I hope you enjoy the deep social commentary hidden within today’s comic. It’s there. Keep looking!
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Tribalism is partly driven by the desire to wield power within the tribe, controlling others by policing boundaries and meting out punishments for those who transgress. And it is partly driven by the desire to wield power beyond the tribe — to be affirmed by those despised/envied outsiders who have never noticed or cared what the tribal gatekeepers thought of them.
That results in two different standards — one for judging the statements of insiders and another one for those of outsiders. If some shimmering person outside the tribe says even the most vacuous or ambiguous thing that can be spun positively, it will be seized upon and claimed as an affirmation of the tribe and all its values. If some upstart within the tribe says the identical statement, it will be interpreted in the most hostile light so that the speaker can be condemned as someone who opposes the tribe and its values.
So when the star athlete points to the heavens at his moment of athletic triumph, that single gesture is praised by tribal gatekeepers as a point-by-point endorsement of their complete five-page Statement of Faith and their 25-page political agenda, and all of the athlete’s accomplishments are claimed as the rightful property of the tribe which now embraces him as an honorary member. The gesture and the athlete are praised because they can be spun as some kind of evidence of the legitimacy among outsiders that the tribe desperately desires.
But if some troublemaker from within the tribe — some renegade asking too many questions — should stand and recite the Nicene Creed, every syllable will be parsed for evidence of insincerity and the gatekeepers will declare themselves unimpressed and unconvinced by this vague, shallow gesture.
Imagine, for example, what would happen if someone like, say, Rob Bell were to stand at a microphone on national television and say something like, “When you got God, you got a friend, and that friend is you.”
The gatekeepers would be in an uproar — he’s claiming we’re all gods! they would shout, rending their specially made Velcro rending-garments. Heresy … blasphemy … farewell!
But when Matthew McConaughey says that same phrase at the Academy Awards, his dimples gleaming like the golden statue he holds in triumph, this is pounced upon as an affirmation of the tribe and its values and — especially — of the gatekeepers themselves.
P.S. McConaughey attributed that statement to Charles Laughton, which seems unlikely. Can anybody track down a source for that?
Here’s my favorite line from Laughton — “Sanctuary! Sanctuary!”
Important: If you write any treats that are not your main assignment, you will need to remember to add the recipient in the "Gift this item to" field on the new story form.
The Invisible Snacks collection will be open for posting until reveal, or shortly after. Like the main collection, it is currently anonymous and unrevealed.
Reveal is currently scheduled for Tuesday, it week from today. Some people have asked if reveal will be early, but there are still 8 stories out for pinch-hit or extension, so let's say no, it won't be early. That way those of you who have stories already in the archive that you want to do one more beta pass for have a little extra time. :-)
Y'all are awesome. Now I'm just counting down until Tuesday!
The binary consent models only consider two-thirds of the scope of an interaction that involves a withdrawing of consent: everything that leads up to the breach, and the breach. They posit that these are the only determinants of “was it rape?”, not anything that happens afterward. My partner was terrified they’d assaulted me, but everything that makes the difference between an accident and an assault happened *after* the incident itself. What we did afterward made it an accident—and, in the long run, actually kind of a fortuitous one, given what we’ve learned from it.
- Etymologically, “consent” (com – with, sentire – to feel) suggests “collaborative sensing.” But that’s not how we’ve been taught to understand our own experiences of consent.
- Radical Ethicism 101, Part 1: What is consensuality? and Radical Ethicism 101, Part 2: Ethic of Consent, applied
- Explaining “Dominants are rapists” in excruciating detail: a step-by-step walkthrough
- No good excuse for not building sexual violence prevention tools into every social network on the Internet
I watched the premiere episode of NBC’s new show Believe last night, partly because of the involvement of some interesting people — J.J. Abrams, Alfonso Cuarón, Delroy Lindo — and partly because at this point I kind of feel sorry for NBC due to the network’s flailing attempts to find “the next Lost.”
Believe was, well, kind of unremarkably OK, I guess. Willa Paskin calls it a “cliché-ridden mess,” and she’s not wrong.
For all the show’s hints of shadowy conspiracies of good and evil and its portentous talk of “whoever controls her ability will control the world,” the first episode ended with the suggestion that this show may be something more conventional. “Think of all the people she’ll help along the way,” Lindo’s character says, laying out the likely structure of the series. Believe, it seems, is the latest return to the formula of a picaresque anthology series in which our heroes will, “You know, walk the Earth, meet people — get into adventures. Like Caine from Kung Fu.”
