NRA advocates PTSD as the American way of life

Ta-Nehisi Coates has the experience and the courage to say something that I’d been thinking about for a while: he would rather face the risk of being killed in a mass shooting than try to live armed. Read what he says, because the full explanation is worth it.

I have never carried a concealed handgun, but there were two separate periods in my life when I spent a lot of my time with a man who was armed or was still thinking as if he was. This kind of experience is hard to communicate, so bear with me.

Being armed, being prepared to defend oneself by shooting another human being at a moment’s notice, isn’t a matter of carrying a gun. It’s a way of living, a way of looking at the world, that is so inherently different it is hard to explain to people who haven’t seen it.

Imagine being a cop and never getting to go off duty.

One of the men I mentioned was a former FBI agent. He admitted to me that it took a huge toll on him. When he was being really honest with himself, he could recognize that he still thought that way, and that it seriously affected his ability to engage in everyday social activities. He hated crowds, busy places, even enclosed places. A trip to the mall meant going to his personal Defcon-2. He wasn’t happy in a movie theater unless his back was against the wall – and that was long before Aurora. He could never, ever relax.

While that sounds extreme to most people – surely we don’t need to go that far, we can just make sure that people with concealed carry permits have a weekend training course, right? – that is actually what it takes to be able to respond quickly, effectively, and without hurting innocents. Even then, cops screw up, as we all know. That level of constant alert is at the bottom end of what it takes to be able to defend oneself at the drop of a hat – or the rack of a Glock.

When soldiers come back from war and can’t put it behind them, we call that a disease and we try to treat it. But what the NRA is advocating is that we all live this way all the time. They’re trying to make PTSD the American way of life.

Just being around somebody living that way was a bad experience for me. I might be at a concert, but he was busy imagining all the possible violent scenarios that could be going on in that same setting. It’s a lousy way to live. Worse yet, it actually creates more deaths.

Deliberately seeing the world that way changes the way you act. Viewing the world as a constant stream of people who are about to attack you – and who you may have to “take out” – makes you likely to act that way. It makes you see weapons when they aren’t there (something cops also do all the time) and it makes you shoot preemptively. That’s the point – you want to get your shot in first, that’s the way to save the day.

But when we look at the reality of the situation – and sorry, kids, that means using numbers (per xkcd) – it is vanishingly rare for you to have the opportunity to save the day. Meanwhile, you’re making a million split-second decisions every single day in your personal internal shooting gallery. You’re going to get some of them wrong. And then what happens? We know this, too: Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis.

We know this is what the results are. Advocating for these policies means being willing to accept the results. People who aren’t willing to do this thinking are trying to use their violent heroic fantasies as the basis for public policy.

Ta-Nehisi was also aware enough and honest enough to examine the irrational fear of home invasion as a reason for owning a gun. When you actually look at the numbers, guns in homes don’t create safety. They do fuel accidents, suicide, domestic violence, and crime. More studies are linked to in this article. I don’t have the heart to do a point-by-point.

As for the idea of putting guns in schools, words are not enough to describe my disgust. If the guns are going to be accessible in an instant for a quick-response situation, then they’re going be accessible and available enough to play a role in accidents, bad decisions by teachers, and being used by students. (Obviously some people advocating this approach don’t remember their own high school days. Students are smart and determined enough to get their hands on teachers’ guns. Count on it.)

When guns are available in homes, they play a role in violence and deaths. If we make them more available in schools, they’ll do the same there. This isn’t an “if.” This is the reasonable conclusion of very simple projections based on available experience. Making policy as if these consequences won’t follow from the decisions is just another form of passing children through the fire.

