To keep the peace in Cleveland

There has been so much violence lately. I have so many thoughts about the proximate and ultimate causes of those incidents, and I am glad that our society is having some of the heartbreaking and necessary discussions around those issues. I cannot contribute more to those discussions today. What I want to do right now is first aid, attempting to staunch the bleeding, in particular in the overheated environment of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.

I believe that one thing that would make everything worse is an outbreak of violence at the Republican convention. Whoever starts it, however it ends, I believe that it would further divide our country and entrench fringe positions in power. If you disagree, then you can do whatever work you think best. If you agree, then here’s what I’m doing to try to keep the peace in Cleveland for this crucial stretch of time.

I am a Witch, and right now I am a Witch in touch with the land of Ohio. This is my job. Anyone who wants to help can help; you don’t need to do it exactly the way I do it, and you don’t need to use the same tools I use. Pray, dance naked in the forest, drum for the rivers, do whatever works for you. But if you want to help with this, I’d be grateful, and if you’re not sure how best to help, maybe my work will give you some ideas.

I used a map of Ohio. Just a plain old highway map. (Yes, I rode dinosaurs back before we invented GPS and we used these paper things called maps to point our brontosauruses in the right direction according to the sun. It’s old tech but it still works.) If you don’t have one, print one out. Or draw it. Just the state of Ohio with the city of Cleveland marked on it. Or the watershed. Whatever works for you.

In my sacred space, I oriented the map so that north on the map was facing north in the physical world. (I think this is one of the few crucial parts of using maps. If you’re holding the map upside down compared to the real world, any kind of magic I’m familiar with would be very, very confused.) I sank my awareness down into the soil of Ohio, this glacier-scraped plain shot through with slow and winding rivers, and laid my hands on the map and asked it to become one with the places it represents. (Think of this as just like when you ask the water in the bowl for the west point in the circle to become one with all the Water of the world and what it means metaphysically.)

Then I made offerings. You should make offerings that work for you; mine are shaped at this moment in time by the relationships I’m working with. I poured out honey for the Good Folk, the more tricksy of the spirits of the land, and whiskey for my deities, who mostly come from the Celtic pantheon, who came over with their people when enough of them settled here to make Dublin, Ohio, a reality. I offered tobacco for the spirits of the First Nations, who I do not forget, even though I do not know them very well. I offered tobacco for the wrongs done under slavery, and as a reminder of Ohio’s role in trying to change that sinful system. I offered olive oil for Columbia Athena, who I believe to be the matron spirit of our government and of our nation as it exists now.

I laid out physical objects to express my intentions. My intention for this working is simple: let violence go to ground. Let every human being in and around Cleveland be influenced, in whatever way is possible, to be physically peaceful. This is an earth spell, so I used stones to express it. I put a lead bullet on top of Cleveland on the map, and on top of it and around it I piled black tourmaline, for grounding, and jet, to absorb evil, and a metallic meteorite, to bring things down from heaven to earth.

Obviously the bullet represents gun violence, but lead is also the metal of Saturn, the planet of restrictions and limitations. I am trying to hold down violence of all kinds, but especially gun violence. The guns are already present in Cleveland, in the hands of police and non-police, in the hands of people of all races and genders and political identities. What I am trying to do is keep them from being used.

This is a binding of sorts, but I am thinking of it mostly in terms of gravity: making the weapons of violence too heavy to lift, too heavy to wield, too heavy to fight.

You could do the same thing with stones from your landbase. Or black stones, or whatever stones represent earth and grounding and heaviness for you. The tools are just tools – you are the one doing the work.

With all this in place, I began to shape my intention, to give it voice and form and power. It became something like this:

May all the weapons be too heavy to lift.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

May every hand that is raised be lowered again in peace.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

May batons and sticks remain heavy on the ground.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

May knives be blunted and fall from the wielder’s hand.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

May guns hang heavy in their holsters and remain there.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

May bullets find only earth and not flesh.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

May grenades fall to the ground as duds.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

May only words be exchanged.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

May only voices be raised.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

May only emotions flow in rivers on the land.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

May only hearts be lifted.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

May people recognize each other’s humanity.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

May people value the land they live in.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

May everyone survive.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

While saying this, I put my hands over the stones on the map, and sent my energy into them. When I was done, I gave thanks, and ended my work.

