Friday, December 23, 2011

The Grinch of Atonement steals Christmas

As Advent wanes and Christmas approaches, I always feel a growing sense of relief. I have long observed that the behaviors of my fellow Americans become noticeably more aggressive in the frenzied media-driven run-up to what is probably best described as Consumermas. Negotiating the local roads or the parking lot of any big box store or even a strip mall in these days leading up to Christmas can mean taking your life in your hands.

With a mere two days to go, the hype will near the point of hysteria tomorrow, take a day off for our corporate media to remind us how happy our material goods are supposed to make us on Christmas Day, and then resume fever pitch for the day after Christmas clearances. For those of us who have long ago opted out of the guilt-driven buying without which desperate merchants believe they cannot end the year in the black, this misery simply cannot end soon enough.

The Gospel According to Cici

This year, however, I find my discomfort with Christmas centered on things more theological. For some reason I had a hankering for pizza last week in the midst of grading finals and so I engaged in willful amnesia about why I never visit Cici’s all-you-can-eat pizza bar and drove down to the strip mall where the last remaining Cici’s in town is located. As usual, there was lots of mediocre-at-best food and lots of obese working class folks chowing down on it. It would have been a decidedly forgettable dining experience (except to remember why I initially had made the rule of never eating at Cici’s) had it not been for the radio station being used for background noise.

Upon opening the door of the restaurant the blaring sound of yet another night club version of a Christmas carol assaulted my ears. With all the incredibly beautiful music that has been composed for Christmas over the centuries, it is a mystery to me why public spaces must be filled with the purgatorial sounds of Frank Sinatra and the Beach Boys. But it was only when I had already begun my own chowing down on pizza that I realized it was not a satellite muzak system but rather the local fundamentalist radio station to which the customers were being subjected.

What gave it away was this assertion: “Today we have good news. A baby will be born. He will be called Jesus. And he will die for our sins so that all who believe in him can go to heaven.” I nearly spewed half chewed pizza across the restaurant.

But this kind of misguided theology is hardly relegated to a fundamentalist radio station whose motto “Safe for the little ears” is probably best completed with the words “and the little, teeny, tiny brains below them.” Even theologically well educated priests of my own Episcopal tradition can lapse into this absolutely dreadful theology.

About a decade ago I embarrassed myself and the family of the parish rector with whom I was sitting at a Christmas Eve Midnight Mass when I exploded in exasperation in reaction to his Christmas homily. In the homily he declared “Jesus had to be born so he could die for our sins.” I’m guessing that the stage-whispered utterance of “What a crock of shit!” was probably not the response he was expecting that night, particularly from a fellow priest in clerical collar. Of course, it didn’t help that we had all indulged in more than a little Christmas cheer prior to midnight mass. Ho, ho, ho, indeed.

An Instrumentalist Vision of Jesus

But he’s hardly alone in this thinking. The priest of the local parish where I attend services - when I can convince myself to actually go to church - is a graduate of my seminary in Berkeley. She is a terrific person. I love her and often go simply because she has implored me to be there. She is a good pastor and officiant and I often smile as I recognize the influence of our common seminary training in her liturgical celebration. 

I also admire her theology of transformation: At St. Richard’s we are on a mission to change our lives and to change the world, an assertion made at the announcements each Sunday eucharist. I have long since recognized that any religion that fails to transcend the socially constructed world and transform the lives of its people individually and collectively is not a religion worth engaging.

But I found myself disturbed today as I read the Christmas email missive from the pastor. In part it states:

The meditation on the collects appointed for Christmas Day reflects on the beauty of the prayers and their message that God is with us and God is for us. We believe as Christians that Jesus died for our sins because we do not have power within ourselves to help ourselves. We need Jesus to save us, to take away our sins for us. That is a huge gift! We call this the atonement of Jesus, the crucifixion makes us at-one with God.

Frankly, I am always disturbed by the presumptuousness of any assertion about what “we believe as Christians.” The reality is that the followers of Jesus have held a wide variety of understandings about him, his life and teachings from the very beginning. Frankly, I do not recognize myself in this description of what “we believe as Christians” and I know many beside myself who would be similarly puzzled at being included in such a confession.

