Thursday, March 20, 2008

You're Lucky That It Wasn't Podcast #7(A)



For any of our listeners who are curious what we do in our spare time, here's an example of the kinds of emails we send each other. This was a long discussion between Ex and Philly, prompted by Barack Obama's speech on Monday.


Ex:
The oration was great, politically brilliant. But it was also coldly calculated to bring in all the right themes and skip the ones that might offend his audience. "Yeah, the Constitution's great. Oh, I'm not going to actually bother to quote it, because it has some of those really nasty ideas in it like the Establishment Clause and Freedom of Speech."

The performance was a modern version of a shuck-and-jive: You know us ma'am; we does get excited in that church of our'n.

When a candidate goes out of his way to sell himself as a committed Christian and panders to the worst religious elements, when he uses the pulpit to make political speeches as Obama has done in this race, and when he talks about the church as if it's some kind of ethnic imperative for all blacks (read the speech again if you didn't catch it the first time), that's a big fucking deal-breaker for me.

It's the Theocracy, Stupid.

Philly:
1. That's a grossly mistaken view
2. You'd find a way to condemn any speech if it contained any religious reference whatsoever

FDR's inaugural speech, the famous "The only thing we have to fear..." speech, he mentioned god 3 times and made numerous references to the bible like "plague of locusts", "the money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple", and "we may now restore that temple to the ancient truths". He also made a couple of those "Yeah, the Constitution's great. Oh, I'm not going to actually bother to quote it, because it has some of those really nasty ideas in it like the Establishment Clause and Freedom of Speech" phrases as well.

Btw in case you missed it, Obama showed it isn't just blacks that get angry but lower and middle class whites, and we all have ample reason to.

He spoke of improving Education twice, and not in a glib Republican way. He spoke of it as an investment in the future and tied current problems to the sad state of many schools. He also spoke of taking responsibility for yourself and your future and tried to convey the idea that your success needn't come at someone else's expense. But of course he said "god" twice, so all that's fucking meaningless because of this "deal-breaker". Yup, your fucking right I guess. Who needs any of that shit? Let's just write your name in and sit smug in our satisfaction that we really showed those fuckers.

Ex:
FDR's speech is immaterial. I'm not holding him up as a shining model, and never would. His speeches are full of Christian slop. But I remind you, old timer, that his first inaugural was delivered in 1933. That was 75 years ago. Everyone knew back then that atheists were all Communists.

You've gone and oversimplified what I wrote. Obama said a lot of good things. Yay, him, He also had a long section where he basically used the disgusting stereotype that church is what holds the black community together.

People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend's voice up into the rafters. And in that single note, hope! I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion's den, Ezekiel's field of dry bones. Those stories of survival, and freedom, and hope became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn't need to feel shame about memories that all people might study and cherish and with which we could start to rebuild.

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity's services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.


Beautiful poetry, well-written and forceful. It would make me want to clap if I didn't actually take a moment to think about the unspoken message of the content. But if that were said about "the white community" -- some mythical construct -- you'd be screaming bloody murder. This is cover-your-ass stuff that Obama's speaking here, and it's limited to only some blacks, not all. The Harlem Renaissance movement was rife with atheists. There's a long history of black doubters, freethinkers, agnostics, and atheists -- but Obama doesn't allude to it at all. Go ahead and Google "black atheists" to see plenty of African Americans today who Obama did not acknowledge in any way in his speech. To say that blacks need their churches is just as ridiculous as saying that whites need their churches.

And I'd like to know where in the bible there's a discussion of "the Christians in the lion's den." Hint: NOWHERE. It's bullshit, made up by Christians to work backwards to the story of Daniel. If Obama doesn't know this, he's ignorant about the old testament, ignorant in an insidious Christians-only way.

So you can go cheer all you want, but I'll stand around and boo as loudly as I can. I don't give a fuck what Jeremiah Wright said about the country. I care that he said it under the aegis of a church and that Obama, the committed Christian, was sitting there eating that Jesus shit up. Just the same way that Hillary was ladling it into herself at her church and McCain was gorging on it at his. And that's why atheists have to put up with god crap every single day in this country, because our representatives still have their heads filled with garbage from an odious series of myths written thousands of years ago. And I think that if those myths influence a president's thinking, he or she can't be an effective leader in today's world, in 2008, with the globe threatened by theocracies. That's why I'm a one-issue guy and will continue to be so -- until religion is no longer a looming danger to all of us.