That’s promising. Yes, that format sometimes means, as Paskin says, “a cheeseball case of the week,” but when it’s done well, it can be a vehicle for terrific storytelling.
The show’s title — Believe — suggests religious overtones, and this wandering-do-gooder formula has often been a favorite for religiously themed shows. The fierce tribal loyalty of a religious audience can make a TV show a lasting hit, but it’s impossible to say yet whether Believe will appeal to that audience because we don’t yet know anything about the source of the supernatural powers displayed by the little girl at the heart of its story.
If cherubic little Bo turns out to be a literal cherub, then this show could become a huge hit. That’s probably true even if her powers are just vaguely attributed as a “miracle” or a “gift from God.” But if the source of her powers is explained in some kind of New Age-y way, or as a leap forward in human evolution, then that same religious audience will likely reject this show.
For a sense of what I mean, here’s a brief survey of some earlier TV shows that followed this wandering-hero format, in descending order of their appeal to religious audiences:
• Highway to Heaven (1984-1989). Pa Ingalls as an angel on a mission from God was more than enough to convince religious audiences to forget all about Michael Landon’s ugly divorce. The only downside was the show aired on Wednesday nights, when much of its potential audience was at prayer meeting.
• The Millionaire (1955-1960). The main character was named “Michael,” but he wasn’t an angel serving as a messenger of God. He was, rather, the personal assistant of mysterious gazillionaire John Beresford Tipton, who sent Michael forth to rain $1 million checks upon the just and the unjust. But whether or not Tipton was, strictly speaking, divine, the fantasy of such miraculous providence was the same.
• The A-Team (1983-1987). The remnants of a “crack commando” unit did not possess the supernatural powers of angels or billionaires, but they did have a preternatural ability to spray bullets with no one ever getting shot. The show’s appeal to religious audiences was also enhanced by the casting of former bodyguard Nathaniel Tureaud — an outspoken born-again Christian and sometime evangelist who pities any fool who doesn’t know Jesus. More than 25 years later, “Mr. T” remains a popular figure in the evangelical subculture.
• The Fugitive (1963-1967). “Richard Kimble ponders his fate as he looks at the world for the last time, and sees only darkness. But in that darkness, fate moves its huge hand.” Talk of “fate” is, of course, not an acceptable substitute for talk of providence and God’s plan. On the other hand (no pun intended), Kimble’s quest to catch his wife’s killer could be seen as “pro-family.”
• The Incredible Hulk (1978-1982). David Banner was not an angel and he was not on a mission from God. He was, rather, a lonely man cursed by gamma radiation to become a green rage-machine. But if his supernatural powers were not divine, neither were they nefariously occult. And religious audiences, like everyone else, were willing to forgive the show’s shortcomings whenever they saw poor Bill Bixby walking down the highway to Joe Harnell’s mournful piano.
• Have Gun Will Travel (1957-1963). Westerns tend to embody the “traditional morality” that appeals to religious audiences, but this Paladin wasn’t quite their idea of lawful good. This black knight was a wine-drinking, urbane liberal who fought on the wrong side in the Civil War (i.e., the winning side, the American side, the anti-slavery side). That’s a far cry from Pa Ingalls as an angel.
• Kung Fu (1972-1975). Eastern philosophy is dangerous, grasshopper, a lie from the devil that lures good people away from the One True Truth.
• Route 66 (1960-1964). Restless, rootless youth hitting the highway in a search for meaning? There’s nothing at all angelic about that. This is where the 1960s came from — the beginning of the end for godly America. Plus most episodes didn’t take place on the iconic highway of the title, so why call the show that? Could it be because that’s just one digit away from you know what?
(Note: I’m only considering here shows with wandering heroes who travel from place to place. There are also a host of shows that employ a similar anthology formula, with similar supernatural overtones, but in a single setting — think Early Edition, Joan of Arcadia, or The Ghost Whisperer.)
what could it mean?
You just watched a historical TV moment: never before has the audience for a show been smarter than its writer. I submit as second evidence the season finale for The Bachelor that was on yesterday, for three hours, drawing ten million "people". Just remember that the next time some dummy from The New Yorker complains that TV has a woman problem.
