Culture

The right wing has always been pro-'cancel culture'

Cancel culture. Cancel culture. The right wing trumpets it so many times it rings in my ears. Freedom of speech, the right's mouth pieces claim, is "silenced" by the liberals and socialists who, conservatives say, control the nation's media and universities, canceling out all but their own speech.

But it is not those on the left that threaten free speech in any systematic way. It is those on the right that have a long and continuing history of silencing those who espouse even moderately progressive ideas and programs.

Worse, even as the right claims to hold the Constitution and its First Amendment free speech rights in high esteem, it aggressively attacks the Constitution's Fifteenth Amendment voting rights guarantee, which came into being only after 800,000 died in the Civil War to save the Union and end slavery.

Moreover, the right has been waging its own war on speech, assembly, and association going back well in the 20th century.

Look at the right's history of silencing former communist party members, or those it called "fellow travelers," no matter how old their participation was. In the post-World War II years, the right-wing House Un-American Activities Committee and Senator Joe McCarthy used the fear of communism to silence progressives by threatening employers into firing or blacklisting employees in the motion picture industry, the leaders of the Congress of Industrial Unions (CIO), as well as those in government or teaching in universities. Fueling the attacks, many newspapers and radio networks acted as megaphones.

Then, of course, there was still Jim Crow creating a virtual wall of silence in the overwhelmingly white-dominated South. After the United States passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, I first went to work for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as a newly minted civil rights lawyer.

As I traveled South, the Ku Klux Klan, with local law enforcement often joining in, murdered civil rights workers seeking to maintain their brutally violent racist culture. The murder of four black girls in a Birmingham church in 1963 and Bull Conner unleashing dogs and powerful fire hoses on nonviolent demonstrators awakened press to the brutality. But even then it took unparalleled violence and additional civil right murders to create the necessary momentum to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The last four years show we never left that dark period behind. The right is still viciously attacking the basic exercise of First Amendment rights—and waging the most sustained attack on voting rights since Jim Crow.

We just survived four years with Donald J. Trump. His response to those in the media who had the integrity to report his lies, evasions, and dog whistles, was to "cancel" White House press conferences, and use twitter to broadcast his falsified version of the news. Like Bull Connor in Birmingham, Trump encouraged violent police conduct against demonstrators marching under Black Lives Matter banners as well as bullies, whom he praised at his own rallies for assaulting protesters.

Even more insidiously, Trump endlessly and systematically attacked the media for publishing what he called "fake news." Nor was he alone in misleading the public. Fox echoed him, as did the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal and the media newcomers that sprang up even further to the right, playing to the Republican Party and Trump's base among the 74 million people who voted for him. Trump and his captive party still do that. They trumpet "Fake News" and "Stop The Steal," with the media acting as an echo chamber.

The right's purpose is clear: Blot out mainstream media. Substitute "the lie" for news.

This is the backdrop of the present-day struggle to preserve for Black Americans their constitutional right to vote and have their votes counted, as guaranteed in the Fifteenth (1865) and Nineteenth (1920) Amendments. After the United States withdrew its troops from the South in 1876, the white ruling classes, their land owners, politicians, and sheriffs, gradually stripped Black Americans of their voting rights as well as virtually all their citizenship rights, placing them at the bottom of a cruel racial caste system.

This began to change after the Supreme Court's 1954 school desegregation decision, Brown v. Board of Education, and then Congress' 1964 Civil Right Act. These ushered in the end of Jim Crow, and Congress re-established the right to vote in 1965 and provided federal provisions to ensure its enforcement. As a result, Black voting steadily increased.

In 2013, however, a conservative Supreme Court struck down key enforcement provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act which applied to the old Confederate states as well as a few Northern states that had engaged in exclusionary voting tactics. After voters of color helped elect Barack Obama to two terms, and then helped Joe Biden oust Donald Trump and flip the Senate in 2020, the far right voter suppression machine shifted into overdrive.

Republicans are now pressing state legislatures and local governments to do whatever it takes—including closing polling places, limiting the use of absentee ballots, ending Sunday voting, reducing early voting days and shortening voting times, eliminating drop boxes, requiring voters to have certain identification documents, even prohibiting people from giving water to those in long voter lines—to drive down voter turnout.

Put simply, they seek to "cancel" the Constitutional amendments which afford all Americans the right to vote. Cancel culture indeed.

Now when Black citizens exercise their rights to ask corporate America to boycott the states passing such laws, the right threatens that if corporations engage in actions intended to help preserve voting rights, the affected states should strip them of government benefits such as tax breaks. To back up their threats, the right has Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in their corner demanding that corporate America not side with Democrats and what he calls "far left mobs." Stay out of it, he says, after years of getting and obtaining their support.

Bottom line: The right wing not only seeks to cancel progressive's free speech but the voting rights of tens of millions of Americans. The right's claims to defend free speech and fight back against "cancel culture" are bogus, little more than a thinly disguised mask. Progressives should not let the right get away with it. These issues are critical to the survival of our democracy.

Lewis M. Steel is senior counsel at Outten & Golden LLP and an Institute for Policy Studies board member. He's the author of The Butler's Child: White Privilege, Race, and a Lawyer's Life in Civil Rights

The Handmaid's Tale tireless cycle of torture

Since its second season I've likened "The Handmaid's Tale" to another serialized alternate history depicting a world upended by a beastly totalitarian regime.

In that other show, as in "Handmaid's," powerful oppressors lord over those they deem lesser and press humans into slave labor. A few of the bravest attempt to escape bondage time and again only to fail and be imprisoned once more.

I'm alluding to the TV adaptation of "Planet of the Apes," a flop that starred Roddy McDowall, Ron Harper and James Naughton.

Most people never knew a small screen "Planet of the Apes" spinoff existed because it scraped by on CBS from September to December in 1974. But its relevance isn't in the fact that it lived but why it died.

"About three or four episodes before the end, I'd realized, 'This is a boring series,'" Harper told an interviewer years later. He went on: "In every episode, one of us, Roddy, James or me, would get captured by the apes and the other two would rescue him. We took turns. 'Whose turn is it to get captured? Is it Roddy, me or Jim?'" Another time he referred to it "The Fugitive with Fur."

Nearly five decades later "The Handmaid's Tale" runs on a similar premise, and we call it a prestige drama. June (Elisabeth Moss) doesn't try to run out on her Gilead captors every week, but she's busted free and been recaptured enough times to make a person wonder what in the world is so special about her.

Fair question, considering that over the course of the series we see other Handmaids executed or maimed for looking at someone the wrong way. Not June! The writers find any number of excuses to keep her scowling and breathing despite her being a guaranteed flight risk. As this new season begins she's liberated scores of Gilead's precious babies in a mission called Angel's Flight. This happens after freeing her own at the end of Season 2, and returning to the home, only to be handed over to a new household, that of Joseph Lawrence (Bradley Whitford), so as we can see this mercy thing is really working out for her. However, in the course of fulfilling the Angel's Flight mission she's been shot. Badly.

But we know she's going to survive. You can be similarly confident in knowing freedom cannot be a permanent state for June, otherwise the writers would be wasting a fine opportunity to place Moss in the same room with Ann Dowd, who plays the vicious Aunt Lydia, and watch the two actors blow us away with their expressiveness.

Time was that "The Handmaid's Tale" won plaudits for its eerie relevance. During the previous administration it made our fears about democracy's slide into right-wing fascism real, giving that anxiety red robes and wings. Now its primary function is to showcase performances its stars can submit for Emmys and Globes – Moss and Dowd, centrally and primarily, but also Alexis Bledel (the show's other individual Emmy winner), Yvonne Strahovski and Samira Wiley.

