Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights’


Hardline Republicans: Arrogance, Greed & Disregard for Human Life

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russianabortionposter

Russian Abortion Poster

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The post below: “Perish if you wish; I’m safe” (Jean-Jacques Rousseau) is an antique.  However, it has not lost its relevance.  I am deeply shocked by extremist Republicans who are making pronouncements as though they were experts.

Birth control and abortions are questions for a woman to discuss with her doctor.  There are times when a responsible doctor will not think it advisable for a patient to carry a child.  Moreover, choosing whether or not to carry a child is a woman’s right.

Recently, while researching human rights, I discovered that to force a woman to carry child is a violation of human rights.  I was looking for information on a different subject and cannot remember what the subject was.  It may have been the use of chemical weapons.  At any rate, I will search again.

But, when I look at my mother’s life, I grieve.  Her first children were relatively healthy, but she lost a very large a number of children to a congenital blood disease.  Every year she bore a child who did not stand a chance of surviving.  The parish priest would not allow her to skip a year.  She would have been refused communion.

As for her doctors, every dead child was a corpse they could study in their attempts to cure my father and one sister who were victims of this disease.  We buried a child every year.  Given such circumstances, one reaches the “age of reason” prematurely and feels considerable compassion for those who suffer.

Narrow-minded Republicans should remember that too many people have died because insurance companies considered their illness a pre-existing condition.  That was greed, but it was also disregard of human life.  Americans have a right to affordable health care.

And now, extremist Republicans are concocting a possible global economic recession because they oppose Affordable Health Care.  How were these individuals elected into office?

However, there’s progress.  This is the latest:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-24510273


Of Cultures Destroyed by Western Sexual Exploitation and Violent Religious Prudery

By Jesse Bering |

 


In working on my latest book Perv, some of the saddest material I came across involved the stormy cross-cultural conflicts erupting between Western ideals of sex and those discovered among other “exotic” societies. The field of cultural anthropology has its own dark history in this regard. For an embarrassingly long time, in fact, some unethical scholars were in the dubious business of publishing thinly veiled “ethnopornographies” of their trusting subjects.

With revealing titles such as Untrodden Fields of Anthropology (1898), Neger-Eros (1928), and Erotikon (1966), these researchers seemed far less concerned about educating Western audiences than they were in titillating readers with lurid true stories of savage lust. Some of these scandalous volumes even included explicit “photodocumentation” of the subjects at hand, which arguably involved the production of sexually exploitative images of indigenous people.

It’s disturbing stuff. Yet in terms of the sheer amount of damage that Westerners have done to other cultures in response to their simply having different (and usually harmless) sexual customs from our own, religious missionaries definitely take the cake. In a distressingly large number of cases, the Church’s historical encroachment into far-flung corners of the globe has served to level whole societies through its many aggressive campaigns to save “savage” souls from their carnal “sins.”

The Gikuyu of Kenya, who had very rigid codes of sexual convention, thought the public displays of affection among Europeans were unspeakably vulgar. Ironically, however, early 20th century missionaries punished these conservative people for their timeless tradition of encouraging adolescents to be sexually responsible by experimenting with romantic relationships through a cuddling ritual. In this tightly regulated Gikuyu practice of ngweko, which was primarily used to assess a young couple’s lifelong compatibility in possible matrimony, the young lovers would lie together with their legs intertwined, which kept them from thrusting. “The chief concern in this relationship,” explained the native anthropologist Jomo Kenyatta, “is the enjoyment of the warmth of the breast … and not the full experience of sexual intercourse.” The rules were strict and clear: the girl must wear a leather apron covering her groin, the boy must tuck his organ between his legs, the girl couldn’t touch said organ, and neither party could sleep with their back turned to the other. Instead, they’d simply coo and fondle each other’s bodies, rubbing their chests together, talking until falling asleep. Yet zealous missionaries couldn’t be persuaded that coitus wasn’t, in fact, occurring, and so they forced any teenagers who’d engaged in ngweko to repent for what they saw as the sin of premarital relations.

H. Laval (1807-1880)

Among the most despicable of prudish missionaries was a dogmatic French priest named Honoré Laval, who managed to nearly wipe out the entire Mangareva culture of French Polynesia in the mid-19th century. When he and his fellow clergymen first set foot onto the Gambier Islands in January, 1834, the free-spirited Mangarevans (whom, Laval assured the bishops in Bordeaux, were ignorant pagans seething with lasciviousness and therefore in desperate need of salvation) numbered at over nine thousand. After a few short decades of his unbridled theocratic rule on the islands, in which he banished anyone who dared to question his sacred cause, it numbered at just a few hundred. During this time, Laval destroyed every last Mangarevan idol and artifact and replaced the ancient temples with cathedrals and convents. The latter he stocked with young native women, whom he saw as being especially vulnerable to the Devil’s lewd temptations. Instead of swimming bare-chested in the azure waters of the archipelago as their ancestors had done since time immemorial, they could now only wander aimlessly along the convent halls while fingering their rosaries, draped in the suffocating habits of old French nuns.

