Monday, October 31, 2011

Musical Monday

If that was too mellow and melancholy to start your Monday, here's another from Adele....with a little more of her personality showing through at the beginning.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

What Influences the Influencers?

Simultaneous with my reading of Confessions, I wandered off somewhere through hyperlinks and began reading through other early Christian writings. This happens to me frequently.  I begin reading one thing which makes an obscure reference to something else, which leads me to look up that piece of writing, which in turn references another text etc., etc. Before I know it I'm chasing rabbit trails...possibly tangential rabbit trails, but still slightly off of my original path.

During this frantic, hopping process, I came across 1 Clement, an early Christian epistle believed to be written around the turn of the first century by Pope Clement 1. You can read the text, in full, here.

For the most part it's what you would expect from a church leader writing to a congregation of believers, exhortation, warning, encouragement, and the reiteration of doctrine and practices and the faithfulness of the biblical characters. In the middle of all this, though, there is this nugget:

Let us consider that wonderful sign [of the resurrection] which takes place in Eastern lands, that is, in Arabia and the countries round about. There is a certain bird which is called a phoenix. This is the only one of its kind, and lives five hundred years. And when the time of its dissolution draws near that it must die, it builds itself a nest of frankincense, and myrrh, and other spices, into which, when the time is fulfilled, it enters and dies. But as the flesh decays a certain kind of worm is produced, which, being nourished by the juices of the dead bird, brings forth feathers. Then, when it has acquired strength, it takes up that nest in which are the bones of its parent, and bearing these it passes from the land of Arabia into Egypt, to the city called Heliopolis. And, in open day, flying in the sight of all men, it places them on the altar of the sun, and having done this, hastens back to its former abode. The priests then inspect the registers of the dates, and find that it has returned exactly as the five hundredth year was completed.
Do we then deem it any great and wonderful thing for the Maker of all things to raise up again those who have piously served Him in the assurance of a good faith, when even by a bird He shows us the mightiness of His power to fulfil His promise? For [the Scripture] says in a certain place, "You shall raise me up, and I shall confess to You;" and again, "I laid down, and slept; I awaked, because You are with me;" and again, Job says, "you shall raise up this flesh of mine, which has suffered all these things."
I was not expecting an early Christian leader to use the phoenix as a proof of God's resurrection power. Clement speaks about the bird as a real, factual, natural example of resurrection. It's intriguing because it is so removed from the Gospel accounts, or even Paul's description of resurrection. Instead of directly appealing to the Resurrection story, or Paul's assurances that 500 people witnessed a resurrected Jesus, Clement is using examples in nature as proofs for the resurrection of Christ and resurrection in general.  He discusses the renewal of the sun each day, or the growth of plants from "dead" seeds and ultimately goes on to this final example with the phoenix.

First, it's interesting to note that Clement doesn't reference the miraculous in any way.  He's writing to the Corinthians, a congregation with whom Paul spends a lot of time discussing tongues and healings and miraculous powers. Yet, now, there is no whiff of the supernatural in this letter. The transition is being made from a belief system based on experiential, emotive, supernatural events to a belief system that is moving towards an authoritative, literature-based system. The text's subtle feel places it in a different category than Paul's writings.

I'm not sure what it means. It seems somewhat removed from the immediacy of the apostles even though  Clement supposedly was alive when some of the apostles were still alive and is claimed to have been installed by Peter himself, though, as always, there is much uncertainty when it comes to dates and succession during this time period.

Second, it's always disappointing to come across these bizarre examples or reasoning in the founders of the Christian faith. Intellectually, I know that Clement believed that phoenixes were real and he was probably not strange in doing so and it shouldn't bother me.  However, it does make the point that many of Christianity's founders were incredibly credulous, maybe no more so than the average person in their culture, but still.....the implications further erode my confidence.

I experienced a similar deflation when reading St. Augustine's Confessions. One of the many pivotal moments he writes about concerns St. Anthony and the book Life of Anthony, which Athanasius wrote. He and his companions are set on fire by the book and its tales of Anthony's battles with demons and the strong, radical faith which caused Anthony to seek a solitary existence in the desert.

Off I went to read Life of Anthony in order to get a better understanding of what was so moving for Augustine and his friends.  What I read sounded like the ravings of a schizophrenic experiencing hallucinations. Demons spontaneously appear to Anthony and torment him, not only mentally, but also physically. It's one extreme episode after another.

Discovering this text as a seed of inspiration for Augustine is disturbing. What does it say about his mental state?  About what motivates him? About the credulity with which he accepts these tales?

