianity. What I ask is, How can one embrace a culture of oppression and claim to be Christian? </p><p><strong>Tarico: </strong>What do you say to your own son about all of this? </p><p><strong>Brown Douglas: </strong>I always told my son every morning as he was growing up, <em>There is no one greater than you but God and you are sacred.</em> I’ve always tried to teach him that he is not greater than anyone, that we are equal. God created us all, and the very breath we breathe comes from God—that is what makes us all sacred. Even when someone treats you as less than human, you must still affirm their humanity. I am working overtime these last two years to help him understand that, yes, this nation is racist and people do racist things but not all people are like that. And so, I try to teach him to respect people as he would respect himself, to affirm his humanity and to finds ways to affirm that of others. Most of all, I try to teach him not to get trapped in the cycle of hate because in the end, hate is self-destructive.</p><p> </p> Tue, 30 Jun 2015 06:24:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1038591 at sin bible An interview with black theologian Kelly Brown Douglas on America&#039;s greatest sins. Why Are Churches Using Creepy Face Recognition Technology? <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Churches just got a new way to figure out who is sleeping in on Sunday morning.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_137763845.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Churches just got a new way to figure out who is sleeping in on Sunday morning: facial recognition software that scans the congregation and records who showed up. <a href="" target="_blank">Churchix</a> is a product of Skakash LLC, which sells <a href="" target="_blank">Face-Six</a> for law enforcement, border control, and commercial applications. <a href="" target="_blank">According to</a> CEO Moshe Greenshpan, in the 4 months since the technology launched, 30 churches have already deployed the software and service, which could be used to target members who need a nudge or to identify potential major donors among those who attend faithfully.</p><p><strong>Make Disciples of Every Creature</strong></p><p>Evangelical churches often center their theology on a New Testament verse called the <a href="" target="_blank">Great Commission</a>: <em>Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel every creature</em>. They do so with good reason. Almost 40 years ago, with the publication of Richard Dawkins’s book <em>The Selfish Gene</em>, the broad public realized that ideas can be viral self-replicators, just like genes are. A “copy-me command” is a powerful thing, whether it prompts its host to replicate a computer virus, chain mail, species or a set of religious beliefs.</p><p>Churches that grow fastest and biggest are those that put the “copy me” directive at the center of their priorities. They actively invest in recruiting, whether that means designing high quality print materials and websites, training “<a href="" target="_blank">friendship missionaries</a>,” launching social media campaigns, or conducting professional market analysis. By contrast with Europe, where religion often exists as a fading church-state monopoly, American churches are <a href="" target="_blank">particularly entrepreneurial</a> and many keep eyes open for business tools that can be applied to the business of expanding membership, offerings, and market share.</p><p>In churches that are on top of their growth game, greeters stand in the lobby to make sure everyone feels welcome. Guests are asked to fill out contact cards for follow up. High-production-value materials promote both theological benefits like salvation and concrete perks like childcare. Websites and social media advertise programs for young people. As in any business, good marketing is critical to sales and fiscal health, and that means keeping up with the state of the art.</p><p><strong>High Touch, Soft Sell</strong></p><p>Since the time of Billy Graham’s fire-and-brimstone tent revivals, many churches have moved tactically toward a more <a href="" target="_blank">soft-sell</a> social marketing approach. A form of evangelism called “relational apologetics” trains Christians to win converts via a slow <a href="" target="_blank">cultivation</a> process rather than the more traditional door-to-door witnessing or Sunday morning altar call.</p><p>One 2014 training for pastors in Seattle included a handout, “30 Ways to Create a High Touch Environment,” that included tips more commonly given to fundraising professionals or sales teams:</p><p>§  Put energy into being likeable.</p><p>§  Smile a lot.</p><p>§  Make all the friends you can.</p><p>§  Focus on their interests. Ask them questions.</p><p>§  Follow the 101% Principle. Find the 1% that you agree on and give it 100% of your effort. Find common ground.</p><p>§  Walk slowly through the crowd.</p><p>§  Return all emails and phone calls within 24 hours.</p><p>§  Remember names.</p><p>For churches investing in this kind of courtship, technology tools including customer relations management software (like Salesforce), and social media are common practice. Software that scans attendee faces during the Sunday morning service and enters them in a database is just one in a long line of innovations that churches have adopted from the sales, marketing, and fundraising sectors.