Lazal’s religious tyranny ended in 1871, when a traveling merchant doing business on the islands, shocked by the conditions he saw, smuggled word of the priest’s isolated demagogic regime to the governor in Tahiti. When a special French envoy finally liberated the Mangarevans that year, two little native boys were said to have stumbled out of Laval’s overflowing prison, explaining that they’d been ordered jailed by the priest for the grievous offence of having giggled during Mass.

Should we forgive Laval and the many other missionaries who’ve since come and gone, and in fact continue largely unabated to this day, foisting their biblical sexual ethics on other cultures? After all, they’ve only been doing their evangelical duties. Frankly, I see little evidence of their love and benevolence, only tragic tales of cultures forever lost to the ideological bulldozer of Christian homogenization, the self-righteous flag of original sin waving arrogantly in the breeze. I’m reminded of the Eskimo’s famous lament in Annie Dillard’s remarkable book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. “If I did not know about God and sin,” the Eskimo asked the priest, “would I go to hell?” “No, not if you did not know,” replied the priest. “Then why did you tell me?” responded the Eskimo.

Jesse Bering

About the Author: Jesse Bering is the author of The Belief Instinct (2011), Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That? (2012) and Perv (October, 2013). He began his career as a psychology professor at the University of Arkansas and is the former director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen’s University Belfast. Bering now lives in Ithaca, New York with his partner, Juan, along with a very big cat and two pathologically friendly border terriers. In addition to his books, Bering is also a regular contributor to many popular magazines, including Scientific American, Slate, New York Magazine, The Guardian, The New Republic, Discover, and more. Follow on Twitter @JesseBering.

Perversions

Atheists and homosexuals were called perverts once. Why do we still see perversion where no harm is done?

by  Jesse Bering
Reclining Boy (1913) by Egon Schiele. Leopold Foundation, Vienna. Photo by CorbisReclining Boy (1913) by Egon Schiele. Leopold Foundation, Vienna. Photo by Corbis

Jesse Bering is a former academic in psychology whose writing has appeared in Scientific American, Slate and The Guardian, among others. His latest book is Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us (2013).

Perverts weren’t always the libidinous bogeymen we imagine when we think of the term today. Sexual mores have certainly shifted dramatically over the course of history and across societies, but the very word ‘pervert’ once literally meant something else entirely to what it does now. For example, the peculiar discovery that some peasant during the reign of Charles II used conch shells for anal gratification or inhaled a stolen batch of ladies’ corsets while touching himself in the town square would have been merely coincidental to any accusations of his being perverted (though it wouldn’t have helped his case). Seventeenth-century terms such as ‘skellum’ (scoundrel) or reference to his ‘mundungus’ (smelly entrails) might have applied, but calling this man a ‘pervert’ for his peccadilloes would have made little sense at the time.

Linguistically, the sexual connotation feels natural. The ring of it — purrrvert — is at once melodious and cloying, producing a noticeable snarl on the speaker’s face, while the image of a lecherous child molester, a trench-coated flasher in a park, a drooling pornographer, or perhaps a serial rapist pops into one’s head. Yet as Shakespeare might remind us, a pervert by any other name would smell as foul. For the longest time, in fact, to be a pervert wasn’t to be a sexual deviant; it was to be an atheist.

In 1656, the British lexicographer Thomas Blount included the following entry for the verb ‘pervert’ in his Glossographia (a book also known by the more cumbersome title A Dictionary Interpreting the Hard Words of Whatsoever Language Now Used in Our Refined English Tongue): ‘to turn upside down, to debauch, or seduce’. No doubt all of these activities occur in your typical suburban bedroom today. But it’s only by dint of our post-Victorian minds that we perceive these types of naughty winks in the definition of a term that was floating around the old English countryside. In Blount’s time, and for several hundred years after he was dead and buried, a pervert was simply a headstrong apostate who had turned his or her back on the draconian morality of the medieval Church, thereby ‘seducing’ others into a godless lifestyle.

If we applied this original definition to the present iconoclastic world of science, one of the most recognisable perverts in the world today would be the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. As the author of The God Delusion (2006) and an active proselytiser of atheism, Dawkins encourages his fellow rationalists to ‘turn away from’ canonical religious teachings. As I’ve written my own scientific atheistic screed, I’m not casting stones. I’m proudly in possession of a perverted nature that fits both the archaic use of the term, due to my atheism, and its more recent pejorative use, due to my homosexuality.

