Stop calling it a “culture war,” call it what it actually is

So I saw another truly ridiculous piece of conservative outrage today, about the squawking, dishonestly named “One Million Moms” group (a proud owner of 3,000 Twitter followers) getting upset that gay people exist. The newest target of their ire is American Girl magazine, which had the temerity to feature an article about a pair of gay adoptive parents, without first seeking the permission of bigoted conservatives and ensuring that the language was appropriately fawning toward Conserva-Jesus and his well known hatred of gays. For the most part the Moms’ rhetoric is the usual claptrap, assuming that their appeasement is the sole purpose of every form of media, and getting arch that their imprimatur was neither sought out nor apparently thought about in the least, but one particular part of it, one specific, commonly used phrase, stuck in my head when I saw it:

1MM supports adoption and taking care of orphans as we are biblically instructed to do in Psalm 82:3, but American Girl could have focused the article on the child and not about the parents since it is a magazine for children. The magazine also could have chosen another child to write about and remained neutral in the culture war.

“Culture war.”

The phrase wouldn’t leave my brain after I’d read it. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, it seemed… wrong, somehow. Unfair. It didn’t gel, didn’t fit… and then I realized why:

You know who wants the most to not be in a culture war over homosexuality? Gay people.

If you focus on the actual words of the standard conservative rhetoric on this issue, and ignore the overall aggressive tone and outrage, you might get this idea that this “culture war” is something being inflicted upon them: they are desperate for people to “remain neutral,” when it comes to depictions of gay people. Show a happy gay family? Don’t do that, stay neutral! Gay parents in a canned spaghetti ad? No, stop, why would you do that? A Chick-Fil-A sponsors an LGBTQ film festival? Hey, nuh uh! Don’t turn chicken into a political battleground, that should be simple!

The behavior of the christian right is all about stopping things from being battlefields in this culture war over homosexuality, one gets the idea that they are beleaguered peacekeepers demanding neutrality, stepping in to deal with all these fires being started by the other side. But the truth is, as is usual for the christian right, the exact opposite. This culture war is not the gays’ to fight.

To the family in the American Girl article, this isn’t some fucking battle. They didn’t appear in the magazine to get conservative christians, nor did American Girl publish the article to attack anybody. They both did what they did for the reasons explained within the article; they did it because they were talking about the foster care system and that gay couple happened to be a (rather photogenic) part of that, and were passionate about it. They are an accurate reflection of the topic that was under discussion, and hence were included in an article attempting to portray that reality. What made it into a battle was a cadre of loudmouthed conservatives unable to separate their own personal offense at the existence of something they don’t like from the reasons that thing might exist in the first place. It’s a battle because a certain subset of conservatives are unable to see the rest of the world as anything other than a reaction to them, as a group.

What, you think we’d have these “culture wars” over homosexuality if gay people were simply left alone, with the same rights as anybody else? The objection being leveled by One Million Moms is that gay people are being depicted as existing, not that they’ve actually done something wrong. You think we’d have these pitched social issues over transgenderism if transgender people were just allowed to be the gender identity they identify with, with all that entails? You think any of this would be happening if the religious conservative movement in opposition to it stopped and let us see what happened without instigating any outrage?

Because that’s what a war is, you know. A war involves at least two sides in active disagreement, it is sustained by all the parties within it, not just one. If the anti-gay side just stopped here, though, there would be no war. Gay people just want to live their lives in peace, and if there had never been any homophobic cultural history here, there would be no culture war now, and certainly no bad feelings on the part of the gay community toward those that are seeking to oppress them now. This is a self inflicted war, begun and sustained by a group of people who simply will not let others live their own lives without their intervention.

There is a kind of war that is begun by one party in it and not the other, and is not sustained by mutual enmity, but rather one side’s insistence… but we call it something else and aren’t generally okay with what it is. That kind of war is called an invasion, and it’s characterized as an interaction between an aggressor and a defender. When was the last time you heard about an invasion, in which nobody would be harmed and no conflict would arise if it were to stop, and thought that the aggressor was in the right?

To be clear, I’m not talking about motivations here; it’s clear that the anti-gay side has a motivation for what they’re doing, it’s one they’ve made abundantly obvious. I don’t agree with it at all, I think it’s a completely unjustified motivation, but I cannot honestly deny that it exists, nor will I pretend that this invasion of theirs is happening out of baseless spite, because that would be untrue. It’s not just troublemaking, it is happening for a reason, even if it’s obviously a bad reason.

No, what I’m talking about here is a clear problem in the language surrounding this issue, the dishonest way that the religious right hopes to characterize the interactions at play. It’s not a “culture war” for any other party but the anti-gay side, and so for them to assert that other parties should “remain neutral,” attempts to apply a mindset about all this to people that do not share it; America Girl was not firing a salvo in any sort of war, they were reporting on an issue. That this got reinterpreted in its transmission to One Million Moms is not their fault, nor is it something they can control. The Moms’ seem to want to make others responsible for how they react to media in ways that the creators did not intend, and this is both arrogant in that it places the onus on everyone else to appease One Million Moms as a matter of course, and entirely misrepresentative of how that media was created in the first place. You cannot retroactively add a malevolent (from their perspective) motivation to a work, nor can you attempt to phrase it as “taking a side” in a culture war when your own objection betrays that you would find it impossible for them to do otherwise.

What was it that One Million Moms said in their article, again?

The magazine also could have chosen another child to write about and remained neutral in the culture war.

Uh huh. And what is their objection at all? Why, it’s that gay parents were depicted in American Girl! Which means that the Moms’ idea of winning would be the removal of gay people from the magazine…

Do you see the problem here? One Million Moms’ idea of neutrality is the same as their victory condition. For one to “remain neutral in the culture war,” one has to allow the anti-gay side to win. Anything else isn’t “remaining neutral,” it’s taking a stand against them.

Keeping this in mind, how dare One Million Moms attempt to turn this into an attack? How dare they classify this as a statement against them in the culture war when the way to remain neutral, to them, is to just give them what they want? That’s not remaining neutral! That’s explicitly endorsing their side exclusively! How self serving of them, to think that neutrality is just them winning!

I could go on, pointing out how hypocritical it is to assert that presenting a gay family isn’t “being neutral,” and yet doing exactly the same thing for their side is just fine, or I could ask why depicting a straight family should be the neutral baseline while depicting a gay family at all is inherently taking a side, but that’s not the point. The point is that this is, in no way, a culture war. This talk of neutrality is entirely misrepresentative, when the hidden premise of the “neutrality” being asked for is to unreservedly give one side whatever they want. It’s not a war when the sole goal of one side is “to live in peace,” and the other’s is “my god says you can’t do that.” It’s not a war when it’s the work of one party entirely and the grievance is the existence of the other side at all.

That’s the objection One Million Moms has, plainly: other people aren’t pretending that gay people do not exist. If they acknowledge that gay people do exist, a completely factual statement, then they aren’t being neutral to the Moms’ self-imposed culture thing. But that’s not a war, that’s a campaign of erasure kicked off with no input at all from the party being erased, and no real world reason that this erasure should happen. That’s a cultural pogrom, not a cultural war.

