Pope Francis’ Holy Year Abortion Forgiveness – You Have To Say Sorry First

Posted in Editorials on September 1st, 2015

The Catholic Church teaches that abortion is a grave sin which is punishable by immediate excommunication.

Canon 1398 provides that, “a person who procures a successful abortion incurs an automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication.” This means that at the very moment that the abortion is successfully accomplished, the woman and all formal conspirators are excommunicated.

This is part of the reason why I am no longer Catholic – once I became a Clinic Escort, which I’m sure counts as being a “formal conspirator,” there was no going back.

Pope Francis’ announcement that women could be forgiven for abortion during the upcoming Holy Year is making headlines, and I think a lot of people are missing an important point. (Emphasis added)

The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails. Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe that they have no other option. I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope. The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father. For this reason too, I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it.

First, there’s some patronizing stuff about how women who get abortions don’t know what they are doing and only have a “superficial awareness” of it. He acknowledges that the reasons a person may seek an abortion are powerful pressures, but says nothing of what can be done to alleviate those pressures. Yes, Pope Francis has talked a lot about poverty, but he really should have linked the two issues right here if he wants to maintain credibility.

More importantly, the media is brushing off the hoop that women who have had abortions must go through to receive forgiveness. They must sincerely be sorry for it and they have to say they are sorry to a priest during confession. This is a big ask when you consider that 99% of women who have had abortions do not regret it. Pope Francis is asking women to apologize for something they are not sorry for. He is asking them to lie to themselves, their priests and to God. For someone who claims to have such compassion for women who have had abortions, that’s a rather manipulative thing to demand.

Fuss Over “Fun Home”

Posted in Editorials on August 26th, 2015

Amanda Marcotte has a great piece up at Slate about the students who are refusing to read Fun Home because it violates their religion.

I find myself thinking “Fun Home” is a bittersweet graphic novel about a woman growing up as a lesbian and coming to terms with her father’s suicide and that he was a closeted gay man. These Duke kids got off easy!

The first book I had to read in college was Querelle by Jean Genet. I was pretty sheltered 17 year old Catholic kid. And so in my first week at college, it was kind of mind blowing to be handed this piece of French nihilist literature which the internet tells me is about society’s hypocritical attitudes about sex – especially gay sex – and violence. All I remember is a sailor having graphic sex with a man he didn’t particularly like. I was wondering why he had to make it sound so awful – it wasn’t loving or sexy at all. I was very uncomfortable, but it never would have crossed my mind to refuse to read the book or drop the class. And even though I was still very religious, I NEVER would have thought to use my Catholicism as an excuse to not do my assigned reading. I really wanted to be taken seriously so I toughed it out.

I survived and I think I even learned a few things – that old people were lying when they pretended gay people were some new fad, that there were a ton of themes in literature that my high school English class didn’t even touch, and that I didn’t like nihilism.

Brian Grasso writes:

Jesus forbids his followers from exposing themselves to anything pornographic. “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” he says in Matthew 5:28-29. “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.” This theme is reiterated by Paul who warns, “flee from sexual immorality.”

I think there is an important distinction between images and written words. If the book explored the same themes without sexual images or erotic language, I would have read it. But viewing pictures of sexual acts, regardless of the genders of the people involved, conflict with the inherent sacredness of sex. My beliefs extend to pop culture and even Renaissance art depicting sex.

If comic book drawings of sex compromise your morality and your faith, neither is very strong. He comes off as deeply insecure rather than someone taking a strong ethical stand.

When I was in college, a favorite prank was for people to draw cartoon penises on the chalkboards. (Do people still do that?) This even happened in my Comp Lit class where we were studying Querelle. The instructor rolled her eyes and erased it, letting out a few giggles before she turned back around to face the class. If someone repeats that juvenile prank in one of the classrooms Brian Grasso is scheduled to attend will he wait outside until the board is wiped clean?

Building A New Way – Black Lives Matter at UU General Assembly

Posted in Editorials on August 24th, 2015

This blog post is modified from a service I co-led at my UU Congregation on August 23, 2015. The theme of the service was “Building A New Way” – the same as this years UU General Assembly. I and others who attended reported back to the congregation on our experiences. Although the events described happened almost two months ago, they still weigh heavily on my mind and my heart.