But just for you and Evo, I'll reserve judgment until the Science Debate and the Religious Compassion Forum. A courageous appearance at the former would go a long way toward making me take a new look at Obama, whether or not he also appears at the latter. I think the best we can hope is that he'll agree to attend neither. But if he appears at the Forum only, fuck him.

Do you want to make any bets about his decision? How about the stakes being our votes? If Obama attends the Science Debate under any circumstances, I'll swallow hard and vote for him if he's the Democratic Candidate. If he attends the Religious Compassion Forum only, then you suck it up and vote for a write-in or some third party.

Philly:
Oh I'm sorry, I oversimplified "You know us ma'am; we does get excited in that church of our'n." ? YOU didn't even have to listen because you still haven't and probably never will get over that fucking "committed christian" thing so don't talk to me about oversimplifying. Furthermore Mr. ancient history, who pulls Supreme Court Justice nominations out of the distant past to make a point, and you're going to give me crap for citing FDR? Honestly, I went back to FDR because, sadly, I couldn't think of many truly powerful Presidential speeches in recent history.

As to the bit you quoted, what the fuck was he supposed to talk about, and why would he bring up "oh and there's some great black atheists, too"? He's there to put fucking Wright in context and to explain his position in relation to him, is he not? And no, he didn't give one of those retarded Romney speeches saying church is necessary like you're charging.

The christians in the lion's den is not biblical but it's not total bullshit either. It's playing on the stories about Roman persecution but yeah, I'm sure they love the connection to Daniel.

I know your stance and I know you think doing nothing is preferable than voting and endorsing what you see as harmful but I'm still holding to the fact that doing nothing is the greater harm.

Ex:
No, you didn't oversimply my characterization of Obama's speech as shuck-and-jive. That's what it was. And you're totally right that I can't get over that "committed Christian" thing. I want a president who's a committed rationalist. Whatever part of his brain is committed to Christianity is unfit to use reason when he has to make life-and-death decisions.

Now, you can't have it both ways, Philly. On one hand you've said that Obama's speech was "to put fucking Wright in context and to explain his position in relation to him," which would be an entirely bullshit cover-your-ass exercise no matter how beautifully phrased. On the other hand you've implied that the speech was intended to say something serious about America, which would be a commendable effort if Obama hadn't painted all blacks as ignorant church-goers, which is a lie.

The speech was a combination of a lot of things, but it was mostly -- and I think we'd both agree about this -- an attempt by Obama to extricate himself from a sticky situation. I'm saying that (1) if he weren't so taken with religion and trying to prove how tight he is with Jesus, he wouldn't have been in the sticky situation in the first place; (2) he attempted to minimize the impact of what he had been listening to for years in church by playing on the worst stereotype of happy darkies losing themselves in the lawd; and (3) he threw around the phrase "the Constitution," but the whole underlying rationale of his speech is, to me anyway, clearly in opposition to one of its key principles: the separation of church and state. The speech marries church and state and sends them off on a honeymoon together. I fear that the same thing will happen if Obama is elected.

Now, this is a small detail, but not small to me because of your response. I'll challenge you on your explanation of the "Christians in the lion's den." All the rest of the stories Obama refers to are biblical ones. He just fucked up on that "Christians" business either out of ignorance or out of a desire to sneakily slip in a reference to persecuted Christians. In either case, if that appeared on a blog somewhere, spouted by some iggys and mariannes as a story from the bible, you'd be the first one to call them on it. You'd probably point out how ignorant they are for not even knowing the very book that they're slinging around. So how come nobody's making you say that in reference to a guy who could well be the next president? It's so completely out of character for you of all people to explain that reference away. Why are you giving Obama a free pass?

Anyway, let's not go back and forth on this over and over. Are you not taking my bet? Do me a favor and go on the record to say whether you are or aren't, just so nobody can come back in a few weeks and say to either of us, "but you made a bet."


Philly
:
Ex: I can have it both ways. He can, in a speech putting Wright in context and justifying his position with Wright, say something about America. In fact, I thought is was quite brilliant to turn it into a cry for action by basically saying blacks, whites and everyone else are justified in being angry and frustrated only instead of expressing that sentiment incorrectly like Wright, everyone needs to face the real problems and channel that sentiment towards dealing with them.