Please note that this is NOT a time to light candles. The situation in Cleveland – and across the country, truth be told – is already volatile enough. It does not need any more undirected, ravening energy of change. If you want to join in this through visualization, great. Through praying to your land, crying to your rivers, speaking to your air, great. But don’t, for the love of all that’s holy, think you can extinguish gunpowder with a candle.

May it be so, for you, for all of us.

SCOTUS Endorses Government Prayer (updated)

The Supreme Court decision regarding the prayer practices of the town of Greece, New York is bad news for anyone who does not want to experience Christian prayers at government functions.

The real problem with this decision is that its overall philosophy moves further away from an endorsement test – the idea that the government should not endorse a specific religion – and towards a coercion test instead, verging on the idea that government can endorse religion without coercing citizens to follow that religion. Moreover, a couple justices took the opportunity to say they would like to see coercion defined even more narrowly, meaning that government would have an even wider scope to push religion. See more specific discussion at SCOTUSblog.

It is not an accident that justices who have experienced the least disadvantage in their lives tend to see coercion narrowly and don’t have a problem with endorsement, while those who have wider life experiences are more likely to think that endorsement slides into coercion and that both are a bad thing. People in the majority – in this case the religious majority – have not been subject to the myriad slings and arrows of everyday life that make one more thing, like your government expecting you to have the strength to withstand public, officially sanctioned disparagement, just too much to bear.

Specifically, this decision is a bad thing for Wiccans because to be realistic, in my lifetime we will not be on an equal footing with Christians, and this decision is all about accommodating the majority rather than protecting the minority. In the meantime, we run a serious risk of being used as cover – call it the “I Have a Wiccan Friend” defense. In other words, if a town council has to get a Wiccan one week out of the year (and a Jew once and a Buddhist once) so that they can have their exclusionary prayers to Jesus the other 49 weeks, they’ll do it, and those 49 weeks will do way more to reinforce the Christian sense of hegemony (we own this town – look at the meetings!) than that one week of pretend tolerance will.

Make no mistake, that one-week-a-year, or any similar plan, is tolerance, not inclusion. I have argued before and will argue again that there is no such thing as a fully inclusive prayer that covers all citizens, so the only truly inclusive option is no prayer at all.

Moreover, it looks to me at first glance like this decision’s details gave small governments a long list of ways to tailor their tolerance so that it’s not too burdensome on the Christian majority. It doesn’t seem like there’s any real burden for the government to be inclusive by any standard, for example. Saying that local governments may be run “informally” is a loophole big enough to drive the “Oh, it’s an accident that we forgot to invite any rabbis” truck right through.

EDITED: Originally, my last paragraph read:

Personally, I will continue to advocate for less appearance of government endorsing religion for any religion, mine included. I would not give an opening prayer at a government meeting even if I was specifically invited to do so. Others may make different decisions depending on circumstances, but please think carefully before participating in this misguided encroachment of government-sponsored religion.


I am hearing some good arguments about why we should engage in exactly the kind of prayer that I firmly believe on fundamental principles should not be happening. I am not particularly swayed by the argument from equal misery: If they’re going to make us miserable, I am not convinced that we should make them miserable too. I am much more convinced by the argument that trying to participate in public prayer and being turned away could be – in the long term, on the order of decades – the foundation of a new case to get this crap overturned.

In the meantime and the near term, there is always the possibility that a sectarian Wiccan or Hellenistic or Druid prayer can be so repulsive to a Christian majority that the Christian majority decides not to hold the public prayers any longer. That would be similar to the attempt to install a Satanist monument in Oklahoma to “balance” the Ten Commandments monument.

I am not yet convinced that the potential harm done to others in the meantime is worth it, especially because of the risk of being used for “cover” in the way I describe above. I am willing to be convinced otherwise.

I don’t know how to balance the kind of activism for equal recognition of Wicca and Paganisms that I see going on in many places (military, prisons) with using Wicca as a weapon to get religion removed. How do I take action and try to communicate the subtext “Well, you could just not allow prayers here,” in one context, and in another context take an almost identical action with the subtext, “No, really, take me seriously, Wiccan prisoners have a real need for ministry?” How do we avoid having the kind of wiggle-arounds that are going to be used in prayer-giving contexts (oh, we’ll have everyone in on a rotation, that’ll work) applied to other contexts to marginalize us even further?