Only at the tail end of the 19th century did the word ‘pervert’ first leap from the histrionic sermons of fiery preachers into the heady, clinical discourses of stuffy European sexologists. Today, the term is more likely to be used less as a diagnosis and more as an insult, hurled at the likes of sex offenders. This gradual semantic migration of perverts, from the church pews to the psychiatric clinic to the online comments section of salacious news stories, hasn’t occurred without the clattering bones of medieval religious morality dragging behind. Notice that the suffix –vert means, generally, ‘to turn’: hence ‘to convert’ (to turn to another), ‘to revert’ (to return to a previous state), ‘to invert’ (to turn inside out), ‘to pervert’ (to turn away from the right course), and so on. Of those, ‘pervert’ alone has that devilishly malicious core ­— ‘a distinctive quality of obstinacy’, as the Australian psychoanalyst Jon Jureidini has called it in the paper ‘Perversion: An Erotic Form of Hatred or Exciting Avoidance of Reality?’(2001). He goes on: ‘petulance, peevishness … self-willed in a way that distinguishes it from more “innocent” deviations’.

A judge accusing someone of ‘perverting the course of justice’ is referring to a deliberate effort to thwart moral fairness. Similarly, since the modern noun form of ‘pervert’ is synonymous with ‘sex deviant’, the presumption is that the person thus described is a deviant by his (or her) own malicious design. In other words, he is presumed to have wilfully chosen to be sexually aberrant — that’s to say, to go against what is right.

It’s striking how such an emotionally loaded word, one that undergoes almost no change at all for the first 1,000 years of its use, can almost overnight come to mean something so very different, entirely eclipsing its original intent. Exactly how did this word ‘pervert’ go from being a perennial term for the ‘immoral religious heretic’ to referring to the ‘immoral sexual deviant’?

One key reason for this shift can be found in the work of the British scholar Havelock Ellis, who back in 1897 popularised the term ‘pervert’ in his descriptions of patients with atypical sexual desires. Earlier scholars, among them Richard von Krafft-Ebing, the Austro-German psychiatrist regarded by many as the father of studies in deviant sexuality, had already sexualised the term, but Ellis’s accessible writing found a wider general audience and ultimately led to this meaning of ‘pervert’ becoming solidified in the common vernacular.

The provenance of the term in Ellis’s work is still a little hard to follow, because he initially uses ‘perverts’ and ‘perversions’ in the sense of sexual deviancy in a book confusingly titled Sexual Inversion (1897). Co-authored with the gay literary critic John Addington Symonds and published after Symonds’s death, the book was a landmark treatise on the psychological basis of homosexuality. In the authors’ view, ‘sexual inversion’ reflected homosexuality as an inside-out form of the standard erotic pattern. That part is easy enough to understand. Where the language of Ellis and Symonds gets tricky, however, is in their broader use of ‘sexual perversions’ to refer to socially prohibited sexual behaviours, of which ‘sexual inversion’ (or homosexuality) was just one. Other classic types of perversions included polygamy, bestiality, and prostitution. The authors adopted this religious language not because they personally believed homosexuality to be abnormal and therefore wrong (quite the opposite, since their naturalistic approach was among the first to identify such behaviours in other animals) but only to note that it was salient among the categories of sexuality frequently depicted as ‘against what is right’ or sinful. Theirs was merely an observation about how gays and lesbians (‘inverts’) were seen by most of society.

Curiously enough, Ellis, the scientist of the pair, and the one usually credited with christening homosexuals as sex ‘perverts’, had his own unique predilection. Ellis’s urophilia — a strong sexual attraction to urine, or to people who are in the process of urinating — is documented in his various notes and letters. In correspondence with a close female acquaintance, Ellis chided the woman for forgetting her purse at his house, adding saucily: ‘I’ve no objection to your leaving liquid gold behind.’ He gave in to these desires openly and even fancied himself a connoisseur of pisseuses, writing in his autobiography: ‘I may be regarded as a pioneer in the recognition of the beauty of the natural act in women when carried out in the erect attitude.’ In his later years, this ‘divine stream’, as he called it, proved the cure for Ellis’s impotence: the image of an upright, urinating woman was the only thing that could turn him on. And he was entirely unashamed of this sexual quirk: ‘It was never to me vulgar, but, rather, an ideal interest, a part of the yet unrecognised loveliness of the world.’ On attempting to analyse his own case (he was a sexologist, after all), Ellis concluded: ‘[It’s] not extremely uncommon … it has been noted of men of high intellectual distinction.’ He was also convinced that men with high-pitched voices were generally more intelligent than baritones. That Ellis himself was a rare high tenor might have had something to do with that curious hypothesis as well.

Ellis was among a handful of pioneering sexologists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who had set out to tease apart the complicated strands of human sexuality. Other scholars, among them Krafft-Ebing and Sigmund Freud, as well as Freud’s early follower, the Austrian psychologist Wilhelm Stekel, were similarly committed to this newly objective, amoral empirical approach to sexual deviance. Their writings might seem tainted with bias to us today (and in fact they are) but they also display a genuine concern for those who found themselves, through no doing or choice of their own, feeling aroused in ways that posed major problems in the social conditions under which they lived.