The Whitman's Sampler that was True Detective's finale is beyond discussion, literally, because what we now know is that no discussion was necessary. All the references, all the philosophical subtext, all the weirdness-- turns out it was topping after topping, "does this make you watch? How about this?" Remember when the one character who turns out to be irrelevant says, "YOU'RE IN CARCOSA NOW," do you know what that meant? Nothing. The writer once read a story that had the word Carcosa in it but since his cat was already named Chuckles he used it in a TV script. "It's a reference to--" I know what it's a reference to. Why is it a reference? Does it mean anything? Did "acolyte" or "metapsychotic"?
We see Errol shifting fluidly between several accents. Here is the show I thought I was watching: is this is a 1 Corinthians 14 "speaking in tongues"? Maybe coupled with the aluminum and ash reference it suggests Errol is Baal and Carcosa is Hell?
Here is the show I was actually watching: though not mentioned ever in the show ever, he did that because the accident that caused his scars also made it hard for him to talk in his normal voice.
Meditate on that.
The writer googled Chekhov's Gun, laughed mightily and roared, "you're not the boss of me!" I'm confused, so the killer's ears were green because he painted houses with his ears? The point isn't that this explanation is stupid, the point is he didn't need to have green ears.
I don't care about "tying up loose ends" or sterile Judeo-Christian undercurrents, I have ABC for that. I care only about internal consistency. If you're going to make a show about, for example, zombies that is worth watching, at some point a character must say, "look, the only thing we know with 100% certainty is that every single one of us will eventually but unpredictably become a zombie, so we probably need to devote, oh, I don't know, 100% of our energy to dealing with that certainty." Once you ask that question you are lead, for example, towards a sci-fi show about forced physical isolation where the only contact we have with each other is digital, but because of the lack of physical contact paranoia sets in, and suddenly every interaction becomes an implied Turing Test. Would you watch that show? Because without that question you have four seasons of Denial Lets Us Pretend The Old Rules Still Apply.
A show about applied philosophy in the form of a crime drama sounded intriguing. All of True Detective's existential despair, posed as, "how do you solve a series of murders when humans are a mistake anyway?" -- well? It's finally solved incoherently with an appeal to the Old Testament. Oh, so God exists after all? That would have been helpful to know up front, because I thought we were in Schopenhauer's "time is a flat circle" universe. But whirlwinds are cool, too.
So through some kind of faith, Cohle loses both his nihilism and... his interest in pursuing child killers? "We got ours." Oh, we're done then. Time for a sandwhich.
"I don't sleep, I just dream." Turns out that doesn't mean anything either, but if you're 16 feel free to lay it on the artsy girls. You'll think they'll think you're mysterious.
I'm sure everyone has their own idea of how it should have ended. But as an exercise how could you take the finale that was aired and fix it using only an additional 10 seconds? You can't change anything else.
Could you have kept it true to the show's original promise, such that "pessimist" Cohle is both redeemed AND still true to who he is? Could you have rendered a closing scene so diabolically duplicitous that, on the one hand, most of the characters are saved/happy, while the world's bleak necessity of a tragic hero (since that's all he was, after all) becomes unescapable? That we all live semi-peacefully only because of the sacrifice of a few loners in a garden, coming out one by one to allow their own crucifixion?
"Compassion is ethics." Yes it is. How do you take Nietzsche's nihilism and make it compassionate? Yet not sappy? If you accept that the theme of the show is that life has absolutely no meaning and therefore it is up to you to give it meaning, how do you take the mess that is episode 8 and say that?
Could it be done in ten extra seconds?
At the end they optimistically talk about stars and daughters and life energies, and Marty smiles upon Cohle and Cohle smiles upon the universe, and Marty, having learned the true meaning of Christmas, skips off to go get the car.
Cohle sits alone in the wheelchair, watching him. The emotion in his face disappears. His face hardens. He takes a long drag from the cigarette.
"But I lied for your salvation."
Cut to black.
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At Pensacola Christian College (PCC), a fundamentalist school similar in ideology and purpose to Bob Jones University and Patrick Henry College, there is a saying: “attending PCC is a privilege, not a right.” Students who attend here agree to abide by the Pathway, the school’s honor code, as well as signing an agreement that gives PCC the right to expel any student for any reason at any time.
When Beth* and David* signed this agreement, they had no idea they were going to be expelled for being raped.
Beth started attending PCC in September 2002 and almost instantly hit it off with a young man in her English class. He was on the “Praise Team,” one of the college’s PR efforts, and charmed everyone he met. He was friends with her brother, well-liked by her father, and by April they were “courting.” Beth innocently thought she had found the man she would spend the rest of her life with.