If gay people were just left alone then they wouldn’t cause any trouble. This isn’t a war for them, nobody asked their opinion of this supposedly pitched cultural battle they’re in and, frankly, they don’t want to be a part of it. You can trust me on that, because I fall under the LGBTQ umbrella (I won’t say where) and all I want to do is live unimpeded, not cause trouble for a group of conservatives I don’t even know. I wouldn’t even think of One Million Moms if they’d just stop insisting that we’re at war.

The framing of a “culture war” implies that both sides are taking shots at one another, but that’s not true. What’s really happening is that one side is taking all the shots, and the other side is just insisting that they should be allowed to live their lives without being killed by those shots. Those shots, by the way, have made very real casualties for the gay side, actual people who have died because of the right’s insistent stoking of cultural homophobia, but never for the opposition. We don’t even want anybody to be killed on the other side, on any side… we just want to be left alone.

Only one side is actually fighting here, so let’s not lie and call this a culture war. This is a cultural invasion, and there is no neutral ground for the invaders. They’ve seen the cultural landscape turn toward acceptance for the LGBTQ members of society, and so they are attempting to push their ways onto us under the guise that their victory condition is some kind of fair and neutral compromise. Such self serving rhetoric should not go unanswered.

Wars have combatants. This is nothing more than an attack on people who want nothing to do with it. Call it what it is, not what the anti-gay side would prefer because it makes them look better.

The “Minimal Facts” approach is certainly named correctly, at least…

A couple of months ago, a Catholic apologist visited an atheist forum that I frequent- Atheist Forums– and quickly caused quite a stir with a number of threads arguing for the historicity of Jesus Christ and his resurrection. The atheists there, myself included, disagreed with the arguments he was espousing for a number of reasons, but of course no consensus was ever reached between us… it rarely is, in these cases. Specifically though, there was one argument in particular that I’d never been exposed to before, and it’s one that I’d like to start off my religious writings by examining in greater detail: I’m talking specifically about the “Minimal Facts” approach.

The minimal facts approach attempts to make the case that certain historically disputed events really happened by appealing to other, more concretely attested historical events to push the probability of the event in question into a higher, more probable range. Some of you might already see the problem there.

My forum-bound apologist presents five such minimal facts, though the number rises and falls depending on the person presenting the argument; I’ve read up to twelve, though the argument’s designer, Gary Habermas, tends to stick with five. They are as follows:

1. Jesus died by crucifixion
2. Jesus’ disciples believed that He rose and appeared to them
3. Saul, the persecutor of the Church, was suddenly changed
4. James, the skeptical brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed
5. Jesus’ tomb was found to be empty

That was the argument as I was exposed to it, but there are other formulations, some that use different facts, or combinations of other ones, but they all follow the same basic format: X list of things is true, therefore Jesus was resurrected from the dead.

The trouble with that is, I don’t need to discuss even one of those facts in order to dismiss that conclusion. The minimal facts argument, in all its forms, contains an overarching meta-rebuttal that renders the entire thing inert.

Namely, the conclusion is a total non-sequitur. A collection of facts, even if they find their source in the same book, do not confirm any additional claims that that book makes. You could have hundreds, thousands of absolutely confirmed facts, arranged in a constellation hanging over the claim that you want to be true, and they would not serve as an adequate replacement for evidence for that particular claim.

It’s almost trivial, as an idea, one that we can easily accept for every other topic of discussion, and yet so many theists want to make a special case exemption in this case. One can make a list of five claims, four of which are true, and the fifth one being a lie: the fifth one doesn’t become true because the four preceding, connected claims are true, nor should your assessment of the probability of that final claim rise because the source has additional true claims in its possession. Even a reliable source can be wrong, and past reliability is not an indicator of future correctness.

But it’s not even like the claims listed here contribute at all to the idea that Jesus was resurrected either:

1. Jesus died by crucifixion

Let’s assume for the moment that this is true, and I have slight misgivings about that due to the dearth of proper documentation of Jesus’ very existence: how does this attest, in any way, to the claim that he resurrected afterward? A documented event doesn’t imply other, unconnected events after the fact. One might justifiably assert that documentation of a crucifixion leads to subsequent events that logically follow from that event, like the disposal of the body, but not completely unconnected events, like a resurrection, or the arrival of an alien spacecraft, even if those purported events are contained within the source that documents the original event. In the former case the additional events are directly consequential to the crucifixion event, and in the latter, the additional events are unconnected to the crucifixion, reliant on other causes in order to happen at all. That’s the difference between a justifiable attestation of subsequent events, and the desperate scrabbling we see in the Minimal Facts approach.

2. Jesus’ disciples believed that He rose and appeared to them

This means almost nothing. The current scholarly consensus is that the gospels were written anonymously, relegating any of the claims regarding what the characters within them thought or believed to hearsay of ultimately dubious provenance. Without knowing the identity of the author we certainly cannot grant a significant probability to the proposition that they knew the positions of the disciples.

And even if the gospels were written by the same people who “believed” that Jesus rose from the dead… so what? Seriously: so what? Since when did people’s beliefs indicate the truth of those beliefs? People have, will, and currently do believe in all kinds of demonstrably false things; there are people alive today who believe that the earth is flat, who believe that the moon isn’t real, or that aircraft are holograms created by demons. “They believed that,” does not, and cannot, indicate that the thing is actually true. If beliefs are symptoms of truth, then the christian position espoused by this apologetic has competition from every other religion, all of them rendered true by the fact that they have adherents.

3. Saul, the persecutor of the Church, was suddenly changed
4. James, the skeptical brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed

I’ll cover points three and four together, since they’re essentially the same thing, and the problem with both of them is the same. Personal change, at best, speaks to the beliefs that the person who changed holds. Not the reality of those beliefs. But moreover, personal change doesn’t require supernatural intervention in the least; personal change is most often entirely mundane. I change all the time, and the only thing you need to give me to prompt that is additional information, evidence sufficient to change my mind. Phineas Gage changed personality, purportedly, due to taking a piece of pipe through his brain, and Gage’s story is far better documented than that of Saul or James; perhaps both of them changed after a head injury too?

That is, of course, simply me assuming that the bible account is truthful, which I don’t need to do because, as I’ve pointed out, the authors are anonymous and thus their words aren’t established fact in any sense. It’s always nice when there’s a basal issue with a claim such that it’s dead from the outset.

5. Jesus’ tomb was found to be empty

This is a popular argument from apologists, and it’s one that I like to call the “nothing is evidence,” argument. It is a case of a series of christians pointing at nothing at all and asserting that it’s evidence of a supernatural event. It’s not, obviously: the absence of a thing is not evidence for anything at all, for reasons that I shouldn’t have to explain. If your idea of evidence includes the idea of pointing at thin air and calling it proof, then your idea of evidence is so wide as to be essentially non-existent.

In a more zen koan sense, if a tomb is without a body, can it be said to be a tomb at all? This particular segment of the minimal facts approach presupposes the body was ever there at all, which it never even seems interested in even attempting to demonstrate.

