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Archive for June, 2012

It’s Not Wrong To Believe You Are Right

Posted in Editorials on June 29th, 2012

I’ve been thinking a lot about the comments I received on my post on Leah Liberesco’s conversion. On Reddit, I was engaged by someone who said,

I feel that tolerance and respect for the positions of others outweighs the need to be right. That is how we deal with other UUs who have a different perspective such as theist vs atheist vs agnostic. Why would it be any different with people outside the UU faith?

This sounds really wise. Because it’s restrained. It’s submitting your ego to a higher priority of tolerance. But tolerance doesn’t mean tolerating intolerance. Respect does not mean ignoring your own capacity for critical thinking.

I’m treading on dangerous ground here. I know that my need to be right is something that can consume me. But I also know that I am a liberal because I believe words have meanings. I’m a liberal and a pragmatist because I really care about how my actions impact people around me. I have a desperate need to know I’m not hurting anyone else.

So when I read Adam’s post, “Today’s Reasons to Quit The Catholic Church” I couldn’t help but feel relief and pride that I have made that decision already and that it’s behind me. And I won’t apologize for that.

What’s the point in having a religion if you don’t believe it’s the right one? When Unitarian Universalists gather, we state that

We covenant to affirm and promote

The inherent worth and dignity of every person,
Justice, equity and compassion in human relations,
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations,
A free and responsible search for truth and meaning,
The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large,
The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all,
Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Our principles mean something. That’s why we begin with a covenant, a solemn promise we make publicly to ourselves and each other. Stating that we affrim them means we believe in them.

There are others who don’t believe in our principles. And that our principles are not self evident to all people, is what marks us as a group when we say we covenant to affirm them. When we affirm our principles, we are by definition saying that we think that we are right and that people who disagree are wrong.

Disagreement need not be intolerant or disrespectful. But we can’t deny that we hold these disagreements. And we shouldn’t be ashamed to hold views that others don’t or back down from our belief that they are true.

The second part is that we are saying we will promote these principles. We will spread these values, talk about them and explain them when applicable. This doesn’t necessarily mean evangelize or argue when it’s inappropriate to argue. Just that we will speak up for our values when the time is right.

Now, “when the time is right” is open for debate, and that was the point of my previous post on this subject. But stating that you believe your beliefs are correct is not disrespectful or intolerant. If we don’t stand up for our principles, no one else will.

My Blue Heaven

Posted in Editorials on June 27th, 2012

Nora Ephron has died. She is best known for writing When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. While I love WHMS, My Blue Heaven has always been a favorite of mine.

Steve Martin chews the scenery as Vinny, New York mobster taken to a suburb of San Diego as a part of the Witness Protection Program. Rick Moranis plays Barney, the FBI agent trying to keep him out of trouble, and Joan Cusack is Hannah, the small town District Attorney fed up with Vinny’s criminal mischief.

It’s overly silly at times, with a sanitized and cartoonish view of organized crime, but the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously so that’s okay.

What keeps this movie on my DVD shelf is the character of Hannah Stubbs. She’s a geek, and a socially awkward one at that. Overzealous but vulnerable, it might seem like she falls into the “women are killjoys” trope, but she has reasons for acting the way she does. Hannah doesn’t always make the best decisions, but she gets a in few good jokes and her actions definitely impact the plot. My favorite part of the movie is when a policewoman mentions that Vinny makes the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. Hannah bristles that this has never happened to her before. Barney makes his entrance, waves his badge around, and Hannah pauses and touches her neck quizzically before calling him out for stepping on her turf.

Their courtship is sweet, and it’s nice to see a geek girl get the guy. At the end of the film there’s a moment where Barney lies to her, and she believes him. I’ve never been sure what to make of it. She isn’t stupid, but she wants to be rid of Vinny and the problems he’s made for her relationship with Barney. So my interpretation is that this is a conscious choice. She’d rather be happy with her guy than miserable fighting a criminal she’s realized she will never have the resources to catch. And Barney actually took a much bigger risk in lying than Hannah did in choosing to believe him. Hannah has everything to gain, but Barney could have lost his career and his relationship, while she retains plausible deniability.

My Blue Heaven is cheesy as hell, but worth checking out if you haven’t seen before. The characters are fun and will make you smile.