 

I haven’t tried to marshal all the numbers to support this, but they are out there, along with much better writing about this:

If you only read one other thing about this issue, read the simple truth about gun control. The most important take-away is that much violence, including criminal violence, is extremely opportunistic. We already know this about suicide: the overwhelming majority of instances of suicide are impulsive, the result of something that will pass with time if people don’t have the resources available to carry through on it in short order. It turns out that much other violence is similar. Making it even a little bit harder to carry out a violent impulse makes society much, much safer. The conclusion:

On gun violence and how to end it, the facts are all in, the evidence is clear, the truth there for all who care to know it—indeed, a global consensus is in place, which, in disbelief and now in disgust, the planet waits for us to us to join. Those who fight against gun control, actively or passively, with a shrug of helplessness, are dooming more kids to horrible deaths and more parents to unspeakable grief just as surely as are those who fight against pediatric medicine or childhood vaccination. It’s really, and inarguably, just as simple as that.

And yes, Virginia, the assault weapons ban – as weak as it was – did work. We don’t know nearly enough about this because the NRA forced Congress to ban federal funding for research into gun violence, but we know enough to say that there are workable strategies.

Oh, and by the way, the conservative disgust at those “gun-free zone” stickers and signs is hypocritical to the nth degree. Those warnings are there because of the expansion of concealed carry laws. Some reasonable people wanted to be able to decide that the local hospital was not the place to pack heat, or to decide that they wanted to run their restaurant while asking customers to leave the gun in the car. So pro-gun advocates said that clear public warnings about where you’re not allowed to have your gun were necessary. When concealed carry advocates make fun of the signs, they’re mocking the very idea of an exception to a blanket “carry everywhere” law. It’s part and parcel of making us always on alert.

Finally, here’s the conservative case for an assault weapons ban:

…if we can’t find a way to draw sensible lines with guns that balance individual rights and the public interest, we may as well call the American experiment in democracy a failure.

 

I know I’ve been going on and on about this. Later today I’ll try to put together something else. But as we move away from the shock and towards the policy-making, we’ve got to engage both our emotions and our intellects in the process. I’m tired of seeing the NRA responding by whipping up our lizard-brain-level fear as an excuse for keeping our culture toxic. This is my way of trying to work through that.

Further thoughts

Follow-ups to a couple of recent posts, plus other assorted thoughts.

Guns:

Salon explains why the answer is not more guns:

But perhaps the biggest problem is the philosophy underpinning notions to arm more people. Goddard of the Brady campaign said it best in an interview: “The idea behind concealed carry is a kind of ‘defend yourself and your family and fuck everybody else’ mentality.”

… “America is not going to shoot our way out of the gun violence problem, and that’s what these people are calling for. And I think that’s dangerous and I think that will lead to more of us being killed by bullets,” Goddard said.

Read the whole thing. Seriously. I quoted the philosophical points, but this is one of the best evidence-dense debunkings of pro-gun bullshit that I’ve seen lately. If you’re going to argue for gun control, you need this information. Another article responds in similar detail to why the NRA’s plan for putting (more) armed guards in schools is a terrible idea.

For a more historical perspective, read Tony Horowitz on the similarities between the NRA’s idea of maximum guns and the proponents of expanding slavery.

In short, the NRA has become a neo-Confederate movement that sees Federals as foes, and that stokes the paranoia of its followers by claiming, as LaPierre did this year, that Obama’s re-election marks “the end of our freedom forever.” That’s more or less what Fire-Eaters said about Lincoln in 1860.

The argument about gun rights in this country has a much longer, more twisted history than most people are aware of. It also cannot be separated from the history of race – I had no idea about the Black Panthers’ aggressive use of gun rights (and the NRA’s calls for gun control in response). It looks to me as if the idea of “gun rights” has shifted from its historical roots in a way very similar to the transformation of Republicans from the party of Lincoln to the party of angry white men, mostly southern.

And on that note, Goblinbooks says something like what I said about how defending oneself against tyranny with household guns is nonsense, but does so much more stylishly.