The acting is excellent, so very good in fact that its fans probably forgive June's perpetual cycle between Hell and near-freedom and back again.

The "Planet of the Apes" producers and CBS thought that show would to go for five years, and its reliance on such a cycle doomed it to last precisely for as long as it should have. Meanwhile Hulu picked up "The Handmaid's Tale" for a fifth season before its fourth premiered trusting that its audience will show up – which it likely will, because it knows what it's getting.

Tougher to predict is whether its Christofascist dystopia will feel crusty; we haven't seen a new episode since 2019. That isn't to say we've halted our march to Gilead; the man (and woman!) in the White House seem committed to slowing its pace. But we have bad news: the Supreme Court could very well accelerate it despite the executive branch and Congress' barest efforts.

We're not there yet, but series creator and showrunner Bruce Miller seems bent on dragging out this series to some point at which fiction and reality connect in part by ensuring June can never entirely wriggle free of Gilead's patriarchy.

True to its main purpose, Season 4 showcases Moss' talents in front of the camera and behind it; she directs three of the season's 10 episodes.

This narrative's leg also spends more time with Wiley's Moira and June's husband Luke (O. T. Fagbenle) in Canada, where Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife Serena Joy (Strahovski) are also in custody and may stand trial.

Increasing the screen time for these characters and Bledel's Emily is wonderful, but if you get the sense that they're placeholders making space for a change in June's situation . . . to confirm that would be a spoiler. But I refer to previous points about situational redundancy. The handmaiden, if you will, to that problem is predictability.

Very little of the bombastic white feminism that drove me away from the third season has been ameliorated. If anything, June's successfully shipping more than 80 Gilead children to Canada along with a number of adults has given her even more of a Moses complex. (In case you didn't get the reference in the third season finale, that's Exodus June is quoting in voiceover as she's borne aloft by her fellow Handmaid rebels.)

Only now, June is done with bearing up under her sorrows. In the presence of a psychologically damaged child wife played by Mckenna Grace, she allows the malevolence and rage she's carrying around inside of her to flower. By the tail of this season she's a transformed figure which, again, gives Moss fresh extremes to play with.

All of this focus on June, and Moss, costs the other characters and actors opportunities to flourish. Some of that is corrected in these latest episodes, especially with regard to Wiley and Fagbenle's roles. Not only do Luke and Moira get meatier scenes, they're provided a reason to exist in this series beyond tying themselves in knots as they wait for June to parent her child Nichole. Through them and other figures filled out more extensively, including (thankfully) Amanda Brugel's Rita, the new season starts to explore what it means to survive an extended period of degradation. Then it asks whether it's possible for a person to come to terms with the damage that's been done to them and reconcile with the individuals who inflict that damage. I should say it begins to do this but, in the eight episodes provided for review, never fully gets there.

Blame that addiction to the round and round of escape and return, amped up this time to include a torture episode. That part exceeds an hour and incorporates a smiling version of Gilead's Torquemada into the sort of dimly lit chambers we'd expect from "24" at the height of its sadism. Perhaps this is a way for Miller, who writes the episode with Moss directing, to address those critiques about June's inexplicable survival by making her wages of her sin very dear this time. But yet another round of inflicted savagery is unnecessary at this point, and worse, it's tiresome.

People who love "The Handmaid's Tale" probably won't care about any of that, and may even welcome it, accepting that Moss is at the center of its existence. True to that notion Moss consistently adds new layers of grime and rot into June until she's barely recognizable.

Placing this insistent spotlight on Moss and June undercuts the potentially powerful themes the story might have explored with more fullness, and that June keeps insisting is the case, which is that the struggles of one woman aren't more important than the suffering endured by untold numbers of people oppressed and enslaved in Gilead.

That means that while the fourth season moves toward breaking that old catch and release merry-go-round, it doesn't sufficiently persuade us to wholly invest in what's beyond it. June despises Gilead and hates it more each time she's forced to go back, but without providing a vision as to where the story's headed the best we can muster in reaction to her plight is a yawn.

The first three episodes of "The Handmaid's Tale" Season 4 are currently streaming on Hulu, with new episodes released weekly.

Historian: The real patriots invaded the nation’s capital fifty years ago

They called their trip to Washington, D.C., an "invasion." Vowing not be "deterred or intimidated by police, government agents, [or] U.S. marshals," they arrived outfitted for war in fatigues and jungle boots with weapons and gas masks firmly in hand. Calling themselves "concerned citizens" and "patriots," they announced their intention to "protect the flag" by "stop[ing] all business as usual, until the government recognizes and responds positively to our demands."

No, these were not the self-professed patriots who stormed the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, 2021.

This was back in 1971 when President Richard Nixon claimed to be fulfilling his campaign promise of "peace with honor" by lowering the number of American ground troops in Vietnam. Much to the horror of thousands of recently returned GIs, the civilian branch of the most vocal and sustained antiwar movement in American history took the bait and stopped protesting.

And thus, on the evening before Patriots' Day, twelve hundred members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War ("VVAW") arrived in Washington from around the country for what they called Operation Dewey Canyon III in a pointed rebuke of the recent American expansion of the air war into Laos under code names Operation Dewey Canyon I and II.

At first the public was confused. The men who descended on the nation's capital in olive drab, some with bandoliers strapped across their chests, did not look anything like the closely clipped GIs featured in the military recruiting posters plastering America's post offices. These guys had beards and long hair.

"Son, I don't think what you're doing is good for the troops," a Daughter of the American Revolution complained to one them, as the veterans marched past the DAR's Memorial Hall.

"Lady, we are the troops," was the ready reply.

After four days spent in such peaceable pursuits as lobbying their congresspeople, laying funeral wreaths at Arlington National Ceremony for both the American and the Vietnamese dead, holding a candlelight vigil at the White House, and testifying in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the veterans announced their plan to descend on the Capitol Building, which the Nixon administration decided to surround, preemptively, with a version of the same kind of barrier fence that encircles it now.

The nation held its collective breath.

But rather than storm the seat of the legislative branch of the U.S. government, the veterans set about assembling a makeshift platform on the west side of the Capitol, which they equipped with a powerful sound system. At the appointed time, those who were not confined to wheelchairs walked up to the microphone one-by-one. Holding up their medals, ribbons, and citations, each man told the assembled crowd of veterans and journalists what the nation's highest honors meant to him.

"A symbol of dishonor, shame, and inhumanity," said one veteran as he hurled his medals over the barrier fence.

"Worthless," said another as the pile of discarded honors grew.

Many of the veterans called out the American government for being racist towards South Asians and others.

"I symbolically return my Vietnam medals and other service medals given me by the power structure that has genocidal policies against the nonwhite peoples of the world."

"Our hearts," many of the veterans declared, "are broken," and their copious tears proved it.

In taking a stand against the war in front of the Capitol Building, the veterans were following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr., who addressed the American people in 1963 from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as a means of asking them to measure the distance between the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation and the reality of Jim Crow. VVAW was similarly asking the country to note the difference between the promise of an inclusive and transparent government, as represented by the welcoming façade and the usually open doors of the Capitol Building, and the secret air war the Nixon administration was conducting.

These first veterans to protest a war in which they had served won their countrymen's respect. Noting that the day they began their protest was the "anniversary of the day the 'shot heard round the world' was fired at Concord Bridge," one Boston newspaper asked any readers who might be reluctant to recognize the veterans as patriots to remember that "in 1775 the colonial forces were also unruly and young."