Garfunkel and Oates’ “29/31” Feminism Fail

Posted in Editorials on June 26th, 2012

I’ve been a fan of the comedy musical duo Garfunkel and Oates since discovering “Pregnant Women Are Smug” on Cracked.com in 2009. I follow them on social media and went to see them perform live in New York City. I think they are hilarious and I really like the way they talk openly about sexuality, (See: Go Kart Racing – Accidentally Masturbating, and I Don’t Understand Job) and I think that “This Party Just Took A Turn For The Douche” is brilliant. They’ve addressed medical marijuana, the Occupy Wall Street Movement and the absurdity of opposition to same sex marriage. So I was disappointed that their latest song “29/31” is really retrograde and sexist. I wouldn’t mind Ricki’s ear-bleeding shrieks if it was at lest either funny or not degrading to women.

To preempt the criticism that I can’t critique this because I’m happily married, and my wedding occurred when I was 27, that’s missing the point. I love my husband, but being married isn’t the total of my identity or my life. My relationship is important, but I reject the idea that it’s the only thing important or special about me – which is exactly the point of this song – that a woman’s marital status defines her, that being single is cause for despair. and being married is true happiness and contentment. Neither is correct.

I could understand a song about “the one that got away.” There are people that live with regret about ending or sabotaging a relationship they wish they were still in, and that’s genuinely sad. But the point of 29/31 is that you should get married to a man – any man, because otherwise you will be all alone and your life will be over at 31. Getting married just for the sake of not being single is not a wise decision. Basing a relationship on fear of being alone isn’t healthy and is insulting to your partner. I don’t think any man would want to hear his wife say that she married him just because he was there. In fact, that exact sentiment was something Kate parodied in 2008:

So which is it? Marriage as an only goal is depressing and empty? Or marriage is your only goal or else you are worthless?

The other insulting thing about “29/31”, was that it assumes a man cannot love a woman once she is over the age of 33/34. Ricki sings,

In two short years I’m gonna be 33. Who the hell will want me then? I’m disgusting.

If a 33 year old woman is disgusting and unlovable, why get married at 29? Won’t your husband divorce you when you are 33 anyway? Because you are so “disgusting“?

I understand that women are fertile for fewer years than men are, but I think that women who want to have children are aware of this fact and plan accordingly. Women aren’t stupid. That’s why “Oops! I forgot to have children” is a joke. No one actually thinks like that.

I don’t know if I should be bemused of angry that Men’s Rights Activists are using this video as “proof” that feminism is “wrong.” When I put this question to Amanda Marcotte, she said,

That they’re pinning all their hopes on convincing women that they’re a slightly better option than never having sex again tells you a lot. MRAs see themselves as the McDonald’s you resort to when the restaurant is closed. Doesn’t sound like women are desperate ones here, I have to say.

On the positive side, Garfunkel and Oates recently performed at Dan Savage’s fundraiser for Washington United for Marriage. I’m going to make a donation, go reread, “How to be a fan of problematic things” and hope that their next song is better.

The Apathy Problem

Posted in Editorials, Personal Essays on June 25th, 2012

Darcy Burner said at Netroots Nation,

“I have exactly one ask for you between now and November, and that is: get women to vote.”

I got goosebumps because I knew I was being tasked with an awesome quest. But it’s also an incredibly difficult one. There are women in my life, intelligent, compassionate women who truly believe in progressive values. But whether or not they call themselves feminists or liberals, they also have the incorrect belief that everyone else thinks the way they do. A great example of this is Chelsea Handler’s “sexism is bullshit” comments. But I also see it in women with a lot less money and power than Handler.

A friend asks where I was on Saturday morning when the rest of the group had met for coffee. I explain that I was clinic escorting.

“What’s that?”

“Well, there are a lot of protesters at Planned Parenthood and I volunteer to be a part of a program to keep an eye on them, call security or the police if they break any laws, welcome the patients, and not let them get harassed or stopped from entering.”

“Oh…. Wait. People protest outside Planned Parenthood?”

“Yup. Sometimes they just quietly pray, but sometimes they are really obnoxious and nasty.”

“Huh… That’s so weird!”

And we will never speak of this again. Not because she’s lazy or wasn’t listening. It’s because in her worldview, what I just said was that I was trying to stop martians or microfungi from destroying the earth. The kind of misogyny that exists in our own community, or the power that Citizens United gave to the wealthy is something she doesn’t perceive or think about.