The first part of my concern with all of these no doubt well-intentioned people is that they buy into what I see as ultimately an egocentric religious construct. This vision of religion generally and the person of Jesus specifically is cast in instrumentalist terms – Jesus’ primary function is to save us (stage 3, tribal moral reasoning) from sin – but only so long as we buy into the right (defined by the tribe) belief system - so that each of us (stage 2, egocentric moral reasoning) can go to heaven. In other words, Jesus is a means to our ends. Ultimately, it’s all about me/us when it comes to Jesus.

The second part of my concern has to do with the atonement itself. I’ve never found that concept particularly compelling from the first time I heard it in the local Southern Baptist Church in my hometown. At the ripe old age of 8 years old, I came home from that service deeply disturbed and flew to my saintly mother to ask her if it was really true that G-d had to kill his only son so that all of us could go to heaven - but only if we agree with the Baptist understandings of religion. “Honey, that’s just what the Baptists think,” she said.

That’s pretty much where it’s remained for me most of my life. I have always found the obsession with sinfulness and salvation in the Christian tradition to be incredibly egocentric. My Jesus. My faith. My salvation. That may be compelling for those whose moral reasoning hovers in Kohlberg’s pre-conventional range (Stage 1: What must I do to avoid punishment ? or Stage 2: What’s in it for me?) but while childlike reasoning may be charming in children, it’s not so charming when it persists in adults.

When it comes to spiritual lives, it’s simply not all or even predominately about me. Spirituality speaks to transcending self and recognizing our connections to all of Creation and the Creator G-d whom encounter at every turn. This spiritual understanding is simply not reflected in atonement theology. A god who is so weak or so stubborn that he cannot forgive sinners without human sacrifice is a tribal tyrant and ultimately not a god worthy of worship.

Forget Waldo – Where’s Jesus?

But the gravamen of my case against the misplacement of atonement theology at the Christmas season is that it seems to completely miss the point of the nativity. The good news is Immanuel, G-d is with us. While the image of G-d surrounds us every waking moment on the faces of every sentient being and in the beauty of the very good creation, we are often oblivious to that divine presence. Instead we allow ourselves to become obsessed with Black Friday sales and the latest scandals in Hollywood or Washington, the marks of lives defined by the shallowness of consumerism.

But the Good News of Jesus is that G-d actually comes to dwell among us. My Franciscan professor of Christology expressed it very well: “Jesus was so open to G-d’s calling to him that he became transparent. Thus, in Jesus we saw G-d.”  It's a beautiful statement of Franciscan theology I have long cherished. Indeed, at Christmas we see G-d as a fragile, newborn child, a new life entrusted to human parents, amidst a living nativity scene originally envisioned by St. Francis.

Sadly, Christmas is often symbolically misrepresented by crosses and those who adorn them with Christmas lights to place in their outdoor decorations evidence both a profound confusion of liturgical seasons as well as a lack of a theology of incarnation. The symbols of Christmas are not instruments of torture and death emblazoned with electric lights. Rather, Christmas is manifest in a humble stable full of barnyard animals, amidst them a manger holding a fragile, newborn baby, a brilliant star shining overhead.

Christmas is also not the celebration of theologies featuring contrived resolutions of our existential anxieties surrounding death and hoped-for lives to come. Those belong more to the syncretic feast of Easter in the spring - if at all. Rather, Christmas is about the joy and blessings of this life. It is the celebration of yet another turning point in the natural cycle of our world. The baby, coming into our world at the end of the darkness of Advent, embodies our hopes for new lives and new directions. Life begins once more.

It is no accident that the Church chose Saturnalia, the feast of the Winter Solstice, for its celebration of Jesus’ birth. After a four week period of Advent’s somber waiting and watching, the light begins to return to the world – for Christians in the form of a newborn child. There is a reason most world religions dating back to prehistory have celebrated the winter solstice. Jesus is but one of many reasons for the season, albeit an important reason for those of us who endeavor to follow his Way.

What is most troubling in the instrumentalism of casting the Christmas joy of Jesus’ birth in terms of self-serving atonement theologies is that it commits the great sin common to so many Christian faith understandings. Jesus Seminar founder Bob Funk was wont to point to its evidence in our creeds: the entirety of Jesus’ life is reduced to a punctuation mark: He was born of a virgin [comma] suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. So what’s missing here?

No muss, no fuss, no Jesus.