After being photographed and filmed by all of the major news outlets throwing away their medals and discarding what turned out to be Mattel-manufactured toy M16s, the veterans packed up their gear and policed their campsite on the National Mall. Just to be sure they left it in better shape than they had found it, they planted a tree. Then they went home to their local VVAW chapters where they continued to work to end the war by mobilizing other sacred symbols. The New England chapter marched Paul Revere's route in reverse, stopping at the famed Revolutionary War battlefields in Concord, Lexington, and Charlestown to perform mock search-and-destroy missions in a demonstration of the difference between fighting against an imperialist regime and becoming one. On another occasion, antiwar veterans signaled their distress about the ongoing war in Southeast Asia by hanging an upside-down American flag from the crown of the Statue of Liberty. And when the war was finally over in 1975, VVAW set to work advocating for better mental health care for those American servicemen who had been traumatized by being asked to do the most un-American thing imaginable: deny another country its own April 19, 1775.

On this Patriots' Day, fifty years after a battalion of Vietnam veterans brought their anguish and their outrage to the Capitol Building, the nation owes its thanks not only to the colonial militiamen who lost their lives along the famed Battle Road, but also to their direct descendants, the antiwar veterans who, in reminding a nation of its foundational values, sought to reset its course.

Elise Lemire is the author of the just released Battle Green Vietnam: The 1971 March on Concord, Lexington, and Boston (University of Pennsylvania Press) and other titles. She is Professor of Literature at Purchase College, SUNY.

Is magic immoral? Here's the role it played in the development of early Christianity

Shaily Shashikant Patel, Virginia Tech

Americans are fascinated by magic. TV shows like “WandaVision" and “The Witcher," books like the Harry Potter series, plus comics, movies and games about people with powers that can't be explained by God, science or technology, have all been wildly popular for years. Modern pop culture is a testament to how enchanted people are by the thought of gaining special control over an uncertain world.

“Magic" is often defined in the West as evil or separate from “civilized" religions like Christianity and also from the scientific observation and study of the world. But the irony is that magic was integral to the development of Christianity and other religions – and it informed the evolution of the sciences, too.

As an expert in ancient magic and early Christianity, I study how magic helped early adherents develop a Christian identity. One part of this identity was morality: the inner sense of right and wrong that guides life decisions. Of course, the darker side of this development is the slide into supremacy: seeing one's own tradition as morally superior and rightfully dominant.

My work tries to return magic to its proper place as a part of the Christian tradition. I show how false distinctions between magic and Christianity were created to elevate ancient Christianity and how they continue to advance Christian supremacy today.

The origins of magic

In Western culture, magic is often defined in opposition to religion and science. This is problematic because all three concepts are rooted in colonialism. For centuries, many European scholars based their definitions of religion on Christianity, while at the same time describing the practices and beliefs of non-Christians as “primitive," “superstitious" or “magical."

This sense of superiority helped Europe's Christian monarchies justify conquering and exploiting Indigenous peoples around the world in a bid to “civilize" them, often through extreme brutality. Imperialist legacies still color how some people think about non-Christians as “others," and how they label others' rituals and religions as “magic."

But this modern understanding of magic doesn't map neatly onto the world of the first Christians. “Magic" has always had many meanings. From what scholars can gather, the word itself was imported from the Persian word “maguš," which may have described a class of priests with royal connections. Sometimes, these “magi" were depicted as performing divination, ritual activities or educating young boys who would take the throne.

Greek texts retained this earlier meaning and also added new ones. The famous ancient Greek historian Herodotus writes that the Persian magi interpreted dreams, read the skies and performed sacrifices. Herodotus uses the Greek word “magos." Sophocles, a Greek playwright, uses the same term in his tragedy “Oedipus the King," when Oedipus berates the seer Tiresias for scheming to overthrow him.

Although these two Greek texts both date from roughly the early 400s B.C., “magician" has different connotations in each.

Starting in the first century B.C., Latin authors also adapted the Persian term into “magus."

While defending himself at trial for performing “evil deeds of magic," the second-century philosopher Apuleius claimed he both was and was not a “magician." He insisted he was like a high priest or a natural philosopher rather than someone who uses unsavory means to get what they want. What's interesting here is that Apuleius uses one idea of high philosophical magic to combat another idea of crude, self-interested magic.

Christianity and magic

The first Christians inherited these varied ideas of magic alongside their Roman neighbors. In their world, people who did “magical" deeds like exorcisms and healings were common. Such people sometimes explained religious or philosophical texts and ideas, as well.

This presented a problem for early Christian authors: If wondrous deeds were fairly commonplace, how could a group looking to attract followers compete with “magicians"? After all, Jesus and the Apostles did extraordinary deeds, too. So Christian writers made distinctions in order to elevate their heroes.

Take the biblical story of Simon the magician. In Acts 8, Simon's magical deeds entice the Samaritans and convince them to follow him until the evangelist Philip performs even more amazing miracles, converting all the Samaritans and Simon, too. But Simon relapses when he tries to buy the power of the Holy Spirit, prompting the Apostle Peter to rebuke him. This story is where we get the sin of simony: the purchase of religious office.

As I've discussed elsewhere, texts like this do not depict real events. They are teaching tools aimed at showing new adherents the differences between good Christian miracle workers and evil magicians. The earliest converts needed such stories because wonder workers looked a lot alike.

Christianity and morality

To some ancient people, stories of Jesus' miracles probably didn't seem far removed from the deeds magicians performed for money in the marketplace. In fact, the church fathers had to shield Jesus and the Apostles against accusations of practicing magic. They include Origen of Alexandria, who in the middle of the third century A.D. defended Christianity against Celsus, a pagan philosopher who charged Jesus with being a magician.

Celsus argued that the miracles of Jesus were no different from the magic performed by marketplace sorcerers. Origen agreed the two shared superficial similarities, but claimed they were fundamentally different because magicians cavorted with demons while Jesus' wonders led to moral reformation. Like the story of Simon the magician, Origen's disagreement with Celsus was a means of teaching his audience how to tell the difference between morally suspect magicians who sought personal gain and miracle workers who acted for the benefit of others.

Ancient authors invented the idea that the miracles of Christians possessed inherent moral superiority over non-Christian magic because ancient audiences were as enticed by magic as modern ones. But in elevating Christianity above magic, these writers created false distinctions that linger even today.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify Jesus's role in early Christianity.The Conversation

Shaily Shashikant Patel, Assistant Professor of Early Christianity, Virginia Tech

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Here's why 'every American' can relate to cults

"If you ask me where I'm from, I'll lie to you," Lauren Hough writes in the first line of her debut essay collection. "I'll tell you my parents were missionaries. I'll tell you I'm from Boston. I'll tell you I'm from Texas. Those lies, people believe." The truth is she was raised all over the world in the infamous Children of God cult, a detail she kept secret for years until, with the help of the internet, she was able to connect with others like her. It turns out, as "Leaving Isn't the Hardest Thing" (Vintage Books, out now) reveals in prose that crackles with dark wit, sharp observations and stunning revelations, surviving a childhood shaped by an abusive cult with her ambition intact may have uniquely positioned Hough to see not only authoritarian religions, but America itself — its military, its criminal justice system, its bigotries, the precarious edge upon which it positions its working class — through the clearest of eyes.

Hough's book has been hotly anticipated since her HuffPost essay, "I Was A Cable Guy. I Saw The Worst Of America," went viral in 2018. In that essay and 10 others, Hough writes about navigating her way through a multitude of identities, regions, and subcultures, daring to tell the truth about America from the inside and out.