I have another friend, really caring and funny and ambitious as hell. But she doesn’t vote. She says that whoever wins or loses has no influence on her life. I tried to change her mind during the contraception debate.

Elizabeth: So here’s a great example of how the government impacts your life – right now Congress is having hearing about whether or not health insurance must cover contraception, but they aren’t allowing any women to testify

Friend: Isn’t that illegal, not allowing women to testify?

Elizabeth: No.The chairman of the committee can decide who will testify at the hearing.

Friend: Oh. But men should care about contraception too. So…

Elizabeth: Well, I don’t think the consequences of not using contraception are in any way equal

Friend: Maybe a decision like that will change social norms. If it’s not covered by insurance then maybe more women will start actually asking for money from their partners to cover half. That would probably be a good thing.

Elizabeth: Right now the law is that insurance must cover the pill in 28 states. In the other states, women are shit out of luck, and this is a response to that

Friend: Men too, indirectly. I think a law like that would be nice but I don’t expect it to be passed.

Elizabeth: That’s why you should vote!

Friend: If I got involved with politics it would take up too much of my life. I’d rather just not be bothered. It’s a lot of hassle/stress that you are inviting into your life.

Elizabeth: But the money you pay for birth control pill co-pay is a real impact on your life.

Friend: Yes but you choose your battles. If it cost like $1000 then yes it would be a problem but by the time it gets that far, many other people get involved anyway.

She pretty much quoted Ever After. “I used to think that if I cared about anything I’d have to care about everything and then I’d go stark raving mad!”

Why do I care about this? Because 39% of single women don’t vote.

I know that a record number of women voted in 2008, and we might break another record this year. But women did not vote in 2010, and that’s one of the reasons why our Congress and State Legislatures have been taken over by anti choice radicals. Even if women come out to vote in 2012, they must do so every year for real progress to be made.

It’s the reason Kirsten Gillibrand’s campaign created an entire project around getting women to vote. And it’s the reason Darcy Burner made it the point of her speech at Netroots Nation.

So how do we do it? How do we reach women who don’t read feminist blogs? PSAs during Major League Baseball and True Blood? Pamphlets in locker rooms and ladies bathrooms? Cocktail napkins at bars and coffee shops? And what should these messages say? How do we explain to women why they should do something they never do?

I’m not as discouraged about this as Adam is. I’m just completely baffled.

Letter Writing Sunday: End Polluter Welfare Act

Posted in Editorials on June 24th, 2012

At Netroots Nation, Bill McKibben spoke about the End Polluter Welfare Act. It was introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (S-VT) as S 3080 and Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) as HR 5745.

According to a press release from Senator Sanders,

The measure would do away with tax breaks, financial assistance, royalty relief, direct federal research and development and many loopholes that benefit the fossil fuel industry. Under current law, more than $113 billion in federal subsidies would go to oil, coal and gas industries in the coming decade.

The five largest oil companies in the United States earned about $1 trillion in profits over the past decade. Meanwhile, in recent years, some of the very largest oil companies in America like Exxon Mobil and Chevron, paid absolutely nothing in federal income taxes.

The bill is supported by 350.org, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife, Oil Change International and Earth Justice.

350.org has a lot of great resources on this bill, and they are keeping a scoreboard of which members of Congress have gone on the record and which have not.

I am going to send the following letter to my Congressional Representative and my Senators.

How to find your Member of Congress’ contact information.

How to find your Senator’s contact information.

I am writing to ask that you please support S 3080/HR 5745, the End Polluter Welfare Act. We cannot afford to subsidize the fossil fuel industry that does so much harm to our health and environment while simultaneously making record profits.

Whose Last Name? A Response to Dierks Bentley

Posted in Editorials, Videos on June 22nd, 2012

I haven’t thought much about the fact that I didn’t change my name after I got married since last December when my husband was annoyed by all of the holiday cards addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. Adam Lee.” But there was a recent discussion on Reddit, started by someone who asked, “Straight males of reddit, do you expect your wife to change her last name when you marry? Straight females, do you have a problem with changing your name?” Reading through the comments, most of the men said either that they didn’t want to change their names, so they didn’t expect their wives to, or that it would be nice but not necessary. There were a few chauvinist outliers though. The women were much more divided, with many of them talking about how they look forward to changing their names when they get married.