When you find that those who hold such prominent influence over the shaping of Christianity have faulty premises and facts at the inception of their faith, how do you walk with them further down the path and take what they say with unpolluted trust?

Reading the early writings has become an act of torture for me. I'm always finding stuff that I wish wasn't there, and I'm frequently appalled at the influences which guide the influential.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Was Augustine Bi-Sexual?, The Conclusion


What does it matter?

It doesn't, depending on what a person thinks of the implications. Because Augustine converted with a simultaneous vow of celibacy, all of his sexual activities are strictly pre-conversion.  It would be hard for GLBT groups to use him as much of a poster boy for their causes considering he in no way condones his own sexuality, or hardly anyone's sexuality for that matter.  In Augustine's eyes, sex is worldly, temporal and usually lustful, so any attempt at expressing acceptance of any kind of pleasurable sexuality is cut off before it even begins.

For some Christian groups, it might be unsettling to imagine their patron saint engaging in sexual acts with other men/boys and I would think many would resist any idea speculating about Augustine's bi-sexualty.

On the other hand, I can imagine that some Christian groups would gladly take Augustine as the prime example of an "ex-gay/ex-bi" person whose behavior was changed by belief in and commitment to the Christian God.

Augustine could be co-opted by either side of the divide.

Was Augustine Bi-Sexual?, Part 3

I have mostly finished Confessions, and as of yet, haven't been swayed to think that Augustine was solely heterosexual.  My reading of him is that early in his youth, upon moving to Carthage, he probably was involved in same-sex sexual relationships.  He doesn't say it outright, which I don't perceive as unusual. Even when discussing his relationship with his mistress he doesn't go into much detail.  He is much more descriptive about his feelings and perceptions of guilt rather than being descriptive about specific acts.

I think the strongest case for Augustine's early bi-sexuality still remains in carefully reading how he writes about women, in general, and, specifically, his most significant heterosexual relationship. I don't see how the passages I quoted in the original post could even remotely be applied to women by Augustine. Augustine simply doesn't describe his relationships with women, on the few occasions he mentions them, with any sense of love, or friendship, or emotional depth. All of these emotions he expresses quite freely towards his male friends.

I'm not saying that every male relationship that Augustine had was a sexual relationship.  I'd venture that most weren't and that any affairs that he had were well in his youth.

This lack of feeling expressed towards women, combined with the fact that Carthage seemed to be known as tolerant place for homosexuality, and that Augustine directly connects his adventures to the city of Carthage, I find compelling.

After my first read-through of Confessions, I went back and read the Introduction. I don't like to read Introductions ahead of time because I find they color my reading experience. In the Introduction of the the translation of Confessions which I am reading, I found this:
There was however, a snag to baptism. Anyone who took it seriously knew that post-baptismal sins were unforgivable, if they were big ones, although most pre-baptismal sins would be wiped out by baptism itself. There was then room for calculation. If you delayed baptism and avoided the most unpardonable sins like murder (some writers included adultery) you could be baptized in old age and be destined for heaven in the life to come. If you were baptized too soon, you might damn yourself to hell by sinning badly later. Those who thought hard could see the attractions of remaining a "catechumen": Monica saw them and because she suspected that her son might sow wild oats and be a promiscuous young man, she preferred to keep him as a catechumen. (pp xix,  The Confessions, translated by Philip Burton)
I found this intriguing because when Augustine writes about the death of his close, male friend, he mentions that after he fell sick, those who were taking care of him baptized him, assuming that he was going to die soon.  His friend has a brief rally in his sickness and is coherent enough to talk to Augustine.  Augustine relates the baptism in a joking way, assuming that his friend will laugh at the involuntary, unconscious baptism, and is surprised by his friend's response:
He, however, had learnt beforehand of the baptism he had received, and shrank from me as if from an enemy. In a remarkable and sudden burst of plain speaking he warned me that if I wanted to be his friend, I would have to stop talking to him like that. For my part, I was astonished and upset at this, and put all my own feelings on one side until he had recovered and had regained the full vigour of health; then, I thought, I would be able to deal with him as I wished. But he was rescued from my madness, so that in you he might be reserved for my consolation; a few days later, when I was away, the fever struck again, and he died. (pp 70, Confessions 4.3.8)
This is intriguing because of the change brought about in his relationship because of the baptism.  If baptism was taken so seriously, then it would have natural repercussions in the relationship that Augustine might have had with his friend and the friend's response may not be one merely of annoyance at being mocked, but the realization that the relationship would have to change.

That's speculation, but I think it's fair speculation.