I spoke with Hough by phone last week, shortly after the delightful news broke that Cate Blanchett would be joining her in narrating the audiobook. Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

One thing that I was really struck by in this book is how deeply it grapples with loneliness, particularly a specific kind of loneliness that occurs when a person is surrounded by others — first in living in group homes with the Children of God, and then with your family, and then with roommates in tiny spaces. It reaches an apex in the scenes when you're incarcerated in solitary confinement. America is supposedly this obscenely chatty, gregarious country and people, but studies also show that we're also a really lonely country. What do you think creates this paradox?

It's funny you said "chatty," because I figured out a long time ago if I talk a lot, I don't have to say anything. When you meet people, if you seem earnest — well, not earnest, I avoided that — but if you seem like an open book, and you have plenty of stories to tell, and you drop in, "Yeah, my parents were missionaries, f**king hippies, don't know what to tell you," and change the subject, people don't ask any questions. They think they know everything there is to know about you. I think we just don't connect. Nobody who's ever asked, "How are you?" in America has actually meant the question or wanted an answer. And I think that's becoming really apparent with the pandemic, because now people ask, "How are you?" and you get a world full of tragedy.

People will tell you their answer now. But are we ready to hear it?

We're not. We're just unloading on random strangers. How are you? Well, my dog died last week. Everybody has this tragic thing, and I don't think we're capable of pretending anymore and answering, "Fine, how are you?" and moving on from the conversation. We're all experiencing that loneliness right now. We're just, deeply, deeply, deeply desperate to connect.

That brings up the question of whether we're being reshaped as a people by the pandemic. Everyone is going through this big trauma but isolated from each other. As Americans, we still want to buy into this myth that this is a country where you can always start over — fresh start, clean slate, you can be whoever you want to be. Do you think that we will be able to move on for real from this? Will we just clean slate, memory-hole this last year?

I hope not. Everyone's talking about going back to normal, and normal wasn't that f**king good for a lot of us. Normal was awful. I hope we don't go back to normal. I hope we experience something together and remember it, but we're really good — as a country, as a culture — of just shoving s**t down and not thinking about it.

The term "essential worker" has become such an irony-laden term over the last year, as we apply it to the folks who stock the shelves and run the checkouts at the supermarket, or work in the warehouses that service our two-day shipping, despite the the humiliating and debilitating demands that are placed on them. And that ties in closely to one of your running threads in the book about how class and labor and gender intersect, how the American workplace's principle of your time is not your own when you're on the clock then manifests itself as therefore your body is not your own. What do you think that the mainstream media misses about America's working class, when they have such a narrow slice of it they want to focus on — namely white, conservative, straight cisgender men without college degrees?

I think the biggest problem there is the working class isn't sitting in a diner hanging out all morning [talking to journalists]. The working class is sh**ting in a Big Gulp cup in the back of their work van, because there aren't any bathrooms around. It's been infuriating to watch. People will gladly cheer for essential workers, but won't pay them.

Just f**king pay people. Nobody needs to be cheered. It's like being a veteran, being thanked for your service while they cut VA benefits. Support our troops — but not if you need anything!

America hates talking about class, right?

Yeah, we really do.

Which means hating talking about a lot of things that intersect with that, too.

We just don't like to be inconvenienced. We'll gladly support essential workers as long as it doesn't mean anything about our lives has to change at all. It's funny talking about it right now, because I just tried to commit career suicide the other night, and it backfired on me — apparently I suck at that. I picked a fight with Amazon, and told people to cancel their [book] orders. I really thought I'd get in trouble. And apparently, it's not a bad idea to make bookstores love you.

Most people have heard my name because I wrote an essay about needing to pee. When I was trying to figure out how to write it, I was talking to a couple guys I knew and I asked them for stories. Do you guys remember anything that happened? Because I don't remember 10 years. I said to my friend Andre that really, I just remember needing to pee. He was like, well, there's the essay.

I don't know that a lot of people who work in offices understand. It depends on the office, I mean, if you're working in call center, I'm talking about you. But yeah, I don't think people understand how you have to ask for a day off and beg and have a really good excuse or you just don't get one.

And we're seeing now, with sick leave, how do you stop a pandemic when people have to work sick?

And working through sickness or injury has lasting effects. I have this sentence you wrote on opiate addiction highlighted: "People are in pain, because unless you went to college, the only way you'll earn a decent living is by breaking your body or risking your life." It's so rare, almost like a Bigfoot sighting, to see this point about addiction raised in discussions about class and work in America. There's often a romanticization of "the trades" out there by people who do work in offices, who seem to want to ignore how physical that labor is, and how a lot of people can't keep doing it for their whole life.

Not at the pace that we're required to work in our Protestant work ethic. A month off in August, like the Europeans have, might have a lot of effect on how our bodies feel. But we don't have time to heal. We can't go to a doctor. How do you get better if you don't get medical care? Even if you have health insurance, you don't have time off to do it.

There's constant jokes about rednecks and their opioids. It's not "rednecks and their opioids," people are in pain. And the doctor prescribes them opioids because they have to go back to work the next day. Or their buddy gives them a few because they have to go back to work the next day, and it's really easy to get addicted. I got addicted after I had a sinus surgery. It took maybe a week of intense pain and horrific withdrawals that were real. And I don't even like opioids, I get nauseated on them, so I don't take them. But yeah, it's really easy to get addicted.

Let's talk about the word "cult." Your book is not a tell-all cult memoir. But you write about your childhood with the Children of God as the big secret you carried for much of your life. If you start listening for the word "cult" it's kind of everywhere these days. Donald Trump voters are a cult. QAnon is a cult. CrossFit is a cult. On one hand, maybe we're diluting this term. But I think your book also makes a strong case that cult-like leadership behavior shapes a lot of our mainstream institutions, too.

Yeah, I think that's what I wanted to say with that. I spent most of my life just twitching at the word "cult." But when you start talking about and thinking about what it actually was, it's not all that different from what most of us experience as Americans, or as employees of a store that want you to be loyal to the store instead of paying you [well]. We throw the word around a lot, but maybe it's appropriate. And maybe it's fine that it's diluted, because it's apt. Our groupthink, our tribalism, our gather together to follow personalities instead of policy [tendencies] in politics. It's kind of bizarre, but I thought [being in a cult] was this huge secret, and it turns out pretty much every American can relate to it.

There's aspects of it in how you write about the military. There's definitely strong parallels made to mainstream religions, as well, and evangelicalism.

That was the shocking thing, coming out of the cult and realizing none of their beliefs were really that weird.

I really thought it was just a Children of God thing: We thought the Antichrist was coming, there would be a mark of the beast. And now, there are entire Facebook groups dedicated to warning you the vaccine's going to insert the mark of the beast into you. And it's still a little baffling to me. I really thought the end of the world would be more exciting and less f**king stupid. I'm supposed to be fighting the Antichrist, and I'm just not putting a bra on and watching Netflix.

Speaking of Netflix. There was that "SNL" musical sketch a few weeks ago about women who like murder shows, and in the end, it takes that little turn when Nick Jonas comes home and is like, baby, let me introduce you to the cult show. There was a violent crime in my extended family, and I get twitchy about the idea of it popping up as a story on one of those murder comedy podcasts. So I wonder what it's like for you to see cult shows — docuseries like "Wild Wild Country" and the NXIVM exposés — out there in the pop culture discourse?

It doesn't make it fun to tell people you were in a cult when people start thinking about NXIVM. That documentary is problematic for me anyway, because you're asking people who've been out of a cult for a week to explain what happened to them. I mean, f**k, it's been 20 years, I still don't know what the f**k happened to my family. I wrote a book about it, but it's not an easy thing to explain. You can't be the expert on your own life, which is a really weird thing to say for someone who just wrote a book about my own, but — [laughs] I'm f**king selling it here —

This career suicide you keep trying to commit is not going to work.