In my view, what’s missing is anything actually worth knowing about Jesus. There is no Kingdom of G-d when the Grinch of Atonement steals Christmas. There is no Sermon on the Mount. The poor remain without blessings, the multitudes remain unfed, the sick remain unhealed. Worse yet, the people of G-d remain unmoved by Jesus’ call to them to live into their duties to their fellow children of G-d, to not only love them as ourselves but to incarnate that love in the way we live our daily lives. Perhaps more importantly, we also avoid his calling to construct a world where that love becomes incarnate in societies based in shalom – a peace rooted in justice for all and marked by right relation.

It’s precisely the life of Jesus which flows from his birth on Christmas that makes his Way worthy of being followed. A theology that leaps from the manger to the cross misses that Way entirely enroute to contrived reassurances about life after death.

Indeed, in my darker moments in Cici’s Pizza last week, I had a troubling image of a band of church officials in liturgical vestments storming the stable, yanking the baby Jesus from Mary’s arms. They haul the child off to the Amalgamated Salvation Factory with its over-sized grinder where he is immediately ground into sausage. His very life essence is then filtered from that pureed sausage, distilled to an essence of salvation and then mass produced into countless vaccinations  poised to immunize otherwise depraved human beings against original sin. These could then be sold off to willing consumers but only at the price of buying into one of many dreadful theologies of atonement.

No muss, no fuss, no Jesus.

Tonight I will light all four candles of my Advent wreath surrounded by the nascimientos, nativity scenes, I have collected from around the world. I am waiting for Jesus, a newborn baby, who will bring light to a darkened world. I am hopeful for yet another year and what it will bring. I am not focused on death or what – if anything – happens thereafter. Rather, I quietly await another year in which I will strive to live into the Way of Jesus as best I can know it and live accordingly. And I am thankful to an ever generous G-d for giving to us this gift of a new year, a new start, a new child, allowing Christmas to come once more.

Oh come, oh come, Immanuel.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

G-d’s Quarterback?
Of humility, mindfulness and evangelism on - and off - the football field

I have a long love/hate relationship with Tim Tebow. As the former quarterback for one of my alma maters, the University of Florida Gators, Tebow was the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy and led his team to the national championship. In former years, that would have been cause for great celebration though in my graying years college football commands a fairly low level of my attention these days.

My sense of Tebow is that he is basically a nice young man. He is known for his ability to lead teams by whipping them into frenzies of esprit du corps. He has a rather charming “Aw, shucks” manner about him that is no doubt authentic arising from his upbringing in a part of Florida which marks the beginning of the Bible Belt, a region I tend to avoid at all costs. Generally, Tebow comes across as humble and respectable, a real credit to his momma and diddy, no doubt.

As he left the University of Florida, Tebow was roundly dismissed as incapable of surviving in professional football. His wide open approach to quarterbacking developed in high school football (his home schooling did not prevent him from playing for the local high school team under FHSAA rules) and honed at UF was seen as inconsistent with the rigor and pressures of professional play. And yet, under Tebow’s leadership which only began midway through the season, the Denver Broncos are now 7-1, many of those victories being carved out in the final seconds of the game after miserable Tebow performances for the first three quarters.

It’s this pattern that has led publications like the Wall Street Journal to run stories on what they are calling “God’s Quarterback.” Somehow, G_d takes time from the divine daily schedule to micromanage essentially meaningless athletic contests between two corporate entertainment units. While nothing short of ludicrous, that perception is fed by the behavior of people like Tim Tebow who routinely engages in the increasing tendency for players to point to the sky, supposedly to thank G-d for touchdowns, or to kneel in the end zone after the same. Tebow takes it a step further by thanking G-d and “Jesus Christ, my personal lord and savior” for his successes on the gridiron in his post-game interviews.

Murdoch Mindlessness

In the shameless religious right cheerleading which wound up in Rupert Murdoch’s formerly venerable rag, Tebow was described as having a “candid piety.” That evoked my response in the comments which follow the story:

Of course there is nothing candid about this piety. It's shameless, highly public and egotistical. If Tim had done a little better job reading his scripture he'd recognize himself in the Gospel of Luke: 18:11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people..." Or maybe he missed the verse in Matthew 6:6 "But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you." I am a UF grad and admire Tim Tebow. But it's despite this inappropriate piety and self-focused proselytizing, not because of it.

