Something Cheap, Something Real

cheap-jesus-toys

I was just a little kid, looking way up at my mother, holding her hand as we walked across the crowded parking lot toward Newton’s Christian Bookstore. The storefront sign, spelling the store’s name in big, blocky, white script, was familiar to me; we had been here many times, and each time I came home with some kind of prize. I always felt a rush of excitement in my little boy heart when I saw that sign in the distance. I knew my mother would buy me something. The feeling was similar to Christmas morning, visions of shiny new things dancing in my head.

Mom always stopped to speak with the lady who worked the counter before she did anything else. They were big people with big, permed brunette hairdos, and I didn’t understand their world. The music of their chatter didn’t mean anything to me, except that as long as it continued, I was free to wander the store and peruse the various wares. One free-standing, clear plastic rack with multiple, vertically-stacked compartments on all sides interested me the most – this was the toy rack. If I was getting a prize today, it would likely come from this rack. My little legs couldn’t carry me there fast enough!

The store atmosphere was very clean, subdued, and awash in fluorescent light. Very soft music flowed from the speakers mounted here and there – the soundtrack to a godly life, I remember thinking. Shelves full of books and cassette tapes lined the walls, and other shelving and racks full of glass baubles and various items peppered the floor space. I cared about none of that, and made my b-line to the toy rack. What fun would await me there? I perused the many offerings – rubber balls, tops, plastic airplanes, pens, miniature pocket-bibles, spring-loaded doohickeys, foam animals, all sorts of things that would eventually wind up lost beneath couch cushions or in the woods behind my house. I knew I had to choose carefully. I had to find a diamond in the rough – something that I actually wanted, not some cheap piece of plastic junk just for the sake of getting something.

While searching for a treasure, I evaluated the quality of each item, touching and trying and judging the craftsmanship. Here’s a shiny pen, with fluid in its translucent plastic end, and little bits of glitter that float around, the words “Jesus loves you” revealed to be printed on the inside when the glitter settled. Kind of a cool idea, but man, this thing felt like it wouldn’t take much to break, and it was already kind of coming apart near the threads. This item wouldn’t be too bad, except for the sinking feeling upon the realization that this object was designed to send me a message. I didn’t want a lesson, I wanted something cool! Did they have any without the writing? Rifling through the rest of the pens, and waiting for the glitter to settle, my heart dropped a bit more. Not a single one without some sort of message in it. Next compartment, please. This one has little photos of Jesus, glowing white for some reason, framed in gold plastic. Nope. Next. Ooh, there’s a gun-looking thing with an enclosure of metal things on top, and when you pull the trigger, the metal things spin open and reveal… a plastic miniature Jesus.

The music in the store was getting on my nerves a little bit. Were there any real toys in this store? The most viable implement of fun I found was a small, white matte rubber ball, and even that had a cross on it. At least it didn’t require reading. On the other side, the fluorescent orange price tag: $2.99. Two-ninety-nine?! How was I going to convince my mother to spend two dollars and ninety-nine cents on a rubber ball that I could get for a quarter in a vending machine at the pizza parlor? Desperation crept like electricity up my spine. The odds of coming out of this store with something I actually wanted were getting really, really bad. My mom’s conversation with the cashier was coming to a close; their voices trailed down instead of up, and I didn’t want anything I had seen. For some weird reason, my stomach felt turned inside out. There was something cheaper about these trinkets than the trinkets themselves.

To this day, when I encounter people selling Jesus, I remember those cheap plastic toys; and I long for something real.

The Red Pill Movie (review)

The Red Pill – A Feminist’s Journey into the Men’s Rights Movement is a 2016 documentary directed by Cassie Jaye. Jaye acknowledges her feminist worldview at the beginning of the film. While researching “rape culture”, she discovered articles written about various men’s rights Web sites, most notably A Voice for Men, a site started and maintained by men’s rights activist (MRA) Paul Elam. Mainstream articles about such sites frame men’s rights groups as “hate groups”, who use the Web as a platform for sharing and propagating woman-hating, anti-feminist, misogynistic ideology. Jaye’s idea for the film was born of the interest in what men’s rights activism is really about – who are these people, and what are they taking issue with? Is the men’s rights movement just a backlash against feminism, comprised of men who are upset that women are making advances toward equality, and lashing out in misogynistic hatred?