To the numbered points:
1) He was in the sticky situation because a mentor of his said inflammatory shit. By your logic, if I were campaigning, atheism would be at fault because it's why I know you and we both know I'd surely have to be making excuses for some of your inflammatory comments. ;)
2) He wasn't using the "lawd" as the excuse but rather the church as the setting to express the anger and frustration they have from the real world. Yes, he mentions bible stories told which paralleled their reality, but it's that parallel, not the bible on its own, that whipped up the fervor. In that context, the bible stories are no different than being whipped into a fervor from the theater.
3) Yes he cites ideas from religion, but they're not unique to religion: "do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well." I do hate that he's going with positive Golden Rule, of course and yes, I'd rather he cite Shakespeare or even the Star Trek Prime Directive but oh well.

On the lion's den, YOU are insisting that they're all from the bible and were that what he said then yes, I'd call him on it. He said "stories". Ministers tell stories and OFTEN cite real world events. I have no doubt stories of christians killed for entertainment in the Colosseum were told.

I'm not trying to defend him exactly, but the point that we need to get beyond bullshit and face real problems. Yes, I think religion is definitely one of them but it's hardly the only one. I think you're blind to the bigger picture by your near-sighted hatred of religion. I hate religious belief as well, but I'm not going to condemn someone for having it or expressing it, only imposing it and/or asserting it superior to any other or no belief.

I skipped over the bet last time. Now that I see it, I won't take it. Why? Because that's a shitty way to get someone to vote your way. I wouldn't want you voting against your own opinions just because of which debate he agrees to. I may care about you throwing away your vote, but to trick or compel you to do what I think is right? Such a suggestion is beneath us. I'd rather take a sillier bet, like having to listen to Evo sing a complete song.

SI:
On the merits of your debate, I'll simply say that the rationalist in me agrees with Ex, but the realist in me agrees with Philly.



Ex:
I think SI's right. You're being practical; I'm being -- depending on how you want to spin it -- idealistic or unrealistic. It's odd for me to use either of those adjectives about myself, but, I guess, in this situation they're true. However ... I'll live with them both. My top priority is to not feed the theocracy.

I'm still open to the possibility that Obama will change my mind if he addresses issues that concern me. And that was really what my snide bet was about. If Obama positions himself as a man of science and reason, which I think would unfortunately be political suicide, I'd be happy to support him. And, actually, I'm guessing that you're open to changing your mind if the guy starts sounding more and more like some religious wingnut. So let's see how the rest of the election plays out. For the time being, my intention is to write myself in or vote for a third party candidate, and do it as loudly -- via my blog and personal conversations -- as I can. Your intention, also for the time being, is to support Obama. But we've both still got plenty of time to re-evaluate. I don't think either of us will, but let's say that the door's still ever so slightly ajar.

As far as Evo singing a complete song: I'd never have the cold, calculating ruthlessness to expose any gambler to that!

Philly:
So in order to win your vote, Obama has to commit political suicide? Damn, you're a hard sell. LOL

7 comments:

PhillyChief said...

Where the majority of society exchanges emails with silly jokes, cute puppy pictures or some friendly chat, we exchange emails about candidate's speeches and their ramifications in the battle of church and state separation and cite Constitutional law, American history, the bible, social issues and other completely nerdy and brainy shit in heated yet civil arguments.

We don't get out much. :)~

The Exterminator said...

Philly:

Now I'm pissed off that I can't disagree with your comment.

PhillyChief said...

Will you be pissed off for DAYS?

the chaplain said...

Great exchange. Thanks for sharing it.

Venjanz said...

I had an idea for something you guys could discuss. While I do not consider myself an atheist (as I understand the definition), I think many if not most of the people I interact with on a daily basis probably would.

I think I understand what the basic differences are between an agnostic and an atheist, but what about antitheism? Are antitheists just more vocal atheists?

Since y’all have your podcast available on iTunes, I would bet that there are more than a few people that listen whom are not atheists, and a discussion about the differences between atheism, antitheism, and agnosticism, would be both informative and entertaining.

-Tommy

PhillyChief said...

I touched on them before on my blog but since then I've heard several things from different sources that makes some of what I wrote before to be a bit off so I have no problem with running through them all again. It might be a bit dry for the rest of the herd, but maybe they can spin it into something more entertaining. I'm not the funny one in the herd. ;)

Thanks for the request

Spanish Inquisitor said...

I'm not the funny one in the herd.

There's room for argument there.