Dueling Bible Verses

Not surprisingly, that drew a response from a no-doubt religious right reader who sought to engage in dueling bible verses:

Perhaps he was reading Matthew 10:32-33 - “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven" or Romans 10:8-10 - "[I]f you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved."…People love a humble spirit more than they love a Tiger Woods.

What a well trained evangelical. Never waste an opportunity to witness, regardless of how inane the testimony might be and how inappropriate the circumstances. I had to really pull back the throttle to respond:

"Perhaps he was reading Matthew 10:32-33 - “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men..."

Perhaps. But the context of this verse is much more appropriate in an actual religious setting. The context of Jesus' critique of the Pharisee is precisely that which has drawn the comments here - a public setting unrelated to religion in which the behavior was designed more to draw attention to the Pharisee than his faith.

That's the egocentrism I'm talking about. It's the presumptuousness that marks most adolescent college boys who feel the need to make their testimonies regardless of the context. It's the same egocentrism that quickly plays the role of the martyr when they are called on that inappropriateness and egocentrism. There is a time and a place for evangelism, if it absolutely must happen. The football field is neither. Frankly, a religion which manages to convert adherents by scoring winning touchdowns is observably rather shallow. But don't let that stop the true believer. After all, while the rhetoric may suggest it's all about G-d the behavior reveals it's all about me.

Again, I admire Tebow as an athlete, as a young man and as a fellow UF grad. But I find the perceived need of any athlete to improperly use the sporting arena to promote their limited vision of religion to be lamentable. If anything, the egocentrism and inappropriate behavior takes away from the performance worth holding up as an example. Moreover, the absurdity of suggesting that G-d has assisted one corporate sports team win a meaningless contest with another corporate sports team is astonishing.

I agree that people love a humble spirit. The problem is that this behavior displays just the opposite.

The Right to Limited Visions

No doubt my acontextual biblical sparring partner will not hear this. He has clearly bought into a vision of religion which is egocentric – the only real value of religion is to offer the believer a sense of existential security and a hope of a positive afterlife no matter how contrived. It’s also a vision which is highly tribal – we have an obligation to insure that everyone shares our perceptions of religion otherwise cognitive dissonance may set in and reveal that our socially constructed beliefs are not terribly believable. Therefore, any context will do to shore up our fragile faith system through gaining more people to affirm those beliefs. The bottom line is feeling secure.

Of course, the Tim Tebows of the world have the right under our First Amendment to articulate their limited visions of faith as they see fit, even to abuse the context of sporting events to do so. And the Murdochs of the world have the right under the same amendment to pimp the fears and play to the mindlessness of their readers so long as it brings them yet another buck. Finally, the religious right readers of the world have the right to engage in dueling bible verses, even as they are offered completely out of context.

But, Mr. Tebow’s conduct causes any admiration a thoughtful person might have for him to be qualified at best if not begrudging. Even more ironic, it is precisely this kind of conduct with its obliviousness to context that makes even a neutral stance toward his religious beliefs by outsiders difficult at best. My guess is that he is unaware of the irony in that and I fear he would no doubt be quick to cast himself in the egocentric martyr’s role if ever called on his adolescent behavior. Aw shucks only runs so deep and it only goes so far.

Clearly, humble, mindful athletes – and their supporters - are a rare breed. Perhaps that's why Jesus never played football?

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

End of the Term Madness

How many times have you received an email beginning “Dear Sir/Madam…” that then proceeds to lay out some poorly connived story about your need to help them by giving them access to your checking account? In years past I used to respond with a note to the business school boys who sent the note that they should spend more time studying for finals and less on such poorly written attempts at fraud. Inevitably I noted “even business courses have finals, boys.”

This year, I received the following note while I was grading finals.

Dear Sir/Madam,

We are Interested to import your product in bulk quantity. Payment will be through Bank to Bank wire transfer. Interested sources can contact along with all further details. Also want to know about shipment charges.



Clearly the boys at the b-school need to attend to their composition courses a bit more. Operating out of the rubric that humor is often the best way to deal with aggression, the following erupted from my keyboard:

Great, Said. And it is sir, not madam. At least this week.

I am a credit hour facilitator (formerly called professor) of undergraduates at an educational credentials factory (formerly known as a university). Our undergrads produce tons of bullshit every semester. I just got through wading through a major ocean of the same during finals week. And a bumper crop of it will come shortly when we receive the Student Perceptions of Instruction. Catchy name, no?

