Fifteen Minutes of Fame is Best

(What’s in your toothpaste?  Why should we remember David Crosby?  Whose buried on our farm?  How many statues of Lenin are there in Moscow?)

Have you ever brushed your teeth with Colgate’s “Total” toothpaste?  The one with the nice minty smell?  Every peppermint harvest here on the farm I remember how the Colgate-Palmolive company bought our peppermint oil, the oil we distilled from our peppermint crop.  They used it in their Total brand toothpaste.  I think it’s our biggest claim to fame.  What’s yours?  Did you win a jackpot at Jackpot, Nevada?  Are you the aunt of an almost-famous singer?   The brother of a championship athlete?  Maybe the local newspaper wrote about your incredible lab that was lost at Wild Willy hot springs but found its way home, 500 miles north to Boise, Idaho.

Almost everyone has their 15 minutes (or seconds) of fame: their picture framed as employee-of-the-month or their name listed as a donor for an important cause. They even might write a blog that some people like to read.  It’s heady.  It’s intoxicating. It’s very short-lived.

One time I had to rent the old movie, Rudy, about a Notre Dame football star, because my brother Dan was in the film.  He’d responded to a casting call for movie extras, and got a part. Dan played a security guard at a Notre Dame game.  I sat through most of Rudy waiting to see my brother, the movie star.  Finally, near the end, I got a brief glimpse of Dan’s face as the camera panned the crowd in the football stadium.

Some people want more than 15 minutes of fame though.  They want to not only be known, but remembered.  I thought about the “Emily Doe” who was a victim of rape four years ago.  Last month she published a book about her horrific experience, using her real name, Chanel Miller, as the author, and titling it: Know My Name.  And then there’s David Crosby, the folk-rock musician, whose biopic this past summer was entitled: Remember My Name.  Why, I asked myself, should we remember David Crosby?  I mean I liked his music, but he’s not Jesus Christ.  He’s not even Elvis Presley.

Being a ruler or a monarch doesn’t necessarily gain you lasting fame either.  Only a select number of world leaders manage to make it into our history books—and some of those may not deserve all the attention they get.  We only know about King Tut because of the way he was buried.  A minor ruler, King Tut is celebrated largely because of his golden image sculpted on the surface of his magnificent burial sarcophagus.  Somewhere on our farm a pioneer man or woman are supposed to be buried whose accomplishments likely far surpassed King Tut’s. We know for sure they endured the danger and hardship of crossing the Oregon Trail so they could find a better life for themselves and their families.

Often dictators and authoritarian rulers attempt to extend their fame, their time in the public eye, for as long as they can.  They want to cement their power.

The Hitlers, the Lenins, and the Maos made sure their names, their images, and their words were everywhere.  The result being that today, there are 80 Lenin statues in Moscow, alone.  In China, Mao’s image is plastered on walls and billboards everywhere.  If these autocratic leaders were alive now, no doubt they’d have their names emblazoned at the top of casinos and towers.  They’d be tweeting feverishly every day, sending messages out to their followers.

But fame is fleeting—and that’s a comforting thought.

Some people can be in the spotlight too long.  They can overstay their welcome.  Fame, by its very nature, is bright and brief.  Our attention spans are short, and besides, there are many others waiting in the wings with new thoughts and other stories, better stories, to tell.

(Click on this link for more Diana Hooley blogs on Current Events.)

Image Credit: Total toothpaste       Image Credit:  Know My Name         Image Credit:  Trump Tower

Marijuana

(How many states have legalized marijuana?  What does AARP now say about dope?)

I sat cross-legged on a blue fringed pillow that was laying on the floor. My blind date sat next to me on his own pillow as he passed the bong to me.  He’d just taken a hit from the long tube filled with THC smoke.

“Oh,” I laughed nervously, “I think I’ll pass”.

My date, a rather hairy guy, gave the bong to the person sitting on the other side of our little circle.  “Here man,” he said glancing back at me, “She’s doing her own thing.”

I thought I was going on a dinner date when I landed at this pot party in 1973.

