Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

“Christians can’t be egalitarians.”

Aug 27th, 2011 11:58 am | By

It’s helpful that they come right out and say it.

Narrated by Amy Gunn [wife of Colin, one of the brothers Gunn], Monstrous Regiment argues that “Christians can’t be egalitarians. We believe in hierarchy and inherent authority.”

Oh. Right. Thanks for spelling it out. That’s why we hate and fear you. We think that belief is evil.

The holy cinema

Aug 27th, 2011 11:30 am | By

Meet the Gunn brothers. They make exciting Christian documentary movies that win awards from organizations that give awards to Christian movies.

They made Shaky Town, which is about the persecution of Christians by the evil gayz in San Francisco.

You’ll hear testimonies from Christian Heroes involved in a front-line battle against immorality in the so-called“tolerant” city. You’ll also see real video footage of Christian churches in San Francisco being attacked by violent groups of homosexuals. So be warned, this movie is not for the faint-hearted!

And they made The Monstrous Regiment of Women, which you can guess what it’s about (hello John Knox!). The page is super super super scary though, so be warned – it includes a picture with three terrifying women with power in it omigod.

The Monstrous Regiment of Women, The Gunn Brother’s second documentary, goes all out to demolish the feminist worldview. From a consistently Christian perspective, they show how feminism has had a devastating impact on the church, state, and family.

Starting with the infamous 16th century essay written by the reformer John Knox against the reigning female monarch, the Gunn Brothers find plenty of application to America’s political landscape; where feminists vie for every possible office including the presidency.

Featuring an all star, all female cast, the Gunn Brothers prove that feminism has in fact restricted choices for all women, brought heartache to the lives of many, and perpetuated the largest holocaust since the beginning of time.

The largest holocaust! Well surely in that case all feminists should be rounded up and interned.

Never heard that before

Aug 27th, 2011 10:29 am | By

How exciting: a new fresh original unexpected take on theNewAtheism. (Illustrated, I have to add, by a staggeringly banal sculpture called “the Hand of God” which is…a big hand, with a Man perched on it. Wo!!!!!!! Mind-blowing, huh?)

It’s James Wood who has the excitingly new fresh original unexpected take. He breakes the mold in the very first sentence.

In the last 10 years or so, the rise of American evangelicalism and the menace of Islamist fundamentalism, along with developments in physics and in theories of evolution and cosmogony, have encouraged a certain style of aggressive, often strident atheistic critique.

And everything that follows is equally challenging and paradigm-exploding.

I can’t be the only reader who finds himself in broad agreement with the conclusions of the New Atheists, while disliking some of the ways they reach them.

No, you certainly can’t. Couldn’t you have checked? Google is your friend.

Along with this curious parochialism about the varieties of religious belief comes a simplistic reading of how people actually hold those beliefs. Terry Eagleton and others have rightly argued that, for millions of people, religious “belief” is not a matter of just totting up stable, creedal propositions…

The New Atheism is locked into a similar kind of literalism. It parasitically lives off its enemy. Just as evangelical Christianity is characterised by scriptural literalism and an uncomplicated belief in a “personal God”, so the New Atheism often seems engaged only in doing battle with scriptural literalism; but the only way to combat such literalism is with rival literalism. The God of the New Atheism and the God of religious fundamentalism turn out to be remarkably similar entities…Since militant atheism interprets religious faith, again on the evangelical or Islamist model, as blind – a blind leap of faith that hurls the believer into an infinite idiocy – so no understanding or even interest can be extended to why or how people believe the religious narratives they follow…

So let’s talk about literature instead. Ok, but why start with theNewAtheism?

Your guess is as good as mine. Possibly.

As a living sacrifice

Aug 26th, 2011 3:25 pm | By

A wives-submit type explained to Kathryn Joyce.