This past June I attended my second Unitarian Universalist General Assembly. It was a rewarding experience. I got to see Portland, Oregon, a place I had wanted to visit for years. The Rose City charmed me with it’s magnificent gardens, strong coffee, and hipster bohemian vibe.

I proudly carried the banner for my congregation in the banner parade, and I said hello to friends I had not seen in years.

I watched UUA President Peter Morales call up all of the same sex couples in attendance to the stage to celebrate the Supreme Court ruling which struck down bans on same sex marriage throughout our country. People sang and danced with joy.

I attended an event where members of the Lumi nation told us of the destruction that coal mining was threatening to do to their land, and I got to see Civil Rights hero John Lewis accept an award from the UU Service Committee.

I participated in my second General Assembly Sunday morning worship service, where Rev Alison Miller brought me to tears with her eloquence and I got a taste, just for a minute of what a UU megachurch might be like.

But what stayed with me the most, what I know will stay with me the longest, is something that happened hours before the convention drew to a close. Every year at General Assembly, the delegates vote on three actions of immediate witness or AIW. During the first few days, anyone can propose an AIW and collect signatures for them. Later a vote is taken on the AIWs that meet the criteria and the three with the most votes are brought up again on Sunday afternoon for final approval. The first AIW passed quickly – End Immigrant Child and Family Detention Now. The second had a few minor amendments “Support a Strong, Compassionate Global Climate Agreement in 2015: Act for a Livable Climate.” The third one though, “Support the Black Lives Matter Movement” That took a while.

Our statement on Immigration was approved in 90 seconds. Climate change? Six minutes.
But the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association took one hour and forty five minutes to affirm that Black Lives Matter.

The main controversy was over the portion of the action which stated that it “encourages member congregations and all Unitarian Universalists to work toward police reform and prison abolition.”

Prison abolition can sound like a scary concept if you’ve never heard of it. Perhaps it conjures visions of the horror film “The Purge” where society suspends all laws for 24 hours. Murderers and rapists would rampage about destroying society. That’s not what prison abolition is.

I like to say that my motto is “Word have meanings, context matters.” And context in this case is everything.

The prison abolition movement is a movement that seeks to reduce or eliminate prisons and the prison system, and replace them with more humane and effective systems. Delegates in favor of the statement tried to explain this, but it was very difficult for them to be heard. People were so caught up in what they thought prison abolition meant, they were risking the passage of the AIW at all.

When I returned home, I educated myself further – I read “Are Prisons Obsolete?” and “Abolition Democracy” by Angela Davis. And what I begun to understand is that the prison abolition movement is about moving away from a punitive system which seeks to punish those who have done wrong to a rehabilitative, restorative system where the outcomes look more like justice than vengeance.

During the debate at General Assembly, Elandra Williams, a Black Lives Matter activist from Tennessee spoke powerfully when she said “Jails aren’t a solution. If you pass something weak, you’ve passed nothing at all. If you pass it to make yourself feel good, you didn’t do it. It means nothing. Fight for what we asked for, not for what you want.”

Another speaker said “To be good allies, we should not try to lead when we ought to follow.” And that was the heart of the matter. Were we making a statement of support and solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement? Or were we telling the Black Lives matter movement what we wanted them to do?

The Youth Caucus started to tell people that if the prison abolition language was removed, they would be withdrawing the AIW altogether.

There were votes and recounts and procedural mayhem. The tension in the room was palpable. Being a religious organization, there were breaks so that people might cool down. Moments of silence, prayers for guidance. Someone ran out to find Matt Meyer. He took the stage and led us all in meditative singing.

I wanted to do what was right, even if it seemed hard. I tweeted, “I want a faith that challenges me. The idea of prison abolition pushes me out of my comfort zone but I want to get there so I’ll vote for it.”

Eventually, eventually, there was a compromise. Through some parliamentary jujitsu we left in the words “prison abolition” and added after them in parenthesis “which seeks to replace the current prison system with a system that is more just and equitable.”

The motion passed, and I know I was not the only one who felt exhausted.

I’ve been attending my UU Congregation since 2008, I signed the book in 2009. But I know my history. This is not the first time that Black UUs have told our denomination that they are not being heard. And sadly, I don’t think it will be the last.