I’d never tried marijuana before—nor did I want to.  Dope had no place in my Christian code of ethics.  Everyone said it was a gateway drug to needles and heroin, everyone being not just my Christian friends, but really important people too, like President Nixon and his drug czar, Elvis Presley.

Now almost a half a century later, marijuana’s reputation has improved substantially (even if the politics haven’t). 

The fairy godmother turned the orange pumpkin green and all kinds of magic has sprung forth.  There are only a handful of clinical studies on cannabis since it’s still considered an illegal, controlled substance at the federal level.  But there’s a growing body of evidence that says marijuana has medicinal value. The leaf that has become a jolly green giant here in the northwest, not only makes you feel, well, jolly, but may also be helpful in treating certain medical conditions and symptoms.  Not surprisingly, anxiety is one of those conditions.

Not too many years after my pot party experience I found myself married and living in a little trailer in the neck of a lonely desert canyon.  I’d just had two babies born thirteen months apart. I remember rocking one baby while the other one played with blocks at my feet.  Staring at the wet diapers hanging on a wooden rack in my living room, I asked myself, “What’s happened to my life?”

Stress and its partner-in-crime, anxiety, were gnawing at my stomach and knocking at my head. Feeling vaguely ill much of the time, I turned to The Well Body Book (a book I still have forty years later) to find out what was wrong with me.  There, I read what two hippy doctors said about my symptoms.  They wrote about stress and anxiety and provided sound guidelines for when to see a physician.  One chapter in particular, caught my eye.  It was entitled, “Drugs are Helpers.”

In light of the opioid crisis ravaging parts of America today I’d modify that chapter title to: “Drugs Can Be Helpers–or Not.” 

Still, the hippy doctors had a point.  When a good friend of mine had colon cancer and was struggling with nausea due to chemotherapy, I smoked marijuana with her.  It was my first experience with the drug.  Marijuana made me feel a little woozy and a lot sleepy, the effect being somewhere between having a glass of wine and taking a Benadryl.  Shakespeare said it best regarding my introduction to marijuana:  much ado about nothing.

Ironically, the age group that was probably most vociferous opposing the legalization of marijuana back in the day, the elderly, are now leading the charge to sanctify dope holy.

In the latest issue of the AARP Bulletin (American Association of Retired Persons) an extensive investigative report found older citizens increasingly using marijuana to treat such conditions as chronic pain, migraines, and Parkinson’s disease.

Currently 34 of our 50 states have made marijuana legal for medical, or medical and recreational use.  I marvel at how time can chip away at the most entrenched biases.  The stigma attached to marijuana is finally fading–but it has been a long time coming.

Tap on these links for more posts on Current Events (like marijuana legalization) or Life Passages (like growing up and growing old).

 

Image Credit:   marijuana leaf          Image Credit:  Seniors cheering marijuana

Fired Up and Ready to Go to Alaska

Who wants to go to Alaska?  Not me, I’m not a fan of cold, dark, and dreary.  Everyone else I know though is: my daughter, my in-laws, my friends.  Keith worked as a nurse on various cruise ships and of the many places he’d traveled to in in the world, Alaska, he said, was the most beautiful.  Good thing because that is where my husband and I are headed to this week, obviously his idea more than mine.  The weather is supposed to be good in September—except for the fires.  And smoke.  Forget I ever said anything about cold, dark, and dreary.

Alaska has been hit by global warming.

Still, there’s a question as to whether Alaskans think that’s the problem.  My daughter commented that on her family’s visit to the Great Alone, they stopped at various natural and scenic areas along the way, listening to park rangers and guides address questions about melting glaciers.  She asked one guide what was behind the glacial melt but couldn’t get a straight answer.  The guide didn’t want to discuss the human causes behind climate change: our fossil fuel and carbon consumption.

I was surprised to hear this.  Public employees, with presumably some kind of science and naturalist understanding, were shying away from a full-bodied explanation of the topic.

Maybe Alaskans aren’t really in denial.  Maybe the tourist industry asks their guides and interpreters to limit commentary on melting glaciers.