With their inverted pattern of attraction, homosexuals became perverts in essence, not just louses dabbling in transgressive sex

The early sexologists found themselves confronted by angry purists who believed that their novel scientific endeavours would bring about the collapse of cherished institutions such as marriage, religion, and ‘the family’. Anxieties over such a ‘slippery slope effect’ have been around for a very long time and, in the eyes of these moralists, an objective approach to sexuality threatened all that was good and holy. Conservative scholars saw any neutral evaluation of sex deviants as dangerous, for it legitimised wicked things as ‘natural’ variants of behaviour and lead ‘normal’ people to embrace the unethical lifestyles of the degenerate. Merely giving ‘horrific’ tendencies such as same-sex desires their own proper scientific names made them that much more real to these moralists, and therefore much more threatening. To them, this was the reification of sexual evil. For instance, in 1897 William Noyes, a psychiatrist at the Boston Lunatic Hospital, wrote a scathing review of Ellis and Symonds’s Sexual Inversion in which he chastised the authors for ‘adding 300 more pages to a literature already too flourishing … Apart from its influence on the perverts [homosexuals] themselves no healthy person can read this literature without a lower opinion of human nature, and this result in itself should bid any writer pause.’

Looking back, it’s evident that Ellis and Symonds’s careful distinction between homosexual behaviour and homosexual orientation was an important step in the history of gay rights. It might seem like commonsense today, but these authors disentangled the two elements, which in turn informed our modern understanding of homosexuality as a psychosexual trait (or orientation), not just something that one ‘did’ with the same sex. Their contribution to the way psychiatrists’ think about homosexuality had long-lasting implications for gays and lesbians. On the positive side, homosexuals were no longer perceived (at least by experts) as fallen people who were simply so immoral and licentious that they’d even resort to doing that; instead, they were seen as having a psychological ‘nature’ that made them ‘naturally’ attracted to the same sex rather than to the opposite sex.

On the negative side, this newly recognised nature was also regarded as inherently abnormal or flawed. With their inverted pattern of attraction, homosexuals became perverts in essence, not just louses dabbling in transgressive sex. Whether or not they ever had homosexual sex, such individuals were now one of ‘those people’. Also, once homosexuality was understood to be an orientation and not just a criminal behaviour, it could be medicalised as a psychiatric condition. For almost a century afterwards, physicians saw gays and lesbians as quite obviously mentally ill. And just as one would treat the pathological symptoms of patients suffering from any mental illness, most clinicians believed that homosexuals should be treated for their unfortunate disorder. Needless to say, such ‘conversion’ treatments, in all their shameful forms, didn’t involve encouraging gays and lesbians to be themselves.

The die had also been cast for the disparaging term pervert and its enduring association with homosexuality. Not so long ago, some Neo-Freudian scholars were still interpreting anal sex among gay men as an unconscious desire in the recipient (or the ‘bottom’) to nip off the other’s penis with his tightened sphincter. ‘In this way, which is so characteristic of the pervert,’ mused the influential South African-born psychoanalyst Mervin Glasser in the paper ‘Identification and its Vicissitudes as Observed in the Perversions’ (1986), ‘he [is] trying to establish his father as an internal object with whom to identify, as an inner ally and bulwark against his powerful mother’. That might sound as scientific to us today as astrology or tarot cards, but considering that Glasser wrote this 13 years after the American Psychiatric Association formally removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, it shows how long the religious moral connotations stuck around, even in clinical circles. Glasser’s bizarre analysis of ‘perverts’ was the type of thing a gay man could expect to hear if he ever sought counselling for his inevitable woes from living in a world that couldn’t decide if he was sick or immoral, so simply saw him as both.

Today, the word pervert just sounds silly, or at least provincial, when used to refer to gays and lesbians. In a growing number of societies, homosexuals are slowly, begrudgingly, being allowed entry into the ranks of the culturally tolerated. But plenty of other sexual minorities remain firmly entrenched in the orientation blacklist. Although, happily, we’re increasingly using science to defend gays and lesbians, deep down most of us (religious or not) still appear to be suffering from the illusion of a creator who set moral limits on the acceptable sexual orientations. Our knee-jerk perception of individuals who similarly have no choice whatsoever over what arouses them sexually (be they paedophiles, exhibitionists, transvestites, or fetishists, to name but a few) is that they’ve wilfully, deliberately, and arrogantly strayed from the right course. In other words, we see them as ‘true perverts’. Whereas gays and lesbians are perceived by more and more people as ‘like normal heterosexuals’ because they didn’t choose to be the way they are, we assume that these others somehow did.

As a society we’ve become so focused on the question of whether a given sexual behaviour is ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’ that we’ve lost sight of the more important question: Is it harmful? In many ways, it’s an even more challenging question, because although naturalness can be assessed by relatively straightforward queries about statistical averages — for example, ‘How frequently does it appear in other species?’ and ‘In what percentage of the human population does it occur?’ — the experience of harm is largely subjective. As such, it defies direct analyses and requires definitions that resonate with people in vastly different ways.