Love spells:

I don’t think I said this clearly enough last time, but the reason that I’m so concerned about when love spells become rape is not just the magical implications, it’s the practical actions that we take as a result of the way we think. When we in the magical community fail to call out certain kinds of manipulative magic as part of rape culture, we’re enabling not just the thinking, not just the magic, but the actions.

If we say, loudly and clearly and repeatedly – because it’ll take a lot of repetition – that thinking of someone else as an object for your manipulation into bed is rape culture, we’re working to eliminate the so-called gray area where a lot of opportunity rapists operate.

If we leave wiggle room for people to think these kinds of spells are not rape, then that same kind of thinking is going to be used to justify totally mundane actions that lead to rape. If you’ve already done the spell to get her into your bed, why not offer her one more cup of wine after Beltane? What’s to stop you from seeing her stumbling, mumbling, not-really-consent as the manifestation of your magical prowess? Or maybe offering her a ride home, and then taking her to your house, or letting yourself in her place, and, well, encouraging her a little bit….that’s just taking action in accordance with your spell, right?

No. That’s rape. The magical actions and the mundane actions are products of the same thinking, and one will encourage the other. We have to discourage both.

This is very similar to the situation I encountered when trying to explain to people why things like DC 40 and other Christian Dominionist “prayer efforts” are dangerous. Even if you don’t believe in magic, these kinds of actions that specialize in raising emotional energy and directing it towards a purpose have tangible, physical manifestations. People vote based on Christian Dominionist thinking and actions. People rape based on rape culture. The thinking and the doing are both important, and if we’re going to change things, we have to work on both.

Why the s0-called fiscal cliff is a feminist issue:

Women get lower pay all their lives. Then they tend to live longer. When we’re talking about further impoverishing our nation’s seniors, we’re disproportionately talking about women. Talk to your political representatives and tell them to push back against the chained CPI and raising the Medicare eligibility age, which would actually cost more. Tell them to raise the cap on Social Security taxes (that is, tax income over $110,000 for Social Security) and solve this puppy without putting more people, and more women, into poverty.

Science, climate change, and cash:

If you’re younger than 27, you’ve never experienced a colder-than-average month. Never.

Therefore any memories you have that you’re using to judge how much our weather is shifting over time are themselves already skewed.

This enables people like the Kochs to make gut-based appeals that cover for their lack of solid science. I haven’t read the whole report there yet, but I have been following a few other stories about how the Kochs and their cronies are so very deeply invested in convincing us, by hook or by crook, that we should keep making them rich and making our world hotter.

Notice the similar dependence on appeals to uninformed instinct between the Kochs’ denial of climate change and the NRA’s denial of gun violence. Our memories make it easier to disbelieve that the climate is changing, because our memories themselves are shaped by that changing climate. Our instincts tell us that we’d be better off if we were armed, because our instincts are shaped by the culture of violence, complete with magically perfect good guys who, as far as evidence can find, don’t actually exist in real life.

Life is messy, and complicated, and understanding it takes real work. But that understanding can be the first step to change. Won’t you try with me, as the light begins to return in this new year, to take those first steps, to change?

Sharing others’ words in response to shooting

I have been away from the blog for a while because of my own work, and then I was at the amazing Between the Worlds conference this past weekend. I’ll write more about that soon. But for now, let me share some of the smart responses to the most recent tragedy.

To the Dead Children

More Guns, More Mass Shooting – No, it is not a coincidence.

How the NRA Dupes Gun Owners for Political and Economic Gain – I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that the NRA is not a rights organization. They are an industry lobbying group that fearmongers for profit.

There is something more than self-defense going on here. – The number of guns owned is increasing, but the proportion of ownership is not keeping pace. The same people are buying more and more guns, and I think fearmongering is a direct cause.

Remember, when in doubt, follow the money. Perhaps we should consider treating gun violence like a public health problem.

We also need to talk about mental health access.