But assuming the body is there, are the people championing this argument truly asserting that the only way for a dead body to move is via magic? Best inform morgues all over the world, then: all those bodies they transport only move because they resurrect and move, and then presumably drop dead again once they reach their destination.

The point of all this is that the facts within the “minimal facts” approach proposed here, even if we simply take them as facts without investigating them, do not point to the conclusion that the apologetic purports that they do, and hence would not add to the probability of that conclusion being true. One would need to shovel on a whole heap of additional assumptions, discard numerous other possibilities that are certainly more probable than supernatural resurrection out of hand, in order to zero in on the conclusion that the apologetic would like to justify. Given all of this, there is simply no way to rationally say that the minimal facts support the resurrection at all, let alone to any probabilistically significant sense.

One final thought on probability: in order for something to be probable in any way, it first needs to be possible. That’s just definitionally true: impossible things cannot probably happen. The probability of an impossible thing is zero, by definition. Regarding each of the individual minimal facts presented, there are other possible solutions, each of them immediately possible; bodies can be moved by other means, people can be changed by events that aren’t supernatural, people can believe false things, and so on. These are all possible, therefore they can have a probability with a positive number. Resurrections have not been demonstrated as possible, and in fact all of the evidence that we have that is at all reputable hints at the idea that resurrections are impossible, at least until technology advances. When a theist attempts to make an argument for shifting the probability of the resurrection up, they are skipping the important foundational step of demonstrating possibility first.

Rationally, they cannot be allowed to do that. You can’t build a case without a foundation. Without demonstrating that resurrections are possible, all the other solutions I have proposed are more probable answers to the minimal facts than that a resurrection happened.

Many of the rebuttals I have seen to this apologetic focus on the actual facts themselves, attempting to show that they aren’t as factual as the apologists wish to present them as, to cast doubt upon them, and I see no reason to do this. We don’t need to run when the theists aren’t chasing us; there is no need to address the factual case of an argument sporting severe structural flaws. If the argument does not support the conclusion that it presents, then that is the rebuttal that needs to be offered, not one that tries to show that the reality the argument represents is not true. It doesn’t matter, in that case, if every fact within the argument is one hundred percent true: the argument doesn’t lead to the conclusion. You would be, in essence, cutting off the branches of a dead tree to cut it down.

It has already been cut down. Pruning the branches is irrelevant. If there is any lesson to be learned from the minimal facts approach- and god knows there are no history lessons to be found there- it’s this, and that’s a lesson that will serve any budding counter-apologist well in future, as many other apologetic arguments feature precisely this fatal flaw, and learning to recognize it early will save you plenty of time rebutting branch points on a severed trunk argument.

“Don’t judge, we all have our sins,”… except if you’re gay.

Earlier this year, Josh Duggar was embroiled in a scandal involving his past molestation of several underage girls, including some of his sisters. A procession of conservative christians came out of the woodwork to defend the man, including presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, with the main theme of their wheedling predophilia-apologia being that everybody sins, that Jesus forgives all sins, and so therefore nobody is in any position to judge Duggar period, so shut up. As a result, the majority of his fundie pandering base still supported him after the scandal.

More recently, those same conservative christians, again headed by a publicity hungry Mike Huckabee (apparently so publicity hungry that his aides were literally blocking other republican candidates from getting close to the event) circled the wagons around Kim Davis, sporting signs chock full of hate for homosexuals, despite the fact that the issue is supposed to be about religious freedom, not bigotry. Signs like this:

… Be born again, so you can sin and be forgiven! Not stop sinning, that’s impossible.

I have a few things to say about the dishonest way this crew presents their grievance over Davis, versus what their actions demonstrate their grievance to be, but until then… does anybody else see the clear problem with these two instances?

I thought we all sinned, so it wasn’t our place to judge others for their sins! I thought Jesus forgave all sins, that we all sinned and it was impossible not to, and that to god, all sins are the same. That’s the rhetoric rolled out whenever a christian figure is caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar, so… why this continuous, emphatic attention on the “sin” of homosexuality?

You hear a lot, when the bad behavior of christians come to light, this claim that “God has already forgiven me,” and it’s deployed like a prophylactic guarding against criticism. “I’m not perfect, just forgiven!” they say, and the expectation is that this a signal for other christians to hold their fire. It’s tone policing, pure and simple, but it works for a great many christians, increasing in effectiveness the more fundamentalist they are… but only so long as it’s being applied to other fundagelical christians.

You want to talk about gay people though? Nah, fuck ’em: they’re dirty sinners and it’s open season.

This strange double standard is encapsulated no better than in Josh Duggar himself, who spent years working for the “Family Research Council,” an organization that works tirelessly against LGBTQ rights, whose mother records robocalls attacking Trans people specifically, and yet who will both, when confronted with their own crimes, will respond without irony that everybody sins, so they shouldn’t be attacked or judged. God has forgiven Josh, they both said, and this is enough, so stop talking about this.

… As if god doesn’t forgive other sins, like homosexuality? Wasn’t Jesus’ sacrifice supposed to wash away all our sins if we accept his gift?

Which is it? Are we allowed to judge sins, or not? It seems to me that conservative christians want to have it both ways: they want to judge the sins of others, while viciously tone policing others out of doing the same to them. And no sin sticks out more as a target for the fundagelical’s ire than homosexuality. I know exactly why this is, too: after all, it must be frightening, when people start to question you.

For the longest time, the so called “moral majority,” of the christian right had things pretty much all their own way, and to a large extent they still do hold a lot of power in seats of government and so forth. But the gay rights movement represents one of those few moments in history (along with the desegregation movement, and I bet that the current anti-gay bigots are awfully chagrined to see that comparison brought up so much, hence their insistence on comparing their favorite bigots to black rights figures like MLK and Rosa Parks) where people didn’t listen to what the fundamentalist crowd had to say. This uppity gay movement stood up and demanded that they be treated like equals in society, and as is usual for them the fundagelicals piped up, “well, it says in our holy book that you guys are an abomination, so, no,” but rather than just getting what they wanted like normal, over time people began to realize that actually, the religion of one fundamentalist (and increasingly extremist) group should not dictate the rights of us all. They had said something, but the LGBTQ community failed to shut up like they wanted, and more and more people stopped taking what the fundies had to say as the be all and end all of the question.

And so they went to war over it. It became a fundie big issue, their own little culture battle against sin despite what their religion has to say about that. All people sin, and their god treats all sins as equal (except daring not to believe in him, that one gets you sent straight to hell) but that didn’t matter to the bigots because, for the first time in this generation, nobody was stopping to ask for their opinion before acting. Time goes on and the homophobic set continues to shrink as more people leave the side of hate and join the side of love, but for those that remain steadfast in their nonsense the concept that gay rights represents some especially terrible crime against their god has become baked in to the foundations of their beliefs, so deeply that they can’t even see the contradiction between their homophobia and their religion’s position on sin anymore. It’s why you have fools like Ray Comfort who can, in one breath, actually acknowledge that his god sees all sins as equal (“if you’ve ever lied you’re a liar, if you’ve ever looked upon a woman with lust you’re an adulterer, if you’ve ever been angry at someone you’re a murdered to god!” goes his most famous spiel) while simultaneously singling out homosexuality as a sin requiring a whole movie to explain how bad it is.