“Man is ultimately responsible, when he stands up before God in heaven, for how he ran and managed his family. We women are responsible for how we were as helpmeets. We’re not supposed to be wearing the pants to the elbows, like a lot of women do. We’re equally intelligent and capable of doing the things theat men do, but that doesn’t mean we have to or that we should.” This is a common rejoinder of biblical womanhood advocates…they acknowledge women’s equal capacity, but they suggest that women lay their abilities aside with their pride as a living sacrifice fit for their Savior. [Quiverfull p 71]

But why? That’s what I want to know. Why a sacrifice? What for, what is the reason, what is the point?

Why would their “Savior” want such a sacrifice?

It’s an incredibly primitive idea, frankly. “Lay aside” good useful things as a “sacrifice” for a hidden god. Why? To mollify it so that it doesn’t eat you? No, Jesus is supposed to be better than that, but if he wants women to stifle their own abilities as a “living sacrifice” (what a horrible notion) then he’s not better than that.

And why is it only women who are supposed to lay aside their abilities? Because it’s in the bible. Yes but why is it in the bible? Oh we’re not allowed to ask that.

It’s tragic when people so totally lose their grip on the real and the human and waste their only lives for the sake of an old story.

Christian taqqiya

Aug 26th, 2011 12:24 pm | By

Frank Schaeffer points out that Michele Bachmann is not telling the truth about whether or not she submits to her husband. He knows what he’s talking about, too: his father was one of the sources of the anti-feminist Dominionist movement.

Bachmann understands just how extreme her part of the evangelical movement is. She also understands that a certain amount of godly lying will be needed to mask that. She understood that the question she was asked the other day was about a biblical teaching that is misogynistic to the core and advocates total submission of a wife to a husband. It is teaching she’s signed on to long ago.

The people, churches and groups that shaped Bachmann’s thinking are far more anti-woman than most Americans fully comprehend.

Yes they are. We’ve been reading up on them in the last few days, and there’s a lot more where that came from.

The issue of wifely submission is at the heart of the entire anti-feminist agenda that shaped Bachmann. I should know. As I describe in my book Sex, Mom and God, the current crop of religious right leaders — including Michele Bachamnn — got their ideas and inspiration from my family’s work, books and film series.

Besides my father, Bachmann signed on as a follower of other leading “Reconstructionists” teaching “dominion.” And out of that movement came the big family, home-school movement that included a push to restore “traditional” roles of women…In fact, the whole conservative evangelical movement Bachmann is part of is distinguished by its hatred of the feminist movement top to bottom.

Just what this country needs.

Thanks to Salty Current for the link.


The bible specifically says we’re weaker

Aug 25th, 2011 5:15 pm | By

And here is Ladies Against Feminism. Yes really.

It too says submission is misunderstood and a wonderful thing if only you know how.

This post makes no attempt to argue the case for servanthood with those of you outside the Christian faith. However, for modern women who consider themselves a part of the Christian faith, this all too common reaction should be alarming. Are we really so prideful that the very suggestion that we take a humble and serving attitude towards our husbands instantly unbridles our tongues and sets our anger blazing?

“Prideful” – is that what it is? But aren’t we always being told that it was Christianity that introduced the idea of human equality to a brutal pagan world? If Christianity is big on equality, why is it supposed to be Christian to think women who have husbands should take a humble and serving attitude towards them? Why isn’t it Christian to take an egalitarian attitude towards them? Why is that called prideful?

I don’t know the answers.

Do we not realize that Sarah called Abraham “master?”  That Eve was created specifically as Adam’s “helper?” That man was not made for woman, but that woman was made for man? That the Bible specifically calls us the “weaker partner?”

If we don’t, then we are either not reading our Bibles, or we have let culture influence us to the point where we would rather explain away these “pesky woman passages” by casting aside Biblical inerrancy so we can maintain our pride and sense of entitlement.

So if you’re weaker you’re supposed to be submissive and obedient, is that it? So stronger people should always have the upper hand? So might makes right? So stronger people should just take whatever they want, and if weaker people can’t stop them, that’s how god meant things to be, is that it?

Nasty people they are.

Why are women hung up on “submission”?

Aug 25th, 2011 4:58 pm | By

Here’s another submitter, courtesy of pittigemaki.