Some UU Congregations have posted “Black Lives Matter” signs in front of their congregations. Some of those signs, like the one in River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bethesda Maryland have been vandalized. Members of the congregation were shocked but undeterred. According to a local ABC news affiliate, “In a couple of days, the church said the damaged banner will be replaced with another one with the very same message. If vandalism happens again, congregants said they will only put up another sign.” That article was published on July 30. True to their word, RRUUC put up another sign. On Tuesday, August 11, it was vandalized again. They put up a third sign. On Tuesday August 18th, that third sign was reported stolen. RRUUC plans to put up a fourth sign.

Building a new way means supporting emerging social and civil rights movements that are in accordance with our values.

At the Starr King’s Annual President’s Lecture at this year’s General Assembly, Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt suggested Robin DiAngelo’s essay “White Fragility” for allies who don’t know where to start. It’s available free online and I encourage everyone to read it.

New York City based writer, social worker and activist Feminista Jones organized the “National Moment of Silence” last year – a vigil for victims of police brutality. Last week she started the hashtag #NoMoreSilence encouraging people to speak out. She wrote “You can tweet that Black Lives Matter but imagine the impact when you add a councilwoman’s name? A state senator? What if you emailed your local representative every single week demanding action re: police brutality? When was the last time you talked to your councilperson? The person you elected? Do you know their names?

This month’s edition of UU World, contains an article “Five ways UUs can support the black lives matter movement” by Kenny Wiley. He writes “It is imperative, whatever our level of education or our privileges, that none of us looks away. If we are to live up to our First Principle, and truly honor the inherent worth and dignity of every person, then we must proclaim, with words and deeds, that black lives matter.”

My Favorites of 2014

Posted in Editorials on December 31st, 2014

All the best in 2015. Here’s some of my favorite things from 2014.

Link Roundup – Some of these are long reads, and some are shorter. Here’s some posts from the year I hope you didn’t miss.
Dear America, I Saw You Naked
Popular Delusions: Sovereign Citizens
Survey: Overwhelming Majority Of U.S. Doctors Seeing Patients With Drug-Resistant Illnesses
Invisible Politics
Notes from a Pornographer on Sexist Sexual Imagery and Behavior
Why Did Anti-Choice Activists Harass Unitarians in New Orleans?

Marshallese poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner speaking at the UN Climate Leaders Summit in 2014

My favorite book of 2014 is a novella published as an ebook by Atavist Books. Sleep Donation by Karen Russell

A crisis has swept America. Hundreds of thousands have lost the ability to sleep. Enter the Slumber Corps, an organization that urges healthy dreamers to donate sleep to an insomniac. Under the wealthy and enigmatic Storch brothers the Corps’ reach has grown, with outposts in every major US city. Trish Edgewater, whose sister Dori was one of the first victims of the lethal insomnia, has spent the past seven years recruiting for the Corps. But Trish’s faith in the organization and in her own motives begins to falter when she is confronted by “Baby A,” the first universal sleep donor…

Sleep Donation is so engaging I couldn’t put it down. The universe is rich and easy to get lost in. A quick and very satisfying read.

Honorable Misandry Mention:
Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation by Laura Kipnis
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

My favorite new show of 2014 is Broad City on Comedy Central. I first heard Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer on the Ronna & Beverly podcast. I immediately became a fan of their hilarious web series. It was originally supposed to be on FX, but they cancelled the show and then Comedy Central Picked it up. I swear I remember articles at the time that FX didn’t know how to market a show about women to advertisers, but those links seem to have disappeared. But I’m so glad the show came to be. It’s the funniest thing on television.

Honorable Mention:
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver Adam and I subscribed to HBO to watch this show. John Oliver is brilliant.

I watched every episode of Married at First Sight on the new FYI network. I liked it, but I feel kind of guilty about that. Ultimately I think the show was somewhat exploitative of the couples. But I suppose that’s the point of reality television. Here’s some thoughts from Sarah Moglia Is “Married at First Sight” a Legitimate Science Experiment?

The PinkPrint by Nicki Minaj. (More about all of my feels for Nicki Minaj here.)

Honorable Mention
Barefoot and Pregnant by the Dollyrots.


As everyone has probably already seen Guardians of the Galaxy and Birdman, and Horns disappointed me because it took out almost everything that made the book was so amazing, I’m going to recommend everyone go see Particle Fever right now.