As I said, I’m willing to hear further arguments. I’m deeply torn about this matter and expect to spend some time contemplating while I’m away at Fertile Ground Gathering this weekend. That means I won’t be here to moderate comments or respond. We’ve got time. Let’s ground and center and think and talk together before we act.

Voting is still a holy act

When I voted today, it was a holy action. That doesn’t mean it was a perfect one, or a sacred one, but it was still holy.

It can be tempting to say that politics is just too messy, too ugly, too banal, and that we don’t want to deal with it. Or to claim that if no politician or party accurately represents my position, I just won’t vote at all. I get that, I really do. I believe there are times that abstaining might be the better option. I just don’t think that today’s election in Virginia is one of those times.

I’m totally underwhelmed with who I voted for, but I could not in good conscience stand aside when a social conservative more interested in regulating private oral sex between consenting adults than instituting background checks on gun purchases is trying to gain control of my home. And don’t get me started on his positions in the war on women and his anti-QUILTBAG stances. His running mate is, doubtful though it might seem, even further out on the far right wing. And their slate’s candidate to replace Cuccinelli as AG is no prize, either.

Voting against them doesn’t make me happy about who I did vote for, but it did make me convinced that it was necessary to vote. This situation is a murky ethical choice. But we make these kinds of choices every day. When you deeply consider the ethical and environmental ramifications of your choices about what to eat, wear, and do, the intricacies quickly become overwhelming and the lack of “pure” options is starkly depressing. But we do make choices; we try to make better choices, weighing the kinds of harm and the situations involved, and most of us, most of the time, make a choice and try to do our best. I see voting – at least in this situation – as the same kind of closely considered imperfect act. But those imperfections don’t necessarily remove it from the realm of being holy.

For me, the work of voting is also an offering to Columbia, the American Athena. But that isn’t just “goddess-washing” the act of voting. It goes to the heart of what I’m talking about here. Athena is a goddess of practicality, and of humans and how they live together. She knows all about trade-offs and difficult legal situations. She stands over the current Capitol, and although the situation inside that building may be dysfunctional, I don’t believe that means we should scrap it all or lay blame equally and try to start from scratch. We’ll see more about that when next year’s elections roll around. But Columbia wants us, I believe, to work together, and to do better. That means starting from where we are, imperfections and all.

This idea of working together, even when that is difficult, is why, for me, voting is still holy. Voting is the core action of participating in the larger whole, in the democracy of our country that is supposed to include everyone. The business of how we manage our joint, civic lives is right down there in the connections between all of us. As such, it’s never going to be “pure” or “ideal.” It’s not sacred in the sense of being set-apart from the everyday. But it is essential. Voting is a piece of magic where I reinforce my participation in what makes us a whole, and that makes it holy.

I hope you have the chance to vote today.

Columbia, help us rise

My dear friend Hecate is fond of calling Washington, District of Columbia her shining city on a swamp. It’s an apt metaphor for politics. Columbia, help us rise above the swamp, and shine again.

columbia-freedomColumbia’s district isn’t quite as swampy as urban legend suggests. Still, it’s a good metaphor for politics, because that’s where human life starts: down in the mud and muck. As much as other religions would like to claim that there is some bedrock of truth with a capital “twue” that we can start from, my experience and belief lead me to see our foundations as much more earthy, organic, and prone to change. Like the old joke about the foundations of the universe, it’s turtles all the way down.

What’s amazing is that we can and do build great edifices out of those uncertain foundations. By virtue of our agreements with each other, our cooperation, and our valorization of certain principles, we raise up amazing structures and manage, more or less, to live in them. While we like to imagine our great monuments and governmental buildings of shining stone, and we splash the colors of the flag on anything that will stand still long enough, deep down at the foundations of this country are fragile pieces of paper and the agreements made by men – men whom we hold in esteem, yes, but men who were also flawed, and made of mud and muck just as much as any of us.

I have been saying since the emergence of the Tea Party that it is terribly dangerous to the functioning of a democracy and the system of representative government for people to elect politicians who proclaim their fundamental mission as NOT governing, politicians who claim that they do not believe that the institution they are going to be part of should exist in its current form and fulfill its current functions.