I like the whole idea and practice of submission. I have heard far too many Christian women snicker, sneer, grumble, roll their eyes, or downright reject the “s word.” But why? Why are women hung up on “submission” when God asks us to do it?

Because women are human beings like other human beings, and there is no good reason to order* human beings of one type to submit to human beings of another type. It’s degrading; it’s an assumption of inferiority; it’s anti-egalitarian. That’s why. The fact that god is supposed to have commanded it doesn’t make it better; it makes god worse.

*The claim is not that god “asks” women to submit; the claim is that god tells them to.


Can you call your husband ‘Lord’?

Aug 25th, 2011 11:32 am | By

Doug Phillips, the founder of Vision Forum and a big noise in the Christian patriarchy movement, told the audience at a convention about watching his wife counsel young women who are thinking about marriage. She always asks them “Are you willing to call your husband ‘Lord’?” The answer tends to be shocked silence followed by No. He goes on:

We’re not talking about Lord as in the Creator, but your earthly head. And one that you have to follow, even when he makes bad judgments. Are you ready to do the most vulnerable thing that a woman ever can do and submit yourself to a man, who you are going to have to follow in his faith, who is incredibly imperfect and is going to make mistakes? Can you do that? Can you call your husband ‘Lord’? If the answer is no, you shouldn’t get married. [Quiverfull p 3]

Harsh, isn’t it. You have to follow him even when he’s wrong. It doesn’t matter that he’s wrong, it matters that you submit.

That’s not just harsh, it’s immoral. It’s wicked. Not just because of the arbitrariness and the official subordination of the woman, but because it mandates obedience no matter what is being obeyed. That’s anti-moral; it’s the opposite of moral. If someone tells you to gas this room full of people, it is immoral to obey.

The armies of god

Aug 25th, 2011 10:47 am | By

So now I know. Like most people, I didn’t realize the people behind Rick Perry’s prayer party are weirder than other prayer police.

With tens, even hundreds of millions of followers worldwide, the NAR’s stress on Godlike prophetic and apostolic powers, its revisions of end-time prophecies, its methodology of “spiritual warfare,” and its agenda of theocratic dominion over all aspects of society are not just threatening to modern secular democracy and the religious pluralism it protects, they have been sharply criticized by other conservative Christians as unbiblical, deviant teachings, even a form of the very demonic practices they obsessively declare war against.

They’re not just messing around.

The new prophets and apostles believe Christians—certain Christians—are destined to not just take “dominion” over government, but stealthily climb to the commanding heights of what they term the “Seven Mountains” of society, including the media and the arts and entertainment world. They believe they’re intended to lord over it all. As a first step, they’re leading an “army of God” to commandeer civilian government.

It’s working.

Sarah Palin’s church of over twenty years, Wasilla Assembly of God, is still part of the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination.  However, the leadership embraced the ideology of the NAR years ago and and numerous national and international apostles have spoken there.Both Jim Garlow, head of Newt Gingrich’s Renewing American Leadership (ReAL), and ReAL board member David Barton, have been working with the apostles for years.  As described in books by Apostles Cindy Jacobs and Alice Patterson, Barton has been working with Texas apostles for over a decade.  Barton’s Christian Nationalist histories, in which he portrays Democrats as the ongoing source of racism, play a significant role in outreach to African American pastors.

Oh well, the glaciers will melt so the rivers will dry up so the crops will fail so we’ll all die in the famines before they take over completely. That’s a relief.

Why wives are to submit to their husbands

Aug 24th, 2011 5:41 pm | By

Here’s another one, this time by a man, the pastor of a Reformed Baptist church in Aberystwyth, laying down the law for women.

So the sentiment of our text, that a wife is to submit to her husband, is found
throughout the Spirit-breathed New Testament. It is not a curious message found in just one place – like the phrase in the letter to the Corinthians of being baptized for the dead, whatever the correct meaning of that may be. So rejection of this word by those who claim to reverence the Lord Christ, is plain disobedience.