I'm going to tank the book, goddamnit! Nobody read it. Please don't read my book. The more I tell people not to, they're just going to. We don't really follow orders really well. I do love that about Americans. [Laughs.]

I used to think we were watching the crime shows, especially as women, as homework. What situations to avoid, and what men to avoid. But we kind of already know not to get into a stranger's car. Also, now we do it as practice, to get any place you get in a stranger's Uber and drive around. I used to think we're doing this as homework, but I don't think — we're just feeding off of people's tragedies for entertainment. I don't know why we do that, except maybe our home lives are really too hard to look at. It's easier to look at something shocking and weird in someone else's life than understand why our lives are f**king miserable.

To go back to what you were saying earlier about companies that demand loyalty from their workers, maybe we're also looking for recognition in these more extreme cases?

Yeah, it might be. It also seems like more of an easy fix: Don't join a cult. Cool. Wrote that one down. If he starts branding people, you should probably leave. Those are all pretty easy fixes. But you know, we're looking at the next 20 years of our lives before we can retire going to work every day for a company that is a cult because they don't want to pay us or give us time off, in a country where we can't even get f**king health care or our college paid for. "Walk out when they start branding people," is pretty easy advice but we can't really escape our own lives.

Yeah, maybe it's supposed to make us feel a little better to like we're not we're not there yet.

America is kind of founded on Oh, at least I'm not that guy. That is what we've got.

You were joking earlier: Don't read my book, don't read my book! For writers who write memoir and essays, people read their work and they feel like they're very close to the writer. When in truth they only know what you're allowing them to know. This is a crafted work of art, and they're the reader, not a confidant. You've probably experienced the weird side of that: people feeling like they know you well enough to comment on you as if you're either a very intimate friend, or even like a character on a show that they watch. I'm curious about how you navigate that public attention now as a writer in light of what you've written about having to keep so much of your life private for so long.

Yelling "I'm a private person!" if you've just written a memoir is kind of like yelling, "I'm not crazy!" but it doesn't really jibe with the fact that I just put out a book of really personal essays. But they are kind of a snapshot. And I don't know that people understand that. We don't really understand the parasocial relationship as consumers. I understand a little more now that I'm on the other side of it. I whine a lot about not getting a book tour [because of the pandemic] because I feel like I'm getting robbed, but at the same time, I do get to avoid a whole lot of people trying to hug me. I don't think people wrote reviews of any David Sedaris book talking about how much they wanted to hug him. I don't think that happened. I don't think anyone's ever called Augusten Burroughs "brave" in a review, and I think there is a little bit of a sexist bent to it.

I put the book out. And that's what you get. We're all in therapy to figure out walls versus boundaries. And I'm trying to step away from Twitter a little bit. I mean, I'm still compulsively tweeting, God help me. But I'm trying not to put so much personal information out there. I got on there because I wanted to connect to other writers and figure out how to publish a book, but that's done now. And while I'm still trying to connect to people — we're all f**king lonely, sitting around in the pandemic, trying to talk to someone — but yeah, I don't want to be consumed, and it feels a lot like I am being consumed for entertainment.

You are a very funny writer. I think there is this perception out there, perhaps, that comedy is natural, it's innate, it's easy, if you're a funny person anyway. Not that it's a craft, a skill, that takes conscious work. You use humor very skillfully and adeptly in your essays in a way that feels like an act of writerly generosity, and it's a craft element that isn't always highlighted when we talk about essays on difficult subjects.

It is a skill level. How do you make child abuse hilarious?

How did you develop that muscle? Because you are very purposefully funny about topics which are also horrific.

Gallows humor has been around for a little while. I didn't invent it. We joke to process things.

I can get kind of emotional writing something and I want to make a point and I want to drive it home. But you have to add a little bit of levity or give people the tools to read it. Especially in the beginning, we add a few funny things to like, Hey, we're going to get through this. It's not going to be that bad. I'm not going to make you need a shower after you read this book. It's just practice. And Twitter came in handy there a lot. How to tell a joke? Follow a bunch of comics and watch the way they work, watch how they arrange a story so that it's funny, not tragic. The most tragic things can be the funniest. I just think it's the way our our emotions work. We like that release.

Who are you reading right now? What books are you excited about?

Speaking of serial murderers and podcasts, Elon Green wrote this book ["Last Call"] about a serial killer in the '90s who was killing gay men in New York. And he did it a different way, I think, than any of the podcasts. I tweeted about this other day, but really, really the worst thing I think that can happen to you besides being murdered by a serial killer, is to have someone on a podcast giggling about it. He put the victims in it first. He tells their stories. And they're treated with such tenderness. And he doesn't make them the perfect victim. It's this history of gay New York, which of course, I'm fascinated by because I was too scared to go to New York. So I like to read about it.

Your book gives a really great snapshot of a particular time in gay D.C. too, and also in the South, which is often overlooked in LGBTQ narratives. Like what it's like to try to find the one gay bar in a 100-mile radius of your rural town.

You don't think about it when you're living it. But any Gen Xer is now really horrified when it occurs to us that people are talking about the '90s like we used to talk about the '60s.

Jesus Christ. [Laughs.]

I'm sorry I just ruined your week.

I routinely feel old. But Don't Ask Don't Tell was only repealed 10 years ago. And I feel like that's something that has been memory-holed fast, like, well, that's over! In the same way that people tried to pretend that because we elected a Black man president, racism is now over! And the progress we have made feels so fragile right now. I think it's important that books like yours and Elon Green's are chronicling that time, which was not that long ago. But it is often treated like ancient history to be swept under the rug.

Yeah, we really don't like to look at our pasts. Which is the f**king problem. Because we're doing it to trans people now. There's a [North Carolina state] law that just passed where teachers have to report to parents if a kid doesn't fit the correct gender performance. And that's every tomboy. Every boy who's a little bit into art. And God help us, lesbians like to clearly pretend that trans rights have nothing to do with them. But it does. If someone is being oppressed, it really does affect all of us. And forgetting where we came from doesn't f**king help. We haven't won yet. I don't know that we're ever going to win. You do actually have to still keep fighting these things. Because yes, gay people are allowed in the military. And now finally trans people are allowed to be in the military. But they're not allowed to play high school sports?

People like to say about the generation coming up that they're not going to stand for this bigotry any longer, so its days are numbered. Is this the last gasp of institutional bigotry trying to sink its claws in before it's replaced? Or are we going to be fighting the same fights for years to come?

I mean, I thought Gen X would get rid of a lot of it because we were always watching MTV and they told us racism was bad. And we watched "The Real World," and we watched our favorite gay character die of AIDS. I thought we would make some changes. We've made a few. I have a lot of hope for the next generation that they'll make a few more. But that's a lot of weight to put on an 18-year-old.

The deep mistake both liberals and zealots are making about religion and politics

It's Good Friday, a good time to talk about religion and politics. Gallup released a poll Monday showing the number of people belonging to a church, synagogue or mosque is the lowest it's been since the opinion surveyor started asking in 1937. It's the first time religious membership has been below 50 percent, according to Gallup.

This news has been met by two perspectives that dominate the national discourse on politics and religion. Though they appear to be at odds, indeed, they are at odds, they are nevertheless mutually reinforcing. In reality, these diametrically opposed views work together to misinform the electorate as to the real nature of the relationship between religion and politics, thus encouraging people to choose sides when they need not choose, thus enabling dangerous people to act in increasingly dangerous ways.