The Tea Party and other ultra-conservatives have announced from the beginning that their mission was to stop government from working the way it has been working. They have been true to their word. They have come to this shining city and rather than trying to participate in the building up, or suggesting different goals for building, or even just getting out of the way when they have lost a disagreement and multiple elections, they are actively hindering any progress, any ability to agree, any effort to raise ourselves up. They drag us back to the muck, kicking and screaming, and at the moment they have fulfilled their mission of stopping government from working.

Remember, these folks don’t really believe that the government should do much beyond run the military. It’s okay with them if kids don’t get cancer treatment and national parks are closed and so on – they’d rather see those things privatized anyway. This is why they were willing to take a shutdown, and insisted that it wouldn’t hurt people or the country very much. Being wrong has never stopped them before, and it didn’t stop them now.

So in these days I pray: Columbia, help us rise above. You stand at the apex of the building where our elected officials meet. Concentrate our voices, help us remind them that they are supposed to commit themselves to the rule of law, and of elections, and all the forms of life that help us build a shining city on swampy foundations and some pieces of paper and the ideals that even we can’t quite agree on. Columbia, help any who are willing to hear sense and to do their jobs within the institution they were sent to serve; help us to throw out any who insist on dragging everyone into the mud with them.

Columbia, help us rise.

September 11th and shadows

I read Hecate’s excellent post on the dark moon and working with shadows last week, and while I had done a ritual to observe the dark/new moon, I thought to myself, “I wish I’d done that instead.” One of the things about being a Witch is that you learn to be careful what you wish for. Over the next few days, my body reminded me that while my personal monthly cycle is not always in sync with the moon, it does present me with an unenviable opportunity to face my shadows on a regular basis. Now, on the heels of that, we arrive at a day that in the US will be used for contemplations of several kinds, and I am thinking that we should bring the skills of shadow work to this conversation, too.

Each grief proceeds at its own pace, and for some people who grieve September 11th, it will never be far enough away to try to approach it again from the different angle of shadow work. I understand that; I honor that, and wish that I had other comfort to offer. I do not write primarily to those people.

I write because I have experienced the ways that facing one’s shadows, recognizing them, understanding them, and ultimately integrating them, leads to healing and to wholeness. In the absence of this process, we feed our shadows’ power. We see our (denied or unrecognized) shadows everywhere, and we project them even where they don’t belong. We act out their patterns when other behavior would be a better use of our time and energy.

We should talk about our national shadows because they are very real, just as real as our national psyche and self-perception. And because our ideas of what it means to be American are diverse and varied, so are our shadows – but the shadows have an extra power, because they are harder to discuss, harder to see clearly. This inherent power makes them potent political weapons.

For example, I believe that the response of conservative news media to last year’s attack on the US compound in Benghazi was nothing more nor less than a deliberate attempt to inflame a shadow of September 11th in order to reinforce their political attitudes, especially the idea that we desperately need a Strong (Republican) Leader.

Similarly, some Congress members recently distorted the facts of September 11th in order to invoke its shadow to drum up support for one side of the current conflict in Egypt. But if we’ve observed anything in Egypt, it is that the Arab Spring will not lead directly to some miraculous Summer of Democracy. As a country, we should be careful what we wish for, and who we arm.

As a result, the discussion of what action to take with respect to Syria is covered in shadows: One of the biggest might be called World’s Policeman. This shadow is cast by some heroic history, but it is a shadow, not the thing itself, and it is one we need to be wary of. It often interacts with Sole Superpower, a shadow with even uglier implications. There are also shadows related to actions taken or not taken in military, political, and diplomatic ways more recently and more specifically.

Just as with individual shadow problems, there is a wealth of history that informs the development of these shadows and should be addressed as part of understanding them. (Have you ever seen the photo of Don Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein?) I may yet write more about that. For now, I want to plant the idea of working with our national shadows as something we should do.

But when I write we, I mean the individuals of the country, out of whom the country and her psyche are made. Specifically those of us who do magic, who work with shadow as part of our practice, we should take the lead here. I don’t have a simple recommendation; I don’t think shadow work is ever simple. So I ask you: how would you do shadow work with the country?

For me, I will work with Columbia, engaging with her and with my own personal corner of what it means to be America. I will dialogue with her, and her shadows, and my shadows, the way I have dialogued with my own shadows in the past, and I will try to integrate just a fragment more, so that in the future, I will have the wisdom of honest history and the resulting courage of my convictions to take a stand.