The delaying of baptism, and Augustine's vow of celibacy once he decides to be baptized, may make more sense if we realize that for Augustine the Christian life was an all-or-nothing prospect on the issue of sex.  He would have to completely avoid sex of all kinds in order to live in way that he considered faithful. Any sexual pleasure, even within the bonds of marriage, was something he couldn't handle in combination with his faith.  All non-pro-creational sex was giving into lust in his eyes, and perhaps, knowing his own proclivities, it was easier to go "cold turkey".

Monday, October 24, 2011

Let it Rip!

That's the battle cry for playing BeyBlade, a game of dueling, adjustable, spinning tops which are launched into plastic "stadiums".

This weekend we attended a local tournament at a nearby Toys-R-Us that The Intuitive found out about from the website.  We weren't sure what to expect. The event didn't seem to be advertised anywhere else and, other than my son, we didn't know many kids who were obsessed with BeyBlade.

Apparently, they don't need to do much advertising these days.  By the time the tournament started, there were about 60 kids, almost exclusively boys, crowding around tables with stadiums set up for battles.  They writhed with energy and excitement, opening their overflowing plastic carrying cases and carefully examining their stock, thoughtfully choosing their instruments of war.

60 boys, from ages 5 to 13, managed to behave pretty well considering the first hour was informal chaos with boys introducing themselves to each other and seeking out battle partners. The Intuitive glowed with enthusiasm taking his losses well, but taking his wins with victorious joy.

Ultimately, he didn't make it too far in the tournament. His collection of 5 or 6 BeyBlades couldn't compete with the serious challengers who seemed to have at least 20.

He still managed to have a great time.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Was Saint Augustine Bi-Sexual? Part 2

The plot thickens.

Whenever something novel occurs to me about a text I am reading, novel enough to pique my interest, one of the first things that I do is try to see if anyone else has ever thought the same thing, or researched the idea. When I read Gilgamesh, I noticed certain images that reminded me of the book of Daniel. When I researched this further, I found that many people had already explored the connection and written obscure papers and books about the subject. It turns out my insight wasn't unique or incredibly insightful.

Oh Well.

The possibility of Augustine having had same-sex affairs was thought-provoking, in large part because the idea was totally unexpected.  I had in my mind a rough sketch of Augustine's life and the purpose of Confessions through general exposure in my reading and miscellaneous passages which are frequently quoted, usually in theological discussions. I went into Confessions with pre-conceived ideas about what I was going to find. I decided to read it because it's one of those things that people use and refer to without actually having read the work, in full, for themselves.

So, what did I find out about this possible aspect of Augustine?

I discovered that very few people discussed this aspect of Augustine, or were even aware of the idea.  I found a few GLBT sites which listed him as one of their own on the basis of some of the passages I have already quoted, but some of these sites also tended to have an agenda, trying to claim prominent Christians from the past as fellow homosexuals or bi-sexuals. It doesn't mean they are wrong, but it does taint their assertions with a self-serving motive.

One paper kept coming up as a reference in several books and articles; Correcting Some Misconceptions about St. Augustine's Sex Life, by Alan Soble. Although it was frequently showing up as a reference, I had a difficult time finding the actual text of the paper. It was listed in bibliographies and footnotes, but no one ever quoted it and every link I followed had only the abstract available to the public. Eventually, my husband got access to it through his university in order for me to read the entire article.

I was hoping for something more informative than what I got. The article goes into a lot of detail about what other historians and biographers of Augustine have said and even addresses the issue of the GLBT community trying to co-opt Augustine, something I had already come across. Ultimately, the author concludes that it is silly to think that Augustine engaged in same-sex relationships.

The author is wrong as far as his reasoning goes.  His arguments rest on these points: that Augustine was an exaggerator, that Augustine expressed interest in women, and Augustine never clearly says that he has had same-sex relationships.

Claiming that Augustine was dramatic, and therefore we must take what he says about himself with a grain of salt, undermines any attempt at unearthing the truth from Augustine's own words. When Soble goes looking for evidence, he doesn't look for evidence in Confessions, he looks for evidence in what historians and biographers have said about Augustine and his sex life.  This is a misstep.  What do historians know about Augustine besides what he has said about himself in his own work?  Ignoring the tone of Confessions, and going to second-hand interpretation from other authors will muddy the water on the issue rather than add clarity to it.