This movie is accessible to people with all levels of scientific understanding. I’ve never taken a day of Physics in my life and I didn’t feel that lost at all. “Why do humans do science? Why do they do art? The things that are least important for our survival are the very things that make us human.”

Unitarian Universalism

I have to share these videos by some of my fellow UUs.

Here’s “Love Reaches Out” a song written about the theme of this year’s General Assembly

The Reeb Project is a movement to restore the Voting Rights Act in the United States by All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington DC. It’s named after Rev James Reeb a Unitarian minister who was beaten to death while protesting against segregation in Selma Alabama in 1965. This summer, The Reeb Project held a protest, and it’s the first (and possibly only) flash mob video I will share on this blog.

Other people’s Year End Posts You Should Read
It’s Been a Terrible Year for Reproductive Rights
The Frozen River: A Humanist Sermon

Political Flavors
Most popular posts on this blog this year:
Contradictions made by people insulting my husband (AKA, Misogynist Troll Insult Fails Part 2)
“That’s some training to give to girls.” The criminalization of female self defense

My favorite posts from the year:
Out, Damned Sperm! Why Everyone Is Freaked Out About Fruit Flies.
Our mockery of Fox Sports Sexism
Who Will Be The Next Republican To Endorse Andrew Cuomo?
The Untenable Incel
Red Pillers – Very Concerned about Ladies’ Fashion

Previously: My favorites of 2013

Last Straw on Cuomo: Public Funds for Faith-Based Initiatives

Posted in Editorials on October 10th, 2014

This will be brief as evidence that Andrew Cuomo is a Republican who wants a Republican-controlled Senate is a mile high.

Remember back during President George W. Bush’s first term when he teamed up with Senators Rick Santorum and Joe Lieberman to promote faith-based initiatives? We do too.

Remember when Rick Santorum promoted government incentives to promote marriage, because in his view, marriage is the only answer to all of the world’s ills?

We do too. But we were also unsurprised. George W. Bush, Joe Lieberman and Rick Santorum have never been shy about injecting their religious beliefs into public policy.

Most Americans who believe in the importance of the separation of church and state understand the inherent danger in faith-based initiatives. Driving taxpayer funds to religious organizations is fraught with all sorts of concerns, especially when religious groups can be openly hostile and discriminatory toward those with whom they disagree.

So then, why, we must ask, is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo not only endorsing faith-based initiatives, but actually proposing a “State Office of Faith-Based Services”? Well the answer is simple to everyone. Well, maybe everyone except the Working Families Party.

Andrew Cuomo is not a Democrat. Andrew Cuomo is a Republican. And each day, we learn how much of a Republican he is.

He has now proved that by joining the ideological positions of Rick Santorum: One of the most Christian-right members of the Republican Party and a man who is unabashed about wanting to impose his Catholic Doctrine on the people of this country.

New York is a state which provides more social services than most others. Our state has the means to provide for any citizen who seeks out its services. Diverting tax dollars to religious organizations is not necessary, nor prudent. But the proposal to create an office specifically for such initiatives offers true insights into the Governor’s view of the role of government.

Election Day is November 4th. Send a message. Vote third party in the governor’s race.

On My Honor, I Will Try…

Posted in Editorials on August 6th, 2014

This post is adapted from a service I led at my Unitarian Universalist congregation.

The Girl Scout Promise
On my honor, I will try:
To serve God and my country,
To help people at all times,
And to live by the Girl Scout Law.

The Girl Scout Law
I will do my best to be
honest and fair,
friendly and helpful,
considerate and caring,
courageous and strong, and
responsible for what I say and do,
and to
respect myself and others,
respect authority,
use resources wisely,
make the world a better place, and
be a sister to every Girl Scout.

Romans 12:9-13
Let love be genuine;
hate what is evil,
hold fast to what is good;
love one another with mutual affection;
outdo one another in showing honor.
Do not lag in zeal,
be ardent in spirit,
serve the Lord
Rejoice in hope,
be patient in suffering,
persevere in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the saints;
extend hospitality to strangers.


When I was a child I remember hearing about certain things being “on the honors system,” a contest or an exam given to older kids “on their honor.” I asked questions about what this meant, and I developed my own definition of honor. It means to do the right thing, even when no one else was looking. This seemed like a big responsibility. I hoped I would be up to the challenge when my turn came.