Cuccinelli v All Acts of Love And Pleasure

My religion encourages oral sex.

Ken Cuccinelli, candidate for governor, wants to outlaw it.

Why am I not the new face of the brave fight for religious liberty?

Cuccinelli for Governor: Because oral sex sucks!
Image courtesy of the blogger’s partner (in crime, apparently). If you copy, please link back.

Seriously, though: Ken Cuccinelli, the current attorney general of Virginia and Republican candidate for governor has just launched a new website as part of his campaign that argues in favor of a law which criminalizes oral and anal sex between consenting adults in private.

This law is currently unconstitutional as a result of a Supreme Court ruling. But Cuccinelli is arguing that it’s a vital part of protecting children from sex offenders, which makes no sense. Moreover, it’s offensive to me as a woman, a Wiccan, and a feminist.

The actual case where the law was declared unconstitutional as a result of SCOTUS precedent involved at least one seventeen year old. I agree that there’s a metric crapton of potential problems with someone in hir teens having sex with someone in hir 40s or 50s. But if Cuccinelli has a problem with 17 year olds having sex, he could try to raise the age of consent, or prove that the situation was not consensual. That’s not what he’s doing. He’s specifically argued in favor of keeping the parts of the law (that are unconstitutional) that ban private consensual non-commercial adult (above the age of consent) behavior.

Cuccinelli basically says that the law won’t be used to prosecute adults doing what they want. But there’s no reason to believe him. That’s exactly what the law says, and in the law, you live and die (or convict and set free) based on what the law actually, very specifically, says. What kind of prosecutor argues that on the one hand, he desperately must have a law that criminalizes a wide range of behavior, but then promises that on the other hand he won’t prosecute what the law says, even when that’s what he’s actually doing? Not to mention, what kind of fiscal conservative says that it’s vitally important to spend precious government time and money to defend laws that have already been declared unconstitutional?

The homophobic kind, that’s who.

From Think Progress:

In fact, Cuccinelli is a major reason that the provisions of this particular law governing non-consensual sex were left vulnerable to court challenge. In 2004, a bipartisan group in the Virginia General Assembly backed a bill that would have brought the law in line with the Supreme Court’s ruling. They proposed to eliminate the Crimes Against Nature law’s provisions dealing with consenting adults in private and leaving in place provisions relating to prostitution, public sex, and those other than consenting adults. Cuccinelli opposed the bill in committee and helped kill it on the Senate floor.

In 2009, he told a newspaper why he supported restrictions on the sexual behavior of consenting adults: “My view is that homosexual acts, not homosexuality, but homosexual acts are wrong. They’re intrinsically wrong. And I think in a natural law based country it’s appropriate to have policies that reflect that. … They don’t comport with natural law.” As a result of Cuccinelli’s homophobia, the law’s text remains unchanged a decade after the Supreme Court’s ruling.

While Cuccinelli tries to spin his efforts as “Virginia’s appeal to preserve a child-protection statute,” this amounts to little more than his attempt to restore the state’s unconstitutional ban on oral sex.

This matters because it shows that Cuccinelli is willing to fight a dead letter over a culture war issue. It matters because he’s willing to mislead people with moral panic over child endangerment to do it. It matters because this anti-sex agenda is what Cuccinelli really thinks is worth working on, and it’s what he thinks will make him win. You’d better believe it’s what he’ll act on if he does win.

His culture-warrior stance runs a lot deeper than just oral sex. He’s been using his current office to move heaven and earth to restrict reproductive health rights in Virginia. In addition, his running running mate is one EW Jackson, a Christian pastor, whose aggressively anti-non-Christian attitudes and comments have been covered quite seriously at the Wild Hunt and with an appropriately large dash of sarcasm at Wonkette.

And quite frankly, my understanding of Wicca really does validate all kinds of consensual sex. It’s right there in the Charge of the Goddess:

All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.

The idea of “acts of love and pleasure” is a very potent way of expressing my feminist ethic of consent to sex. I’m not going to consent to something that’s not pleasurable to me. If I can’t consent – if I can’t engage in love and pleasure – then whatever’s happening isn’t sex; it’s sexual assault, abuse, battery, or rape.