Except that it wasn’t the Lord Christ who is supposed to have said any of it, it was Paul; why does reverence for Jesus entail obedience to Paul? Because them’s the roolz of Christianity, but why else? Never mind; that’s theology; call a professional. Meanwhile -

A wife’s conduct toward her husband always says something about the church’s response to Christ, either right or wrong. If a woman does not honour her husband and is not loving toward him, if she is independent and defiant toward him, she proclaims this as the church’s response to Christ and thus attacks God’s Word.

Yikes. She’d better not be independent then.

…the reason why wives are to submit to their husbands is not because they are wonderful guys who deserve it. Sometimes husbands deserve very little from their wives. The reason why you submit is because your Lord Jesus Christ deserves it. Out of gratitude to him, for all that he has done for you, you submit. It is not because you love your husband that much, but it is because you love the Lord Jesus more.

But why is it so important to Jesus? And if it’s so important to him, why didn’t he say it himself instead of leaving it for Paul to tidy up?

More theology. I can never make sense of this stuff.

The cold war under the bed

Aug 24th, 2011 5:12 pm | By

Oh, Guardian, honestly. Really?

Conservative thinktanks are in a bit of a bind when it comes to responding to the rise of Islamophobia. On the one hand they want to condemn the BNP and the English Defence League for their racism and violence, but on the other they want to downplay the extent and existence of anti-Muslim racism because it might deflect attention from “Islamism” – the catch-all term for politically active Muslims, which they see as the main problem facing the UK.

“Islamism” is not the (or a) catch-all term for politically active Muslims; that is completely ridiculous. It’s a term for political Islam, which is a different thing.

The difficulty with their position is that they end up condemning the peaceful political activism of Muslim groups…

No; Islamist groups, which are a different thing.

The record of these thinktanks is that their publications at best exaggerate the threat posed by “Islamists” and the supposed Islamisation of public institutions. Their concern is not over the threat of terrorism or even of any illegality.

Right, because that’s not all there is to be concerned over. Theocracy is something to be concerned over even if it takes power without violence and within the law.

Reassuringly, the commenters understand that. It’s too bad the Guardian doesn’t.


Aug 24th, 2011 3:39 pm | By

I’ve been thinking about the Robber’s Cave experiment often lately. I hadn’t heard of the illusion of asymmetric insight though. It’s pretty dang interesting. We think other people are mostly on the surface and easy to understand, while we think we ourselves are mostly hidden and difficult to understand. Really – well that’s conceited. I’ll have to learn to stop thinking that right away.

The same researchers asked people to describe a time when they feel most like themselves. Most subjects, 78 percent, described something internal and unobservable like the feeling of seeing their child excel or the rush of applause after playing for an audience. When asked to describe when they believed friends or relatives were most illustrative of their personalities, they described internal feelings only 28 percent of the time. Instead, they tended to describe actions. Tom is most like Tom when he is telling a dirty joke. Jill is most like Jill when she is rock climbing. You can’t see internal states of others, so you generally don’t use those states to describe their personalities.

Hmm. I can’t see them, but I’m certainly aware of them. I wonder if I’m a little non-average here, not because I’m wiser or better but because I’m more nerdy – or because I’m just more interested in the difference between inner and outer than the average. I wonder, but I’m sure not going to claim it, because what could be more hopeless than to look at the findings of a psych experiment and say “yes but I’m not like that.” Only only only…it seems to me I do often have the iceberg thought about people. But maybe everybody does, yet still answers the questions that way.

Anyway – the point is, you can always be confident that you’re giving yourself and your friends a lot more credit than you’re giving the other team, and you should keep that at the front of your mind.


Can he trust that you will take care of your duties?

Aug 24th, 2011 1:10 pm | By

I’m reading Kathryn Joyce’s book Quiverfull, and finding interesting things in the process. Like A Virtuous Woman (for her price, as you no doubt recall, is far above rubies – no not Ruby’s, stop that at once, 40 lashes).

A Virtuous Woman tells women how to be virtuous.

Can your husband know that if he needs to bring a co-worker home that the house will be reasonably neat? We will be looking at this in depth in a few days, but for now simply think about it. If your husband goes to work each day, can he trust that you will take care of your duties to the best of your ability?