In my own life I don’t often hear of honor spoken of much in the way I have defined it – doing the right thing, even when no one is looking, being true to your word and keeping your promises. A quick search of my own Twitter stream and of google news and I see the word being used in two ways – to describe an achievement, “It’s an honor to win this award.” And to talk about something that is almost the anthesis of my meaning – honor killings.

From the website of the NGO – “The Advocates for Human Rights:”

Human Rights Watch defines “honor” crimes as “acts of violence, usually murder, committed by male family members against female family members who are perceived to have brought dishonor upon the family.” According to a report by Dr. Sherifa Zuhar of Women for Women’s Human Rights, killings committed in the name of “honor” may be motivated by “a perceived violation of the social norms of sexuality,” or they may be “crimes of passion, wherein a husband kills his wife whom he or other family members suspect of adultery.” U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women Radhika Coomaraswamy has described “honor” killings as one of many practices that “constitute a form of domestic violence but have avoided national and international scrutiny because they are seen as cultural practices that deserve tolerance and respect.

“Motives for crimes committed in the name of “honor” have included: suspicion of adultery, premarital sex, or some other relationship between a woman and a man; being a victim of rape or sexual assault; refusing to enter an arranged marriage; seeking divorce or trying to escape marital violence; and falling in love with someone who is unacceptable to the victim’s family according to The Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women! Even seemingly minor transgressions have been identified as the reasons for carrying out “honor” killings. In one case, a teenager in Turkey had her throat slit in a town square because someone had dedicated a love ballad to her on the radio. Although the victims are most often women, men and boys may also be targeted for crimes committed in the name of “honor,” usually when they are relatives, alleged partners, or “accomplices” of a female victim according to the Special Rapporteur Asma Jaha, Commission on Human Rights. Similarly, while men and boys are usually the perpetrators, women may be involved in, or supportive of, the commission of these crimes.

According to Wikipedia, honor killings are also sometimes committed against LGBTQ people.

And so I must make a clarification as to what honor is not. Honor is not patriarchal violence. Honor is not chauvinism. Honor is not even chastity. Violence against women and other people who do not meet ancient codes of sexual purity is in no way honorable.

Honor cannot be bestowed upon a person or taken away by other people. It is a quality describing how a person lives.

There is no group of people who hold a monopoly on honor. In some misogynist corners of the internet, Men’s Rights Advocates are fond of saying that “Honor is a male abstraction. Don’t expect women to understand.” I reject this definition and its limited worldview.

Honor is not pride. When someone cuts me off in traffic and I slam on my horn and yell something not very polite, because of my own bruised ego, I’m not defending my own honor. I’m embarrassing myself in a potentially dangerous way.

The reason I wanted to talk about honor here today began when I was thinking about the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism. I was trying to decipher what meaning they had for me as a whole, and not just as individual precepts. And what I started to conclude was that they are about doing good for the sake of what is good. This fits so neatly with my girlhood definition of honor – doing the right thing when no one is looking. And it reminded me of that promise I made “On my honor, I will try…” I went back and looked up the Girl Scout Law and I was surprised at how it echoes our principles:

to be honest and fair,
to respect myself and others,

    Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;

to be friendly and helpful,
considerate and caring,

    Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;

to use resources wisely,
to make the world a better place

    Respect for the interdependent web of life of which we are a part.

I also looked to see what the Bible has to say about honor. There were many passages, but the one I read today echoes the message I’m trying to impart:

[H]old fast to what is good;
love one another with mutual affection;
outdo one another in showing honor.
Contribute to the needs of the saints;
extend hospitality to strangers.

So what does this have to do with how we live our lives day today? How is this concept relevant if it’s not spoken of in this context much anymore? And how does this specifically relate to Unitarian Universalism?
This past May I attended the UU Metro NY district conference, and I went to a workshop called “Getting to the Roots: Our UU Theology of Collaboration” It was led by Rev. Joan Van Becelaere a UU Minister in Ohio, that was described this way:

The Puritan ancestors of the Unitarian side of the UUA were much bolder than we commonly think. They envisioned an association of individual congregations far more collaborative and connected than commonly thought. The vision was actually quite radical. In these times of change in society and the world as well as in our districts and regions, can this collaborative theology at the roots of our organizational DNA help us meet our current challenges and give us a new perspective on what it means to work for the creation of the Beloved Community?