One user responded,

I had an ex who I told I didn’t want to change my last name to his “when” we got married.

He made me listen to this wonderful song, in hopes of getting me to change my mind.

Somehow I was still not convinced to change my name. Then he did some other weird manipulative shit that was extremely transparent.

She got several upvotes and another poster responded that one of her ex-boyfriends had done the same thing. The song in question, Dierks Bentley, “My Last Name”

Lyrics fisked below.

I learned how to write it when I first started school,
Some bully didn’t like it, he said it didn’t sound to cool,
So I had to hit him and all I said when the blood came,
It’s my last name

If someone teases you about your name, you should hit them so hard they bleed.

Grandpa took of to europe to fight the germans in the war,
It came back on some dogtags nobody wears no more,
It’s written on a headstone in the field where he was slain,
It’s my last name

This was the part where I could feel my blood pressure in my face. Because there are people in my family who served in WWII, and apparently they don’t count because I don’t have a penis.

Passed down from generations too far back to trace,
I can see all my relations when I look into my face,
May never make it famous but I’ll never bring it shame,
It’s my last name

Daddy always told me far back as I recall,
Son, your part of somethin’, you represent us all,
So keep it how you got it , as solid as it came,
It’s my last name

Passed down from generations too far back to trace,
I can see all my relations when I look into my face,
May never make it famous but I’ll never bring it shame,
It’s my last name

Women have no pride in their heritage. Fuck you Dierks Bentley.

So darlin’ if you’re wonderin’ why I’ve got you here tonight,
I wanna be your husband, I want you to be my wife,
I ain’t got much to give you but what I’ve got means everything,
It’s my last name, oh, it’s my last name

How about love? How about fidelity? Aren’t those the traits that make your name mean something. I was really hoping that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way, but the YouTube comments section is chock full of women gushing about how their partner proposed to them with this song, or…I just felt my last meal lurch up into my esophagus…danced to it as their first dance as a married couple at their wedding.

I asked the poster if she had anything to add, and she was thinking along the same lines,

Its a horrible shit song. I think it perpetuates the importance of the man’s last name a lot. My last name, I want to give it to you. Its so important let me tell you about it.

But if his last name is so important to that guy, shouldn’t he realize that the woman’s last name is just as important? It seems like the men who like this song and use it as an argument for their spouse to change their last name seem to completely miss that the woman’s last name probably has all the same meaning as theirs. Just like how it is the man’s identity, it is the woman’s too. Why should she feel so proud to take on his identity, as if her’s was not that great?

Yeah, it’s a stupid, sexist song. And the airwaves are full of them. But the fact that men are using it to coerce women into changing their names is damn disturbing. I have heard of guys throwing temper tantrums over this issue, both the whiny and screaming type or the passive aggressive pouting type. I’ve read all the stupid MRA/PUA bullshit about how if she doesn’t change her name you shouldn’t have any wedding reception at all. But now I know men can rely on the pop music industry to support a tradition that serves no rational purpose as well.

For a palate cleanser, here’s the Tim Minchin video I think you should show any prospective spouse. If they don’t laugh, don’t marry them.

Fran Becker: Theocrat, Hypocrite.

Posted in Editorials on June 21st, 2012

From Newsday’s Spin Cycle:

Nassau legislator adds God to the debate

Tuesday June 19, 2012 5:02 PM By Celeste Hadrick

Legis. Fran Becker, a Lynbook Republican who is the party’s nominee to run for Congress against Democratic incumbent Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola), was looking for divine intervention during Monday’s hectic meeting of the Nassau County Legislature.

As Democrats and Republicans blamed each other for a $41 million hole in last year’s budget, Becker said, “Let’s bring God into the office. Let’s pray about this.”

The 10-member Republican majority wants to borrow the money to pay overdue property tax refunds and fill the budget gap but the legislature’s nine Democrats have refused to provide the three votes needed.

“What would Jesus do?” Becker said.

“Excuuuuse me?” interjected Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury).

“Why are you interrupting me?” Becker asked.

“This is so ridiculous,” Jacobs said.

“To say God should be in the audience?” Becker responded.

Later, Becker chided Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) and Robert Troiano (D-Westbury) for not approving the bonding as a way to help save youth group programs in their communities. He noted that he had voted to borrow when Republicans were in the minority on the legislature.

“I did what my God wanted me to do,” Becker said.