And it’s why, lest we forget, Kim Davis wasn’t happy simply obeying the first court order she got, telling her to just step back and allow her other clerks to sign marriage licenses for gay people in her stead. She had to force all her other clerks to deny the gays too, mostly against their will given how easily they went back to do that job once she was out of the picture, because this was never just about her religious freedom to not endorse gay marriage, it was about her thinking she had the religious freedom to command other people to obey her will. She didn’t have to give out the licenses herself, which is what she claimed was the issue, but no, there were others, either on her staff or out in her county, who didn’t see fit to ask her view on gay marriage before they had one or allowed others to have one. They didn’t get her permission before living a lifestyle she didn’t approve of, she couldn’t have that, and the same thing goes for all her supporters, and I know that because so much of the rhetoric spewed by them about this issue is about gay marriage and not Davis’ freedoms. Nobody goes to a rally about christian freedom with a sign reading “no to sodomite perversion” without having their actual concerns on full display.

Gay marriage is such a hot button issue to right wing christians because it is a sign of their fading relevance that they are fighting back against as hard as they can. It gets cloaked in excuses and exceptions and buzzwords like “religious freedom,” in much the same way that an abuser will tell their victim that it’s all for their own good, that they really do love them, because they realize that straight up aggression won’t get them into the position they want, though it’s really the only thing they have in their arsenal. Hence, the excuses are only ever skin deep, and rallies for “religious freedom,” are populated with people espousing their real axe to grind, against gay marriage, in their signs and on their shirts. Davis can be excused for her multiple marriages and product-of-adultery children, yet gay people cannot be excused of their “sin” for the same reasons. Because Davis is part of the in-group, but gay marriage represents a rare stand of… no, not even defiance, just indifference to what that in-group has to say.

It must be frightening for the fundagelicals, seeing their power slowly shrink, the number of people who care what they want dwindling, or requiring more evidence for their claims than they are equipped to provide. I’d imagine it’s like a king waking up one morning to be confronted by a group of commoners very much wanting to give democracy a try. They want so much to be in power again, they want people to care about their dictates, for everyone to have to come and get their Jesus-ified imprimatur before they do anything, and I bet it just grinds their gears to see people walking by, living their lives without a care for the largess of an increasingly sectarian church that is no longer even the majority among christians.

They don’t get to make the rules anymore, and if they have to lie to be given a position where they can make them, even if only in some small way, they will do it. If they have to disregard core concepts of their own bible, they’ll do it. All sins are equal in the eyes of god, everyone sins, and the only way to be washed clean of them is through Jesus, according to christian theology. The big push against gay marriage has nothing to do with christianity, and everything to do with control over a group of people who have said, loud and clear and repeatedly, that they will not be controlled anymore.

And there’s nothing tyrants and abusers hate more than not being in control.

… Do Kim Davis advocates actually understand what’s happening?

So Kim Davis has been released from prison, and boy howdy do the hooting bigots seem to think this is some kind of step forward for their cause. Ever since she stepped out of the cell she’d spent the past five days in to the (Survivor irritating) strains of “Eye of the Tiger,” the pearl clutching persecution fetishists have been acting like she’s some grand hero returning from slaying a dragon or some shit.

Basically like this.

Noted swirling vortex of ignorance Mike Huckabee attempted to turn the scene into a prophetic warning of dark times to come, though he forgot his portentous cowl and a gnarled staff to wave at the crowd:

But all of us need to ask, who’s next?  Your pastor?  The head of a school?

Bobby Jindal, a man whose presidential platform literally includes promises to enact a law that will get him deported from the country, demonstrated either that he is not a christian or is on the run from an imagined police chase:

Here’s where we are in our country today: If you disagree with gay marriage, they put you in jail, as you see what happened in Kentucky, and yet if you mishandle national security information, you’re allowed to run for president. It is a crazy, crazy world we live in…

And even Pat Robertson allowed his servants to read from the Black Grimoire and animate his desiccated husk long enough to croak an obvious falsehood, the dust of ages long past escaping from his windpipe as he spoke the lies which give him strength:

Christianity, the founding principle of this nation, is criminalized. You go to jail if you believe in God and stand fast for your beliefs against the onslaught of secular humanism and the flood that comes about with it.

All of this, of course, leads me to ask a very important question: do the people who won’t shut up about how great Kim Davis is… actually understand what’s going on with Kim Davis?

The reality of all this is that Davis only spent five days in jail, and that she was released by the judge who initially jailed her without much in the way of outside prompting. I know the Davis crowd probably thinks that their overwhelming media and protest pressure made the judge knuckle under, but then, this is an essay about how they have no idea what’s happening, so…

The point is that for all this outcry about persecution, about being jailed for faith and how terrible it all is, she did get let out very shortly, without having to comply with the conditions that were set, and yet the Huck-fuckers are still acting as though there’s some grand conspiracy by secular society to jail them all. The saber rattling and gnashing of teeth simply doesn’t align with what really happened. Most jail sentences are more than a week long, I gotta tell you, and if “being christian” is as big a capital crime as Huckabee seems to think it is, then surely it’d earn an actual jail term, rather than a week’s paid vacation followed by an appearance surrounded by an adulating cheer squad.

Not that the rhetoric was somehow intensified when Davis was still in jail and it was a possibility that she would stay in there indefinitely until she obeyed the court order that landed her in there in the first place; that was the point that all this “being a christian will land you in punishment jail!” crap began, and it hasn’t gotten any different since. You’d think it would, I mean, you’d hope that additional facts and events would alter the conversation taking place to fit, but then, conservative christians have never been particularly amenable to changing their minds on anything.

And so, despite how the situation has changed, their lines have not, which only goes to show how they’d made up their mind about this long beforehand, and will steadfastly stick by it regardless of what happens afterward. Davis could literally have been awarded damages from the court, the judge could have been fired, and they’d still be going on about how she was martyred by a faith-hostile government.

I mean, it’s not as if anything they’ve been saying was at all accurate when she was in jail anyway; Davis was not jailed for being a christian, as literally the entire history of her numerous appeals and lawsuits attest. She went to court over this a number of times before she finally got jailed, if “being christian” was truly a crime in our secular dystopian hellhole then there were plenty of times when she could have been jailed before she actually was. Coincidentally though, her jailing happened during her contempt of court hearing for disobeying an unambiguous court order which, I mean, do you think that maybe the contempt charge had something to do with all this? Which charge do you think is on all the related paperwork, contempt or “being christian”?

It’s actually so ridiculous that the conserva-vangelists are trying to sell us the idea that Davis was jailed for being a christian, seemingly without realizing that the judge who jailed her is a christian himself, and was appointed by George Bush, to short circuit the inevitable “left wing!” accusations. Shouldn’t that judge jail himself, if he’s part of this weird atheist Illuminati that Hickabee seems to believe exists in power in the US?