If your husband asks you to make a phone call, do you forget? Do you think ahead and make plans to iron his shirts before they are needed?

Can he trust that your moods will remain relatively even most of the time and that he knows what to expect when he comes home? Or must he wonder what is in store for his arrival?

And so on and so on and so on, for a lot of words. What every servant shud kno.

Push-back from people who disagree

Aug 23rd, 2011 5:02 pm | By

This is a bad thing that happened, a very bad thing – an employee of a state department of public health was forced to close down his very useful, admired, educational blog because a guy who disagreed with him complained to his employers, and they said close it down or be fired.

Social media in health care are here to stay, and as Mr. Najera’s work has shown, can advance the lay person’s understanding of  public health and epidemiology.  But being a strong public advocate can invite push-back from people who disagree — say, over the value, safety, and efficacy of vaccines. Not all of those who disagree are civil or even rational.  Some of those who disagree elect to cause trouble in the advocate’s place of employment…

And sometimes they win. It’s a very bad thing.

The Vatican’s banking arm

Aug 23rd, 2011 1:20 pm | By

An Irish bank loaned huge sums to Catholic dioceses in the US with the result that the dioceses in question were able to stay out of court.

Of the deals, by far the largest line of credit was for Los Angeles, for $256m. The diocese avoided going into court with abuse victims by reaching a settlement in advance.

It emerged afterwards that AIB loans and guarantees accounted for almost half of total settlement.

The deal included $175m in cash and another $25m to pay the interest, and helped Los Angeles avoid selling the bulk of its properties or reveal the true value of its total assets.

Which was very kind of the bank…which is odd, given that banks aren’t usually in the kindness business.

An AIB spokesman said: ‘AIB’s business focus in America was in the ‘Not for Profit’ areas and this included churches.

‘Any loans advanced were approved in accordance with AIBGroup policy.’

An AIB source said they were ‘standard commercial loans’.

Not for profit, but commercial? What does that mean?

Only after the revelations in the Boston diocese in 2002 did [one victim] set off on the long road to forcing the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to reveal what it knew. Esther’s case was one of hundreds, which were finally settled in mid 2007 for $660m.

And she had no idea until this week that Allied Irish Bank had helpfully stepped in with guarantees of hundreds of millions.

The deal allowed the Archdiocese to avoid going to court and opening all its documents to scrutiny.

What a very kind bank.

The Christian Alamo

Aug 22nd, 2011 11:39 am | By

Missouri is recapitulating recent history in Ireland. It has these “faith-based” institutions – or prisons, to be blunt – for teenage girls, which go in for ferocious discipline coupled with secrecy, and Missouri…looks intently in the other direction.

Authorities in the state are  barred from inspecting the homes or even keeping track of them. (New  Beginnings has operated under multiple names in Florida, Mississippi,  and Texas.) “It’s hard to understand it, but faith-based is just taboo  for regulation,” says Matthew Franck, an editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who authored an investigative series on the state’s homes in the mid-2000s. “It took decades of work to get  just the most minimal standards of regulation at faith-based child-care  centers,” he adds. “I just knew that when certain lobbyists would stand  up to say, ‘We have a concern about how this affects faith-based  institutions,’ the bill was immediately amended—it was a very Republican  legislature—or it would immediately die. That’s still true.”

That is terrifying, especially when you read about what goes on there.

The girls’ behavior was micromanaged down to the number of squares of  toilet paper each was allowed; potential infractions ranged from making  eye contact with another girl to not finishing a meal. Roxy, who  suffered from urinary tract infections and menstrual complications, told  me she was frequently put on redshirt, sometimes dripping blood as she  stood. She was also punished with cold showers, she said, and endless  sets of calisthenics after meals.

There are a lot of these places, though it’s unclear exactly how many.