It’s not only too political (whoever turned climate change into a political issue should be forced to fight fire on the Kenai Peninsula), but also, consider their audience:  gas-guzzling tourists flying, boating, and driving to the remote northern reaches of our continent for entertainment and pleasure.

My hand is up, of course.  We’re guilty, my husband and I—or going to be this week.  But wait.  It’s not simply that I’m a carbon hypocrite and wedded to the leisure lifestyle of the retired.  It’s that I’ve read the science and know that though I nobly recycle, support green energy, and fly sparingly—our climate is still expected to heat up regardless.

Richard Rood, professor of climate and space science at University of Michigan says we’re feeling the effects of a warming climate already, with an average temperature just one centigrade higher than normal (online at The Conversation, July 2017).  Rood says we can expect it to get a lot hotter, at least 4-5 degrees hotter.,   According to Rood it will take hundreds of years to rid us of all of the atmospheric carbon accumulated since the Industrial Revolution.  He also says though, whatever efforts we make to go green will help slow down global warming.

The important thing is to limit the threat to plant, animal, and even human life.  To limit extinction.  As I write this last sentence I’m reminded of a young woman I taught years ago at Boise State University.  We were talking about ways teachers can get junior high students to read their science textbook, when this young lady raised her hand.

“I don’t get what the big deal is with all this global warming stuff,” she said.

I didn’t want to mention the “extinction” word then.  At the time, it seemed like overkill.  So I talked about rising seas and coastal flooding instead.  I never dreamed of suggesting fires in frigid, wet Alaska. 

Climate change is a complex subject, no doubt, and even more importantly, we don’t really have a solution to the problem.  But we can vote.  We can vote in support of candidates who are at least willing to confront the issue.  Having said that, a gentle reminder folks:  there’s an election next year!

I

mage Credit: Map of Alaskan fires         Image Credit:   Glaciers melting

Electing an honest man . . .

About once a week, I wake up in the morning, drink a cup of coffee, and read a poem or two.  I like poetry:  wit and emotion condensed into a few words.  This morning I read Sheenagh Pugh’s poem, Sometimes and it made me think about our country and its presidents.  Pugh wrote:

“Sometimes things don’t go, after all,

from bad to worse . . .

A people will sometimes step back from war;

elect an honest man, decide they care …”

I cannot tell a lie.

Pugh seems wistful about electing an honest man—and well she might be.  Honesty in politics is almost as scarce as thrift in politics.  I realize our country was founded on wonderful myths about integrity and honesty like the one in which George Washington disobeyed his father and chopped down a cherry tree.  He confesses his deed by saying: “I cannot tell a lie.”

George Washington is ancient news though, and the new normal seems like an abnormal:  lie—and get by.  Sadly, presidential lying has a long and depressing history.  Some rationalize that we set the bar too high, characterize-wise, for our presidents.  Others say that politicians would never get anything done if they didn’t occasionally tell a white one (or red, or blue one).  FDR and JFK both hid and lied about infidelities in their marriages.  Nixon lied about Watergate.  Ronald Reagan lied about the Iran-Contra affair (though some historians give him a pass due to his “forgetfulness”).  George W. Bush exaggerated the Iraq threat and promoted the lie about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction.  The list goes on.

It is refreshing though, when someone somewhere in politics steps up, and tells a painful truth.  I felt this way during the recent presidential debates, when candidate Pete Buttigieg told Rachel Maddow, “I couldn’t get it done…”  referring to being the mayor of a city that needed more Black police officers, especially in light of a recent officer-involved shooting of a black man there.  I’m not sure why Buttigieg’s confession struck me as an act of courage, whereas former president Jimmy Carter’s admission that he was responsible for the 1980 failed hostage rescue in Iran simply seemed like ineptitude.

Actually, I don’t expect more from my president than I expect from myself, and according to research, some inadvertent or harmless lying happens daily for most humans.  I think it becomes an issue when there’s too much intentional lying, or there is a risk related to a specific lie.  In this regard, we have a problem with our current president.