Jaye thus begins her journey, spanning a period of time during which she met with and interviewed leaders in not only the men’s rights movement, but also leaders at the fore of the feminist movement. The metaphor of going down the rabbit hole, from Alice in Wonderland, is leveraged to characterize the feeling of disorientation she experienced while being exposed to information that seems so alien to her accepted view of reality; namely, that the social deck is actually stacked against men in some substantial, even horrific ways. Throughout the film, the prevailing feminist ideology that men are Oppressors and women are The Oppressed – that somehow men have an unfair advantage at the expense of women – is flipped upside down through personal testimonies and careful analysis of the validity of commonly held views based on social demographic studies.

I appreciated that Cassie Jaye took care not to minimize the real issues women face. She is one herself, and she seemed honest in her struggle to process what she was learning while keeping her mind open to the facts. This is what we need more of today – an openness to the truth and a willingness to examine our own beliefs. As is par for the modern course, dogma tends to rule the day, and this film is effective at deconstructing feminist dogma and turning a listening ear to the voices that tend to be shouted into irrelevance.

When you hear the term “domestic violence”, what images does it conjure? Maybe a billboard presenting a woman’s battered face? An angry man in a wife-beater t-shirt, a woman cowered in the corner, fearing for her life? When you hear that 1 in 3 women are affected by domestic violence of some type, do you also hear that 1 in 4 men are also affected? If domestic violence is perpetrated on each gender nearly 50/50, why is domestic violence largely presented in the media as a women’s issue? Why are there two-thousand or more shelters for female victims of domestic violence in the United States, and only one for men? Domestic violence is a human issue, perpetrated on both genders. Where is the outrage when it is perpetrated on men? Have you ever stopped to consider that domestic violence perpetrated on men is possible? This is just one example of many men’s issues the film explores, from the biased family court systems to reproductive rights, paternity fraud, and suicide rates. The information and data presented stands in stark contrast to the messages we receive from feminism in our culture.

I particularly enjoyed the segments focused on the Honey Badger Brigade, a team of female men’s rights activists. These ladies get it. They do not drink the feminist kool-aid. I would proudly be the first registrant were there ever to be a certified Honey Badger dating app.

The Red Pill was screened in select theaters worldwide in 2016, and was released to most major video streaming services this week on Tuesday, March 7th. I went to a screening in Seattle, Washington in January of this year. Some screenings, such as one in Melbourne Australia, were canceled after feminists petitioned to have this “misogynistic propaganda film” shut down. The claim that The Red Pill deals in misogyny is ridiculous and untrue. I am thrilled that the film’s reach has expanded, and I am looking forward to seeing how the dialogue progresses in the coming years. If we want to survive as a species, we cannot continue to foster a system where gender relations present a threat to either sex. We are all in this together. Real equality does not tip the scales to anyone’s advantage, or treat anyone as a means to an end (see Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative).

The screening I attended closed to applause from both men and women. That was heartening, especially in Seattle. I left the theater with a sense of hope, and I wanted to give Cassie Jaye a big hug. Let this post be that metaphorical hug.

Thank you Cassie!

Running out of Steam

March 2017 is turning out to be one of those months. Work, college, and kids are what I eat, sleep, and breathe for the foreseeable future – and I am running out of steam. This situation has been chronic for the past ten years, and I know it will take time off the end of my life. My downtime is spent sitting in traffic, and each destination brings with it the burden of its own set of expectations. I want to go to sleep for four to five years.

Why am I blathering on about this? To stay in the habit of writing at least twice per week. It is easy to write when interesting things are going on, when I’m excited and have something to say. Right now, I’ve got nothing. I can barely keep my eyes open.