When it comes to sexual harm in particular, what’s harmful to one person could be not only completely harmless to another but might even, believe it or not, be helpful or positive. A gay Muslim who dies only to find himself in an afterlife thronged with 72 beautiful female virgins, as the Koran promises its faithful, will be in hell, not in heaven. One man’s angels are another’s demons.

Morally, all that matters is whether a person’s sexual deviancy is demonstrably harmful

And it’s not just overtly physical sexual acts that can be experienced differently in terms of harm but also entirely ethereal sexual desires. For the religiously devout, this whole conversation is a lost cause. Yet once one abandons the notion that one can ‘commit’ a sin by thinking a thought, it becomes quite clear that sexual desires — no matter how deviant — are intrinsically harmless to the subject of a person’s lust, at least in the physical sense. Mental states are ‘a mere breath on the air’ as the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote. Sexual desires can, of course, be thought bubbles with thorns and wreak havoc on a person’s own well-being (especially when they occur in the heads of those convinced such thoughts come from the devil and yet they just can’t stop having them).

Still, it’s only when this ‘mere breath on the air’ is manifested in behaviour that harm to another person might or might not occur. Treating an individual as a pervert in essence, and hence with a purposefully immoral mind, because his or her brain conjures up atypical erotic ideas, or responds sexually to stimuli that others have deemed inappropriate objects of desire, then becomes medieval in both its stupidity and its cruelty. It’s also entirely counterproductive. For example, research in the 1980s on the ‘white bear effect’ by the social psychologist Daniel Wegner and colleagues at Trinity University in Texas has shown that forcing a person to suppress specific thoughts leads to those very thoughts invading the subject’s consciousness even more than they otherwise would. (Whatever you do, don’t — I repeat, do not — think about a white bear during the next 30 seconds.)

Our critical evaluations should fall upon harmful sexual actions with the heaviest of thuds, but not upon a pituitary excretion that happens to morph into an ethereal image in the private movie theatre of someone’s mind. Morally, all that matters is whether a person’s sexual deviancy is demonstrably harmful. If it’s not, and we reject the person anyway, then we’re not the good guys in this scenario: we’re the bad guys.

Excerpted from PERV: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us by Jesse Bering, to be published  October 8th by Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2013 by Jesse Bering. All rights reserved.


Breaking Their Will: The Sick Biblical Literalism That Leads to Child Abuse and Even Death
Authoritarian parenting and abusive practices are all too common in some Evangelical households.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Suzanne Tucker

In 2008, Hana Williams was adopted from an orphanage in Ethiopia and brought to the United States where she died at the hands of her Bible-believing American parents. Their notion of Christian discipline required breaking her will, a remarkably common belief among conservative Evangelicals. To that end, they frequently beat her, shut her in a closet, and denied her meals. Ultimately, she was left outside where she died of hypothermia exacerbated by malnutrition. They were convicted ofmanslaughter this month.

In carrying out their obsession with child obedience, Hana’s adoptive parents drew tips from Tennessee preacher Michael Pearl, whose spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child book, To Train Up a Child, has been found now in three homes of Christian parents who killed their adopted children. The title comes from a stanza in the book of Proverbs: Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.

M. Dolon Hickmon is the author of an upcoming novel called 13:24that includes religiously motivated abuse. Hickmon was raised by parents who subscribed to this kind of discipline, and he knows first-hand about deep and long-lasting scars from Bible-based childrearing. Hickmon left his 6,000 member megachurch after a pastor seized on Father’s Day as a prime occasion to teach the congregation how to shape and sand wooden spanking paddles. For Hickmon, the sermon triggered memories of the beatings he had suffered as a child—administered by Christian parents and justified by biblical teachings.

While struggling to hold together his faith, Hickmon sent a letter soliciting advice from an online ministry run by the authors of a popular Evangelical parenting manual. He wrote as if he were a father experiencing marital conflict because his wife interfered when he hit their terrified, screaming six-year-old. In reality, Hickmon was describing his own childhood experience. (You can read his letter, which is full of intentional red flags, here.) The response: Your wife is at fault in coming to your son’s defense. Your son uses her. Either she stays out of the way, or you will have to stop being a real Dad.

Mercifully, secular courts don’t agree that inflicting physical wounds is an acceptable part of parenting. Hana’s parents have been convicted for her death at their hands and will be sentenced in October. Their seven biological children and adopted son—they had also adopted a boy from Ethiopia ironically named Immanuel, meaning “God is with us”— are now safe from their abuse. It is noteworthy, though, that American children are being made safer by secular institutions, not adherence to ancient texts and traditions.

Child protections have become established in most countries, and conversations about child-friendly religion are gaining ground. Even so, many children are subject to patriarchalgroups that take parenting priorities from the Iron Age. Evangelical Christians, fearing that their religion is losing ground, have ramped up recruiting activities targeting high school and college students but also young children. Their tool bag includes afternoon club programs and enticing camps. Some churches, like that of TV’s Duggar family, promote a high birth rate, adding young sheep to the fold the old fashioned way. Many churches encourage members—even those who already have numerous children—to adopt.