Abrahams, leader of the Democratic caucus, said, “I think Mr. Becker’s plan is to argue with people he doesn’t agree with. I guess God is telling him to do that.”
Becker is facing a primary from Frank Scaturro of Hempstead for the Republican nomination next week.

Fran Becker yelling at constituents during a 2011 meeting. Photo credit: Michael Kirby Smith, New York Times.

I’ve written previously about the Nassau County Republicans, and while this appears to be a new low, it’s not really as bad as having campaign staffers yell racial epithets to intimidate people. But it is definitely a new height of absurdity. Mr. Becker is a Catholic. And reading through his outburst, I’m reminded of Matthew 6:5,

And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 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.

When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.

This wasn’t a humble display of piety, he was using religion as a weapon, which should be distasteful to the religious and secular alike.

Beyond absurdity, and a blatant disregard for the First Amendment, this is intentionally aggressive. A person who cannot use his negotiating skills to reach a compromise, and must instead issue a combative appeal to the divine, is unfit for public office.

While I’m still endorsing Democrat Carolyn McCarthy in the general election, any Republicans reading are encouraged to support Frank Scaturro.

Why “False Accusations” Are A Distraction And A Derailing Tactic

Posted in Editorials on June 20th, 2012

A few weeks ago I responded to a question on Reddit’s Ask Feminists board. The question was “How do we know when equality has been achieved, and feminism has accomplished its goals?

One of the things I listed in my answer was “Rape would would be seen as an atrocity of the past like witch burning or slavery.” Two commenters took issue with this. They seemed to think I was proposing some kind of fascist state. I wasn’t. I was saying that in a feminist utopia, rape would not be commonplace. This could be due to several factors, but mainly I was thinking of better sexuality education and changes in cultural mores.

One commenter persisted.

It might be valid to say right now, the rights of the accused are given too much weight compared to the rights of the victim. But, if the goal is “no rapes” with no mention of the rights of the accused, the result may be problematic also. Some women will take advantage of any such system (very few, but not all sociopaths are male) and bring sympathy back to the accused. I guess what I’m trying to say is, if rape is eradicated at the cost of justice in the criminal court system (more innocents being convicted) that result is not an equilibrium that society will accept in the long run.

When feminist ethics says only one of those parties matters (the victim of rape, not the accused) then their analysis is incomplete.

Do you see how that works? In his mind, wanting to eradicate rape means wanting to get rid of the rights of the accused. I don’t see the connection, at all.

I responded

The point is that when feminists talk about rape, they are talking about rape. Not false reports of rape.

Talking about the rights of the accused, so as to prevent the punishment of an innocent individual is important. But it should not take the spotlight in discussions of rape.

Person A: Rape victims….

Person B: But what about the rights of the accused?

Person A: Rapists….

Person B: Don’t you mean alleged rapists?

This conversation goes nowhere. It’s as if feminists cannot address rapes that actually occur or talk about a hypothetical situation where a rape actually has occurred without always also addressing a parallel situation that was either just a big misunderstanding or where the woman was blatantly lying.

And yet he persisted.

The problem is, how do you distinguish between the two? Ultimately it comes down to a decision by some people with imperfect knowledge of what exactly occurred.

Do you see what he did there? I said that feminists need to be able to talk about rapes that occur. He insisted that we cannot, because even in hypothetical rapes of feminists own construction, they must consider that women are liars.

As frustrated as I was, I had a moment of clarity. I had always accepted arguments about “false accusations” in good faith. I thought that it was just simple misogyny that some people could not sympathize with a rape victim, but only with her attacker. Or possibly they are brought up by a person who was so repulsed by the idea of rape that they let themselves believe it was extremely rare as a way to comfort themselves.

But as the conversation above shows, it’s not just about those things. When someone enters a conversation about rape, and the only thing they want to talk about is the possibility that the victim is lying, they don’t want you to be talking about rape. They want to talk about how women are liars. Does any other conversation happen this way? When the Clean Water Act was proposed, did its opponents say that perhaps Federal Regulators, communities or private property owners would lie that their waterways were being polluted? (Hint: No.)

It’s no longer acceptable to suggest that rapists shouldn’t be punished or that their crimes aren’t a big deal. And so the conversation tactic of anti-feminists has shifted. Instead of denying that a rapist causes harm, deny that he exists at all in the first place.