</p><p><strong>Powerful Persuasion, Questionable Product</strong></p><p>But will it backfire? Facial recognition software is creepy, even when it’s just a matter of Facebook tagging us in pictures; and if early web response is any indication, <a href="" target="_blank">Churchix strikes some people as particularly creepy</a>. Why? Because the whole goal of Churchix is to help power-seeking, member-seeking, communities manipulate people more effectively.</p><p>In my article, “<a href="" target="_blank">Why Good Christians Do Bad Things to Win Converts</a>,” I discuss the tremendous pressure many Christians feel to act as volunteer recruiters for their religion. To some, the end (saving people from hell) justifies almost any means. In the service of this eternal goal, well-meaning believers prey on <a href="" target="_blank">public grade school children</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">lonely foreign students</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">people in disaster zones</a>, and those who are poor, uneducated, and otherwise vulnerable. These behaviors, while repugnant, make sense if one actually believes in hell.</p><p>Consequently, genuinely decent people can be persuaded to do things that otherwise might seem debased—like <a href="" target="_blank">terrifying young children</a> with threats of torture, or exploiting hunger <a href="" target="_blank">or dementia</a>.</p><p>Even without modern marketing tips or facial recognition software, Christianity has evolved a powerful set of recruiting tools. Christianity taps our innate moral emotions – empathy, shame, and guilt—and weaves a narrative around each. The believer’s relationship to God and Jesus <a href="" target="_blank">exploits core cognitive capacities</a> that evolved to help us function as social information specialists. Churches foster tribal identity and community, in which social support for insiders is a key benefit. Traditional cathedral architecture triggers a neurologically-based disorientation that contributes to the worshiper’s sense of wonder and transcendence. Modern versions of <a href="" target="_blank">heaven</a> and hell are based respectively on the most ostentatious palaces and the most terrifying tortures that the Iron Age mind could conceive and the medieval mind could elaborate. Small wonder, then, that trying to break free of Christianity can leave <a href="" target="_blank">former believers</a> struggling with a host of <a href="" target="_blank">psychological symptoms</a>, including, even, <a href="" target="_blank">religious trauma syndrome</a>.</p><p>Painfully, it's the most patriarchal fundamentalist variants of Christianity -- not its more progressive sects - that are often those most intent on seeking converts and gaining power in both the public sphere and individual lives.</p><p><strong>More Power, Less Oversight</strong></p><p>Religious conservatives are <a href="" target="_blank">in the midst of a push</a> to secure more power over other people’s lives with less oversight. Institutions, individuals and even corporations boldly seek religious exemptions from duties and regulations aimed at protecting the public and promoting the general welfare. This includes labor laws, child protections, zoning, anti-discrimination laws, and pooled tax funds that pay for infrastructure, healthcare and emergency services. Since freedom of thought and worship has long been safeguarded by constitution and legal precedent in the U.S., recent “religious freedom” claims largely seek the <a href="" target="_blank">freedom to do harm with impunity</a>. Unlike for-profit businesses that are subject to consumer protection laws when they make false advertising claims or promote harmful products, religions freely make unaccountable claims; and customers who are dissatisfied or even injured have no recourse.</p><p>But coupled with this utter lack of accountability comes an insistence on being able to meddle in the private affairs of others. The Catholic bishops <a href="" target="_blank">want a say in our end-of-life decisions</a>; Christian pharmacists <a href="" target="_blank">want a say</a> in our birth control prescriptions; trans-phobic Christian politicians want law enforcement to check <a href="" target="_blank">who is using which bathroom</a>; patriarchal Christian Congressmen want the right, as Kate Beckinsale put it in her Funny-or-Die video, to have “<a href="" target="_blank">Republicans Get in My Vagina</a>.”</p><p>Why would anyone be surprised, then, that churches might want the ability to engage in unfettered surveillance of their members? It should be clear at this point, that in the service of God—or Greed, the boundary can be blurry—convert-hungry Christians play to the rules, even if that means getting creepy. Entering the faces of unaware members in a database and tracking attendance? That’s totally within the rules, most places. Only two American states, Illinois and Texas, <a href="" target="_blank">have laws</a> about getting permission before collecting a faceprint.</p><p>With the Churchix technology, congregations need only upload <a href="" target="_blank">one clear, sharp photograph</a> of a member before the program can begin scanning events to see if the person was there. Maybe someday soon churches can team up with Facebook and find out not only who was absent on Sunday morning, but who was where on Saturday night.</p> Wed, 24 Jun 2015 07:03:00 -0700 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 1038303 at Belief Belief facial recognition software churches members Churchix Churches just got a new way to figure out who is sleeping in on Sunday morning.