There’s been numerous polls tracking the number of lies President Trump tells on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis.  At some point, presidential lying crosses the line from benign political misdirection to charlatanism—a con man playing the American people.  In fact, it was a president, Abraham Lincoln, who reminded us: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time—but you can’t fool ALL the people ALL of the time.”

Honest Abe

Then there’s the all-important issue of the lie’s importance.  Lies that divide us as a nation, or get us into foreign wars, two problems George Washington foresaw as threatening our democracy, can be especially harmful.  Trump this past week lied when he questioned whether four U.S. congresswomen were really “American.”  Washington would say this increases our divisiveness.  Trump also twisted the truth and set the stage for a foreign war with Iran.  Another George Washington no-no. Trump accused Iran yesterday of violating a nuclear deal that his administration withdrew from last year.  Even though Iran was faithful to the deal up until that point.  If George Washington is our founding father, Donald Trump is the confounding one.

The policies of my president are important to me, but so is his or her person.  I want to trust and be proud of the president of our country.  I want someone in office who not only has moral courage, but is moral.  Am I asking for too much?  Maybe.  And the sad reality is, I only have one vote to make things better.  In this, I again find comfort reading Sheenagh Pugh’s poem:

“Sometimes our best efforts do not go

amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.

The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow

that seemed hard frozen:  may it happen for you.”

Rape in a Religious Community

I went to a Mennonite college and have friends and family members who are Mennonites, so I was particularly shocked to read recently about how nine Mennonite men drugged and raped 150 women and children.  They were all members of an ultra-conservative Mennonite colony in Bolivia when the rapes occurred over a period of five years, 2004-2009.  The men used a powerful sedative, an exotic plant derivative, which the local veterinarian employed to render livestock unconscious. When the women woke up in their beds, they were nude and disoriented, and their bed sheets were dirty and smeared with bodily fluids.  They believed they’d been attacked by ghosts or demons.

My first thought was how could this happen?  This was a respected religious community.  My second thought was why didn’t the women go to the police, the authorities with what was happening?  According to Time Magazine, British Broadcasting, and Vice News, many of those attacked (ages 3-65) had experienced repeated assaults—and nothing was ever done to stop the perpetrators.  The Mennonite colony was essentially a self-governing community in Bolivia.  Church elders dismissed the women’s complaints as female hysteria until finally, two men were caught in the act.  They ratted out the rest of the gang, and all eventually confessed, providing lurid details.  The rapists were given 25-year sentences in a Bolivian prison.

The story doesn’t end there though.  This past year, pressure from church elders in the colony have resulted in several of the female victims sending letters to Bolivian authorities requesting their rapists’ be given early release. 

Church leaders told the women that in order to be forgiven by the Lord themselves–and assured heaven after they die, they must forgive and support those who have wronged them.  Still, some in the colony worry that if the prisoners are released, the cycle of abuse might begin again.  The Bolivian judge who tried the case noted the women were living in such a male-dominated, “patriarchal” culture, they had little power to go against church fathers.

I thought of the plight of these Mennonite women when I saw on the news that Jeffrey Epstein, a man who had engaged in sex trafficking for at least fifteen years, molesting underage girls as young as 14, was finally facing a possible conviction.  Jeffrey Epstein is a billionaire hedge fund manager and would seem at first to have little to do with simple-living, hard-working Mennonite men.

But both Epstein and the Mennonite rapists are examples of male privilege, where their respective cultures, one religious and one economic, freely grant their gender the appearance of authority and respectability.  They were given the benefit of the doubt repeatedly, and in the face of all the damning evidence provided by lesser mortals: women and children.

The Mennonite males in the Bolivian colony had so much power their women were not allowed to take the stand and testify against those that assaulted them.  Instead, male relatives acted as their representatives before the jury.  Epstein schmoozed and paid off those in the largely male judiciary of south Florida, judges and lawyers who should have sent him to prison long ago.  Epstein insulated himself further by making friends with powerful, male political brokers like Bill Clinton and Donald Trump.

