Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Burning Times, the Do-over

In the comments section of a post about Knoxville, Riverwolf relates the story of having the windows shot-out of a church he was visiting.

Nothing that frightening has ever happened to me. But coming out of a Goth/S&M club one night with a friend (I use to be active in that community), some character pitched a beer bottle at us from a passing car while yelling 'FAGS'. Certainly not comparable to gunshots, but at least somewhat unnerving.

While attending a horror convention in Denver in the mid-1990's, I remember discussing my fear that the Religious Right would focus on "the BDSM scene". Soon after my quasi prediction, such attacks came to pass. Hotels hosting BDSM events became the targets of boycotts. Cranky letters were published in local papers, "Do our neighbors know the Marriott Hotel is playing host to rapists, wife beaters, and perverts?", that sort of thing. Soon, Dominionist websites invested bandwidth to demonizing the lifestyle. S&M'ers became the poster children for all that's wrong with this country. (For some strange reason, the specifics of fisting and blood play held special fascination for the Religious right. This lead to some unintentionally funny reading, btw.)

Fortunately, the organization the National Organization for Sexual Freedom formed, an organization devoting battling misconceptions and propaganda aimed at the lifestyle. (But that's another story.).

I'm concerned our community (the Wiccan/Pagan one) is going to suffer increased attacks in the coming years. Just look at the recent flood of anti-Harry Potter hysteria. In the film "Jesus Camp" when the lead Dominionist brings up Harry Potter to the youthful crowd, she shouts (I'm paraphrasing), "You know what would happen to Harry Potter if he lived in the days of the Bible...HE'D BE PUT TO DEATH!". Dominionist literature pushes a horror film caricature of our belief systems, in order to scare people into believing we are crazy and dangerous.

But the Religious Right is not entirely alone in this. Atheist blogs often stereotype our beliefs, but fortunately they usually portray us as just harmless cranks. Many Atheists and skeptics are focused on the shortcomings of organized religion, so they reserve the balance of their angst for main stream faiths. (In fairness, I have to say I concur with most of their criticisms.) On the other hand, some others (termed Atheist Supremacists) hold a darker view, that being religion is like a disease which needs to be wiped out.

This brings me to the shooting at Knoxville. There's a fantastic piece at CrooksandLiars posted by Nicole Belle, guest blogged by NonnyMouse (a UUA member). I strongly encourage everyone to read it. NonnyMouse describes her church as noteworthy for its pacifism, compassion, tolerance, and welcoming nature towards any race, religion, ethnic background, or sexual orientation. She intelligently acknowledges the man who perpetrated the Knoxville crime as ill and in need of help. He is not the focus of her anger. She finds a more deserving target:

...My anger instead is concentrated on those people who callously use such vulnerable people, stirring up their bigotry and discontent, egging them to acts of violence. People like Michelle Malkin, Michael Savage, Bill O'Reilly, and Rush Limbaugh who have made lucrative careers out of liberal-bashing. People who write things like "Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder", "Let Freedom Ring," and "The O'Reilly Factor," - all literature found in Adkisson's home after the shooting. People like Ann Coulter who advocated attacking liberals with baseball bats. The hate-filled spewage from the right-wing media mavens is and should be held accountable for inciting such acts of violence and murder, those heartless, soulless, conscienceless opportunists who have gleefully participated in encouraging the Adkissons of America to take out their anger and hatred and frustration on liberals...

Many of us were struck by the outpouring of support for the Unitarians coming from diverse spiritual circles. We have reason to be proud of our communities. As NonneMouse points out, the Unitarians are models for us all:

...I have never before been so proud to be a Unitarian, as well as a liberal. Those liberals the rightwing continue to denigrate as weak-kneed cowards proved to be anything but...

She describes the heroic actions of those that subdued the attacker, and how the very best qualities of humanity were on display. One victims wife, Amy, described Adkisson as:

...a man who was hurt in the world and feeling nothing was going his way. He turned the gun on people who were mostly likely to treat him lovingly and compassionately and be the ones to help someone in that situation...' How is it, that someone who needs so much help, would turn his hatred on the very sort of people most inclined to help him?

Over at Jeffrey Feldman's Framshop, there is "Taking a Stand against Rhetoric". Feldman is concerned with what he views as tolerance of violent rhetoric by traditional media, and even some left leaning new media. But:

...When female bloggers get an email from a right-winger threatening to rape them...the reaction is to take it seriously and call for it to stop--always...