I recently learned about a religion called Zoroastrianism, of Persian origin, which allegedly pre-dates Christianity. It reminded me just how many religions are out there, just how many claims there are about deities, and just how powerful religious systems can be. The Zoroastrianists completed construction of temple in New York in 2016. Looking at the photos, the temple seems an anachronism… We humans have a flair for the dramatic. We create weird things. We lay claim to “truth”, despite all evidence to the contrary. We invest in our cultural and historical identities. We build temples, and play with strange fire.

I will return, reinvigorated, later this week.

 

 

 

Prayer Circle at a Pride Parade

When I was roughly twelve years old, active in the Christian church, my youth pastor (we’ll call him Chris) thought it would be a good idea to take our youth group down to Volunteer Park in Seattle, WA, during the Gay Pride Parade (now just known as the Pride Parade). I don’t remember having any advance knowledge of what we were setting out to do – we just loaded up into the church’s bus and headed out.

The sun beat down on us as we exited the bus and headed into the park, which was relatively empty for such a nice day. Chris led us into the park, and instructed us to stand in a circle and hold hands – we were forming a prayer circle. Chris prayed aloud. I don’t remember his words. What I do remember was wondering why we had driven all the way to this far-off park to stand around praying. I had questions about many things we did, but I had learned over time to just go with the flow. Chris had that way about him; everything was a mystery until he was ready to unveil his message. I used to think he behaved this way for dramatic effect, but now, I think that if he had been upfront about what he was doing, maybe nobody would have followed him. Our parents must have known, but they hadn’t said a word.

After a few moments in prayer, we heard a commotion. The sound of many voices echoing through the park. A stampede of people headed our way. Why all these people? Who were they? Chris told us to close our eyes and pray. Pray about what? What is going on here? I felt like I was on the front lines of something, woefully unprepared. I prayed for protection. This whole thing was starting to frighten me. Here we are, standing in the path of a stampeding horde, in a prayer circle. To say that my mind was racing would be an understatement – it had already jumped the starting gun and left me in the dust, disoriented and grasping for something steady. My pounding heart beating in my ears like a war drum, I could feel that we were surrounded now. The stampede was upon us. I opened one eye, just a crack.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The parade-goers had zeroed in on us. Two men were inside out prayer circle, right at my feet, dry-humping each other in the missionary position, looking right at me and crying out exclamations in mock pleasure. Outside the prayer circle, other male couples were making out, tongues tangling, making similar noises. Some of the shouting was angry and profane, full of hatred. One man ran up to everyone in the circle saying “sex is fun, try it!” and stuffing condoms in our pockets. I recalled the biblical story Sodom and Gomorrah – it was the only point of reference in my young mind for what I was witnessing. After a while, the parade passed, and everyone left us alone.

I had no way to fully process what I had just experienced. Chris explained that he had wanted us to see how people behaved when the Devil had a hold of them – just how depraved that we, too, could become if we gave the Devil a foothold in our lives. He said he wanted us to know what it felt like to be surrounded by sin and depravity. He described the battle between good and evil, and prayer as our best weapon in spiritual warfare. My friends and I spent the bus ride home recounting what we saw in hushed, scandalous tones.

That day stands out as one my most vivid childhood memories. What we were doing was inflammatory, and we provoked a response. The response was inappropriate, in my opinion, and illustrated mostly that when you publicly condemn the behavior of a people group at their own event, it can bring out the worst in some of those people. We had a right to free speech in a public park, but what did Chris think we were accomplishing? We weren’t engaging in respectful dialogue, or seeking to understand the hearts or minds of our fellow human beings. We were standing in judgement, maybe even declaring war.

This is how I was raised to look at the world. It is a microcosm of what religious dogma has created throughout history; war, discrimination, segregation, oppression. For all the good that people have accomplished because of their faith (and there is undeniably a long record of great things), there is an equally heavy burden of judgement, condemnation, delusion, and death that tips the scales in the other direction. Once reason is replaced with strict adherence to cryptic ancient texts, and we think we have the answers to end all answers, we are on dangerous ground.

The amount of security we feel in our own rightness is directly proportionate to our need for humble re-assessment of our beliefs.