Cuccinelli is actually making a version of the Two Boxes argument about what kinds of sex are permissible and not permissible. Nearly all “slippery slope” arguments about marriage equality are versions of this. (Cuccinelli gets double Conservative SexHater Points for pretending that outlawing consensual adult oral sex is a way of “protecting our children.” Score!)

The Two Boxes argument says that the Christian god has designated certain kinds of sex as “good” and other kinds as “bad,” and that there is no other possible way to differentiate between allowable and not-allowable actions in our secular civil law. Therefore, if you allow one “bad” thing, you’re allowing all “bad” things. Slippery slope: people will gay-marry their dogs! The Two Boxes argument is extremely simplistic. By contrast, my ethics – both my secular civil reasoning and my religious understanding – tell me that we can draw a different boundary based on enthusiastic consent.

In the rest of this post, I am going to talk about the connections between my civil feminist understanding and my Wiccan understanding. There’s already been a lot of great feminist explication of this ethic of consent. I think that we should determine our secular, civil law on the basis of secular, civil reasoning. I am not trying to substitute my Wiccan standards for Cuccinelli’s Christian standards. I am trying to explain why my Wiccan standards coincide with my secular feminist standards. With that in mind, Cuccinelli’s efforts really are offensive not just on a human rights and feminist level but to me as a person with a different religion with different standards.

I think that the idea “acts of love and pleasure” contains the seeds of the concept of affirmative, enthusiastic consent. This concept differentiates between acceptable and unacceptable sex on the basis that some people can’t engage in love and pleasure. That might be because they’re not people: lampposts, dogs, box turtles; it might be because they’re incapable of consent: under the age of consent, handicapped, intoxicated, etc. Either way, the standard concepts of “love” and “pleasure” don’t apply.

Ultimately, my understanding relies on the idea that sex is a cooperative activity that is done by partners together. Sex is not a thing that men do to women as objects. Sex is not a thing that women have that men try to get or take. Sex isn’t just about men and women. It’s about people, and their consent, to acts of love and pleasure.

Those ideas, deep down, are what scares Cuccinelli, and his fellow culture warriors, spitless, pun intended:

People – consent – love – and pleasure

If you care about those things, whether for civil or religious reasons, or especially both, then you ought to find Cuccinelli’s latest actions reprehensible.

PS: Regarding the first statement: There. Now you can start blaming me, right after the makers of Witch-sploitation movies, for causing people to claim that they’re Wiccan when they don’t have the first clue what Wicca really is.

ETA: Think Progress also gives an example of a sheriff’s department in Louisiana enforcing a similar “anti-sodomy” statute which is equally unconstitutional and hence unenforceable. This proves that “unenforceable” does not prevent officers from arresting and detaining people. I don’t know the details of how arrest records work, but they may be different from court records. Certainly the news often reports that people were arrested on offenses in the past, and job applications may ask if the applicant has been arrested, not just about convictions. I hope I don’t have to spell out all the implications.

Virginia State Senator proposes bogus “religious freedom” amendment

Virginians, contact your state legislators to ask them to oppose SJ 287, a proposed amendment to the state constitution that is yet another semi-stealthy attempt to justify government support for Christianity.

Hemant Mehta over at the Friendly Atheist has the rundown. In short, state senator Bill Stanley (R-Glade Hill) is convinced that not allowing people to pray in public is the root of “moral decay.” Never mind that people are allowed to pray in public – yes, including at schools – in exactly the way his proposed amendment purports to “clarify.” He’s convinced that taking God out of school and government meetings is why things are going to hell in a handbasket, so by golly, he’s going to clarify that right. And that’ll fix things.

At best, this language will be meaningless, because the rights “clarified” are already protected. At worst, this language will be interpreted, as he intends it to be, to support and defend sectarian government prayer and to encourage established prayer in schools, which people who are interested in real religious freedom (you know, the kind that applies to everyone, not just Christians intent on pushing their religion on others) will have to fight in court, which will cost Virginia money and be pointless.

The other potential land mine hidden in this text is a provision “that no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his religious beliefs.” Three guesses what that is all about, and the first two don’t count: evolution. Allowing kids to opt out of lessons because they don’t believe in them is a terrible idea. Evolution is central to modern biology, and you can’t get a meaningful science education at the high school level without facing the science of evolution.

(By the way, don’t think this will stop at the science classroom. A Fox News contributor recently raised red flags about the distributive property in mathematics. He was concerned that this was Marxism in disguise, you know, redistributing the wealth. It’s actually just a basic feature of how arithmetic and algebra work, but when did facts ever stop these folks?)