Should A Unitarian Universalist Pick A Fight With A Newly Converted Catholic?*

Posted in Editorials on June 19th, 2012

Yesterday, Leah Libresco, a well-known blogger announced that she is converting from atheism to Catholicism. The reaction was immediate, chaotic and forceful. Catholics flocked to her comments section to offer congratulations and welcome her home. Atheists were largely confused, but also angry, saddened and sometimes cynical about the news. Some claimed to have seen this coming from a mile away – she had been studying Catholicism for a long time initially as part of a deal she made with her ex-boyfriend.

I have not been a regular reader of Leah’s blog, although I have read it on occasion. I’m a big fan of her ideological Turing test experiment – whereby atheists and Christians post both as themselves and as a person of the “opposite” viewpoint and others have to guess who is who.

I was shocked by the news, and especially by her reasoning. In addition to atheist-to-Catholic convert Jennifer Fulwiler, Leah is the second atheist I have heard of to convert to Catholicism in part because of the belief that an objective moral truth exists and is incompatible with atheism. This is a belief I also hold, but it keeps me more in the spectrum of militant agnostic – weak theist than it convinces me that Catholicism is true or right. How could someone with the same belief come to such a different conclusion?

Although I was raised a Catholic, I left the church for several reasons. Mainly that I did not believe their teachings on sexuality had any place in reality and that I feared my disagreement on this topic would lead to my excommunication. When I embraced Unitarian Universalism, I did so because I could with the knowledge that any disagreements I have would probably not lead to my departure and because their statement of principles is an expression of my deepest moral beliefs.

This question of values is what boggled me so about Leah’s conversion. She is openly bisexual and a passionate supporter of same sex marriage rights. I don’t understand how someone who fits that description could make the informed decision to convert to Catholicism.

Nonetheless, in the comments section of her blog I wished her well. Changing religions is difficult, as I have experienced in my own life, and my conversion was not as public as Leah’s. And while I feel the urge to defend her from the mean spirited comments some are leaving – that she is doing it for attention, that she’s unintelligent, I also find myself bursting with questions, accusatory ones that I don’t know how to ask.

Someone in the comments, Matthais777, wrote:

I just sort wanted to say that I’m very sorry to hear this… Now that you’ve accepted catholisim, i hope your ready to accept what that means. Especially since you’ve chosen Catholisim.

It means, By definition, you must reject the GLBTQ community, like myself.
It means, by definition, you must believe that i and my fellow non-believers are going to hell. Whether that means eternal seperation, or eternal torture, you still believe that our actions deserve that.

It means, by definition, you believe in the subjegation of women through denial of abortion services, birth control, and the right to hold postion of authority on spiritual matters.
And leagues more.

And I couldn’t help nodding along. I’m frustrated that Leah would support such a sexist and homophobic institution that covers up the rape of children. I want to repeat every point Greta Christina made in her post “Why are you still Catholic?” But I feel oddly guilty demanding answers from this new convert. What about her free and responsible search for truth and meaning? It seems obvious to me that Catholicism is not a responsible choice, though I can’t help feeling arrogant in making that accusation.

In choosing to blog publicly about this to answer some questions and respond to comments, she’s opening up her decision for discussion. And there is so much to say.

I seconded the question someone else asked in the comments – “Why Catholicism and not some kind of virtue ethic deism?” And Leah responded:

The very short answer as to why not Deism is that it seems too hands off for the way Goodness would treat us, especially when we so badly need its help. The why Catholicism is mostly based in the fact that, while I’ve been fighting with Catholics for the last two years, they had a lot of times where they or the books they recommended exposed a major error I was making and helped me live better when I changed my philosophy or behavior on smaller scale things than this.

And the first thing I thought was, This totally ignores the problem of evil! My mind ping ponged back and forth between the various Catholic apologetics I am familiar with and my current lapsed beliefs.

It’s not just well known bloggers in the midst of a crisis of faith that I’m considering while writing this post. I often wonder how much I should talk up Unitarian Universalism to people who are considering changing their religion. I read today on a UUA blog that,

The average Unitarian Universalist only invites a person to church once every 26 years.