With those things in mind, we also need to think very, very carefully about how we’re discussing issues of ability, mental health, and identity in this situation in general. Note, again, that when a white man – and it’s nearly always a white man – shoots people, he’s an individual with individual reasons and problems, rather than a representative of his entire ethnic group. And with whatever mental health issues he may have had, demonizing that group, instead of an ethnic group, is not necessarily going to solve this problem either.

With all of that in mind, focus on what Echidne says on extending empathy.

Hecate raises important questions on raising male children in gun culture that I think extend beyond male children. I know that I’m going to think differently about how I engage with and respond to some of the violent parts of our culture after this, and I’m going to stop being ashamed of saying, “I won’t watch that, it’s too violent.”

My own thoughts:

There are two common responses from gun advocates that I want to respond to in brief. The first is that since they think the best solution is for them to be armed to the teeth, they’re blaming everyone who is not armed to the teeth, or who thinks it’s appropriate to have spaces like schools, state parks, bars, university campuses, and other areas be off-limits to concealed carry of firearms for not “protecting themselves.”

There are many responses to make to this idealization of maximal guns, but for now I just want to point out two: first, in Mother Jones’ excellent historical research, there were no cases of an armed civilian bringing a rampage to an end. There were two smaller cases, not included in their study, where armed civilians tried to intervene and were themselves shot. More recently, at Tucson, an armed bystander did try to intervene and almost shot an innocent. Evidence shows that armed bystanders are not a panacea.

Second, I am going to keep hammering on the issue of large magazines until something gets done about this. Even if you think that more guns is the answer, you should be in favor of banning large-capacity magazines. Sure, a shooter can carry five ten-round clips, but the very act of reloading slows him (and it’s almost always a him) down. That gives whoever is responding a chance to get there before more people are killed. And if you think that you, in your heroic fantasy, are going to need more than a handful of rounds to stop a shooter, then you’re a lousy marksman and shouldn’t be shooting in an area with lots of innocents around anyway.

 

There’s another response that I find more disgusting and appalling the more I hear it. Earlier this year I suggested that as Pagans we should be especially concerned about soaking our culture in what are essentially toxic weapons. It turns out that another Pagan responded with a long statement about gun culture, rights, and so on, ending on a nearly triumphalist note about being able to protect her own liberty should the government ever decide to persecute her as a Pagan.

Wake the fuck up, people.

I never want to hear that bullshit again. It makes me want to vomit.

I’m old enough to remember Waco. I’m contemporary enough to see people reveling in our military might when applied to other countries. Get real: the government has everything from tear gas and SWAT teams to tanks, aircraft, bombs, hell, they have nukes. No matter what that bastard Scalia says about how he thinks you should be able to own your very own personal rocket launcher (MANPADS is how the cool military kids describe them!), you will never be able to overthrow the government via armed insurrection. That time has passed; technology has changed.

If you were very determined, you could start a civil war. Maybe. You, for any value of “you” smaller than at least a third of the country in a geographically contiguous and politically united coalition, are not defending yourselves against tyranny. You are not preparing for anything, except possibly suicide-by-cop (as happened in Topeka on Sunday night). You are making the world more violent and dangerous for the rest of us by indulging your disgusting and ignorant fantasies. You are not the solution; you are the problem.

 

With all that said, I follow Hecate’s lead in praying to Demeter for Sandy Hook:

Great Demeter, I call tonight to you.

I pour libations to you Great Mother, and I give alms in your name.

Read the whole thing. Then go do something about it.

Virginia recognizes me as clergy!

My reapplication today was successful! The Arlington County Court has officially granted me authorization to perform marriages.

Literata with authorization

The process was not entirely painless. Once again, the person who handles the paperwork – I’m not sure if she’s a secretary or what – asked for my congregation’s physical location. I told her that I had applied before, and that there was some confusion over this, because my group worships in multiple places. She then asked where they could contact me if they had any questions about a marriage license. (Note that she didn’t ask that the first time I applied – if all they had wanted then was my contact information, I would have gladly given it to them.) I indicated that my personal contact information on the letter I had included with my paperwork would be the way to contact me.