Soble acknowledges that some historians intimate that Augustine did have same-sex affairs, but he rejects these intimations out of hand. He believes that people are reading bi-sexuality into the text for their own reasons.  I think Soble is reading Augustine's relatively chaste heterosexuality into the text.  When Soble addresses the texts in question, he just baldly asserts that they refer to women.  When Augustine talks about polluting friendships, Soble believes he's speaking about male-female friendship:
First, Augustine was looking for and talking about love with a woman for he immediately says that success in his search soon came and he was probably referring to the pact he made with his mistress. Second, Augustine speaks in this sentence only of desire, not behavior. Augustine knew Matthew 5:28 well, according to which Jesus said,"But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Augustine's taking  Matthew 5:28 seriously might very well explain his critical remark in Confessions 3.1 that he "polluted" friendship with sexual desire, for the point of Matthew 5:28 is that mere desire by itself, without sexual activity, is condemnable. (pp 554 Journal of the History of Sexuality, Volume 11, Number 4, October 2002)
Soble's first contention is simply assertion and circularity.  How does Augustine saying that he was successful in his search prove that he was looking of and talking about a woman? The text doesn't say that in any way.  Soble connects what Augustine wrote to Augustine's mistress, but the information about Augustine's mistress comes much later in the text and isn't connected to Augustine's elaborate descriptions of his lust and pollution of friendship. What Soble says simply doesn't follow.

Sobles' second contention is just more of the same.  There is no reason to assume that Augustine is speaking of desire and not actions.  How could Augustine consider himself "successful" in obtaining love and consummating lust if he is only speaking of desire? Augustine makes it clear when he is talking about desires and when he is talking about actions. While he may be vague about the specifics of his actions, he is clear that there were actions.

Soble is inserting his own assumptions onto the text. Because Augustine declares that he was monogamous with his mistress, not knowing any other woman during his time with her over the course of 15 years, Soble assumes that means Augustine didn't have any other sexual relationships, which is not exactly what Augustine says.  In fact, Augustine goes out of his way to say that he has not been with any other women, rather than saying that he has only had sexual relations with her.  It may seem rather pedantic and persnickety to note this difference, but I think it is relevant to the context of Augustine's cultural surroundings.  Same-sex relations were not viewed as unfaithfulness to wives and women.  They existed in an entirely different class.

I have continued to read further into Confessions, wondering if I would come across material that would either strengthen or weaken my intuition about Augustine, and so far I haven't found much to change my leaning towards Augustine's having had same-sex affairs.

Augustine's attitude towards women was wholly utilitarian.  Throughout Confessions, in the context of Augustine's lust, Augustine floats the possibility of marriage as a cure for his sexual wanderings. His parents don't want him to marry at a young age because they are trying to further his academic career and don't want him to be tied down, which is why his mother simply asks him not to commit adultery.  They leave his libido unchecked rather than have him take on a wife as a "cure" for his sexual appetites.

At one point in Confessions, when Augustine is older and leaning more towards conversion, he considers the benefits of finding a woman with money to marry as a way to advance his career, there is no mention of love or companionship.  When he considers creating a co-op with his closest male friends and colleagues, living together and sharing everything in common, the fly in the ointment is that several of his group have wives and this will ruin it:
6.14.24..But when we began to consider whether this life would be possible if our womenfolk were present (some of us already being married, and others, myself included, hoping to be), all our noble plans fell to pieces in our hands, and lay utterly shattered on the ground. (pp 129)
Just after this section Augustine refers to his mistress as his familiar bedfellow, certainly not a term of love or tenderness or friendship or any of the emotional connectedness that he relates with his male friends:
6.12.25...My familiar bedfellow was torn from my side as being an impediment to marriage; and my heart, to which she had fixed herself, was torn and wounded, and left a trail of blood. She returned to Africa, vowing to you that she would never know another man, and leaving behind the natural son she had borne me. But in my misery I could not even imitate her, a woman; although after two years I was to receive in marriage the girl for whom I had made my suit, and, being not a lover of marriage but a slave of lust, I got myself another--and not a wife--so as to maintain my soul's sickness as it was, or if possible to make it worse, and convey it, with an escort of enduring habit, into the realm of matrimony. Nor did I find any healing for the wound caused by the severance from my previous partner, but after the inflammation and the grievous pain, gangrene set in; it was as if the wound were numbed, but it was even more incredibly painful. (pp 130)
And, that's it. Notice how Augustine says that she had attached herself to his heart, placing the attachment  under her power, not his.  Also note his little jab that he couldn't do something that a woman could do.  While he is certainly pained to see her go, he doesn't say much about his love for her and in fact never uses the word love in relation to her.  He was also willing to dismiss her for the utilitarian marriage being secured for him. This is not a man losing the love of his life.  This is a man losing access to a regular sexual partner who has become a part of his life through habit and no more.