You can read the entire text of the bill here. Contact your legislator here.

This is what I wrote to my legislators. If you’re not clergy, you might take that line out.

I urge you to oppose SJ 287 because this proposed amendment to Virginia’s constitution does not actually do more to protect religious freedom; on the contrary, it is an attempt to try to inappropriately insert Christianity into government and school business.

The amendment purports to protect the right to pray; this right is already protected by our national and state constitutions and established case law. The amendment also proposes “that no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his religious beliefs,” a suggestion which could seriously undermine Virginia’s efforts to educate its population in science as necessary in order to succeed in today’s economy.

As a clergyperson, I take freedom of religion extremely seriously. This bill is not a genuine attempt to ensure freedom of religion to all in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson’s original statute; it is an attempt to justify government promotion of Christianity, and that is the opposite of freedom of religion. Please vote against this proposed amendment at every opportunity.

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.

The twisted history of guns and race

Hat tip to Chas Clifton for pointing out that in the last post I was remarkably unclear about the historical issues around guns and race. I neither summarized the linked pieces adequately nor presented my own thoughts with sufficient clarity. This is an attempt to rectify that.

Let me add a further caveat that I am acutely aware of my own ignorance surrounding this issue’s historical roots. I am only beginning to educate myself about it and apologize in advance for errors that I make. I invite further responses and constructive criticism.

As far as my limited understanding goes, in the Reconstruction period, free African-Americans armed themselves, particularly to defend themselves from whites who wanted to kill, terrorize, and control them. Thus ex-Confederates and parts of society that sympathized with them were interested in limiting access to guns as part of keeping African-Americans disempowered. At the time, the Democratic party was generally the party of southern whites and was more against African-American rights, while the Republicans were the party of the north and were more pro African-American rights.

Today, the typical political alignments are different. The parts of the country that see themselves as the inheritors of the Confederacy are the most vocally pro-gun-rights. The Republicans have southern whites as their core constituency, and are the party that opposes social programs to benefit minorities and hosts those who use racist dog-whistles. The Democrats are the party of urbanites, women, minorities, and socially progressive programs.

I linked to three separate things in the previous post and didn’t clarify which part of this each thing related to.

Most importantly, Winkler’s piece in the Atlantic begins to address some of this complicated history of guns, legislation, and attitudes.

Horowitz’s piece compares the ideologies of pro-slavery politicians before the Civil War and pro-gun politicians today, arguing that there are similarities in the uncompromising expansionism of their positions. He was not arguing that the Confederates were all about gun rights.

Today’s conservatives who see themselves as the inheritors of the Confederacy do tend to be the loudest proponents of gun rights. I get very, very sick of these and similar arguments that people are amassing guns in order to defend themselves against “tyranny” from the federal government. I linked to Goblinbooks’ sarcasm in order to reinforce the point that since the South couldn’t defeat the North way back in the 1800s, it is extremely unlikely that anybody today (black or white) could “defend themselves” against the federal government.

Then I tried to make a separate point in entirely too little space, and I think that’s where things got tangled up.

Given that in the Reconstruction period it was the ex-Confederate Democrats who were pro gun control, while today it is the Republicans (possibly neo-Confederates, or at least seeing themselves as the inheritors of that worldview) who are anti gun control, I wondered whether the transformation from Democratic allegiance to Republican allegiance and the transformation from anti-guns to pro-guns were at all related.

I am not saying there is something inherently linked about “Republicans love guns!”

I’m saying that as far as I understand it in relatively recent times the Republican party decided to transform itself by positioning itself as staunchly defending “tradition” – notably white hegemony. This is also known as the Southern strategy. The party of Lincoln became the home of Strom Thurmond.

I think it’s pretty clear that the way white hegemony has been questioned and challenged contributes to a segment of society feeling insecure and becoming afraid of persecution, especially by the federal government, which was part of what the Southern strategy capitalized on and encouraged. I’m wondering whether that same feeling has played a role in an increasing desire by these folks to arm themselves while support for gun control is fairly high among minorities and urban liberals. I have no idea if these things were causally connected. I’m still trying to figure out if they’re temporally connected.

Have I made things more clear, or hopelessly muddled?

Further thoughts

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


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?