Feldman then reminds us how everyone takes it seriously when others are targeted, such as African Americans or lesbians and gays. But he ask why is it that threats against liberals, or people expressing liberal views, are somehow taken less seriously? Feldman has a suggests what we can do about this:

...Now is the time for influential progressive bloggers who have not done so to put up a post that is 100% and clearly against violent rhetoric, and to state emphatically that it is an intolerable threat against women, gays, lesbians, people of color, and anyone else who voices their political views...

I agree. But that begs a question: Why is it that so many in the media seem to be downplaying the facts surrounding Knoxville? Why has his killer's choice of reading material been seemingly ignored. When Columbine and other school shootings happened, the media obsesses over what computer games the kids play or what music they listen too.

PZ Myers recently thrust himself into the controversy involving the desecration of a Catholic ritual. Fortunately, a number of people (from across the spiritual and skeptic spectrum) recognized these actions as bordering on hate speech. However, there also was some troubling rationalization (or downright encouragement) evident across much of the Atheist/Skeptic blogsphere. As discussed in Feldman's article, a raging double standard took hold on some upper tier blogs. For example Majikthise, who rightfully went to bat when a female blogger came under attack, came off as too eager to nullify the feelings of others. She decided to frame the episode (rather pedantically, in my opinion) as an exercise in free speech. Over at DailyKos, Darksyde also waxed poetic about PZ's right to free speech and the inanity of anyone taking offense. I guess religious or spiritual people don't deserve a base-line demonstration of human empathy.

We must speak out against violent rhetoric. Wiccans and Pagans are used to being targets of Dominionists. But I fear there is also a problem arising in the 'Atheist Supremacists'. Some seem to revel in an evangelizing Spock-like omniscience and hold everyone and everything to an absolutist philosophy. (Of course, I must point out that many Atheist/Skeptics are not like this. Many "A" bloggers did not post about the PZ Myers incident and seemed to wish the whole thing would go away.)

We need to be proactive. Of course, none of us wants to see more Knoxvilles, or be the target of a hate crime. But I fear--as the election nears--things will get worse. It's frightening to realize there's a big chunk of the US population that's threatened by people who are open and tolerant. But we can't allow our religion to be stereotyped or framed. Speak up if you see someone misrepresenting our views. Post a comment. Provide reference and links.

On a mailing list a number of years ago, I got into a bit of a flame war. The details are irrelevant, but I was told: "How dare you subject us to your open minded views!" How dare I! Well, I do dare. We all should.


Livia Indica said...

Well said! I don't know much about UU so I don't feel qualified to post about it. But I applaud you for writing this post.

genexs said...

Thanx Livia. If you are going to read one link from the post, read the CrooksandLiars one. It's very powerful. I've got to put up some links where I've had good debates with the "A" bloggers.

Anonymous said...

You bring up some interesting questions and situations. I find myself a bit caught in the middle--strongly drawn to pagan traditions and yet atheist as far as my belief in a god/goddess/divinity. I've been planning to post on that eventually.

genexs said...

I look forward to your post. I've gotten a negative reaction from some 'A' blog owners/posters when I've brought up those who are atheist or agnostic, yet practice ritual. This brings up an issue which I've been reading a bit about now. You always hear terms like 'agnostic' 'deist', 'theist' even terms like 'pagan', 'heathen' and 'polytheist'. These terms were created or popularized by strictly monotheistic Christian theologians.
I feel there is a danger sometimes, when we embrace such terms, we are buying into some rather odious framing. Things get pretty twisted up when they try to apply such terminology to our systems of belief. That's something I like about the term "Wicca". Basically, it's something we dreamed up and applied to ourselves.

Anonymous said...

After my experience as a Christian, the last thing I want is another label. Of course, people WILL label you, no matter what.

So I use pagan with a wink. It seems broad enough to encompass my explorations and--it makes the Christians squirm!

genexs said...

Heh, yeah. I don't want to give the impression I dislike the term 'pagan'. It does indeed have a bit of shock value when uttered to certain people. Anything that helps us cement our identity is a good thing.

I was an Atheist for about 10 years myself. It was a very protective place to be. I'd be very interested in hearing how you have integrated Paganism and Atheism.

Anonymous said...

Good points. Open dialog amongst people of differing world views sometimes requires that soomeone will have to stand up for their right to be heard.