Many in the international Mennonite church are appalled by what happened in Bolivia.  Those of us that still believe in the rule of law are sickened and sad that a predator like Jeffrey Epstein could molest young girls for so many years protected by his money and influence.  Lord Acton, a British historian, observed in the 19th century that a person’s sense of morality lessens as his or her power increases.  His words still ring true today:  “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

 

Image credit:  Mennonite school girls ,     Image credit: Jeffrey Epstein and Donald Trump

 

Feeling the Affects of Chernobyl in Idaho

Watching HBO’s miniseries about the nuclear reactor accident at Chernobyl, Ukraine, I thought of my grandmother Verna.  She died of uterine cancer in 1961 at the age of 52.  I remember overhearing my grandfather and uncles discussing the radioactivity involved in the cobalt therapy used to treat her cancer.  How could such a poisonous substance heal Grandma, I wondered?  In the end cobalt therapy didn’t help Grandma and may have hurt her.  Thus began my fear of radioactive poisoning.  Not that my imagination needed any help on that score.  I grew up in the Atomic Age.  Maybe every generation has a dystopian fear.  Today we worry about surviving climate change, but during the Cold War the possibility of nuclear holocaust seemed just as imminently threatening, if not more so.

Many times as a young girl I passed by the bank building in my hometown of Elkhart, Indiana, and saw the distinctive black and yellow “fan” posted on the outside of the bank indicating a fallout shelter in the bank basement. I saw this same sign not too far from where I now live, in the Idaho desert north of Shoshone.  At one time Mammoth Cave, a large lava tube, served as a fallout shelter for Idahoans.  I eventually learned that though a shelter might help, radioactive fallout is a vaporous ghost that haunts long after the initial flash of a bomb.

Late in the 1970’s, the nation seemed gripped by different nuclear fears, this time having to do with faulty nuclear reactors.  In 1979 a movie called The China Syndrome was released and with it, a new term joined the vernacular.   It was said that a reactor core could overheat and melt down so far into the earth, it melted clear to China.  Eerily, not three weeks after the movie came out, life seemed to imitate art when one of three reactors at the Three Mile Island nuclear facility in Pennsylvania went into partial meltdown. It was the most significant accident in U.S. nuclear power plant history, ranking a 5 out of 7 points on the International Nuclear Event Scale.

The core reactor fire at Chernobyl in 1986 ranked a full 7 on the INE scale.  My husband and I watched the evening news, stunned that day after day emergency crews in the Ukraine were unable to contain the fire and with it, the plumes of radioactive gasses and other material sent skyward.  No one ventured a guess as to the actual number of people affected by Chernobyl’s fallout.  I thought of Grandma Verna.  Sometimes the damage from radioactive poisoning revealed itself only much later with untreatable cancers.

One evening during the Chernobyl disaster, television news anchors reported that traces of radioactivity had been found in milk and dairy products as far away from Ukraine as Western Europe.  Even more frightening, they said Chernobyl fallout had penetrated the jet stream, and radioactivity had been detected in Hawaii, with the expectation that it would soon reach the western edge of the U.S.

I tried to dismiss this ominous news, thinking what were the chances that a nuclear accident in Russia would ever affect me and my family thousands of miles away in Idaho?  A day or so later I walked out to my garden in a light drizzle to cut some spinach for supper.  Then, per usual, my husband and I sat down to watch the evening news.  The newscaster announced the Chernobyl fallout had officially landed in America.  The area of heaviest radioactive concentration (though nothing to worry about, he assured his audience) was somewhere northwest of Salt Lake City, Utah.  The light rain this area was experiencing seemed to be bringing traces of fallout with it from the upper atmosphere.

I looked at Dale and knew we were both thinking the same thing:  we’d probably just eaten a radioactive spinach salad.  Of course, I thought miserably, Chernobyl fallout had to land here and not in some god-forsaken stretch of Nevada.  Maybe Grandma Verna’s long ago cobalt treatments were a foreshadowing.  Dale though, had a decidedly lighter view of the situation: “Let’s turn off the lamp and see if we light up in the dark.”  Not funny, I shook my head at him, not funny.