On the one hand are agnostics or non-religious liberals who are either indifferent to religion or hostile to it. These people are always more interested in the politics side of the relationship between politics and religion, and they can be found in virtually all elite press, especially in the op-eds pages. On the other hand are the zealots. Religion is the goal, politics the means. While the liberals think of religion and politics as two things, not so for the zealots. As "the political" was to Nazi philosopher Carl Schmitt,1 "the religious" is for them. Neither ends, ever. Those who have managed to find a spot in the elite press have done so by mastering the appearance of being reasonable.

Just so I'm clear, I side with the non-religious liberals. Every time. What's maddening, however, is their tendency to magnify the preferred way of seeing the world among the zealots. While the liberals see reasons of their own for why religious membership has declined below the majority for the first time in 80-some years, they have, without (I suspect) meaning to, come to the same dangerous conclusion as the zealots. They have concluded, even celebrated, that America is becoming increasingly secularized.

So much to unpack. First, religious membership is a bad measure of religion. I mean, it used to be a good one, but not anymore. People still attend church occasionally. They still think of themselves as Methodists and whatever. They still celebrate religious holidays; they still honor religious traditions. But the institutions of religion have been in a state of precipitous decay for 20 years the way most other institutions have been.

Even the word "religion" smacks of institutional rot. That has certainly been the sad experience of lay Catholics faced with sex crimes in the priesthood. That will likely be the experience of the next generation of white evangelical Protestants who will puzzle over their seniors' devotion to a lying, thieving, philandering sadist.2 From this context has arisen the idea that "I'm spiritual but not religious," which is really another way of saying "I'm religious but I don't want to say so," which is a reason I suspect religion is not so much in decline as changing in ways we can't yet understand. It is evolving such that the old ways of measuring its political impact aren't as accurate as they used to be.

Second, and this is my main point, is that secularization is not the absence of religion. Religious people and secular people are not by principled necessity at opposite ends. Religious people can be secular at times. Secular people can be religious at times. The same person can be religious and secular at the same time. Secularization is not, or should not, be a goal in and of itself. It is a means, rather, to an end, namely liberty.

Non-religious liberals of the kind that populate elite op-ed pages have lost sight of this. I suspect many of them believe religion itself is the problem, and they believe this, because they have accepted uncritically what the zealots themselves believe when they say the only way to be a religious person is by first being a conservative person. In doing so, non-religious liberals are locked in a mutually reinforcing relationship in which they end up enabling the zealots' efforts to install a theocratic fuhrer-king.3

All religions have liberal traditions. They may be buried. They may have been silenced. But they are there. More importantly, for liberals, is that these traditions be given oxygen, which is to say, be given the freedom they need to thrive. For the zealots, the point of religion is not doing unto others as you would have done unto you. It is not bringing the greatest good to the greatest number. It's about dominance. To the extent the liberals know this, it's from the inside of the zealots' preferred view, which means they are fighting against freedom even as they fight for a secularized America.

A secular society is not one in which religion is absent. A secular society is one in which there is enough room for the vast varieties of religious feeling to be expressed openly and safely, inside and outside the realm of politics. Liberals should pursue religious diversity with the same oomph with which they pursue racial diversity. With enough time and effort, perhaps religion will stop being a byword for conservative. That would be good for religion. That would also be good for American politics.

The Beat Farmers, who rose from San Diego in 1983 to rock the world, celebrated on new/old double-album

SAN DIEGO — The Spring Valley Inn has never been mentioned in the same breath as The Troubadour in Los Angeles or The Marquee in London as a key musical incubator for young bands that went on to earn recording contracts and tour the world. But in 1983, the Spring Valley Inn was the launching pad for the Beat Farmers, one of the finest and most rollicking rock bands to come out of San Diego in any decade, before or since. The beloved dive bar's official capacity back then was all of 49, although the Beat Farmers' weekly weekend gigs there drew wall-to-wall, triple-digit crowds. One of those gig...

The danger of Christian nationalism in the fight to end the pandemic

by Monique Deal Barlow, Georgia State University

While the majority of Americans either intend to get the COVID-19 vaccine or have already received their shots, getting white evangelicals to vaccination sites may prove more of a challenge – especially those who identify as Christian nationalists.

A Pew Research Center survey conducted in February found white evangelicals to be the religious group least likely to say they'd be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Nearly half (45%) said they would not get the COVID-19 shot, compared with 30% of the general population.

Some evangelicals have even linked coronavirus vaccinations to the “mark of the beast" – a symbol of submission to the Antichrist found in biblical prophecies, Revelation 13:18.

As a scholar of religion and society, I know that this skepticism among evangelicals has a background. Suspicion from religious conservatives regarding the COVID-19 vaccine is built on the back of their growing distrust of science, medicine and the global elite.

'Anti-mask, anti-social distance, anti-vaccine'

Vaccine hesitancy is not restricted to immunization over COVID-19. In 2017, the Pew Research Center found that more than 20% of white evangelicals – more than any other group – believed that “parents should be able to decide not to vaccinate their children, even if that may create health risks for other children and adults."

Meanwhile, there are concerns that many white evangelicals are becoming more radical. Faith is not in itself an indication of extremism, but the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 showed that there is a problem when it comes to some evangelicals also holding extreme beliefs. White evangelicalism, in particular, has been susceptible to Christian nationalism – the belief that the U.S. is a Christian nation that should serve the interests of white Americans.

Those who identify as Christian nationalists believe they are God's chosen people and will be protected from any illness or disease.

This proves problematic when it comes to vaccinations. A study earlier this year found Christian nationalists were far more likely to abstain from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. It builds on research that found Christian nationalism was a leading predictor of ignoring precautionary behaviors regarding coronavirus.

Christian nationalists tend to place vaccinations within a worldview that generally distrusts science and scientists as a threat to the moral order. This was seen in the response of many on the religious right to guidance on masks and social distancing as well as, now, vaccines.

And in some cases it was driven by church leaders in the wider conservative evangelical community. For example, Tony Spell, a minister at the Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, defied authorities in holding mass church gatherings even after the state deemed them illegal. He has also rejected warnings that the pandemic is dangerous, stating, “We're anti-mask, anti-social distancing, and anti-vaccine."

He believes the vaccine is politically motivated and has used his pulpit to discourage church members from taking the vaccine.

This anti-vaccine attitude fits with the anti-government libertarianism that predominates among Christian nationalists. Many within the movement place this belief in freedom from government action within a traditional religious framework.

They feel that COVID-19 is God's divinely ordained message telling the world to change. If the government tells them to go against that idea and vaccinate, many of them they feel they are either going against God's will or that the government is violating their religious freedom.

Such a view was also seen before the vaccination rollout. White evangelicals were the least likely religious group to support mandated closures of businesses, for example.

Countering misinformation

The problem isn't just that Christian nationalist beliefs will be a considerable barrier to herd immunity. To dispel myths about the COVID-19 vaccination among conservative religious communities, church leaders need to be enlisted to communicate facts about the vaccine to their parishioners – who may trust church leaders more than scientists and the government.

For vaccination rates to be increased, messages must come from trusted people in the community. The opinion of a government official will in many instances matter far less to a Christian nationalist than advice from a church leader.

As such, I argue, faith leaders can guide their followers and use their pulpits to encourage parishioners that the vaccine is safe and in line with religious doctrines.

To enable this, church leaders need to both understand and communicate to parishioners the origins of the vaccine. Many evangelicals are under the mistaken impression that vaccines were developed using fresh fetal tissue and are immensely troubled by that fact.

In reality, none of the vaccinations for COVID-19 available in the U.S. was manufactured using new fetal stem cells, but the Johnson & Johnson one was developed using lab-created stem cell lines derived from a decades-old aborted fetus. Many evangelical churches have determined that it is ethical for anti-abortion Christians to take the other vaccines when there are no other options for the preservation of life.