She had to go get approval from someone else; she said that the person who wrote the reply to Americans United for Separation of Church and State had to review my new application and paperwork. That took a little while, but she came back and said that it was approved, and then it was a matter of paying the fee, taking an oath to uphold the Constitution and the Constitution of Virginia and to do my duty fairly and impartially, and then I got the official authorization!

I sincerely hope that this means Wiccans and Pagans applying to the Arlington County Court will have less trouble having their authorizations granted in the future. I’m delighted to have my official recognition, of course, but this was never just about me. It’s small steps like this that break new ground along the path to full recognition, where Wicca and other Pagan religions are afforded the full benefit of equal treatment under the law.

For anyone who wants to apply in Arlington in the future, here’s what I took with me: Certificate of Ordination; Letter of good standing (to show that I am “in regular contact” with my religious organization); Certified copies of the articles of incorporation of the Order of the White Moon, the most recent business filing with California showing that the Order is still active; Copies of the letter from the IRS granting OWM its 501(c)3 tax exempt status and the most recent filing with the IRS showing that OWM is still active and exempt; Letters of support from Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, Ivo Dominguez Jr. of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, and Sacred Circle bookstore, attesting to my standing as a priestess and the ministry I do; and a letter of support from a coven sister who also lives in Arlington, because the court insisted that I show “a connection between [my] ministry and the Arlington community.”

My coven sister went with me to support her letter and act as a witness, and my husband also came to be a witness. I cannot thank them enough for taking time out of their busy schedules. Their presence helped tremendously, and I am sure that her letter showing a direct, personal connection to Arlington was a key piece of evidence to meet the court’s standards.

I am also deeply and sincerely grateful to everyone who supported me, especially Selena Fox, Ivo Dominguez, and my sisters in the Order of the White Moon; my thanks also go out to everyone who put energy into resolving this issue and making a positive difference for Pagan civil rights. The personal and magical support I got was amazing, and it made all the difference in the world. Thank you all.

I would like to particularly thank Americans United for Separation of Church and State, especially Ben Hazelwood, who worked with me directly. They sent the letters that showed the Arlington County Court in no uncertain terms that their actions were legally indefensible and got the court to clarify its requirements so that I could make this reapplication successful.

This is not the first time they have gone to bat for Pagan rights, either, as they were intimately involved with Selena Fox and the Lady Liberty League in bringing the Pentacle Quest to a successful conclusion. I strongly encourage all Pagans to support these organizations that are doing the hard work of defending our rights when we need it most.

At Forging Futures: Choice and the Goddess

Over at Forging Futures, I’ve written about why I think honoring the feminine divine means that we must trust women to make their own choices about their bodies – especially the choice to have an abortion.

Given the juxtaposition of this piece with the previous one, I want to point out a few things about my political speech, since I am often political.

First of all, what I’m doing is very different from the kind of pulpit politicking that is being pushed by the Religious Right which I so strongly disdain. Yes, I’m ordained as a priestess by a 501(c)3 tax-exempt religious organization. But none of my online speech is as a leader for that organization, nor is it funded with the support of those tax-exempt dollars. These are my personal views and my personal speech. I defend even the most conservative Christian pastor’s identical right to his views and his speech, when he’s not using his tax-exempt organization to push them.

Second, for all that I often discuss how my religion guides my life, my ideas, and my choices – including my political choices – I am also determinedly in support of secular government. Whatever ways of understanding I use to arrive at my conclusions, when I advocate a policy approach that will affect other people, I always, always, always have a purely secular justification for it.

Respecting women’s bodily autonomy and giving them the right to make their own health care decisions should be an obvious conclusion when considering the situation from a secular point of view, and it’s on that basis that I want to see policies enacted. The fact that I also have strong religious reasons for supporting this position is relevant to me, and is something that I discuss as part of exploring how to live out my values in the world, but it is not the defense I offer for putting something into law.