Is Milo Yiannopoulos the Devil they say he is? (Part Two…)

For part two, let’s look at a few quotes from media outlets and see what they have to say about Milo Yiannopoulos:

Yiannopoulos is one hateful fellow who is rightly called out as a misogynist, racist, transphobic and — oh yes — a self-loathing homosexual, and the alt-right is a small, far-right movement that seeks a whites-only state.

-The Washington Post https://goo.gl/iiiJXk

 

Mediocre Conservative Dirtbag Lands $250,000 Book Deal*

*We have changed the headline on this post. Yiannopoulos is not a white nationalist. Please read why here.

-The Stranger https://goo.gl/0aYOsk

 

Yiannopoulos is a self-proclaimed spokesperson for the alt-right, a group presenting an alternative ideology to mainstream conservatism in the United States, associated with white supremacy and the rejection of immigration and multiculturalism.

Melville House https://goo.gl/f6A9Ti

In these few examples, the terms used to describe Milo include:

  • Hateful fellow
  • Misogynist
  • Racist
  • Transphobic
  • Self-loathing homosexual
  • Mediocre conservative dirtbag
  • White nationalist
  • Self-proclaimed spokesperson for the alt-right

Also put forward are assertions that he’s part of a movement called the “alt-right”, and statements that the alt-right is associated with white supremacy and the rejection of immigration and multiculturalism. This broad-brush painting is tempting to dissect, but would take me too far away from my main focus.

It would take an entire book to catalog all the name-calling and slander that have been leveled at Milo Yiannopoulos. A quick Google search of his name produces nearly sixteen-million results (a search on Adolf Hitler returns twenty-six million, so I suppose Milo has a way to go before he takes the “Michael Jordan of Evil” trophy, credit to Bill Burr for dreaming that one up). Let us not overlook Milo’s cardinal sin: he is an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump.

Most recently, video of Milo has been discovered in which he made some comments that have been interpreted to be in defense of pedophilia. The video spread like wildfire; in the resulting media storm, Milo has resigned from his position at Breitbart, lost his keynote speech appointment at CPAC (the conservative Political Action Conference), and Simon and Schuster rescinded his $250k book deal. Watch for yourself, and draw your own conclusions (caution, there is some hard language, and the audio may be NSFW). I am not here to defend what Milo said, or the way he said it. There is no question that the activity described was unlawful, some of the circumstances were tragic, and these issues are no laughing matter. As crude and inappropriate as Milo’s words and presentation are, however, it seems to me that he was waxing tactlessly about subtleties in age of consent scenarios, and making a tasteless joke about his own experience, not encouraging pedophilia.

For an exercise in relativity, consider the this clip of George Takei (or “Scotty” as you may know him from the TV show Star Trek). Takei graphically describes activity he participated in as a thirteen-year-old with an older man at summer camp, clearly advocating it and going so far as to say it was “delicious,” on the Howard Stern show.  Measure the media response to Takei’s comments (it is virtually non-existent) and Yiannopoulos’ comments (the sky is falling), and you’ll begin to grasp what’s bothering me about all of this. If Milo were a darling of the progressive far-left, his comments would have garnered about as much attention as Takei’s.

In this present and politicized media culture, there are many who see political positions they disagree with as “hate speech,” and who give themselves license to demonize, verbally abuse, and assassinate the character of those who hold those positions. It has become vogue to jump on the hate train without trying to objectively examine the reality of a given issue, just as it was vogue to jump on the bandwagon with those who said that a Trump presidency was impossible, and ridicule anyone who thought otherwise. Listen to the Real Time with Bill Maher audience laughing at Ann Coulter when she said that out of all candidates in the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump was most likely to win the presidency.

Who turned out to be right?

There is a particularly corrosive brand of weaponized, reactionary ignorance infecting the American mindset, where reality is no longer as important as one’s political worldview, and the destruction of dissenting voices is the ultimate goal. No political party is immune. The irony, though, is in the progressive far-left; for all its talk of eliminating hate speech and bullying, and its extolling the virtues of protecting others from discrimination, far-left talking heads spew discrimination and hatred via globally connected social platforms at alarming decibels.