Some within the wider evangelical movement have begun sounding the alarm over the influence of radicalized Christian nationalism.

After the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, a coalition of evangelical leaders published an open letter warning: “We recognize that evangelicalism, and white evangelicalism in particular, has been susceptible to the heresy of Christian nationalism because of a long history of faith leaders accommodating white supremacy."

And many high-profile evangelical leaders acknowledge that they can maintain their personal and biblical integrity while also supporting scientific breakthroughs by connecting what they see as the wonders of God's universe to science.

For example, Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health and a devoted evangelical Christian, has said: “The church, in this time of confusion, ought to be a beacon, a light on the hill, an entity that believes in truth."

“This is a great moment for the church to say, no matter how well intentioned someone's opinions may be, if they're not based upon the fact, the church should not endorse them."

[The Conversation's most important coronavirus headlines, weekly in a new science newsletter.]The Conversation

Monique Deal Barlow, Doctoral Student of Political Science, Georgia State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The dark and toxic legacy of 'washing your hands' of blame — since Jesus’s crucifixion

by Tony Keddie, University of British Columbia

Handwashing has gotten substantial coverage this past year during the COVID-19 pandemic, and not just for hygiene. You may have encountered some of the many accusations in both the U.S. and Canada that a politician has “washed his hands" of pandemic responsibilities.

Sometimes the reference includes a nod to the historical figure associated with this phrase: Recently in the U.S., a conservative commentator faulted President Joe Biden, saying he is “like Pontius Pilate: just washes his hands and stays quiet."

These handwashing images derive from iconic biblical scripture referring to events preceding Jesus's crucifixion.

In one of the earliest versions of these events, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea from at least 26 to 37 CE — the only man with the power to order a crucifixion — washes his hands before a crowd. In the Gospel of Matthew, he simultaneously assents to Jesus's execution and claims no personal responsibility.

Throughout the history of Christianity, representations of Pilate's handwashing have often been used to shift blame for Jesus's death to Jews, and have been part of a toxic legacy of Christian and western antisemitism.

The historical Pilate

In the first century CE, the Roman empire ruled the sub-province of Judea through military governors like Pilate, who were tasked with quashing any rebellions against Roman rule. Pilate was the only person in Judea with the authority to execute someone by crucifixion, a brutal form of capital punishment reserved for slaves and non-citizens deemed subversive.

Helen Bond, professor of Christian origins explains that “the execution of Jesus was in all probability a routine crucifixion of a messianic agitator" by a Roman governor.

Jewish sources convey that Pilate was hostile toward Jews and their customs. Philo of Alexandria even lamented Pilate's “continual murders of people untried and uncondemned."

Exonerating Pilate

Yet, the New Testament gospels offer ambivalent portraits of the man who ordered Christ's execution. There are four different accounts of Jesus's sentencing and death, but all agree Pilate was reluctant to declare Jesus guilty.

Each gospel depicts Pilate finding Jesus blameless but acquiescing to execute him, whether due to personal weakness, to appease the crowds or to legitimate his own authority and the emperor's. Instead of impugning Pilate, the gospels shift the blame for Jesus's death to Jewish authorities.

Each of these gospels was written during the decades following the destruction of the Jerusalem temple by the Romans (70 CE), the climax of the First Jewish Revolt. This was a period of rampant anti-Judaism: imperialist media such as coins and monuments indiscriminately linked Jews from across the empire to the rebels in Judea and cast Jews as barbaric traitors. The empire punished all Jews, for instance, with a tax.

This created a challenge for those early followers of Jesus — both Jews and gentiles — who proclaimed that their Saviour was a Jew whom Rome executed as a criminal. The gospel authors stressed that Jesus opposed the Jewish authorities and was not found guilty by the Roman governor.

Jewish and gentile Jesus followers

How to understand depictions of “Jews" in gospels written before the self-identification “Christian" became widespread in the early second century is thus immensely complicated. The Gospel of John, for instance, emerged from a gentile community. It never uses the term “Christian" yet distinguishes followers of Christ from Jews through hostile rhetoric demonizing “the Jews" as children of the devil, as the New Testament scholar Adele Reinhartz has shown.

Matthew's gospel, however, was produced by a community of Christ-followers who more clearly fit within the spectrum of Jewish identities, yet were eager to distinguish themselves from Jewish leaders who had been involved in the revolt and post-war Jewish leaders (namely, the rabbis). In this case, rhetorical attacks against certain Jewish leaders reflect an inter-sectarian argument among Jews.

Transferring guilt

The pattern of exonerating Pilate by blaming Jewish leaders is unmistakable in Matthew's gospel. It includes a “blood curse" that is the basis of a toxic formula that Christians have used to justify centuries of Christian anti-Judaism, often resulting in reprehensible acts of violence against Jews: “So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing … he took some water and washed his hands … saying, 'I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves.' Then the people as a whole answered, 'His blood be on us and on our children!'"

Matthew also writes “the chief priests and the elders" were manipulating the crowds. He often accuses Jewish leaders of such corruption as well as hypocrisy and misunderstanding the Jewish law.

Pilate's handwashing alludes to an older account from Jewish scripture. Deuteronomy 21:1-9 prescribes a ritual through which Israel can be “absolved of bloodguilt" for a murder committed by an unknown person. Because the culprit can't be prosecuted, this ritual removes “bloodguilt," or communal liability for “innocent blood," that would otherwise remain in the midst of the people of Israel.

The rite entails the people's elders washing their hands of bloodguilt while priests break a heifer's neck. Matthew inverts Deuteronomy's ritual, and casts the priests and elders as hypocrites who invited bloodguilt onto their kinfolk.

Pilate's redemption and anti-Judaism

Through early Christian writers, Pilate became an even more positive figure by the time the Roman Empire adopted Christianity. Some considered Pilate a Christian, at least “in his conscience," as the early theologian Tertullian wrote. The Coptic Church proclaimed him a saint in the sixth century. Pilate even appears in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed, a Christian statement of faith: Jesus was “crucified for us under Pontius Pilate." Note the statement says “under" and not “by" Pilate.

Ancient Christian texts doubled down on the New Testament gospels' shifting of blame from Pilate to Jews, as professor of the New Testament Warren Carter has shown.

Christian authors deployed ambivalent and positive images of Pilate to show that Christianity was not a threat to Roman law and order. In doing so, they fanned the flames of anti-Judaism. Art historian Colum Hourihane has explored how these anti-Jewish interpretations eventually led to negative characterizations of Pilate himself as a Jew during the medieval period in Europe. At this time, Christians blamed Jews for plagues.

Politics of handwashing

Some accusations of handwashing rightly seek to hold political leaders accountable, or point to the tightrope politicians walk to meet political objectives. Pope Francis declared that those who ignore suffering caused by COVID-19 are “devotees of Pontius Pilate who simply wash their hands of it."

But the expression should also remind us of the dangers of vilification: As we saw under former president Donald Trump's pandemic leadership, when leaders or communities distinguish themselves through scapegoating, this facilitates a dangerous redistribution of guilt to other parties, often marginalized and racialized communities.

Like Trump, political influencers have vilified people of Asian descent, and both the U.S. and Canada have seen a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes.

Some conspiracy theorists have falsely blamed Jews and Israel for the virus. Some politicians and commentators have divided communities directly or indirectly through blaming or singling out people living in poverty or Black, racialized and Indigenous communities.