At this workshop, I learned about how many early American congregations were based on covenant. Covenant was and is “the matter and form of the church.” People who were living together in community also vowed to worship together in covenant. And the value of the covenant is the honor of it’s participants. It was their honor to keep their word and do what’s right for the community.

Today we are in covenant with each other in our congregation, and as a congregation with other UU Congregations throughout the country and the world. The value of our covenants is the strength of our honor.

We also see this at the end of our Declaration of Independence. The signers pledged, “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

Honor is the glue that holds us together.

A Quick Reminder On Where The Mass Graves Of Dead Babies Really Are

Posted in Editorials on June 9th, 2014

St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland.

In 2013, Christian Radio host Kevin Swanson said

I’m beginning to get some evidence from certain doctors and certain scientists that have done research on women’s wombs after they’ve gone through the surgery, and they’ve compared the wombs of women who were on the birth control pill to those who were not on the birth control pill. And they have found that with women who are on the birth control pill, there are these little tiny fetuses, these little babies, that are embedded into the womb. They’re just like dead babies. They’re on the inside of the womb. And these wombs of women who have been on the birth control pill effectively have become graveyards for lots and lots of little babies.

(Hat tip.)

Of course, this is complete and utter bullshit. Hormonal birth control works by stopping a woman from ovulating, and so there can be no fertilization, and there can be no “little tiny fetuses.” But Swanson is not about to let facts get in the way of his dreams of theocracy. “The Pill Kills” was established in 2008 to overturn Griswold v. Connecticut and aims to make hormonal birth control (and possibly all other forms of contraception) illegal in the United States. Swanson’s rhetoric is a prime example of their tactics, gruesome lies made to advance a religious agenda.

But it is not hormonal contraception or a sexually permissive culture that has created mass graves of children, but strict religious sexual morality itself. Hundreds of bodies of children were found in just one Magdalene Laundry – a place where unmarried pregnant women and others accused of sexual sin were forced to live in Ireland until very recently. There may be more mass graves at other laundries that have not been discovered yet.

I had thought that there was nothing left about the Catholic Church that could shock me or make me any more angry than I already am. But I was wrong. When I first heard this story, I thought there must be some mistake. Was there an outbreak of disease that killed these children? This is not the Catholicism I was taught. I was taught that God loves everyone, and to follow the teachings of Jesus that we should be forgiving and treat each other with kindness and mercy. But there was no forgiveness for the women sent to the Magdalene Laundries and no mercy for their children. There was no disease that plagued the Magdalene laundries. These innocent children were starved and neglected to death to uphold the sexual morality of the Catholic Church. The institution that preaches redemption through the blood of Christ did not act on that conviction. The Church acted with cruelty and spite, killing those most vulnerable to its whims. I am forced to conclude they do not believe what they say at all.

Freedom of Speech Means Freedom to Be an Asshole

Posted in Editorials on May 18th, 2014

From the text of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution:

Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech

I am a firm supporter of the right to free speech and free expression. These rights are essential to other rights – political advocacy, religious freedom, artistic expression, academic freedom and the right to advocate for social change. I am so thankful to live in the United States where I have this right, and I hold it dear.

Not everyone who has these rights uses them for a good or useful purpose. The costs of free speech are high. When I was a clinic escort, I witnessed protesters who would harass patients and doctors. I find this morally abhorrent, and while I do support the FACE Act and other measures to prevent people from forming human chains around clinics, I also recognize that much of what these protesters do is and should be protected speech.

This weekend I attended the Women in Secularism conference sponsored by the Center for Inquiry. One of the speakers, Taslima Nasrin spoke about the harms of religion to women. Nasrin was exiled from her home country of Bangladesh for criticizing Islam. Others have been jailed or murdered by vigilantes for doing the same.

In her speech, Nasrin said,

“Without the right to offend, freedom of expression cannot exist.”

Mary Johnson tweeted this quote, and I retweeted it. Then this happened (conversation edited for clarity, see my twitter stream for unabridged conversation):

So, to sum up, according to Carl Nyberg, we can’t criticize Islam because of American imperialism, and we can’t be supporters of free speech unless we spend every waking moment trying to get Chelsea Manning out of prison.