We have a long way to go before we gain a reputation for being pushy and evangelizing. But like most UUs, I have no desire to be anywhere near that line. Yet we are also frequently hearing from our leaders that as more Americans grow disenchanted with traditional organized religions, we are being presented with the opportunity to share our faith and gain new members in a way we have not before. Could Leah Libresco have become a Unitarian Universalist? Probably not – for various reasons she has been pursing Catholicism for a long time. But there are others out there who would benefit from our message. We have made the choice to become UUs, there are likely others who would given the chance.

Like everyone else, I’m going to wait and see what Leah posts over the next few days. I look forward to the conversation that follows.

*The tagline of Leah’s blog has been alternately “A geeky atheist picks a fight with her Catholic boyfriend” “A geeky atheist picks a fight in good faith” and is now “A geeky convert picks fights in good faith.” She has stated, “It’s much more important to respect people than beliefs, and picking a fight is respect — it means you care about someone and want to lead them out of error.”

How Not To Be A Whitesplainer: A Non-Comprehensive Guide

Posted in Editorials on June 18th, 2012

When I was at Netroots Nation, I got to experience what’s known in some circles as “the liberal white dude.” He is generally well meaning but also totally unaware of his privilege.

I got to see one of these “liberal white dudes” have a complete fail on race during a panel I attended. The panel was called, “Salsa, Cumbia and Merengue: Connecting to the Different Beats of the Latino Electorate,” and focused of various initiatives designed to increase voter registration and turnout among Latinos. The secondary point of the panel, as made evident by the clever title, is that Latinos are not all the same. A speaker on the panel explained that Latinos are more progressive on many issues than Americans as a whole, and the idea that they are conservative simply because of religion is untrue.

However, the first person to ask a question didn’t seem to have been listening. He appeared to be white. He said that he was working for a progressive Democrat running for office in a majority Black and Latino district and he wanted to know how “you people” think he can get “them” to vote when “their churches and priests” tell them that Democrats are bad and they have to vote Republican. Now, I can accept that this is possible, but this is not the type of question the panelists were looking to answer – they were presenting about their specific community outreach programs, not partisan political strategies. Secondly he took a long time to get to his point, when the panel was already running late (and they specifically asked for short questions). Third, his manner and tone were so demanding, it was very odd – as if he really thought that the panelists knew “THE ANSWER TO GETTING HISPANIC CATHOLICS TO VOTE DEMOCRAT” but they were just withholding the information enigmatically. The moderator told him they could speak after the panel about his specific question.

An audience member tweeted:

Definitely step one for how not to be a whitesplainer.

I don’t know if this man ever figured out why he was coming off as patronizing and rude. Or what the panelists told him afterwards, as I left to attend the next event.

But what I can say to you, dear reader, is don’t be that guy.

Don’t sit through an hour long presentation about differences in various parts of the Latino community and then ask a question that assumes all Latinos are the same.

Don’t be patronizing – especially to groups you are not a member of and don’t treat their culture as a puzzle to be solved.

Don’t demand one person (or even a small panel) of people be able to speak for their entire ethnicity.

Don’t make assumptions about another culture and presume you know exactly why someone behaves differently than you would like them to.

Don’t otherize people just because they have a different ethnicity or religion than you.

Don’t define someone else’s reality for them.

Here’s some questions I think he could have asked:

-Do you have any information about the impact of church attendance on voting among Latinos?

-In your experience, what kinds of outreach work best in a community with a large Catholic/Pentocostal Latino population?

-Have you had success working with churches to increase voter registration and turnout?

There’s probably still a way to ask the above questions and sound racist. But they’re more carefully phrased, and more suited to the length of answer a person can give during a 75 minute panel. They also don’t require a long and patronizing back story.

There’s an almost unlimited number of ways to be racist, and I doubt I could list them all – thus the fact that this post is not a comprehensive guide.

During the keynote the next day, Nicole Austin-Hillery, Director and Counsel of The Brennan Center and Jakada Imani, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center said that white people and white liberals have to get more comfortable discussing race and racism. I believe that is true. We might make mistakes, but if we don’t try at all it will be much more difficult to overcome. Talking about race is uncomfortable for many white people – there’s fear of saying the wrong thing and being perceived as racist, discomfort with or denial of actual racist thoughts or feelings, and sometimes guilt about what atrocities other white people have committed. But by refusing to talk, we are making the problem worse.

…And if you try and fail like the frustrated organizer from Texas, Do apologize, Do listen to people who are explaining what you did wrong, Do ask questions if you need to, and Do try not to make the same mistake again. Don’t disengage.