Augustine was heartless when it came to her. There was no prestige or advancement to be made in marrying her. He lost her because she wasn't useful to him in his academic, financial, or social life, and the loss he feels for her is not rooted in his love of her.

I'll continue more of this discussion later......

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Was Saint Augustine Bi-Sexual?

I've continued reading The Confessions, by Saint Augustine, and part of the way through the first few "books" I began to wonder whether Augustine's references to lust and sin and giving in to low vices included a homosexual, or bi-sexual, element to them. He talks about an incident at a public bath that made his father recognize that he is coming of age sexually, but there is no mention of a girl or woman, or even much in the way of remonstrances about his sexual activities from his Christian mother other than a warning to not commit adultery. His social life seems to revolve around his boyhood friendships and the idea that being with this social group has induced him to sin in ways which he wouldn't have sinned individually.

From the beginning Augustine writes:
2.2.2 And what pleasure did I know except loving and being loved? But my love did not keep within the bounds marked out by the shining border of friendship, the affection of one mind for another. (pp 31)
He describes moving to Carthage and its effect on him :
3.1.1 I came to Carthage and a frying pan of sinful loves was spitting all about me.  I was not yet in love, but I was in love with love; such was my inner need that I hated myself for not being more in need. 
...Loving and being loved was sweeter to me if I could also enjoy my lover's body. So it was that I defiled the well of friendship with the filth of concupiscence, and clouded its clear light with the infernal fog of lust; crude and boorish as I was, my vanity was so excessive that I longed to be smart and sophisticated. I rushed headlong into love, seeking to be swallowed up in it. O God ever merciful to me(Ps. 59.19 [Ps. 58.18]), what gall you in your goodness smeared over my sophisticated pleasures; for I was loved in return, and came secretly to know the chains of carnal enjoyment.(pp 45)
So far, Augustine has only used the word friendship in relation to his male peers.  There is no indication that he had female friends, in which case is he defiling his male friendships with lust and sexual longing? Other than his mother, Augustine hasn't described any relationship with a woman in detail, or with the loving language he uses for his male peers.

Further on, he describes the death of a close, male friend in devastating terms, describing how inconsolable he was, how he had lost half of his soul and loved him as an immortal. The language he uses is very flowery and emotional and romantic.
I was astonished that other mortals lived, since he, whom I had loved as if he were immortal, was dead, and even more astonished that though he was dead, I, his other self, lived. He spoke rightly who said that his friend was "half his soul". I felt that my soul and my friend's were one soul in two bodies, and life filled me with horror as I had no wish to live on, a mere half of myself.  Perhaps, too, I dreaded death for this same reason, fearing that he whom I had loved so much would die utterly. (pp 71-72, Book 4.6.11)
And later on, when analyzing the response to the loss of friendship and camaraderie when someone dies, he writes:
These and other such tokens, which proceed from the hearts of those who love each other and express themselves in the face, the speech, the eyes, and a thousand gestures of good will, are, so to speak, the kindling of the fire which melds minds together, making one out of many. 
4.9.14 This is what we cherish in our friends, to the extent that a man's conscience feels guilty, if he does not love one who loves him in return, or love in return one who loves him, seeking nothing from his lover's body except these tokens of good will.(pp.73)
The use of the word lover in the midst of a treatise on close friendship jumps out at me. It seems very odd that so far in my reading of Augustine he's written less then a paragraph about his 15 year relationship with a woman, in terms of his sinful life, and yet carries on about the close friendships he has had for pages. He does mention lusting after women at one point, but even that is a cursory statement, buried in a list of the general misguidedness he felt ruled his life at that point in time.

It could be that I am simply misreading Augustine. Women weren't seen as emotional and intellectual equals in Roman times.  Maybe the closeness with which Augustine described his friendships is simply typical for his culture.  On the other hand, homosexuality and pederasty weren't unknown in Roman culture.

When I first started to wonder if other people had explored this part of Augustine, I came across the Wikipedia page here, which had a quote from Plutarch about homosexuality, specifically being the passive partner:
"we regard men who take pleasure in passive submission as practicing the lowest kind of vice."
This set off a bell in my head, because when Augustine first begins elaborating on his sinfulness in The Confessions, he mentions the low forms of vice in which he engaged.
More than once in my youth I burnt to satisfy myself with the lowest things; with reckless daring I ran wild, overgrown and overshadowed by my various loves.  And all the time I pleased myself and sought to be pleasing in the sight of men, my beauty wasted away and I was foul(Dan. 10.8) in your sight
Plutarch, a biographer of many prominent Greeks and Romans, had written about Cicero, the person whose work Augustine credits for the beginning of his spiritual turnaround.