Milo Yiannopoulos is guilty of crude, tactless, and sometimes offensive discourse – there is no question about that. Whether or not his provocations are a healthy and constructive way to generate visibility and expand his brand can be argued. What we are seeing in response, though, is what is really frightening to me – the normalization and validation of an explosive, reactionary, and hysterical mode of discourse that threatens free speech altogether. If you disagree, you may be accused of anything. That type of conduct, if not treacherously disingenuous, is deluded. To knowingly make false accusations to discredit a person is a disgusting abuse of the public trust. To make false accusations because you believe falsehoods to be true, is disordered and/or deceived.

Back to that thought we were holding from Part One: Did Milo Yiannopoulos really launch a campaign of racist attacks and abuse toward Leslie Jones? Or did the media launch a campaign of political attacks on Milo Yiannopoulos? Is it all just bullshit, part of public relations campaigns on both sides? There is more to the story than what I covered, but I have yet to find a single thing Milo wrote that could be considered racist. Leslie Jones, however… Look up her twitter posts. I guess it’s not racism if you’re denigrating and stereotyping white people.

Is Milo Yiannopoulos the devil they say he is?

I don’t believe so. I have listened to a good number of Milo’s speeches out of curiosity, and I haven’t detected any of the misogyny, racism, transphobia, self-loathing, white nationalism or white supremacy that he is accused of. I hear a shamelessly self-promoting and sometimes tactless and offensive showboat who delights in pushing buttons, but who also raises some very legitimate points – points that he has a right to voice. Milo, for whatever reason and however it happened, finds himself at the center of a violent war for control of the public narrative. It is fascinating and saddening to witness.

Is Milo Yiannopoulos the Devil they say he is? (Part One…)

If you’ve been following recent news, you may have heard about a violent riot at U.C Berkeley, which broke out on campus during the protest of a speaking appearance by Breitbart News Tech editor, Milo Yiannopoulos. The stop was just one in a nationwide tour of college campuses, which Milo titled the “Dangerous Faggot” tour. Yiannopoulos intended to be provocative in naming the tour – he is openly homosexual.

I became aware of Milo Yiannopoulos roughly around the time that he was banned from using the Twitter platform. This event made national news. I love a good controversy, and I had to know why. The brief internet news snippets in my periphery indicated that he had launched a campaign of racial attacks and abuse toward Leslie Jones, a comedic actress on NBC’s Saturday Night Live. After brushing up on the coverage across multiple sources, here is my summary of what happened:

  1. Leslie Jones began expressing her dislike of messages she started receiving on Twitter regarding her role in the recently released Ghostbusters film (2016). I am unable to find these messages in order to learn of their content.
  2. Milo Yiannopoulos, under the handle @Nero, tweeted the following in response to Leslie Jones:“If at first you don’t succeed (because your work is terrible), play the victim.”

    “EVERYONE GETS HATE MAIL FFS https://t.co/W572qB4Vqw

    “- Milo Yiannopoulos ひ✘ (@Nero) July 18, 2016”

  3. Leslie Jones reported this message as abuse of Twitter terms, and blocked Milo from following her account.

Stop right here. Read Milo’s tweet a few times. While you’re doing that, ask yourself: do you see anything you would consider racist in his comments? Hold that thought.

I have been fascinated by the expansion of Milo’s reach over the last couple of months, kind of watching in disbelief as events unfolded. The plot thickened quickly. I do not have the space to recount it all in one shot- this is going to be a multiple-part post.

What is interesting to me, however, is not only the provocative crossing of lines that has landed Milo in trouble; it is also the power of the media to assassinate one’s character, the free speech implications, and the current political climate.

Reading recent coverage in the mainstream news, you might already have the impression that Milo Yiannopoulos is a misogynistic, transphobic, Islamophobic white supremacist – a real life monster. The media have propped him up as some kind of alt-right demon, an embodiment of everything nasty they’d like you to believe the new conservative movement stands for. As always, there is more to the story.