These are the kinds of distinctions that make the difference between religious people who are engaged in politics and would-be theocrats. Respecting them is part of keeping our pluralist democracy functioning.

At PaganSquare: Who do Pagans boycott?

Over at Forging Futures in the PaganSquare, I argue that boycotts are a magical tool that we ought to be using in self-defense a lot more often.

The myth of nonsectarianism

Sometimes someone has to say that the emperor has no clothes. Here goes:

There is no such thing as nonsectarian prayer.

“Nonsectarian” is a polite euphemism for “generically Christian,” and more specifically “generically Protestant, but probably acceptable to nearly all followers of Abrahamic religions.” That’s it; that’s all it means. It’s not an acceptable alternative to “sectarian” prayer because it somehow magically includes everyone. That alternative doesn’t exist.

It’s not possible to give a prayer that doesn’t exclude someone.

The act of praying is exclusionary: most atheists don’t pray.

The mode of praying is exclusionary: some people pray by putting on specific garments; some pray by dancing; some pray by kneeling; some pray by making burnt offerings; some pray by creating artworks; and on and on. Simply standing or sitting with bowed head and folded hands while someone says words is a specific kind of prayer that is primarily practiced by a specific type of religion.

It doesn’t matter that that group is broad and varied. It doesn’t matter that that group is hegemonic in this country. It’s a specific act associated with a specific religion, and if that’s not the definition of sectarian, I don’t know what is.

As for content, most prayers begin by stating who or what they are addressing. Some don’t; they remain in a prayer equivalent of passive voice by saying “We pray that…. and for ….” Theologically, this is a cop-out. It’s the equivalent of those ads you get from the local cable company that read “To our neighbor at…” It’s like playing Pin the Prayer on the Deity: stand with your eyes closed and pray in as vague a fashion as possible, desperately hoping that your words and intent will bump into a kindly power as they wing their way blindly into the universe.

Worse yet, it’s a cop-out that doesn’t fool anybody. At most, it allows people to substitute their own mental image of whomever or whatever they want to address their prayer to. But recognizing that prayer may be directed to many different sources which can’t be condensed into a unified thing is undermining the very idea of a universal prayer. It makes the exercise at best a simulacrum of unity – at the price of already having excluded people – and at worst a farce.

When a recipient is addressed, that by definition excludes people. Not everyone prays to the same deity, and plenty of people don’t pray to someone or something that can be addressed as simply “God” or “Lord.”

The inimitable Byron Ballard wrote about her experience with this in a different setting:

When that wonderful interfaith group came together on the first anniversary of the World Trade Center/Pentagon horrors, we tried our best to come up with a prayer that everyone was comfortable hearing and saying.

And we couldn’t do it.  Well-meaning and well-mannered as we all were, there simply wasn’t a way of creating a generic prayer.

Byron is right. That group didn’t fail because they didn’t try hard enough, they failed because it’s impossible. The opposite of sectarian isn’t “nonsectarian,” it’s secular.

The only places where the myth of nonsectarianism can have credence are places where there’s enough similarity of religious belief and practice to render something like “God” meaningful. In intra-Christian work, nonsectarian prayer can exist; the Catholic priest and the Lutheran and Baptist pastors all agree not to to pray to Mary, not to say “sola scriptura,” and not to say “accept Jesus into your hearts right now.” That’s nonsectarian with respect to the subdivisions of Christianity. It’s still sectarian because it’s specific to the Christian sect.

If you’re in a group that is Christian by definition, go right ahead with nonsectarian Christian prayer. But once you start talking about – or praying in – public situations, open to all, then by definition in this country you are not talking about a wholly Christian population.

It’s true that since the Abrahamic religions are all basically monotheistic faiths that primarily address the divine in masculine terms, it is linguistically possible to write prayers that do not violate any of the fundamental tenets of these religions. I leave it to members of those religions to decide how comfortable they are with prayers like that on theological grounds.