Now that Davis has been released that side is acting as though they’d come up with some major victory; the woman left jail to a triumphant soundtrack and (tried to make) an inspirational speech afterwards. I’ve literally read christians laughing at atheists over this,as though they’d beaten them. This, if nothing else I’ve said sinks in, demonstrates just how badly the right has misunderstood the situation as it stands. They seem to believe that “jailing Kim Davis,” was the goal of those that opposed her from the start, which indicates that they aren’t really listening to what we’re saying, and that their mindset is built more around making this about Kim Davis the person, whom they can make their martyr, instead of Kim Davis the representative of the US government.

I don’t care about Kim Davis. Kim Davis is irrelevant to the objection I and those on my side have with the conduct of Kim Davis. What matters to us is getting marriage licenses into the hands of those who are rightfully entitled to them, and in aid of this Davis was given every possible chance; there were other clerks in the office willing to provide the licenses, and in fact the first court order presented to her simply allowed them to do the job so that she didn’t have to. Since she didn’t allow that, instead forcing her subordinates to carry out her religious will, jailing her also accomplishes the thing we care about, because once she was gone, those assistant clerks were happy to give out the licenses anyway.

That’s why this isn’t the great blow struck against secular government that Huckabee and his flock want to characterize it as: the thing we actually wanted to do is still getting done. The judge released Davis on the condition that she not prevent the other clerks from providing marriage licenses to anybody, an order that, true to petulant form, she is apparently going to defy once she gets back to “work.” So she’s either going to defy the order, go back to jail, and the marriage licenses flow, so we get what we wanted, or she doesn’t defy the order, marriage license-a-go-go, and we get what we want. There isn’t some third option where Davis gets to block all gay marriage licenses from issuing from Rowan county. She either commits a crime by defying the order, or she obeys the order.

So when I hear christians telling me that I’ve lost the battle now that Davis is free, I find myself rather quizzical because I wasn’t aware that the battle was over keeping her in jail in the first place. I thought it was over the marriage license dispute, which my side would have been happy dropping had Davis obeyed any one of the court orders she had been given. There was no requirement, to me, that she ever be jailed or punished at all; the story could have ended after that first lawsuit, if she wanted it to. All that matters to me and others is that she does her job in accordance with the law, or else gives that job to someone who will. That’s it, and that’s what’s going to happen here no matter what. We don’t need to concede a loss in a game we were never playing.

The irony of seeing the fundagelicals whining about persecution and oppression by the government while holding up as an example a government agent who was persecuting and oppressing others is mind-boggling, but I can absolutely see why they’re doing it because they don’t really have any idea at all what’s going on. The reason why varies from person to person; for some, like the Liberty Counsel who represented her in court or Huckabee himself there are monetary and career reasons behind it. For others there are ideological presuppositions that require them to spin this so that their demographic is the victim, even if it demands the creation of some huge, largely undemonstrated conspiracy against them for that to happen.

For yet others still, I imagine that coming off of such a huge string of losses must be quite traumatizing, and like any man on a sinking ship, they’ll cling to any little thing to try and keep afloat. Cold comfort, in a fake “victory.”

Gate: Fandom without foolery.

The anime industry in Japan has a complicated relationship with its consumer base, specifically those most likely to support that same industry, the super-fans. The hardcore end of generalized anime fandom culture, called otaku, could potentially be a topic all on its own for me to discuss, but I feel it’s especially instructive to examine the ways in which this subculture is reflected in the media they support so fervently. So today, we’ll be looking at how the anime industry depicts its most loyal customers.

To put it simply, anime is often highly dismissive, if not outright antagonistic, of the otaku community, and as a cultural artifact I find that downright fascinating. These are, after all, the people most willing to pump funding into the industry, the consumer base most likely to spend money on an increasingly merchandise driven marketplace, on expensive products that are, frankly, often a load of utter tosh:

This is Evangelion branded canned coffee, which is a thing that people were actually expected to buy. There is also Eva-brand crab meat, but I couldn’t find a picture of that.

But when these same people are depicted within the media that they consume, disrespectful or less than shining representations are the norm; otaku characters are routinely the butt of every joke that their home series tells, portrayed as perverse obsessives with a preoccupation with panties and the worst excesses of sexualization within the industry. They’re lazy, unmotivated in any other area than their fandom, essentially animated man-children. In Lucky Star, one of the major recurring jokes is that a lead character is obsessed with anime to the point of being unable to take the bulk of her life seriously. In Welcome to the NHK, in my experience one of the most sensitive explorations of the detrimental extremes of anime fandom, several early episodes are set aside to depict, uncomfortably, the deep overt sexual objectification of women that sometimes goes hand in hand with otaku-dom, and to turn it into a joke. There are scores of sex comedy or parody anime, beyond measure, with gross otaku heroes who perv out on the entire female cast between watching their favorite shows, and are otherwise entirely unsociable.

So often, the joke for shows in which some members of the cast like anime is liking anime itself. Enjoying the media being presented is enough of an excuse, in many shows, to face derision, and from a marketing standpoint I don’t get that at all. Now, this is obviously only a part of a larger cultural conversation regarding how the anime industry and its fandom penetrates and changes Japanese culture itself, and this is such a voluminous and detailed conversation that I couldn’t possibly cover it all, even if I considered myself equipped to do so adequately, which I don’t. The point is that it is very hard, in fact, to find an anime protagonist who likes anime, but is not derided or otherwise punished for doing so. It is rare to find an anime character that honestly reflects the interests of the viewers watching them.

And then we come to Gate.

Gate:The Self-Defense Forces Fight Like This in That Place is a series of Japanese light novels (a literary genre that is currently obsessed with lengthy titles, for some reason) written by Takumi Yanai that is currently being screened as an anime adaptation, wherein a… well, a gate to another world opens up in modern day Japan and disgorges an invasion force using medieval technology and riding on dragons. After quickly being repelled (no matter what anime might have told you, swords are no match for guns and tanks) the Japanese Self Defense Force (JSDF) sends its own detachment through the portal to figure out what, exactly, is going on on the other side, a mission in which otaku protagonist Itami Youji gains an increasingly pivotal role.

When I first read a plot synopsis of Gate, which emphasized the “otaku in a fantasy land” elements, I had it pegged as something much the same as all those other anime, as a comedy series in which the otaku hero and his nerdy hobby are the main sources of humor, as the soldiers around him react negatively to his obsession. The trio of cute anime girls featured prominently in that artwork up there didn’t help matters; obviously they’ll be the side characters he’ll constantly be fawning over, right?

Never have I been more happy to admit that I was wrong: Gate is very different than I had imagined, in the most positive way possible.

To start with, let’s examine our lead character, Itami Youji:

Itami immediately sets himself apart, simply by dint of being outside the usual age demographic. Yes, as an early bit of narration informs us, Itami is 33 years old, standing out from the crowd of teen and twenty-something otaku that usually populate such anime. The inference one makes, from the majority, is that anime fandom is a young man’s game, somewhat childish, and shirking this trend is the first step that Gate makes in presenting an otaku character without treating him as lesser because of it.