The history of interpretations of Pilate's handwashing is stained by malicious attempts to define Christian identity through the demonization of Jewish others. Whether seeking to explain problems, to hold people accountable or to assert our own identities, let's do so in ways that don't dehumanize anyone.The Conversation

Tony Keddie, Assistant Professor of Early Christian History and Literature, University of British Columbia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How Lil Nas X successfully trolled the right

The artist behind the inescapable 2019 earworm "Old Town Road," Lil Nas X, has successfully landed himself at the center of this week's predictable conservative outrage for the music video and promotional show accompanying his new single "Montero," even causing the corporate giant Nike to file suit.

The music video which serves as an anthem of queer acceptance portrays a heavenly Lil Nas X in what appears to be some version of the garden of Eden. As he sings about coming to terms with the fact that he has become infatuated with someone that is not deemed socially acceptable, he is seduced by a snake (also played by Lil Nas X) and ultimately chooses between heaven and hell by descending to the underworld via stripper pole.

The video has accrued over 37 million views since it initially premiered only days ago on March 26th.

"I know we promised to die with this secret, but this will open doors for many other queer people to simply exist. You see this is very scary for me, people will be angry, they will say i'm pushing an agenda. But the truth is, I am. The agenda to make people stay the fuck out of other people's lives and stop dictating who they should be."

Lil Nas X - MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name) (Official Video) www.youtube.com

As expected, conservative talking heads, whose entire careers are based on creating identity politics hysteria, have found the video to be outrageous, completely missing the point about what the church and modern-day Christianity have said about the acceptance of queer people. Grifter extraordinaires like Candace Owens expressed their distress over the music video on Twitter.

Lil Nas X, who is possibly the greatest celebrity poster to have ever taken to Twitter, responded with a swift clapback:

Many on social media have praised the song and questioned criticism for the video that subverts the notion that the supposed 'eternal damnation' associated with queerness is something that queer people cannot reclaim for themselves.


Nike filed a lawsuit against MSCHF for misleading customers and tarnishing the Nike brand on Monday. The corporate giant alleged that MSCHF's "unauthorized Satan Shoes are likely to cause confusion and dilution and create an erroneous association between MSCHF's products and Nike."

"Decisions about what products to put the 'swoosh' on belong to Nike, not to third parties like MSCHF," Nike said in its lawsuit, referring to its "swoosh" logo. "Nike requests that the court immediately and permanently stop MSCHF from fulfilling all orders for its unauthorized Satan Shoes."

Others who have expressed their outrage include South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, a Republican, who responded to a tweet promoting the shoes by saying, "We are in a fight for the soul of our nation. We need to fight hard. And we need to fight smart. We have to win."

Most interestingly, Noem is dedicating her platform as a government official to Satanic Panic surrounding sneakers and the value of people's "god-given eternal souls" rather than addressing the fact that her lack of a response to the Coronavirus pandemic, one that included the peddling of conspiracy theories and Trump's hydroxychloroquine lies resulted in one of the worst transmission and death rates in the country at the tail-end of 2020.

Others incensed by the music video they did not have to watch included right-wing character Kaitlin Bennett, who at first shared her thankfulness for being blocked by the rapper. When he responded with an oft-cited (yet unproven) allegation of Bennett soiling herself at a college party, this was her response:

Bennett, who has gained a reputation as a provocateur for filming videos of herself harassing pedestrians in public settings received this prompt reply:

Ultimately the arguments that Lil Nas X is making a mockery of religion or the church fail to realize that as a queer man, he is embracing the narrative he has been fed about the implications of his mere existence. It's almost as if everyone that is digitally clutching their pearls about a music video and a sneaker design are more intently focused on generating empty outrage rather than focusing on issues that actually impact people's quality of life.

Yes, the founders favored gun control

According to the Mass Shooting Tracker, there have already been 124 mass shootings in the United States in 2021. Most mass shootings are domestic violence incidents that never make the news. Unfortunately, the past two weeks have seen two tragic public mass shootings. Last week eight people, including six Asian women, were shot in Atlanta and this week a man killed 10 people in a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado.

A week before the shooting in Boulder, a judge ruled that Boulder could not enforce its citywide ban on assault rifles that would have included the rifle used in the deadly shooting. An AR-15 style rifle was also used in the Las Vegas shooting, the Tree of Life shooting, Sandy Hook, Parkland, the Orlando nightclub shooting and more.

The judge's ruling in Boulder is particularly upsetting when you consider that 82 percent of mass shootings are committed using legally obtained weapons. Additionally, evidence shows that cities and states with stronger gun-control laws have fewer mass shootings and that the 1994 assault weapons ban curbed mass shootings as well as the number of deaths that occurred in mass shootings.

In reality, gun regulations were common among the British colonies before the American Revolution and well after the ratification of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.

It is clear that the best defense we have against mass shootings and gun violence are gun control measures. Despite the fact that commonsense gun reform has wide support among Americans, the National Rifle Association is still able to block a lot of gun reform measures through lobbying and propaganda. One of their most successful media narratives has been to ahistorically change the purpose and meaning of the Second Amendment. We have hundreds of years of gun regulations and plain text readings of the Second Amendment, a "well-regulated militia," to support reasonable gun control. But the NRA has been so successful that many on both sides of the aisle believe the Second Amendment makes many gun regulations unconstitutional.

In reality, gun regulations were common among the British colonies before the American Revolution and well after the ratification of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. Unsurprisingly, the first firearm regulations in the British colonies were racist and meant to keep guns out of the hands of Indigenous people. In 1619, the Virginia General Assembly passed a law that allowed colonists to be put to death if they provided Indigenous people with "any piece, shot, or powder, or any other arms offensive or defensive." It was also common for colonies, and later states, to pass laws that made it illegal for enslaved Black people to own guns for fear of slave rebellions.

Most North American colonies continued the common law tradition of restricting traveling with firearms, or as we might call it, "open carry." It wasn't until an 1846 case, Nunn v. State, in Georgia that the "open carrying" of weapons was a protected right, but not the concealed carrying of weapons. While this case has been used as important precedent for contemporary gun rights, there is important context in the antebellum Southern concern over policing enslaved people and their possible rebellions. The case was a stark example of expanding gun rights to uphold slavery.

There were also gun regulations for practical safety concerns around the storage of firearms. Many states stipulated how gunpowder could be stored and transported as well as how much a person could own or possess. Cities like Boston also prohibited storing loaded guns in your home. Instead, guns had to be stored safely and unloaded. Some states passed laws about where a person could shoot a gun in order to protect population centers. Additionally, gun registration was a common part of gun ownership. Many states required that you register your weapon with the local militia.

During the American Revolution, there were gun regulations that many today would find extreme. Several states passed laws requiring people take loyalty oaths or risk confiscation of their weapons. Many were concerned with those still loyal to Great Britain posing an armed threat to the Continental Army and its cause. Even after the Revolution, states had provisions for disarmament of threatening citizens. After Shay's Rebellion, the Massachusetts governor offered pardons to those who participated but only if they swore an allegiance oath and offered their arms to the state.

One of the most controversial discussions about the Second Amendment is if its language guarantees an individual right to own a gun or if it only guarantees the right to those who are part of a militia group. It wasn't until 2008 that the Supreme Court ruled that Americans did have an individual right in District of Columbia v. Heller. However, even in this win for gun rights advocates, the court still acknowledged the right was not unlimited. In his majority opinion Justice Scalia emphasized the decision should not be used to cast doubt on longstanding gun regulations like concealed weapons bans or laws restricting those with felony convictions from owning a gun.

We have a long fight to pass reasonable gun control measures in this country like universal background checks, red flag laws, and assault weapons bans. But we should remember that the founders probably would have supported many of these laws.

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