But I guarantee you that if an Arab Christian started out a “nonsectarian” prayer addressing the divine as Allah, which Arab Christians have done for as long as there has been Christianity, the conservative echo chamber would explode with furor over how this supposedly “nonsectarian” prayer was actually evidence of a secret Muslim desire to institute shariah law. “Nonsectarian” has a lot of unmentioned implicit assumptions built in which highlight the ways that it is actually very sectarian, and very much about specific kinds of privilege and power.

When those implicit assumptions go unchallenged, it helps create a sense that the hegemonic group is more inclusive than it actually is. This backfires because it reinforces the power of the hegemons – who, as I observed above, will not relinquish power over the definition of the group that subtly privileges them above all other “nonsectarians.” Then the people who are still excluded – the atheists, the agnostics, the polytheists, the goddess-worshippers, and anyone who won’t play along with the pretend notion that everyone is talking to the same deity – are faced with an even larger, more powerful group.

The idea of “nonsectarian” prayer is nothing more nor less than an invisible set of clothes created and worn by hegemonic Protestant Christianity to excuse and defend it getting to have a privileged place in public discourse, most notably in the prayers given in the context of government business.

The threads are spun out of the artificially-created notion that there is something substantive which can be called “Judeo-Christian” religion. The cloth is woven in front of amazed onlookers by pseudo-generic Christians who have concealed their actual agendas in the frame of the loom which shapes the very warp and weft of their fantasy. It is dyed in the colors of imagined inclusiveness with the assistance of some members of minorities. And it is tailored to fit and flatter only the most privileged of the hegemons.

Others can either shape themselves to fit it – usually doing violence to the unique parts of themselves, their beliefs, and their practices – or they can explain how it doesn’t fit. But because of the wonderful consensus-inducing coating on the fibers, the fact that anybody who doesn’t fit will have parts of themselves show through the gaps in the invisible suit is always put down to their problems, rather than the nature of the suit, much less the fact that it doesn’t exist.

One of the reasons people are so reluctant to acknowledge that the nonsectarian minister emperor isn’t wearing any clothes is that we all want to think that if we work at getting along, we can make it happen. So “nonsectarian” becomes the religious and political version of “Intent is Magic!” If you say a prayer nicely enough, everybody will agree with it.

But part of having an adult, realistic conversation about religion in America today is being aware that, as Stephen Prothero put it, God is not one. He’s not even a he. I’m honest enough to acknowledge that not everyone practices religion in the same way I do. I’m asking for others to recognize the same.

I don’t care whether you have the best intentions in the world; when you are put in a position of speaking for government and you make me feel belittled, othered, and excluded, I am hurt by it. That’s wrong, and that’s one of many things the First Amendment is supposed to prevent. Especially when that exclusion conveys the stamp of governmental approval.

It’s time for the idea of “nonsectarian” prayer as an acceptable, non-exclusionary form of government-sponsored observance to be recognized for what it is: nonsense.

The emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.

Nonsectarian prayer doesn’t exist.

Change over time

One of the things I’ve struggled with is how much I’ve changed over time.

In our political conversations, one of the most obvious examples of how our discourse in this country is biased towards the conservative is the ridicule and scorn a politician will encounter for changing her mind. Now, there are some good reasons for this; voters want a person to be predictable, so they can tell what it is they’re voting for ahead of time. But our discourse tends to carry this to extremes and have a fetish for consistency. We imply or simply state that someone who has taken a complex, nuanced, or context-dependent stance is unreliable, or “doesn’t really believe in anything.”

On the other hand, politicians sometimes have to “walk back” an incendiary comment rather than “doubling down” – notice that we have specialized language for this! When they do a walk back, it can be seen by more ideological members of their base as weak, but on the whole, I’m glad that we have some limits to our discourse. It shouldn’t be okay to say hateful things, especially for people making public policy. Obviously, in some situations, change is necessary.