Itami also has a job, the nature of which remains concealed from us for the first half of the first episode, in a genre where jobless otaku almost define it. I’m not going to pretend this doesn’t have some bearing in reality (Japan’s “NEET” population, young men and women unable or unwilling to meet the strict corporate standards required in the Japanese job market, is a fascinating social phenomena on its own, the subject of numerous anime of varying quality) but that doesn’t mean it has to inform every otaku anime protagonist either. Nevertheless, I believe Itami is the only working otaku I’ve ever encountered in this medium.

Itami is, unlike many of his contemporaries, an actual character and not a bland audience surrogate. He’s a part of the fandom that comprises the audience for Gate, and is in fact very passionate about it- as we’re being introduced to Itami the narration notes that he “works to support his hobby,” a sentiment that Itami himself echoes later in the first episode- but he’s never punished for this, and we as the audience are not invited to laugh at him because of it. As the story begins Itami is heading to a doujinshi event (“doujinshi” refers to independently published comics, often fanworks featuring popular intellectual property; a sub-genre of a sub-genre of otaku culture that immediately marks Itami as very serious about his fandom by his participation in it) when the Gate actually opens, and though he is worried that the event will be cancelled in the chaos of an invading attack, he’s not single-minded about this like other otaku protagonists might be. Often, the overarching joke in an episode of an anime with an otaku character will be that the otaku enters into the central conflict of the story for the wrong reasons, chasing down some inconsequential trinket or desire with the fervor one might expect from someone actually invested in the narrative, though in reality he is not. Itami, by contrast, spends a few seconds thinking about saving his doujinshi event, and then spends the rest of the attack worrying about how best to save people.

In fact, Itami proves to be startlingly competent, during this sequence, to the point where it actually sticks out like a sore thumb; the shining example of this, and the moment where Itami establishes himself as sort of a badass, is when he takes down and kills a fully armored, armed centurion within seconds, while being completely unarmed himself. The moment the camera pans up the aftermath, showing an Itami splatted with blood, you can tell that there’s something different about this guy.

We later learn, once the attack has been quelled, that Itami can do these things because he’s a lieutenant in the JSDF himself, and the way this information is presented to the viewers demonstrates that the writers and animators here knew exactly what they were doing, what their audience’s preconceptions of an otaku character would be, and how best to capitalize on that. The nature of Itami’s career is treated like a plot twist; the camera lingers on his uniform without ever showing his face, as an unnamed soldier is promoted to first-lieutenant before, finally, we’re shown that it’s actually Itami, dressed up and vaguely uncomfortable with his surroundings. I actually fell for this completely, wondering who this other person was who had aided in the defense effort, and was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that it was the protagonist after all. An otaku hero with a respectable job and realistic priorities? I never!

To be clear, it’s not that Itami is perfect, or that his fandom is treated as uniformly positive, just that those flaws are presented in a reasonable way, and are the result of his underlying character that don’t overwhelm everything else about him, nor are they presented as the result of otaku-dom as an infantilizing influence. He is still hung up on missing out on his comic books, but he doesn’t let that distract him from the reality that people actually got hurt in the attack, nor from helping others. He has issues with avoiding responsibility, but they don’t prevent him from advancing within the JSDF and completing extremely rigorous special forces training in the past. He has a tendency to sexualize the female cast some, but never fawns over them and actually treats them extremely well. Itami isn’t a bad person as a source of comedy, which seems to be the fate many anime believe to be appropriate for otaku, and this is refreshing, to say the least.

As a result, it’s far easier to get invested with a story that you know treats its characters with a modicum of humanity. Gate opts to, rather unfortunately, offer up an ensemble of JSDF soldiers once the story proper begins without giving us proper introductions to them (to the point that I can’t remember their names) but I do care about their struggles even so because they aren’t these hyperactive straight men to Itami’s bumbling. The characters that do get names and fleshing out also benefit because they aren’t constantly subject to the lustful eye of a more standard otaku protagonist, which makes them easy to swallow even when they are acting sexual; I’d normally find myself rejecting blatant T and A in shows like these, but it’s surprisingly acceptable when Rory, one of the more fanservice heavy characters, does it because it fits who she is. It’s not some forced thing brought about by a perverse main character making a mean-spirited meta-commentary on the types of people who watch these shows, it’s a normal outgrowth of her character, and we understand why it happens because it isn’t happening to appease us. We are never invited to leer with Itami, because Itami does not leer.

That is, I think, the biggest flaw with portraying the “wacky otaku” stereotype; it isn’t just a character trope on its own, it’s also a conversation between writer and viewer, one in which the former party makes some rather unpleasant assumptions about the latter before the conversation even begins. We are led to laugh at the heightened craziness of the wacky otaku because, according to the writer, at least we’re not that bad/that’s totally something we would do in the same situation. The source of humor varies from show to show, but neither implication is particularly kind. Meanwhile those outside of the otaku sphere just get to laugh at the idiocy of otaku culture. When something sexual happens we are invited to stare and enjoy, to be complicit in the (often nonconsensual and objectifying) nudity because that’s totally something otaku want, right? That large segments of otaku culture are more than happy to be complicit with this, sufficient to make these sorts of anime very popular, is troubling in its own right, but also beside the point: what these types of anime ask of us as fans, the statements they make about the people most invested in this medium, tell a crude tale of fundamental low esteem by these writers for their audience.

Why is this? Well, there’s a lot of reasons, far too many to discuss within an essay that’s already gone on for two thousand words. Is it always intentional? Certainly not, and I can’t exactly blame any aspiring writer for chasing monetary success down that rabbit hole. But Gate eschews those conventions and manages to engage with a more unique take on fandom in the process, creating a main character who simultaneously toys with the tropes of his archetype and transcends them; it’s no coincidence that Itami’s greatest strength is his ability to avoid things he doesn’t like, making him rather expert at avoiding hostile forces. Seeing a slacker otaku avoiding responsibility is nothing new, but seeing that trait turned into a strength, and one that doesn’t detract from his skills at that, is almost mind-blowing in how fresh it is.

Ultimately though, this refusal to pander to traditional stereotypes, as nice as it is, is only one part of what makes Gate a compelling watch. It’s not a show that rises or falls on the basis of a single fresh idea, but when the show itself is but one star in an otherwise gross and weird constellation, well, I feel the need to talk about it. There is so much more to this conversation than I’m able to cover in a single post, and perhaps I’ll revisit it later, but these are the things that leaped out at me when I watched the first episode of Gate. Happily things continue in this vein over the other ten or so episodes that have aired thus far, so if any of this seems interesting then I’d encourage you to check it out. It’ll be one of the few times that you aren’t asked to accept a few nasty premises regarding fans of anime as a barrier of entry.

Further thoughts on a Kim Davis

So, maybe this is a controversial statement, but don’t you think that if you’re going to take a stand on an issue of religious belief that maybe, you know, the belief itself should be a part of your religion?