Part Two forthcoming.

Whatever Happened to Polite Discourse about Ideas?

Regardless of where you stand on recent political events, I think you would be hard-pressed to argue today that tolerance for conflicting ideas and freedom of speech is being observed. The news of late has been a carnival of misinformation, name-calling, slander and hatred, the likes of which I have seldom seen, with warring sides laying claim to the “real” truth and leveling horrific accusations at one another. Reading and listening to the news has become akin to voluntarily drinking poison – the venom and vitriol are acidic; and bitterness and rage are contagious. I do not choose to surround myself with corrosive influences in my personal life, but they are finding their way in through my desire to follow current events. I am in a toxic relationship with the news.

The climate is not improving in the wake of the recent presidential election. It is getting worse. We are a nation at war with itself, and a house divided cannot stand. This concerns me deeply. Rather than polite discourse about ideas, we have a kind of raving domestic violence case. We are shrieking incoherent condemnations in a pitched battle for total control, aiming for complete annihilation of our opponents. When emotions run this high, we lose sight of real issues. At the end of the day, we are all in this American thing together, and we have more in common than we are letting on. We are focused on our differences, and inventing boogeymen. Who exactly is attacking race, religion, and gender? Who is promoting the exclusion of anyone from constitutional protection, or proposing that anyone cannot be part of this nation based on the above, should they pursue it legally? I could argue convincingly that men, and especially fathers, have been stripped of their reproductive rights and the right to pursue happiness by corrupt government bodies and family court systems – who out there cares about that, when we can decry male privilege? Maybe putting an end to toxic masculinity is the higher priority. When did feminists decide to take up defense of Islam and Sharia Law, systems that actually do oppress women and deny their fundamental rights?

Dogma. It is in part why I abandoned my religious upbringing. When your arguments don’t make sense anymore, and are not grounded in reason, but are driven by a desire to advance your worldview and see your ideas implemented at any cost, then truth becomes subjective. I have seen journalists and talking heads using the term “post-truth” to describe the condition of our present discourse, implying that we’re not working with facts anymore; we’re just saying whatever we want and calling it truth. They are right, to a degree. Where they err is in the assertion that the political right is the faction creating this post-truth culture. It is everyone. Liberals are outraged when they claim that conservatives don’t pay any attention to data, and then they present disingenuous interpretation of data to serve their cause. Take the gender wage gap myth. The only way to argue that there is a gender wage gap is by taking the mean salary of all employed American males, and comparing it to the mean salary of all employed American females, regardless of title and position. The mean female salary comes out lower.  But when one accounts for all relevant variables, by taking a look at mean salaries between males and females working the exact same jobs, the gap is reduced nearly to the vanishing point. A reporter for the Huffington Post, a left-leaning news outlet, revealed this in an article entitled “Wage Gap Myth Exposed – by Feminists” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christina-hoff-sommers/wage-gap_b_2073804.html). And yet, we still hear the wage gap myth coming out of government talking heads and feminists everywhere. If you point out the facts, and you happen to be male, you are labeled a misogynist, a woman-hater. God help you if you are also white.

We are witnessing a war on truth, a siege on ideas. Somehow we have lost our ability to discuss our differences politely – that, or wherever it happens, it’s not getting attention. Free speech is under attack. Race and gender baiting are shamelessly leveraged to arrest the discussion of actual issues. I’m not saying our country doesn’t have any issues to deal with in these areas, but for everyone’s sake, we must stop generating hysterical national crises that do not exist.  I would like to turn on the television one day and hear a real debate, where meaningful data is evaluated rationally, and minds change in the undeniable light of the facts. Where hatred and incoherent rhetoric are no longer mainstream. But I do not believe that goal can be achieved by the silencing of dissenting voices in order to create a safe-space utopia where nobody is ever offended. We will always be passionate, emotional, conflicted human beings. We will always think and say dumb and hurtful things. That is our right, and that right is protected by the first amendment.

America, please… can we just talk?