Kathryn Joyce’s book, The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption exposes Evangelical ministries that have resorted to even lies and bribes to pursue their mission of getting children into good Christian homes. A more common criticism is that Evangelical adoption priorities fuel construction of aid-dependent orphanages rather than addressing the underlying systemic issues that cause maternal destitution and death, leaving children parentless.

Many Evangelical families provide a balance of love and structure and moderate discipline that helps kids thrive. But even well intentioned and loving parents can be thrown off by a church or books that hold up spare the rod, spoil the child as advice from God. When parenting practices derive literally from the Iron Age texts of Bible, the price can be enormous.

As a child, M. Dolon Hickmon collected bits he’d heard in sermons and adult conversations, trying to understand his fear and hurt. Ultimately he decided the fault lay in himself:

Here are the messages I gleaned from the church of my childhood: that beating children is acceptable—good for them, in fact; bruises and welts are of little consequence; that fear is desirable, as is pained screaming and broken sobbing. I’d heard that kids were to be whipped for the least act of disobedience, with belts and sticks and plastic racecar tracks; on bare skin, and as often as an adult thought was necessary.

A child abuser, on the other hand, is someone who doesn’t love you. A parent who never gives hugs because he is angry all the time. A child abuser is a drinker, a druggie, or at best some kind of wild animal. An abuser has no reasons or explanations. He just burns kids with cigarettes and gives them broken arms.

My abuser loved me and hugged me, and he overflowed with explanations. I once got an hour-long lesson on disobedience for leaving a crayon on the floor. While the belt clapped with the measured rhythms of chopping firewood, I struggled to commit verses to memory and to answer quizzes on the metaphysical meanings of the word honor in scripture. . . .

I tolerated being degraded, because that was what I thought a Christian child was supposed to do.

Children generally have a hard time protecting themselves from abusive caregivers. Children who are made to believe that God is on the side of the abuser and that they deserve to suffer are all the more unable to fend off physical and psychological wounds. To quote Pat Benetar’s song “Hell is for Children,” love and pain become one and the same in the eyes of a wounded child.

As of late, critics have been raising awareness of the link between certain kinds of religious parenting and abuse. Janet Heimlich, author of Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment, recently founded the Child-Friendly Faith Project, a national nonprofit organization that educates the public about the impact that religious, spiritual, and cultural beliefs and practices have on children.

We now know a great deal about how children flourish and how adults can manage parent-child conflict for positive outcomes. Psychologist Laura Kastner distilled two decades of parenting research into seven basic principles, which provide the structure for her book, Wise-Minded Parenting. When asked to comment on recent tragedies, Kastner suggested that we may have learned a thing or two in the millennia since our sacred texts were written:

Our growing knowledge of child development suggests that authoritative parenting grounded in mutual respect works better in the long run than threats and force. It is a shame that factions among us still support the use of the “rod” when we have abundant evidence that non-violent parental strengths are the key to building success and character.

Tragedies like the death of Hana Williams prompt soul searching. For example, the case has prompted calls for adoption reform. But what shape should reforms take? We cannot exclude prospective parents on the basis of their religious affiliation, nor should we. Many adoptive parents are inspired by their faith to step up and do the hard sustained work of loving and raising orphaned children despite their special needs and challenges.

And yet beliefs matter. They can override compassion and common sense, as Hickmon’s experience so clearly shows. Encircled by like-minded believers, parents and children may get little exposure to outside parenting practices. This means that religious leaders have tremendous power to either cause suffering or to help families develop skills that are grounded in a genuine understanding of child development. As we collectively muddle our way toward a better future, we need to engage in a thoughtful, complicated conversation about parental power and children’s wellbeing, and the positive and negative roles religion can play in finding a balance that helps kids flourish.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light” and “Deas and Other Imaginings.” Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.

Putin’s Unholy Alliance With Orthodox Church To Persecute Gays
by Susie Madrak

Vladimir Putin is not your typical head of state. He’s a thug, and Russia is a state run by gangsters. Frank Schaeffer, who (having grown up in the bosom of the Christian right) knows a thing or two about religious hate, writes about Putin’s unholy alliance with the Orthodox Church to persecute gays:

With the disgusting acquiescence of the Russian Orthodox bishops, Vladimir Putin has accomplished what Sarah Palin, Franklin Graham and Michele Bachmann could only dream of doing in America. He’s made it okay to persecute gay people people in Russia. Putin has built his power base of corruption and terror with the help of the religious and conservative elements of his society. He’s become expert at courting the alliance of the Russian Orthodox Church. And here in America conservatives are lining up to defend Putin. For instance, writing in The American Conservative,  in an article called Culture War Goes Global, (August 13, 3013) Patrick J. Buchanan writes:

As Father Regis Scanlon writes in Crisis Magazine, in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI reiterated Catholic doctrine that homosexuality is a “strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil,” an “objective disorder.” That homosexual acts are unnatural and immoral remains Catholic teaching.