As for the quality, some of it - like the excuses for submitting exams and papers on time - is pretty creative. Lord knows, we have an absolute genocide of grandparents who die during finals week. And there are rare diseases yet unknown to western medicine which will be diagnosed during this week. Some of the bullshit even sounds like authentic scholarship (often because it actually is someone else's scholarship. We call that plagiarism - a fancy word for cheating - on this side of the pond. Of course, if you're a football coach or player, it won't matter). But most of it's the same, pure, authentic bullshit we come to expect from our undergrads who want all of the grade and all of the credit hours all of the time with none of the work - thus all of the bullshit.

So, how much would you like? Our governor has insured that there will be an ample supply of bullshit from our undergrads and the local football team with a university attached to it has authorized me to sell it to you for very reasonable prices. When can we arrange for you to pack it all up and take delivery?

Professor Over L. DaBullshit

For some reason, Said never got back to me.

I had no sooner posted that email when the following arrived from our departmental secretary:

Good morning,
Is someone taking this Orientation on Saturday? Read message below.

Good Afternoon Everyone,

I wanted to send out a reminder that there is a Transfer Orientation session scheduled for this Saturday, December 10th. In an effort to make this, my first Saturday orientation, run smoothly I am trying to put together a list of who from each department will be present this Saturday to conduct the Department Advising sessions for the students in attendance. I would like you to provide me with the following information for each department:

- Who will be present on campus on Saturday to advise students for your department. Please give me the first and last names of the specific people who will be advising students in your departments on Saturday.

What’s striking about this message from the self-described “Coordinator, Academic Advising Services I, College of Arts and Humanities Student Advising (CAHSA)” is the presumptuousness out of which it arises. Not only is this a Saturday (and surely even advising services coordinators are familiar with the terms of the university contract with its wage slaves regarding the five day workweek) but it’s a Saturday in the middle of final exams at the end of a long term. Usually one must go to the state legislature to encounter such cluelessness.

This time my yetzer tov rose to the occasion. I did not respond to the note on the departmental list where it appeared out of regard for our secretary’s feelings. But I did pen this rather snarky response which I shared with a few colleagues:

Attention UCF Bureaucrats: The work week for which you pay your wage slaves – as poorly as that might be - extends from Monday to Friday. Saturday is a weekend day. Your failure to schedule orientations on work days does not create any obligations for your wage slaves. Please govern yourselves accordingly.

Sometimes, even snarky humor is the better option than the more obvious use of the bazooka.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.


The Evolution of a Small Town

Sunday’s Orlando Sentinel carried this story on its front page:

Vote shows Orlando is growing more gay-friendly

By Mark Schlueb, Orlando Sentinel 10:37 p.m. EST, December 11, 2011

The relatively easy passage of a new domestic-partnership registry in Orlando is the latest sign the city has grown more accepting, members of the gay community say.The registry, which grants limited rights to unmarried couples, won unanimous approval from Mayor Buddy Dyer and the six-member City Council at an initial vote Dec. 5. It is expected to easily pass a final vote Monday. Council members even wore red to show their support.

While I no longer read the Sentinel daily for the same reason I avoid the local TV news – they rarely actually inform me and they inevitably irritate me – this story popped up on my Google News homepage and I thought it merited a look see.

The story actually did a nice job of detailing Orlando’s darker days when fundagelical excesses resulted in homophobic spasms of restrictive laws and mean-spirited public assertions. Those were the days when crusades to close gay bars marked the nadir of the Reagan years, an era marked by its mindlessness long before the president’s Alzheimers was disclosed. A decade later it took the form of Pat Robertson’s thus far unrealized predictions of devastating meteor showers in the wake of the city’s agreement to post banners celebrating Gay Pride. This was followed by vandals ripping down the banners and tossing them into Lake Lucerne exposing the ugly underbelly of a city which has long called itself “The City Beautiful.”

The turning point in Orlando’s climb out of the misanthropic sewer occurred six years ago when the city approved an anti-discrimination ordinance which set the tone for a subsequent county-wide ordinance, partner benefits for city employees and now the domestic partner registry. I was one of the speakers at that public hearing. Wearing my clerical collar, I spoke about my then partner (now husband) of 31 years and the discrimination we had faced over those three decades. I will never forget the looks of shock on the faces of the assembled righteous wearing their yellow buttons opposing the ordinance when this ordained minister took the stand to speak – gasp – in favor of ending discrimination.