Augustine was fully immersed in rhetoric, literature and philosophy and would have been exposed to a great many ideas and people which were all connected through the "canon" of his studies.  The similarity in language may not mean anything.  On the other hand, because Augustine places such an emphasis on Cicero, it isn't a stretch to imagine that Augustine would have read Plutarch's biography and other works and been influenced by what he had to say.

It's hard to judge with Augustine.  He is frequently overly dramatic when describing any type of sin and knowing whether he really means it when he says he participated in the "lowest things", or if he is exaggerating for effect is difficult to sort out.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


"A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain."
-Mark Twain

Friday, October 14, 2011

9-9-9 Example

My mind was thinking more about Cain's plan, so I threw together this rough example from the statistics provided by the Consumer Expenditure Survey.

Assume a family of four with an annual income before taxes of $94,807 and the after tax income of $92,147. That's about a 3% tax of their gross income.  Under a flat 9%  their after taxes income would be $86,274. They would pay $8,532 in annual income tax. That's 3 times what they currently pay.

The average annual expenditures for this group is listed as $69,536.

Removing non-taxble expenditures for housing, food, utilities, and the cost of health insurance, etc.....which account for over 70% of the listed expenditures, that leaves about 30% of expenditures on things which would be subject to sales tax.

30% of $69,536 is about $20,860.  9% sales tax on those expenditures would be $1877 annually.

That is over and above the normal state sales taxes that everyone pays.

This particular family would be paying the federal government $10,409 in one year.

Under Cain's plan, this family would be paying $7,749 more than it currently does.

Cain's plan not only would hurt the lower and middle classes, it would hurt the upper classes even more.

Over 31%, and the top 31%, of the "consumer units" fall into the $70,000 and above income level, with the average(or mean?) income listed as $129,151.  These households also make up to 52.4% of the annual aggregate expenditures for the country.  A 9% sales tax would hit these more wealthy people as hard as it would the middle and lower classes because of their higher consumption of goods.  Maybe they wouldn't feel it quite as hard as a family living on $40,000 would, but that is all relative.

Viewed in this way, Cain's plan is actually a disproportionate tax on "the rich" and all those "job-creators" Republicans keep trying to protect.

It's an awful, awful plan. Going over these numbers convinces me that Cain has no clue about how taxes work or the actual breakdown of how his plan would affect the country.


Here are a few articles that touch on the same things I've been posting about.

P.S.  I swear that I hadn't come across any of these things until after my posts. Most of these articles(there are more I didn't list) came out today or the day before.  Things like that always make me wonder if there is some sort of meta-cognition process at work in the world. ;-)

Cain's 9-9-9 Plan

Herman Cain, one of the Republican candidates campaigning for the Republican nomination, has what he calls the 9-9-9 plan. It consists of a 9% flat income tax on individuals, 9% flat tax on business income, and a 9% federal sales tax.

While I have heard some Republicans deride the plan as simplistic, there hasn't been much of an outcry about the idea of a national sales tax, especially a sales tax as high as 9%. The only state sales tax that comes close to 9%, actually over 9%, is Tennessee, and the only reason that isn't too awful is because Tennessee is one of the few states that doesn't have state, county, or city income taxes, except for tax on interest/dividends.

9% is high. 9% is even higher when you consider that it is only one source of income for the federal government under this plan. A 9% tax on income, which would probably be put in place with fewer deductions overall, plus 9% in sales tax would be an enormous amount of revenue streaming into the government.

Every time a person bought a pair of shoes, clothing, an appliance for their home, materials for running their businesses, supplies for schools, and so forth, the government would be getting a cut.  Prices on consumer goods would experience a 9% increase from the perspective of the buyer. This would crush the economy more than a general increase in income taxes, or the removal of deduction loopholes.  If the average person had to pay 9% more for their annual purchases, excluding food, it would put the brakes on consumer spending almost immediately.

Currently, a large portion of the population, once deductions and credits are taken into account, doesn't pay anything close to 9% in income taxes. Suddenly removing those deductions while simultaneously creating a 9% sales tax would decimate the middle and lower classes. Not only would people be bringing home less money, but when they went to use that money, it would buy fewer goods at a higher price.  It would squeeze people at both ends.

This is a horrible idea and I don't understand why Republicans, overall, aren't taking Cain to task on this.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Keep two pieces of paper in your pockets at all times.
One that says, "I am a speck of dust."
And the other, "The world was created for me."