One night in May, however, she was grabbed, dragged into a construction area, beaten, restrained with bungee cord and duct tape, and then raped. As he was leaving her there, she recognized him as her boyfriend. A campus security guard discovered her, still restrained with the cord and tape, and took her to the campus clinic to file a report. In the next 24 hours, she went to the hospital, reported her attack to the police, and stayed the night with her parents. However, when she arrived back on campus with a black eye and a broken arm, her family was confronted by the dean of women and told that Beth was being expelled “because she is a fornicator.”
PCC took no action against Beth’s boyfriend. He graduated with honors and is now a pastor.
David started his college career intending to study law, until he realized that his heart belonged to the stage. But, in December 2012, during his sophomore year, his roommates in his male-only dormitory woke him up in the middle of the night, restrained him, gagged him, and then gang-raped him.
Confused and scared, he told his floorleader what had happened. A few days later he was called into a meeting with his residence manager who refused to listen to him and then gave him the maximum number of demerits for being “deceitful.”
But, the meetings didn’t end there. He was also called into Student Life, where he met with the assistant dean of men, “who asked me if I had been ‘harassed.’ I said ‘Yes, but…’ and he cut me off.” The dean then told him that he was being expelled.
“I had just been raped, and no one would believe me — it was a nightmare. The specific wording was stone cold professional. He kept quoting passages from the Bible about the evils of lying.”
David has been in counseling for the last six months, trying to overcome not only the horrible trauma of aggravated rape but also trying to heal from how the administration responded to him. Instead of being believed and respected, he was called a liar and then expelled.
Sexual violence on college campuses is a wide-spread problem that has drawn heavy media attention recently — it’s even gotten the President’s attention, and there is now increased focus on how universities respond to victims and their needs. Thanks to organizations like GRACE, many people now know that sexual violence isn’t isolated to secular colleges, and that just because a college is religiously-oriented doesn’t mean that they respond to victims appropriately.
Some have contended, however, that strict honor codes like PCC’s Pathway might actually prevent sexual violence from happening. Some have even gone so far as to claim that administrations at colleges like PCC have the right to be “suspicious” of victims because “rules at that school make it nearly impossible [for a victim] to even get into a situation like this.”
The problem isn’t just that universities like Pensacola Christian College, Bob Jones University, and Patrick Henry College are steeped in “purity culture” — a culture that teaches women who have sex are like used toothbrushes and half-eaten candybars: in a word, women are disposable. Purity culture is worth examining, but the heart of the problem at PCC is that purity culture is enshrined in the Pathway – and the Pathway makes it virtually impossible for victims to come forward, even more so than the roadblocks facing victims at secular colleges.
Whitney discovered exactly how the honor code makes it difficult for victims when she was expelled five days before the end of her junior year. She started dating one of her close friends in the beginning of the school year, in 2009. Almost immediately he began using threats and coercion against her, manipulating her, ignoring her repeated attempts to tell him no. She says that she “pleaded with him” to stop, but he never did.
Eventually, someone noticed and reported her to Student Life. After she’d been interrogated for over an hour, she “finally saw a chance to get help.” Instead of listening to her, however, they accused her of lying and told her that she was the one truly responsible for her boyfriend’s assaults. At the end of their meeting, the dean of women looked at Whitney and said that she was a “dirty vessel, and God can’t use a dirty vessel. He is done with you.” She was expelled that afternoon, and tried to commit suicide twice in the following month.
That is what these extremely strict morality codes do at these colleges. They actively prevent the administration from seeing a victim’s situation clearly. Because the administration is more committed to enforcing the honor code than they are to helping victims, they are incapable of giving a victim the protection he or she needs to come forward about their assault. This is also compounded by their need to make sure that their reputation as a “safe” place for fundamentalist parents to send their children remains intact, regardless of whose lives they might destroy. At these colleges, students are terrified of explaining to someone — anyone, including the police — what they are going through because the risk of being expelled is constantly hanging over their head.
Not only do these honor codes make it impossible for the administration to respond to victims appropriately, they also make it impossible for victims to see their own victimization. In the dozens of interviews the author conducted with young men and women who had been expelled or shamed for their assaults, they repeatedly used words like “cowardice” and “shame” to describe their experiences. Because they might have technically broken some rule, they couldn’t see the abusive tactics used by their assailants that forced them into places and situations against their will. They blamed themselves for what happened instead of realizing that they were manipulated and coerced.