My inner skeptic – in this case, acting as my inner annoyance – loves to suggest that I’m just a stereotype, I’m “just” rebelling against the way I was raised, or whatever. Most annoying is when it suggests to me that because I’ve gone through major changes in my life, including a change of religion and tremendous ideological shifts away from the way I was raised, I can’t be authentically anything. If I’ve changed once, maybe I’ll change again; maybe in twenty years I’ll be the stereotype of a Fox-watching red-blooded Amurkan who wants to shoot all those crazy librul types like who I am right now.

Okay, so that’s theoretically a possibility. I’m not willing to cut myself off from that because being unable to change means being unable to grow, to learn from one’s experiences and evolve in response to them. (Fred Clark at Slacktivist has described this closing-off of possibilities and the resultant personal atrophy quite well, but I can’t find a link at the moment. Anyone know where that went?)

And there are good reasons that people in their teens and twenties can go through major personal revolutions – they’re in the process of becoming independent adults. For some of us who came to Paganism during this part of our lives, myself included, that journey was a long one and included leaving a toxic religious environment. Dealing with that necessitates a lot of change.

Finally I looked back at the things that happened in my life before, during, and after some of these major changes. I realized that anyone who had been through what I’d been through and hadn’t changed as a result would probably have something wrong with her. Faced with the challenges I’ve been through, it’s been the right and natural response for me to learn, change, and grow.

So I’ve made peace with how I’ve changed over time. How do you understand your own changes?

Catching up but still speechless

I haven’t been posting much for a variety of reasons. It’s spring break here, in more ways than one, and I’ve needed the rest. But I’ve also been alternately too appalled, too angry, too depressed, too scared, and too speechless to even begin to summarize my reactions to the assaults on basic humanity and women in particular the last few weeks.

Sometimes I hesitate to write about these kinds of things because I worry that my blog won’t be “Pagan enough,” whatever that might mean. I decided to stop worrying about that because this is my Paganism, my Witchcraft. Here, in this body.

One of the things that makes most forms of Paganism different from most forms of monotheism is that Pagans tend to hold pantheistic or panentheistic beliefs and certainly tend to practice in ways that honor and respect the presence of the divine in the physical. I will resist my natural tendency to go all theaological about this, since it would mostly be a diversion from my main point. (For theaology junkies, I’ll get back into it later, promise.)

The point is that a key tenet of my religion is that the divine is present here, now, in me, in my body, in you, in your body, and in everybody. My body is holy, and sacred, and most of all, it’s mine. Mine to live in, not yours.

So for me, protecting women’s rights to their own bodies – pregnant or not, on birth control or not, having sex or not – is an expression of a fundamental value of my religion. It is a practice of my religion.

I recently had a very dear friend express concern over the state of my reproductive health. She rightly acknowledged that it wasn’t her business, and that she was trying to walk a fine line between being loving and caring and not being too intrusive – which she did with a grace and elegance I am in awe of. But she was driven to discuss a personal matter with me because she was genuinely afraid for me, given the trends in US law.

How sick is our world when women express love and look out for each other by discussing how to keep politicians and theocrats from putting their lives on the line?

So as a Witch, I’m going to try to work with my speechlessness; I’m going to go inside, to accept and experience those feelings, and figure out how to bring that back to my work in the real world. And though I may be speechless for now, I will not be silent, nor will I be silenced.

A prayer to Justice

Since conservative Christians have decided to go on a prayer offensive about the upcoming Supreme Court hearing on the Affordable Care Act, and will do so again in hopes of trying to take away women’s freedoms, here is my prayer to Justice:

 

Justice, be not blind, but look into our hearts with piercing gaze and discern the ill intent of those who would rule over others with theocratic mandates full of hate.

Let their will be weighed as naught when you lift your scales that judgment be not swayed but find the rightful balance to help us live together in pluralistic peace.