I agree that there is racist and xenophobic sentiment underlying some critiques of Islam. But that doesn’t mean that it’s above question. Taken to its logical conclusion, Nyberg’s argument means that until we eliminate antisemitism in the United States, no one can speak up about the sexual abuse of children in Hasidic communities. I reject this entirely.

I don’t think that people should be bigoted or even unnecessarily mean to each other. I’m a huge supporter of social justice, civility, Wheaton’s Law, and plain old cheerfulness. But I believe these things must come from within and not be imposed by a government. The right to free speech includes the right to be an nasty and cruel abortion clinic protester, to voice islamaphobic opinions, and to tell me that I want to “shit on other religions without being criticized.” As Taslima Nasrin said,

“Without the right to offend, freedom of expression cannot exist.”

Things That Are Probably More Troubling Than Black Mass

Posted in Editorials on May 8th, 2014

Adam called my attention to the outrage of Catholics over plans for a group at Harvard to perform a Black Mass. Being offensive for the sake of being offensive can range from being a waste of time to hurtful harassment. But from what I understand, this will take place in a contained space indoors, and no one who does not want to be there will have to be there, so it seems to fall into the former category.

Amid uninformed people calling this “hate speech,” what’s most bizarre to me is Calah Alexander of “Barefoot and Pregnant” calling it:

one of the most troubling things I’ve heard about in a long time.

Although I am no longer Catholic, I find the concept of a Black Mass distasteful – because I think that trolling in general is distasteful. Much of my moral foundation was formed in the Catholic Church, and I think the reason the Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism resonate so soundly with me is because of my early education in the Sermon on the Mount. And that’s why Calah’s statement puzzles me so. In the context of all bad things in recent memory, a bunch of jerks chanting “Hail Satan, We’re So Edgy, LOL” is “the most troubling?” I don’t know what Calah would call “a long time” but here’s a list of things, in no particular order, I would hope that most people would find more troubling than a Black Mass, that have occurred so far in 2014:

1. The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 which was carrying 239 people.

2. The botched execution of Clayton Lockett.

3. The kidnapping (and probable rape) of hundreds of Nigerian girls by terrorist group Boko Haram.

4. Tornados struck Arkansas in the last week of April killing 35 people.

5. A measles outbreak in the United States infected 129 people.

6. A Chemical Spill in Elk River West Virgina deprived 300,000 people of drinking water for five days.

7. Ivan Lopez went on a shooting spree at the US Army Base in Fort Hood Texas, killing three, and injuring sixteen.

8. A gas explosion in Harlem killed eight people and injured 60.

9. An outbreak of the Ebola virus has killed 155 people.

10. A South Korean ferry sunk, drowning 304 people.

11. A landslide in Afghanistan resulted in the deaths of over 2500 people.

Religion’s Optical Illustion

Posted in Editorials, Personal Essays on July 18th, 2013

Vernal Falls, Yosemite California Image credit: Author

A friend forwarded to me this heartbreaking article about a young man who died of a drug overdose after “ex-gay” “reparative therapy” failed to make him straight.

This sentence jumped out at me:

“And since sexuality cannot be separated from the self, we had taught Ryan to hate himself. “

And it made me angry. Their ignorance and stubbornness and refusal to question their faith until it was too late resulted in the death of their son, although I’m sure that they know that.

I started thinking about what I have touched on before, that putting distance between myself and the church, only makes me angrier about the injustices and evils carried on in its name. And I think I finally understand why. I thought that distance in time, and in emotion and in physical space would calm me, and soothe my conscience. But the farther away that I get, the more damage I see to innocent people.

I imagine myself in a rowboat, pushing off from a small oceanfront cabin, built into the bottom of a hill. And as I row, I see that the hill is in fact a mountain. And no matter how far I row, I can’t see all of it at once. My distance is only serving to emphasize how big it really is. And I can only conceive of the mountain as it is today. I cannot truly imagine the span of it’s history across centuries. I row harder and harder, yet still it grows and grows. If I had a camera, I would not be able to zoom out far enough to capture it with any panoramic lens.

I do not know if it is possible to get so far away that it will appear to shrink.