New Beginnings is emblematic of an unknown number of  “troubled teen” homes catering to the Independent Fundamental Baptist  community—a web of thousands of autonomous churches linked by doctrine,  overlapping leadership, and affiliations with Bible colleges like Bob Jones University.  IFB churches emphasize strict obedience and consider teen rebellion an  invention of worldly society, so it’s little surprise that families  faced with teenage drinking, smoking, or truancy might turn to programs  promising a tough-love fix. Fear of government intrusion—particularly on  account of the community’s “spare the rod, spoil the child”  worldview—is so pervasive that IFB congregations are primed to dismiss regulatory actions against abusive facilities as religious persecution.

Well quite – they’re afraid the gummint will tell them to stop hitting the child with the rod, so they paint themselves as martyrs to religious persecution. The teenagers they’re torturing, on the other hand, are just sinners.

Who’s “we,” bub?

Aug 22nd, 2011 10:50 am | By

Small bizarre item. I was innocently half-watching a dopy tv show about lawyers last night and was suddenly jolted to notice that on the wall behind the judge hearing that episode’s case there were large metal letters prominently spelling out “In God We Trust.” What?! In a courtroom? In Chicago? Is this supposed to reflect reality? Do courts actually do this?

So I Googled and found out about In God We Trust America, whose mission (you won’t be surprised to learn) is to force that ridiculous, childish, like hell I do motto on everyone everywhere by nagging public officials into sticking it in prominent places, like on walls behind judges.

85 “yes vote” cities in California. 75 in Arkansas. Apparently none in Illinois. Yet.

The intermediary problem

Aug 21st, 2011 12:14 pm | By

The problem of knowing what to submit to is connected to the idea that “god” can stand for a kind of person that is better than the human kind and thus a way to focus aspirations. The connection is that both are about knowledge, or transmission. Unless “god” is purely personal and individual, there has to be some way of connecting “god” and humans. There have to be intermediaries.

And there are intermediaries, but what good are they? What do they know that no one else knows? What do clerics know? What is it about them that makes them reliable intermediaries?

What is there? Is there some thing – some bit of esoteric knowledge, some secret ceremony, some garment, that is supposed to transform Mr X into a reliable intermediary? Our friend Eric MacDonald would know, since if there is such a thing, he must have been vouchsafed it at some point.

A few weeks ago, I saw a discussion of Sura 4:34, the usual thing: does “beat” really mean “beat” and all the rest of it. There was a woman who kept saying “Only Allah knows what he meant, we can only interpret.” But in that case, why pay any attention at all? If only Allah knows what Sura 4: 34 means, why should any humans even try to obey it? If someone says to me, “Ooh ooh urrp urrp,” I can’t “obey” that, can I.

The intermediary problem seems to me to be insoluble.

How to submit to a

Aug 21st, 2011 11:36 am | By

From James Wood’s review of The Joy of Secularism:

…many religionists assume that life without God would be life without meaning. Where secularists cherish autonomy and choice as qualities that make life meaningful, religionists often emphasize self-abnegation and submission to a higher power.

Yes, but the trouble with that is, how do they know what higher power to submit to? How do they go about submitting to it when they can’t know what it is? What exactly is it that they’re submitting to?

In reality of course it’s either the god of tradition and holy books, or the idea of god they work out for themselves. It’s never an actual higher power that communicates with them in such a way that they have reliable knowledge of how to submit to it.

The idea of utopia

Aug 20th, 2011 3:49 pm | By

Robert Bellah has a new book on religion in human evolution (called, aptly, just that). He talks to the Atlantic.

You mention play as a way of getting out of normal working consciousness, and religion emerging from the play instinct, a mammalian characteristic common to sparring puppies and humans experiencing art.

That’s the one way I can see religion as something interesting about human beings as opposed to something depressing or tiresome or unhelpful about them. (I mean honestly – going without water from dawn to dusk in a hot climate?) It’s something gratuitous and extra, ornamental and elaborate; it’s good that humans can do that. (Though only from a human point of view. Humpback whales don’t think it’s good that humans can do that, and neither does any other species.)

The idea of utopia is always a kind of play, because we know it’s not real – it’s just what we can imagine. But it has the serious possibility of saying, “Look, the world the way it is didn’t have to be that way. It could be different.”

And so does the idea of god – it could be a way of thinking about a better way to be a person. It doesn’t seem to work out that way very much though.