Against my better judgment, I read the comments following the Sentinel story. Not surprisingly, the early warning web system that conservatives operate brought out the crazies from across the country to respond. Even more against my better judgment, I broke my own rule and decided I’d respond to three of them.

Texas adds its Two Cents

A writer from Dallas (Can anything good come out of Texas, Mr. Perry?) said: “A vote by a left leaning council, introduced by an openly gay council member, does not "show" anything except where that council stands.” Given that this man lives in the hermetically sealed state of Texas, I can forgive him his ignorance. Intellectual incest abounds within circled wagons. But if this fellow ever visits Orlando, he might ask the homeless on our streets or the Food Not Bombs folks who would have the audacity to actually feed them in a public park about our “left leaning council.” His comment got this response from me:

What it shows is that Orlando is finally growing up and becoming a modern city albeit in fits and starts. Being the center of a 2 million plus metropolitan area alone does not make for a real city. It's more of a self-understanding which values diversity of human experience and the opportunity to learn from each other. Healthy cities have a place for all their residents and treat them all as first class citizens.

Homophobia is a rather primitive prejudice unworthy of adults capable of critical thought. The actions of the city council reflect a general ethos in Orlando that no longer has time or tolerance for such base misanthropic attitudes. Frankly, I never thought I'd see this day. For so long Orlando allowed small minded, small town fearfulness to define itself.

Much of the credit for that change is due to the enormous sea change in demographic diversity. Such diversity recognizes the value of different cultures and variant worldviews. When there is no "common sense" as a default to critical thinking, prejudices cannot go unchallenged. Some of the change can be credited to the entertainment industry which has long recognized the value of its LBGQT cast members. And part of the change is simply the changing of the guard. The Gen Y now rising simply doesn't get homophobia or why anyone would take it seriously.

All things evolve, even moderate sized cities like Orlando.

Appeal to their basest instincts

Another writer who identified himself as reddogg88 said : "Put this to a vote of the people and it will fail just like nearly all of the votes seeking to grant gays special rights and status have nationwide." His comment drew this response

Of course, this is only part of the picture. Add to that tons of money from people like the Koch brothers from outside the state. Add tons of money from Mormons guilt-tripped into donating. Add intensive brow-beating by Catholic clerics voicing the party line even as many are themselves gay. And then run the most misleading, unfactual, misanthropic and mean-spirted advertising campaign possible. Manipulate the base prejudices in the electorate. Scare them with lies. Pimp their masculinity. Be presumptuous enough to suggest that somehow G-d favors the homophobic position. In short, appeal to the basest, most fearful instincts of their humanity while avoiding anything remotely resembling a fact-based, reason driven decision making process.

No doubt, you'll secure narrow margins of "victory" in such endeavors. But demagogues have always found ways to win by appealing to fear and prejudices. This is one of the reasons that rights are protected by constitutions, to place them outside the grasp of electoral lynch mobs whipped into a frenzy by power-seeking demagogues. And ultimately, even fear subsides and justice has her day.

Not even for one day

Finally, a writer who actually used his own name (which I will omit to protect the thoughtless from their own thoughtlessness) said: “Why don't you just change the city's name to GAYLANDO? Queers and Dikes add nothing positive to life on this planet. They are the scourge of humanity and should be eliminated.”

Responding to such childishness is like shooting fish in a barrel. The challenge is always to temper the immediate desire for the easy slam dunk with a bit of moderation if not reason. But as I thought about my response, it occurred to me that living inside the skin of a person so clearly driven by such fearfulness for even one day would probably be pretty awful. And so my yetzer tov rose to the occasion and I responded with the following:

I would guess it would be painful going through life holding such misanthropic attitudes. Hatred is based in fear and fear eats us alive from the inside out. All of us know what it feels like to suffer. And these comments decidedly evidence suffering not only in the maker of these comments but also potentially in the targets of the comments. The appropriate response to suffering is compassion, according to the Buddha.

I doubt seriously that the man who made these comments will be able to hear that, at least not today. But, if nothing else, I will be able to live with myself this day.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.