Thus, if we seek to build a Good Society by traditional Catholic and Christian standards, why should not homosexual propaganda be treated the same as racist or anti-Semitic propaganda? …. “The adoption of Christianity,” declared Putin, “became a turning point in the fate of our fatherland, made it an inseparable part of the Christian civilization and helped turn it into one of the largest world powers.” Anyone ever heard anything like that from the Post, the Times, or Barack Hussein Obama?

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, took to TV to say that “liberalism will lead to legal collapse and then the Apocalypse.” On another occasion, he called Putin’s rule “a miracle.” When convening the heads and senior members of 15 Orthodox Churches for an unprecedented meeting at the Kremlin in the summer of 2013, Putin praised the moral authority of the church. “It is important that relations between the state and the church are developing at a new level,” Putin said in televised remarks, with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill by his side. “We act as genuine partners and colleagues to solve the most pressing domestic and international tasks, to implement joint initiatives for the benefit of our country and people,” he told the clerics.

Alongside Kirill, those present included Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria, Theophilos III of Jerusalem and Ilia II of Georgia. Also present were the heads of the Bulgarian, Serbian, Polish and Cypriot Orthodox Churches. Together they represented more than 227 million faithful.

To my knowledge not one American Orthodox bishop protested this meeting. I’m reminded of the silence of most of the German churches during the rise of Hitler.As a member of the Orthodox Church, in this case the Greek Orthodox Church, I’m ashamed.

Where are the voices of Orthodox leadership, not only in Russia but here, denouncing this awful man and the terror he’s unleashing against gay men and women? Putin has presided over show-trial prosecutions of political opponents and reformers. He’s used the full weight of his government against artists who mock religion. He’s encouraged the liquidation of crusading journalists who have been beaten and murdered. Putin and his government may have been directly involved in at least one such killing.

Now with the approval of the Russian bishops Putin is inventing a new enemy to distract attention from his fascist takeover of Russia: Russia’s LGBT men and women. As Adam Lee, a writer living in New York City points out in an article published byAlternet, Putin’s “parliament” passed increasingly draconian anti-gay laws. Russian activists have even been arrested for just holding up a signs reading “Gay is normal.”A bill now under consideration would take away children (both adopted and biological) from gay and lesbian parents. With the Russian Church, parliament and Putin saying that LGBT people aren’t fully human, homophobes in Russia are emboldened. The torture and murder of gay people, by gangs of skinheads assaulting gay-rights protestors in public, with the police looking on,is happening. And American evangelical Christians think this is all great. So, apparently judging by their silence, do American Orthodox church leaders.NOW American evangelical and Roman Catholic right-wing haters are climbing aboard the Russian hate parade .

Click back to Adam Lee’s Alternet story to see just how eagerly right-wing Christians are fanning the flames.


Christian Right v Godless Liberalism: Why Do Christians Attack Godless Liberals?

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Growth of “Godless” as an Epithet for Liberals:

The nature of godless liberalism can be difficult to understand because of the misuse of the label by the Christian Right. According to them, all liberals are godless because they don’t adhere to conservative evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity. Only conservative political policies are seen as compatible with Christianity; therefore, all other policies are anti-Christian, anti-religious, and anti-God. Advocates are all thus godless liberals, but that misrepresents the nature of atheism.

Godless Liberals are Communists:

Christian Right pundits often claim that atheism is essentially socialist or communist in nature – indeed, “godless” and “communist” are often used side-by-side as epithets. Communism is not, however, inherently atheistic. It’s possible to hold communist economic views while being a theist, and it isn’t uncommon to be an atheist who staunchly defends capitalism. Those who link the two as a smear simply haven’t gotten the message that the “war on godless communism” ended long ago. Read More…

Godless Liberals are Elitist & Arrogant:

Just as common as the use of “godless” and “communist” as political smears is the label “elitist.” Conservatives have long attacked liberals as “elitist” to convince average Americans that liberals have nothing in common with them. The truth is that the label “elitist” would apply equally to some conservatives as well as some liberals. There is nothing about being godless which makes a person is more elitist or arrogant; if anything, claiming to know what God wants is a sign of arrogance.

Godless Liberals are Secularists, Opposed to Religious Liberty:

The Christian Right opposes secularism and regards it as one of modernity’s greatest evils, so it’s only natural that they use it as a smear against liberals, godless or otherwise. Liberals are generally secularists, and godless liberals particularly so, because secularism is so important to modern society. Secularism simply means having civil institutions which are independent of ecclesiastical control. The opposite of secularism and secular government is some form of theocracy.

Godless Liberals are Anti-American:

A popular attack on godless atheists is that they are anti-American. This derives in part from the assumption that true American patriotism is impossible without also being a True Christian – America is a Christian Nation, after all – and in part from the traditional assumption that communists are also anti-American. If godless atheists are anti-America, then godless liberals must be as well. The falsehood of this is obvious given just how false all the premises necessarily are.