For some christians, gay bashing is an integral part of their religious beliefs, but I think it’s worth keeping in mind that for an equal number of christians, so is not bothering to understand their religion at all. The lack of religious knowledge among American christians has been well known for some time, but it becomes particularly anger-inducing when this disinterest in actually knowing what a religion says about a given issue is used to oppress or marginalize a minority group under the guise of supposed “religious freedom.” One would think that the “religious” part of that concept would actually be super important, given that otherwise all you have is “freedom,” which America totally has but also imposes justified limitations for so that, say, people’s rights aren’t denied them. No, it’s the “religious” part of “religious freedom” that’s supposed to be doing all the legwork in giving theists (mostly christians around these parts) the supposed right to oppress and mistreat people, and if that’s the case, well, the religion you’re claiming to use as justification better actually contain wording regarding the issue under contention, but when christianity is in use for this purpose, generally it doesn’t.

Take the case of Kim Davis, everyone’s current favorite po’ po’ christian martyr for Jesus; Davis feels that it is her right as a christian to deny gay people their rights to a marriage license, with the understanding that her god doesn’t want gays to get married, and so her specific, unproved religion should be forced down the throats of everyone else. On the surface the will of her god, within the context of her religion’s (still unevidenced, I’d remind you!) narrative, should be easy to check; apparently he has a series of books out that detail what his deal is, some little indie published thing, wish I could remember what they were called…

Yes, one would think that if god, as Kim Davis claims, actually wanted her to deny gay people their rightfully due marriage licenses, then one would obviously be able to find a corresponding passage in the bible where this is unambiguously stated but of course, as with most christian excuses for bigotry, the reality is more complicated. Certain facts have been massaged for self serving reasons. The truth is that Kim Davis’ religious beliefs have nothing to do with her religion at all.

To get the most important thing out of the way first, gay marriage is mentioned nowhere in the bible. It feels like this would be the end of the discussion; after all, how can god forbid gay marriage when the books that constitute the sole earthly expression of his will do not mention the topic at all? Christians often use a passage of Jesus talking in Matthew, discussing the question of divorce, as support of the idea that god is against gay marriage, but the passage itself is ambiguous and selectively interpreted:

He answered, ‘Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female”, and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’

For starters, this doesn’t directly address the issue of gay marriage, nor is it an explicit rejection of the idea. Yes, Jesus uses specific gendered language, but one could argue with exactly the same level of justification that it was simply written that way for ease of reading, because noting every single gender combination would be very awkward. The case could be made that clearly this passage isn’t meant to be taken strictly literally too; obviously no christian believes that Jesus is saying that, for example, orphaned men can’t get married because they can’t “leave his father and mother,” to be with his wife, so not a single one of the people using this passage in their anti-gay rhetoric is arguing that we must operate within the bounds of the words present and no further. They just want us to be selectively specific here, interpreting the words literally for individual lines of the passage while allowing for some latitude of interpretation for everything else, but they never justify why they request us to do that. What is that based on, other than their own personal preference that their god’s word means no gay marriage? And why should we take “it is my opinion that my god agrees with me without explicit quotations saying so,” seriously at all?

Remember, as I discussed last time, for every anti-gay christian with an opinion that god is against gay marriage, there are many more christians whose opinion is that their god is fine with it: why on earth should we preference an opinion that strips innocent people of their rights over one that doesn’t? Why is bigoted religious expression to be privileged above accepting religious expression?

As a last note regarding the passage in Matthew that’s specific to Kim Davis herself, she really can’t use that passage in her case; Jesus is specifically suggesting that divorce is not cool with god there, and Davis has been divorced four times, even while she was a christian. If she’s not willing to follow her god’s wishes where they are clearly stated, she has no right at all to make her god’s will a sticking point elsewhere, whenever it’s convenient to her. Is god’s will important to her or not?

Moving on, I will admit that there are passages in the bible where god tells humanity what they must do with gay people, unambiguously and with perfect, straight-laced language. But here we run into another problem for homophobic christians, because if Kim Davis had really wanted to obey her god’s wishes with regard to homosexuality, she wouldn’t be denying them marriage licenses because they wouldn’t be alive after meeting her:

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.

This is the only clear instruction that is given in the bible for all good christians regarding homosexuals: not “deny them marriage licenses,” but “execute them.” The idea is only reinforced in the Sodom and Gomorrah story that bigots just love to trot out in reference to current LGBTQ issues (the fact that the story doesn’t identify homosexuality as the problem sin, and in fact specifies other, non-sexual sins as the problem, doesn’t seem to matter to them, but this is an essay about how christians don’t bother using the bible to come up with their opinions of what the bible says, so that’s in keeping with the theme), otherwise known as “that bit where god straight up destroys a couple of cities because you think there were gay people in them.”

“God’s will,” on this issue is that homosexuals be put to death, that’s the only direct command given, because of course it is, why would you need further instruction for how to deal with a person who’s no longer alive once you’ve finished step one? But Kim Davis wasn’t killing homosexuals, in fact she let them all leave her office completely unharmed; how does one square supposedly caring about god’s will while ignoring the only instruction he ever gave about the thing you say you care about? The pragmatic argument, that she wouldn’t do that because it’d land her in jail, fails on multiple points, the first being that Kim Davis is currently in jail for what she thinks is obeying her god, and the second being that, if the laws of the land are sufficient justification to ignore god’s commands, why take exactly the opposite stance when denying people marriage licenses? Gay marriage is the law of the land, so obeying the laws can’t be used as justification for not killing homosexuals here.

Oh, but that command is in Leviticus, which is in the old testament, which apparently no longer applies, right? Great! That means you have no direct commands at all for how to handle gay people and can safely give them their fucking marriage licenses. Old testament included or not, you still have no instructions for how to deal with gay marriage, and so any supposed religious convictions you hold don’t come from the religion itself, but from your own bigotry, which is no longer socially acceptable and thus requires this desperate scrabbling to lie and say there are prohibitions where none actually exist.

I can already sense the objection, that god has given Kim- and the rest of the gay-hating cross-humpers- special revelation to deny gay people the right to marriage by hook or by, literally in this case, crook. Which, I mean… are we just allowed to make stuff up, now? How do they intend to demonstrate that they’ve gotten special instructions from the author of the universe, and if they can’t do that then why should we believe them? And more importantly, why should we give them special exemptions from the law for something that they literally cannot differentiate from a lie that they are telling to cover for their own personal bigotries?

And how far do we take that, anyway? If I go to Kim Davis’ house and tell her that I’ve been given special revelation from god to empty her bank accounts and take possession of all her stuff, am I then entitled to all of her money and things? Wouldn’t she be denying my religious freedoms by not allowing me to get away with whatever I want, if the only criteria we’re going to have for sincerely held, exemption-providing religious beliefs is impossible to demonstrate? If not, why not? Is her autonomy and rights more important than my special revelations in that case? Where’s the difference, then, that makes her rights inviolable by my religious beliefs, yet makes it okay for her to impinge on the rights of gay people?

Could it be that theft is specifically labelled as a sin in the bible, and so therefore I couldn’t possibly have a revelation from god encouraging me to sin? Well, I don’t know that the bigots want to go there, because that only acknowledges that one’s special revelations need to be consistent with what is written in the bible, and as has already been established, the concept of gay marriage rights isn’t even present in the bible, and those commands on homosexuality that are there are ignored by the majority of christians in America.