 

Image Credit:  Fallout Shelter  Image Credit:  Chernobyl

Hanging on to Democracy

I was sitting at a stoplight on Capital Boulevard in Boise, Idaho when I heard a loud crash in the rear of my car.  I turned around and saw the hatchback window of my Prius was shattered.  I immediately pulled over and looked for the rock that did the damage.  When the policeman arrived he just shook his head, wondering how and why this incident occurred.

“Could it be a meteor?  Maybe a little chunk of meteor rock fell from the sky into my back window,” I suggested.

He looked at me doubtfully.  “I guess that could happen.”

“What about this?” I pointed to a mangled bumper sticker laying in the glass debris on the floor of the trunk.  It read:  “Blue Girl, Red State.”  Since Idaho is a more conservative state, maybe someone took offense at my politics and threw a rock at my car.

I thought my bumper sticker was fairly innocent, and I liked the colorful irony behind the slogan:  blue girl/red state.  My bumper sticker was not nearly as inflammatory as one I saw a few weeks ago:  “MAGA—Morons Are Governing America.”  And my bumper sticker definitely pales in comparison to a road-side sign I sped by on a Sunday drive: “Democrats are baby-killers.”

The policeman shifted his eyes, obviously uncomfortable with my inferring the busted window might be a political act and said, “Looks like we’ll never know.  I don’t think there’s any reason to file an accident report.”

I’ve thought about this incident, which happened a couple of years ago, many times watching the increasingly vicious political battles in Washington between Democrats and Republicans.  Our first president, George Washington, worried about partisanship.  In his day political parties were called “factions.” Washington was afraid lawmakers’ allegiance to their political parties would supersede their allegiance to the country as a whole. Compromise and Rule of Law would take a back seat to party politics.  The other side, whether Democrat or Republican, would be characterized and treated as the enemy.

Michigan Republican, Justin Amash, a member of the House of Representatives is currently being punished for his lack of party loyalty by withdrawing his support of President Trump.  He’s now being maligned with the label RINO (Republican in name only) just as many Democrats are branded DINO (Democrat in name only) because they favor a white, male candidate for president over a minority female. This kind of rigid thinking is evident on both sides of the aisle.  I saw a post on Facebook today with a picture of a Native American chief wearing a headband of feathers in his hair.

Below the picture it read:  “The right wing and the left wing are both from the same bird”–meaning we’re all Americans.  We all want our country to do well and prosper.

Beside me as I write this blog is a book I’m currently reading called How Democracies Die.  The authors posit that in countries where democracy has failed and authoritarian dictators have risen up, political parties have become so acrimonious they’ll do anything to win and keep power, including elect a flawed leader.  Sadly, there may be a risk of this scenario playing out in our country today.  Representative Amash is not officially on my “team” but if he ran for office in my state, I’d cross party lines to vote for him.  I like his courage.  Sometimes all it takes is a few brave people to turn the tide.

 

 

 

The Baptists and Abortion

In 1971 the Southern Baptist Convention, arguably the leading voice for evangelical Christians, passed a resolution in support of abortion under conditions of “rape, incest, and clear fetal deformity,” and also if there was evidence, “… of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother” (Annual of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1971).  The Convention reaffirmed conditional support for abortion in 1974 a year after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a woman’s right to abortion (Roe v. Wade)—and again in 1976.  W. A. Criswell, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention was quoted saying in a 1973 issue of Christianity Today, “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person . . . and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”

So, the Baptists, in general, were cautiously supportive of a woman’s right to abortion.

As a former Baptist, I find this fascinating. I grew up in a Baptist church, and I, as well as all of five of my siblings, attended evangelical Christian colleges.  I remember in my young adult Sunday school class discussing “hot topics” along with our usual Bible study.  We talked about the new rock musical, Jesus Christ Superstar and how our Sunday school teacher thought the musical made Jesus seem weak and Judas look like a hero.  My teenage friends and I were so intrigued we wanted to buy the Superstar album immediately.  We also discussed issues like abortion.  What would we do if, God forbid, one of us girls got raped by some creep and became pregnant?  Abortion might be an alternative.  After all, though the Catholics had a problem with abortion, the Baptists didn’t (at least as far as we knew).