Godless Liberals are Anti-Christian:

Many atheists spend a great deal of time with the doctrines and beliefs which are specific to Christianity or, at the very least, to traditional forms of Western monotheism. Some atheists are indeed vehemently anti-Christian, but only insofar as they oppose religion generally – Christianity is simply the most relevant religion in their social context. This isn’t much of a complaint against atheists, though, unless it can be shown that Christianity should be exempted from such attacks.

Godless Liberals are Anti-Religion:

For people who see their god or their religion as the source of all order and morality, godless liberalism may be treated as impossible or even as a threat. The fact that godless liberals do not derive their political positions from religious doctrine does not make them anti-religious, though. They may personally be anti-religion, but politically they may not be – indeed, they may have no problem making common cause with religious liberals.

Godless Liberalism is an anti-Christian Religion:

Alongside accusing godless liberals of being anti-religion, conservatives accuse it of also being a religion that opposes Christianity. Being an atheist isn’t incompatible with belonging to a religion, but atheism itself doesn’t qualify as a religion. Liberalism is a political philosophy which lacks all the basic characteristics of a religion and is no more religious than conservatism – and possibly less so. Godless liberalism is not a religion and there is no church of godless liberalism.

Godless Liberals Undermine Moral Values with Godless Evolution:

A popular target for conservatives is evolutionary science, which they say undermines traditional religious faith and morality. They say evolution is incompatible with Christian beliefs and are convinced that teaching evolution will destroy Christianity. Liberals who support teaching science in public schools are accused of being godless and anti-Christian. The science of evolution is godless, but it’s not a religion, not incompatible with morality, and not anti-Christian. Read More…

Godless Liberalism, Traditional Bigotry, and Christian Privilege:

Atheists don’t exist in large numbers in America and aren’t a very powerful interest group in American politics. Atheists can be found in both liberal and conservative political movements; liberals overall are primarily theistic and Christian, not atheists. Neither the godless nor godless liberals have by themselves any significant impact on politics, culture, or society. Because of all this and more, we have to ask why conservatives have become so obsessed with attacking “godless liberals.”Conservative attacks on godless liberals make no sense if the target is really supposed to be godless liberals themselves; on the other hand, if godless liberals are merely a substitute for other targets, the attacks are more understandable. One likely point of the attacks is an indirect defense of traditional Christian privileges: if anything is indicative of the loss of Christian privileges in America, it’s the unapologetic presence of outspoken atheists – and especially the presence of atheists filing lawsuits to eliminate government favoritism towards and promotion of Christianity. Attacks on the godless are thus a means for expressing outrage that some feel because Christians and Christianity are not treated as special anymore.Another likely reason for the attacks on godless liberals is the fact that conservatives are finding it increasingly difficult to attack the minorities they have traditionally tried to attack in defense of other traditional privileges: male privilege, white privilege, and heterosexual privilege. Conservatives frequently attack gays, but it’s getting harder to be openly bigoted towards them without social consequences. Attacks on the equality of women and racial minorities are even more difficult and must be heavily veiled with code-words involving immigration, radical feminism, and so forth. If someone wants to vent their bigotry, they do so against liberalism generally because it’s largely responsible for the decline of traditional privileges.


‘Sexual Jihad’ In Syria Cause Rise In Pregnancy Among Tunisian Women, Lawmaker Says

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A number of Tunisian women have traveled to Syria to have sex with rebel fighters, a senior Tunisian politician said Thursday. The practice is known as “sexual jihad.”

The women “are swapped between 20, 30, 100 rebels,” Interior Minister Lotfi Bin Jeddo told an assembly of Tunisian lawmakers, according to Al Arabiya. “We are doing nothing and standing idle.”

“After the sexual liaisons they have there in the name of ‘jihad al-nikah,’ they come home pregnant,” he said, according to Agence France-Presse. (Jihad al-nikah is an Arabic phrase meaning “sexual holy war,” AFP explains.)

Jeddo did not specify how many Tunisian women have traveled to the embattled Muslim country.

A fatwa, or an Islamic religious ruling, was reportedly issued last spring, calling for women to travel to Syria to provide intimacy to jihadi fighters there, Al Monitor reported at the time. Although some said reports of the fatwa were false, Tunisia’s minister of religious affairs spoke out against the order, saying Tunisian women and girls were not required to obey it.

Why some women would obey such an order is less clear, but one expert suggests they may believe it’s an act of devotion.

“Muslim women prostituting themselves in this case is being considered a legitimate jihad because such women are making sacrifices—their chastity, their dignity—in order to help apparently sexually-frustrated jihadis better focus on the war to empower Islam in Syria,” writes author and Islam expert Raymond Ibrahim for The Investigative Project On Terrorism, a nonprofit research organization that studies jihad.