-Rabbi Bunim of P'shiskha

October's Overly Ambitious Reading List

1. Gilgamesh, A New English Version, by Stephen Mitchell

I've actually finished this.  It was an enjoyable read and easily finished in about a day or two. The Introduction took longer than the actual epic to read through, but it was very informative.  There were some interesting images in the poem that I found to be echoes of images used in the book of Daniel, though I guess it would be more accurate to say that Daniel contains the echoes of Gilgamesh-ian images because Gilgamesh existed long before Daniel.  I may have more to say on that later.

2. The Post Office, by Rabindranath Tagore

Another quick read. This short play about a young, sick boy longing to explore the world just outside of his window would be interesting to see performed rather than read. I picked this up on a whim merely because it was shelved in close proximity to Gilgamesh.

3. Yearnings; Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life, by Irwin Kula with Linda Lowenthal

I've only begun reading this and there are immediately some refreshing points made in the first chapter.  On the other hand, this is more of an inspirational book and I might soon tire of being inspired! I can only handle a certain amount of encouragement at one time.

4. The Confessions, by Augustine.

This is a second attempt for me.  The first version I picked up was translated into a KJV-type English and it was too much for me to slog through.  This is a more contemporary translation and much easier to read without being distracted by the anachronistic English of the other version.

5. The Republic, by Plato

This is the truly ambitious part of my reading list. I have never directly read Plato, or any of the Greek philosophers. I have been made familiar with some of their ideas through other works, or in a general way, but I haven't taken the time to read the original material. I don't know if I'll get through it because I find reading philosophy boring and obtuse beyond a very general presentation.  Diving into endless details and arguments about the preciseness of terms and the perpetual "if-then" soon tires me.  We'll see if I actually complete it.

On a side note, it was very odd that Plato's Republic was shelved near current political books, most of which I wouldn't consider serious works, like a book by Pat Robertson and other "authors" of his caliber. It seemed out of place to have Robertson and Plato side by side. Poor Plato, unable to defend himself or request better quarters for his works!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

14 Years

Hard to believe, but DH and I have been married for 14 years.  We celebrated yesterday with a low-key but special dinner with the kids, leafing through our wedding album and reminding them they wouldn't exist if we hadn't married each other.

I've got to use those parental cliches whenever I can!

My mother-in-law sent us this to mark the day:

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

Wrong era for us, thank God. We don't make very hot hippies.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Romney's Mormonism

In my Evangelical days, I would have been on board with Robert Jeffress assessment of Mormonism as cult and his urging to vote for a "Christian" candidate.

My, how my thoughts have changed.

Lurking behind Jeffress assessment of Romney's Mormonism and political candidacy is the assumption that   having a "real" Christian in the White House will automatically increase the odds that the United States will be closer to God's will and favor. It won't be worded that way in the media, but that's what underlies Jeffress statement. All things being equal, a bona fide, officially approved Evangelical will always be better, in Jeffress eyes, because they have an inside line to God, while other candidates have to rely on their own powers and qualifications.

All things being unequal, even if Romney has better qualifications or better political ideas, the fact that he isn't a bona fide Evangelical just naturally means that he is more prone to being spiritually deceived and leading the USA down Satan's primrose path.

That seems over the top for me to write....but it is an entirely accurate portrayal of what Jeffress and those like him think. It has nothing to do with whether or not Mormonism is a cult. That's simply a way of phrasing things for the larger public.  Even secularists and atheists don't want to vote for someone who might belong to a cult. The cult language is a way to sway those outside of Jeffress' particular version of Evangleicalism.

Jeffress doesn't need to invoke cult language in order to influence his followers, because his followers don't believe in a spiritually neutral universe. People who think like Jeffress will automatically infer that Mormonism is a false religion, probably started and sustained through demonic influence and ergo, its followers, who may seem moral, are the under the influence of demonic teaching and false beliefs. Even if they seem nice, they are deceived.

Rmmney is not alone in this classification. Obama, as a member of a liberal Christian denomination, doesn't qualify for "real" Christian status in Jeffress version of Evangelicalism, either.

Is Mormonism a cult?

No. At least, it isn't any more. It definitely may have originated as a cult, following the teachings of Joseph Smith and his "discovery" of the golden plates. A cult usually revolves around a single personality, or a very tight circle of authoritative leadership which is not open to the larger grouping of religious followers.

There are certainly splinter groups of the Latter Day Saints which would qualify as cults, Warren Jeffs group providing a prime example. And there are other groups like his, with compounds full of women and children dressed in pioneer-like clothing, separated and closed off from the world through purposeful self-isolation.