Fast forward to last month, March 2019, when James (Micah) Van Huss, a graduate of a Baptist college and a member of the House of Representatives in Tennessee, introduced a bill banning abortion if a fetal heart beat is detected (how you detect a fetal heartbeat is a controversy all by itself).  Let me say now, that I personally would not have a late-term or even a mid-term abortion.  Having said this, I also support a woman’s right to choose.  I far prefer W. A. Criswell’s thoughtful and nuanced observations about women and abortion as opposed to James Van Huss’s legislative attempts to force women to follow his personal code of ethics.

My big question though, is what happened to the Baptists on the topic of abortion?  Why such a drastic change of heart over the years?

According to Randall Balmer, a Christian, and a religion professor at Dartmouth College—politics happened to the Baptists.  Paul Weyrich, a conservative Republican and a Catholic, was looking for an issue to ignite the evangelical voting block in the late 1970’s.  He tried various issues to pique evangelical interest including pornography, school prayer and the proposed equal rights amendment for women.  Finally, the abortion issue seemed to be an exploitable topic, one that could be dramatized in such a way as to evoke emotion (think pictures of dead babies in garbage cans)—and thus, votes.  Suddenly the evangelical community, including and largely the Baptists, became political.

I no longer attend a Baptist church, but if I did, I’d hate to feel my moral positions were the product of political manipulations rather than the Bible. The Bible itself does not speak to the issue of abortion.  It does say though, in Matthew 23:33, to beware “vipers” like the Pharisees, the legalistic religious authorities in Jesus’s time, whom Christ saw as hypocritical.  Abortion is a difficult, private, and painful issue for women.  They do not need the added burden of Pharisees legislating their behavior—and threatening punishment if they don’t act in ways they deem responsible.

Image Credit: Baptists  

An Appetite for Propaganda

When I taught educational psychology to prospective teachers, I told them about something called “confirmation bias,” a problem they might run into if they taught high school students. Young adults can dislike having to learn new or different information.  They’d rather default to existing belief systems and confirm long-held biases as opposed to changing the way they think. Adults can also be subject to confirmation bias.  Many years ago in my role as a high school debate coach I had a parent approach me with a deep need to confirm his particular biases.  He said he didn’t want his son debating the opposite side of the beliefs he’d been taught at home.

“Why?” I asked him, thinking it strange that this man allowed his son to take a debate class if he wasn’t interested in having him learn all sides of any given argument.

“Because I don’t want his head filled with crazy ideas. I just want my son to learn better ways to defend our side of the story.”

I was not surprised when his son made certain inflammatory statements about minorities in my class, mimicking something reportedly said by a notorious commentator on Fox News. I’d watched some Fox News, channel surfing, but was always sensitive to their one-sided handling of various political issues. There are progressive news programs on television that have this same problem.  Info-tainment is news designed to make people feel good by telling them what they want to hear. Viewers inevitably find themselves smugly justified in their thinking.

Confirming our biases by only consuming media supportive of our values and beliefs can be problematic though.  Our vision of reality becomes disabled and distorted.  I remember reading back in 2012 how shocked Fox news viewers were to realize Mitt Romney had lost the election to Barack Obama.  It wasn’t supposed to happen.  News pundits on Fox had assured their Republican audience that Romney would win.  Democrats were just as stunned in 2016 when Donald Trump was elected.  I listened to the progressive film maker and political activist Michael Moore explain how people can develop misconceptions about political realities when they surround themselves with an echo chamber: they only hear voices like their own, repeatedly bouncing back to them.  Moore went on to warn that Trump was likely to win, that there was a deep stretch in the Midwest peopled with displaced manufacturing workers and their families who were gunning to vote for Trump.