No, if you’re going to accept special revelation as an excuse to violate the law and refer specifically to the anti-gay marriage case in doing so, then there’s absolutely no way that you can bring the bible into that at all. It simply doesn’t say what you want it to say, there. It’s a bridge too far, and so what you’re left with is the undemonstrated claim of special revelation alone, and if that is sufficient for you to suspend the legal system to allow things, then all laws become essentially irrelevant. Everyone can claim to have special revelation for any thing, and we have no way to determine whether those revelations actually come from a god or not. All that we as criteria for what the contents of a given religion are, the only objective, non-solipsistic means of seeing the purported wishes of a god are the holy books that the adherents of the religion share.

And there’s simply nothing in there to make the case against gay marriage. Until the fundagelicals stump up with a testable method of determining which special revelations actually come from their god and which ones do not that doesn’t rely on the bible as a fact checker, then they cannot make their case that the beliefs inherent in their actual religion, rather than the self serving interpretation of it that they want to be their religion, extend to opposition to gay marriage.

If they can’t make that case, then we simply do not have to take their “sincerely held” religious beliefs on the issue seriously. There’s nothing religious about them, just tarted up regular beliefs.

The breathtaking inanity of Jonathan Jones

I feel I have to congratulate Mister Jonathan Jones; writing for the Guardian, he has managed to open a piece of literary criticism with the single worst statement that one could possibly do this with:

It does not matter to me if Terry Pratchett’s final novel is a worthy epitaph or not, or if he wanted it to be pulped by a steamroller. I have never read a single one of his books and I never plan to. Life’s too short.

It’s actually a tad impressive, the way Jones torpedoes his own credibility and ability to say anything meaningful or true in the following article in but three sentences. Most people have to work hard, over entire essays, to so completely disintegrate their chances of being taken seriously. Hats off, truly: the man has set a new benchmark in establishing the utter irrelevancy of a writer. Overblown hacks the world over will marvel at the speed at which Jones lowers himself to the puerile depths and say to themselves, “well, there’s no way I’m ever going to become that intellectually bankrupt that quickly, better throw in the towel.”

I make no secret of the fact that Terry Pratchett is my favorite author, one who I largely attribute my love of writing to, but I’m not saying this as a rabid Pratchett fan out to tear down someone impugning my golden idol, no. Though I’m certainly irritated to see such unkind words leveled at my literary hero, what makes me downright furious is the lax, comfortable position of ignorance in which Jones seems happy to play armchair auteur.

Is this what literary criticism has come to? Writers freely admitting that they’ve never read a single work of those they’ve deemed themselves fit to pass judgment on, proudly wallowing in their willful incomprehension, happy not to know and willing to continue not knowing under the delusion that they already know everything. “Life’s too short”? The man is a literary critic on a self-appointed quest to define what counts as literature and what doesn’t, and “life’s too short” to read a book? This self-styled judge of all that classifies as true written art dismisses the idea of having an informed opinion on a topic before speaking on it, yet has the gall to tell everyone else to “get real”?

The utter, depressing hubris Jones displays is what marks this tone-deaf piece of humble-bragging (let’s not forget that the thrust of this tripe is that Jones feels that the culture at large is celebrating popular mediocrity, while smart guys like him get to be the gatekeepers of True Literature, looking down on us plebs) as true pablum of the highest order, almost to the point of self-destruction. “Life’s too short” to know what you’re talking about apparently, but nevertheless we should all just “get real” and kowtow to Jonathan Jones’ clearly superior opinion; he doesn’t even need to have any experience with what he’s talking about to know better than everyone else, after all.

I can handle criticism of my favorite media, I really can; with Pratchett in particular I have some negative opinions of my own, specifically about his early work and aspects of his later books, I’m not averse to constructive criticism where it’s warranted at all. But what I can’t stand, what’s apt to make me livid, is obviously uninformed criticism of any kind. I’m of the opinion that if you’re going to say something, you owe it to yourself and all your listeners to know as much as you can about what you’re talking about, and you should be open about correcting your errors. Jones, by contrast, proudly proclaims his unwillingness to learn about the things he discusses, and closes himself off completely to the idea of ever correcting himself:

No offence, but Pratchett is so low on my list of books to read before I die that I would have to live a million years before getting round to him.

His petulance runs contrary to the spirit of journalism and, frankly, the spirit of literature itself, and the total lack of self-awareness with which Jones conducts himself is staggering: after smiling his way through his total dismissal of even the possibility of reading a Pratchett novel now or in future, Jones cluelessly extols the virtue of reading for experience, even going so far as to engage in self-deprecation for having missed the book that he approves of- presumably after having, you know, read it:

This summer I finally finished Mansfield Park. How had I managed not to read it up to now? It’s shameful. But at least now it’s part of my life. The structure of Jane Austen’s morally sombre plot, the restrained irony of her style, the sudden opening up of the book as it moves from Mansfield Park to Portsmouth and takes in the complex real social world of regency England – all that’s in me now. Great books become part of your experience. They enrich the very fabric of reality.

If great books become a part of your experience, if they’re so enriching, then doesn’t Jones owe it to himself to at least attempt to read books that are a part of as long and storied a career as Pratchett’s? Rather than, say, presupposing the perfect accuracy of his unthinking first impressions? How many hidden gems has Jones missed completely due to his blithe confidence in the conclusions he leaps to based on nothing? That’s what’s truly shameful.

It’s bad enough that Jones mistakes his uninformed, haughty ramblings for genuine writing, but he goes on in the most insultingly reductive manner possible, not only handwaving any possible disagreement with his airy ignorance as “mental laziness,” but deciding that Pratchett’s work is the entirety of his character:

Thus, if you judge by the emotional outpourings over their deaths, the greatest writers of recent times were Pratchett and Ray Bradbury.

Ah yes, because the only reason one might mourn an author is his work; the human being behind it factors in not a whit. Sadness is only a representation of the quality of Pratchett’s writing, and not at all due to the loss of an actual man who was, by all accounts, gregarious and kind and forward-thinking, easily worthy of instilling inspiration due to his genuine love of his craft, no matter your opinion of his writing… assuming you’re actually bothered to read any before rendering judgment.

I’ve already spent a thousand words on this intellectually bereft pile of nonsense, which is far more than it deserves, but it just makes me so mad to see self-assured cultural vultures like Jonathan Jones being given a platform, allowed to wallow in their ignorance and arrogance so totally that they develop the delusion of being empowered to dictate to everyone else what “real” literature is. As though he can just stomp his foot and demand the artistic canon mold itself to his petulant whim.

I am a fan of Terry Pratchett, and I’ll be composing a post on his last book once I’ve finished reading it I’m sure; it arrived on my doorstep earlier today and I found myself too nervous at the prospect of “New Pratchett writings” as a set dwindling with every word I read to actually crack it open. When I’ve finished The Shepherd’s Crown there will never be another new Pratchett work for me to read, the set will fall to zero, but in the meantime, I have one last question for Jonathan Jones:

But Terry Pratchett? Get real. It’s time we stopped this pretence that mediocrity is equal to genius.

How the hell would you know one way or another, Mister Jones?