However, mainstream Mormonism has moved beyond cultism. Regardless of what a person thinks about the dubious origins of Mormonism, as a religion it has normalized itself to a certain extent. By abolishing polygamy and establishing broader leadership and openness it has done what all religions must do to move beyond cult status; it has compromised and changed what it could to fit within the larger culture surrounding it.

In fact, mainstream Mormonism looks quite similar to Evangelicalism. The average Evangelical could walk into a Mormon ward and hardly tell the difference between one of its services and a traditional Baptist service.  Evangelical mothers could talk with Mormon mothers and discover that the same focus on being a good wife and mother, which prevails in conservative Evangelical culture, is virtually identical in Mormon circles. The same attitude and arguments for male-only leadership that the Mormon church espouses could have been written by any conservative Southern Baptist pastor. The same effort to engage youth groups, to encourage tithing, to require service to the is virtually identical to how many Evangelical churches work.

The reason that most Evangelicals don't realize this is that their only exposure to Mormons and Mormonism occurs when they hear a knock at the door and find two young men in black pants, white shirts and black ties patiently combing neighborhoods, handing out the book of Mormon and trying to convert anyone they can. That is no better of a way to know what Mormons are like than to know what Baptists are like through their evangelism efforts.  It's only a small peak into their world.

Many Evangelicals would honestly be more comfortable with Mormon friends than they would with Catholic friends, they just don't know it. Behind the weird theories about Jesus, and the more sensational Mormon beliefs, the core of Mormon culture is made up of family, work ethic, and being willing to not conform to the world for the sake of God. The "feeling" of mainstream Mormonism is congruous to the "feeling" of conservative Evangelicalism.

That's why Glenn Beck can be so popular in conservative Evangelical circles. Even though his religion is not the same, the things he says, the views he holds, the way he comports himself  is familiar and second nature to conservative Evangelicals. Listening to him is like listening to one of their own.

Will Jeffress' comments mean anything in the way the election pans out? Only if his comments influence those who are outside of his group and who take his comments at face value.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

james, from  i don't know, but  has a brief story that I found amusing. Google may not be happy, though!

Thursday, October 06, 2011


Dr X, a psychiatrist, had a brief post after this video of Rumsfeld discussing the nature of Rumsfeld's attitude towards the interviewer. Watch the video. It's cringe-worthy.

My husband who was in the room while I was watching, but couldn't see the computer screen from his vantage point, exclaimed,"Who is that?!" Even he could pick up on the nasty tone of Rumsfeld without knowing who he was, or what the context of the video was.  Rumsfeld is manipulative and downright mean,  objecting not just to the interviewer's questions, but making some pretty nasty personal comments about the interviewer.

It gave me flashbacks to a co-worker with whom I had briefly worked.  We had been thrown together for a couple of weeks in my last job as a puppeteer/public speaker at elementary schools.  I was taking the position of her former partner in the next year and was merely filling in the last few weeks of the current year.  During our program there were specific points at which each of us were responsible for addressing the audience and either introducing the program, or concluding it. Each time I would be in the midst of my concluding presentation, she would interject things out of the blue.  It was very distracting to me, especially because there was no rhyme or reason to it.  She never interjected at the same point in the presentation, and she never said the same thing.  It kept me off-kilter.

After we concluded one of the shows, in which she really threw me off and I stood there dumbly for a moment trying to remember where I was, I tried to explain to her that I was having a hard time keeping track of things when she interjected.  I had switched parts from the time I had previously performed in this position and all of the material was new to me.  I wasn't quite comfortable enough with the new material to easily get back on track if I got distracted.

I tried to make it sound as if it were my problem and I needed her help with it.

What happened next was quite similar to that Rumsfeld video.  You would have thought that I killed her dog.  There I stood, in the middle of a school cafeteria, with this lady going on and on about me and how I was so confrontational and she couldn't work with people like me and she didn't want to hear anything I had to say and she was "done" and on and on and on.

It was the most bizarre experience and baffling personal interaction I had ever had.

She took my request and made it into a personal attack and then raised her voice at me, slandered me, and accused me of all the things she was doing to me.

This all occurred between two performances.  She stormed off while I tried to assure the school counselor that everything was fine and we would be ready for the next show.  I figured she just needed to cool off.

She came back and we icily performed our second show.

As we packed up, I made the mistake of trying to make peace with her or talk about what had happened.  Worst. Mistake. Ever.

She just moved back into Rumsfeld mode with more personal attacks and over-reaction.

I spent the last two weeks of working with her trying to kill her with kindness and refusing to let her drag me into any more of her crazy-head-space.