Political propaganda used to be considered undesirable and something only dictators employed to manipulate thinking and enact their agenda.

Russians living in the Soviet Union during the Cold War did not have the luxury or freedom to change the channel and move away from bias.  They were stuck with “fake news.”  It’s shocking today to realize that despite our free press and the abundance of news sources available to cross-check for accuracy, we still have a sizable segment of our population willfully addicted to what is essentially broadcast propaganda.  Instead of an appetite for propaganda, we need to develop an appetite for truth.  Even if that truth is sometimes hard to hear: that for example, special prosecutor Robert Mueller found no evidence President Trump colluded with Russia to get elected.  But the full truth can be complicated, going many different directions: that for example, there is evidence the president attempted to obstruct justice.  We want the truth to be simple and reflect what we think.  But it rarely does.

Image Credit: Fox News

Drinking, Stealing, and Lying–Oh My!

Last night I dreamed I stole a can of beer from a gas station convenience store. Let me be clear: I don’t like or drink beer. Maybe I don’t like beer because my father drank enough Schlitz, Old Milwaukee, and Black Label beer to float a boat in Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan is after all, a body of water not far from where I grew up in northern Indiana, and very near the Wisconsin breweries where the beer was fermented.

In my dream what made me feel most guilty was not that I’d stolen a can of beer, but the lie I told after that. I tried to explain away my thievery to the gas station owner by saying I wouldn’t have nabbed the beer if the clerk hadn’t refused to give me the diet Coke I’d purchased. The dream gods decided I shouldn’t get away with my lie. There was a video camera mounted in the corner of the store and in my dream I saw my grainy black and white image (I’m not sure if I dream in color—but the video of me was definitely in black and white) stealthily taking a beer—and a beer only—from the cooler. The next scene in my dream was me walking away, scot-free from my crime, out the store and through an attached garage—where several mechanics were working under my baby blue Prius as it was hoisted in the air. Dreams can be notoriously digressive.

Whence cometh these dreams of such perfidy and mendacious behavior? Does my subconscious know something about me that I don’t? At the core am I a thieving, sneaky, liar? The latest theory about dreams is that they don’t actually mean anything, for which I’m eternally grateful considering all the times I’ve dreamed I was standing in the middle of a high school hallway disturbingly naked. Dreams are supposed to be just random thoughts and imagery pulled from the subconscious and pieced together in a story—or not. Some people can’t make any sense of what they dream.

The thing that intrigues me about this theory is that I dreamed about stealing and lying. Why was stealing and lying floating around in my nighttime neural circuitry? I’ve always believed myself to be fairly honest but when I think about it, how honest am I really? Apparently, the average person lies a couple of times a day without even batting an eyelash. It becomes second nature. Some of this is harmless “white lies” or lies by omission. What people say, or don’t say, to get through their day more smoothly. Other lying is more deliberate and destructive. Some of our dishonesty we dismiss with: “Well, that may be true for you—but it’s not true for me.” Relativity and post-modernism birthed an unintended consequence: it gave us all an excuse for lying.

Probably I dreamed about stealing and lying because I’m a news junkie and though all politicians lie, our current president has taken the practice to new levels. Growing up, parents and teachers, adults around me, could shame me when I told a lie. Today, “alternative truth” seems almost fashionable. In fact, I just read that the New Orleans Saints football fans, since their questionable loss to the Los Angeles Rams, have taken to calling the NFL: “alternative truth” football.

I understand some of the president’s supporters dismiss his lies by calling them “puffery”—as in an airy nothingness that doesn’t mean anything really, like the feathery head of a dandelion that once you blow on it, falls apart in the breeze. But the feathery head of a dandelion is full of seeds, seeds that can take root. In our current political climate, alternative facts (or lies) are distributed into our culture in long chains of disinformation like that old party game: Telephone. Lying itself becomes entrenched and validated. There is something jittery-making when our leadership throws truth out the window like a discarded Big Mac box. We’re littering our landscape, our mind with all this refuse. I long for the clean-up crew. I long for a good, dreamless night. When’s the next election?