In the end, the honor codes at these schools actually have the exact opposite result of what was intended: instead of protecting students, the code actually makes these campuses an even more violent, hostile, unsafe place where victims are not allowed to speak.
*names have been changed
Ken Wilson is the pastor of a large, midwestern evangelical church — the Vineyard Church Ann Arbor.
Vineyard churches are a relatively new and growing network of charismatic/Pentecostal evangelical churches. There’s probably one near you, and you’ve probably been invited there at some point, because Vineyard churches are like that.
Point being that any way you slice it and however you go about drawing the lines that bound the evangelical tribe, Wilson is an evangelical Christian who serves as the evangelical pastor of an evangelical church in an evangelical denomination.
He also seems to be a fairly average, fairly representative evangelical pastor of an evangelical church. Ken Wilson isn’t somebody I’d ever heard of before. He’s previously written a few books — on pastoral topics like prayer, not flashy, ladder-climbing topics like the secret Bible keys to health and wealth, or how to take back America for Jesus. He’s neither a dangerous “liberal” revolutionary nor a feverish right-wing culture warrior.
Sure, he’s written about “contemplative” prayer, and he’s argued that Christians have an obligation to be good stewards of the environment. Both of those are viewed with suspicion by some branches of white evangelicalism, but the same people who wold look askance at him for that are the same sort of people who would be upset to learn that his congregation uses drums and guitars in its worship music.
Wilson’s latest book, though, will likely catch the attention of the tribal gatekeepers. And we’re now likely to read plenty of pious lamentation, sanctimoniously mourning that Ken Wilson is no longer an evangelical pastor and that Vineyard Church Ann Arbor is no longer an evangelical church. Not really.
Because, as Tony Jones reports, Ken Wilson has just written a book urging evangelical Christians in America to welcome LGBT Christians in every aspect of the church and the church community.
This is interesting. And potentially kind of a big deal. Wilson isn’t like Rob Bell or Brian McLaren — a former pastor already labeled with the tribal warning sign of “controversy.” He is an until-now non-controversial member of the tribe, and he’s still an evangelical pastor writing as an evangelical pastor. The title, and format, of his book is A Letter to My Congregation.
This is a book, as the foreword says, “coming from the heart of evangelical Christianity, and offered into the heart of evangelical Christianity.”
That foreword is also interesting and also potentially a BFD. It’s by David P. Gushee — a Southern Baptist ethicist who has long challenged some of the assumptions of the tribe while also approaching his work so scrupulously that his evangelical membership card has never been questioned. He even taught at Al Mohler’s Southern Seminary for a while — after Mohler had purged all the supposedly ungodly liberals. Despite a history of some unsavory associations — having a doctorate from Union Seminary, and working with folks like Ron Sider, post-expulsion Rich Cizik, and the dirty hippies at Sojourners — Gushee has maintained a reputation as a respected member of the evangelical mainstream.
Until now, at least. This will probably cost him. Gushee’s foreword means that Wilson’s book becomes far more likely to get the attention of the mainstream evangelical tribe, but it also means that Gushee himself will now be ushered out to join Bell and McLaren and a growing multitude of others now categorized as enemies of the One True Faith.
After all, Wilson’s book also has a foreword written by Phyllis Tickle — someone already doubly damned by tribal gatekeepers because she’s part of the “emergent” church movement and because she’s a she.
I haven’t read A Letter to My Congregation, but based on this interview with Wilson and on Naum’s review of the book,* I think it really does say That Which We Are Not Allowed To Say in the white evangelical tribe.
Naum says Wilson wants to find a “third way” — which, like all “third way” fence-sitting, sounds disappointing and cowardly. After all, some folks in the early church tried to find a “third way” between exclusion and inclusion so as to remove offense. Let’s split the difference, they said, don’t exclude the Gentiles, but make them get circumcised first. St. Paul didn’t think much of that “third way.”
But then Wilson also acknowledges that fearfulness, admitting that his timid desire for something other than unqualified inclusion is “based in large part the fear of being branded a ‘heretic’ by evangelical cohorts.”
That branding is inevitable, so as long as you’re in, and in for good, you might as well go the whole hog. I’m hoping Wilson’s book does. It’d be a shame to see him and his church and the fine folks writing forewords for him all get themselves branded as heretics for nothing more than a tepid “third way.”
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* Thats’s Naum from the terrific Tumblr AZspot, who seems to read everything.