The Passion as Political Weapon
Paul KurtzChairman, Council for Secular Humanism
reprinted with Mr. Kurtz's kind permission
The Culture War
The Passion of the Christ is not simply a movie but a political club; at least it is being so used against secularists by leading conservative Christians. TV pundit Bill O'Reilly clearly understands that Mel Gibson's film is a weapon in the cultural war now being waged in America between traditional religionists and secular protagonists—such as the New York Times, Frank Rich, Andy Rooney, and the predominant "cultural elite"Newt Gingrich chortled that the movie may be "the most important cultural event” of the century. James Dobson of Focus on the Family and a bevy of preachers herald it as "the greatest film ever made"Busloads of devoted churchgoers were brought daily to view the film, which portrays the arrest, trial, crucifixion, and death of Jesus with graphic brutality. It is used to stir sympathy for Jesus, who, half naked, suffers violent sadomasochistic whippings at the hands of his persecutors; and it has engendered hostility to Jews, secularists, and separationists who have dared to question Gibson's allegedly scripturally accurate account.
The Passion of the Christ reinforces a reality secularists dare not overlook: more than ever before, the Bible has become a powerful political force in America. The Religious Right is pulling no punches in order to defeat secularism and, it hopes, transform the United States into a God-fearing country that salutes "one nation under God” and opposes gay marriages and the "liberal agenda"The interjection of religion into the public square (which in fact was never empty) by powerful religious and political forces has ominous implications. James Madison, framer of the Constitution, rightfully worried about factions disrupting civil society, and religious factions can be the most fractious.
Movies are a powerful medium. Film series including Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Trek, The Terminator, and The Matrix all draw upon fantasy; and these have proved to be highly entertaining, captivating, and huge box office hits. The Passion of the Christ, however, is more than that, for it lays down a gauntlet challenging basic democratic secular values.
It also presents fantasy as fact, and for the unaware and the credulous, this is more than an exercise in poetic license; it is artistic and historical dishonesty.
A Distorted Version of the Bible
According to Mel Gibson, The Passion of the Christ is "a true and faithful rendition of the Gospels". This is hardly the case. For there are numerous occasions when it presents extra-Biblical material not found in the New Testament, and when it distorts the Biblical account. Gibson uses poetic license with abandon.
Commentators have pointed out that Gibson distorts the character of Pontius Pilate, making him seem to be a tolerant, benevolent, and fair-minded judge—when independent non-Christian historical texts indicate that he was a mean-spirited political opportunist. The film also portrays Pilate's wife Claudia as a kind of heroine. She is sympathetic to Jesus and thinks his punishment is unjust; there is some textual basis for that in the Bible. But Gibson goes beyond this in his portrayal, for Claudia acts kindly to Mary and Mary Magdalene at one point in the film, approaching them with a gift of linen cloths. Gibson has Mary use them to wipe pools of blood from the spot where Jesus was flogged by the Romans. Nowhere are these scenes found in any of the four Gospels. Church historian Elaine Pagels has said that it is "unthinkable” that Jewish women would have sought or received any sympathy or succor from the Romans.
Nor do the Gospels provide any support for the severe beatings of Jesus by the Jewish soldiers and guards who arrest him in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to those inflicted by the Romans. In one gruesome scene, as Jewish troops bring Jesus back to Jerusalem heavily bound, they constantly beat him and at one point, even throw him off a bridge. There is no account of this in the Gospels. It is tossed in to underscore the brutality of the captors.
All the Gospels say is that a large crowd sent by the priests came to the garden to arrest Jesus. There was a scuffle and Jesus told his Disciples to lay down their swords. (Here as elsewhere, Jesus does not seem to be a part of his own cultural and religious Jewish milieu; both he and his followers are consistently characterized as renegades and "other” than their social environment.) Matthew 26:57 states: "Jesus was led off under arrest to the house of Caiaphas the High Priest"Mark 14:53 reads: "Then they led Jesus away to the High Priest's house"Luke 22:54: "Then they arrested Him and led Him away"John's version in 18:12: "The troops with their commander and the Jewish police, now arrested Him and secured Him. They took Him first to Annas... the father-in-law of Caiaphas.”1
If Jesus' abuse by the Jewish guards did not come from scriptures, where did Gibson borrow it? It comes from the supposed revelations of a Catholic nun and mystic, Anne Catherine Emmerich. Indeed, much of Passion is taken from Emmerich's book first published in 1833, known in English as The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The current edition proudly asserts on its jacket that it is "the classic account of Divine Revelation that inspired” the Mel Gibson motion picture.2
Emmerich, a passionate devotee of the practice of meditating on the "sacred wounds of Jesus,” described how after Jesus was arrested, he was tightly bound, constantly struck, dragged, and made to walk with bare feet on jagged rocks. Let us focus on a bridge, which they soon reached, and which Gibson depicts in the film. Emmerich states, "I saw our Lord fall twice before He reached the bridge, and these falls were caused entirely by the barbarous manner in which the soldiers dragged Him; but when they were half over the bridge they gave full vent to their brutal inclinations, and struck Jesus with such violence that they threw Him off the bridge into the water.... If God had not preserved Him, He must have been killed by this fall” (p. 71).
I refer here to this scene only to show that Gibson went far beyond the texts of the Gospels and inserted nonscriptural events mostly drawn from Emmerich. Remember that these are the subjective visions of a psychic-mystic rendered over 1800 years after the events they concern. I went to see the movie a second time to see if any credit line is given to the Emmerich book at the end of the film. I could find none, a glaring omission.
A good deal of the focus of The Passion of the Christ is on the flogging (scourging) of Jesus. Two Gospels state simply that Pilate "had Jesus flogged and handed over to be crucified” (Matthew 27:26, Mark 15:15). John's description agrees (19:1-2): "Pilate now took Jesus and had Him flogged"Luke's account (23:16) has Pilate saying: "I therefore propose to let Him off with a flogging.”
What the Gospels state matter-of-factly and without narrative elaboration is luridly expanded by Emmerich: First they used "a species of thorny stick covered with knots and splinters. The blows from these sticks tore His flesh to pieces; his blood spouted out.."(p. 135). Then she describes the use of scourges "composed of small chains, or straps covered with iron hooks, which penetrated to the bone and tore off large pieces of flesh at every blow” (p. 135). Moreover, nowhere do the Gospels describe who watched the flogging. Emmerich states that "a Jewish mob gathered at a distance"Gibson has the high priests watching the brutal flogging (with a feminine incarnation of Satan looking on with them). Nowhere is this described in the Bible. Gibson thus goes far beyond the New Testament account, implying that the Jews and their leaders were complicit in the brutal beatings of Jesus.
The New Testament account next states that the high priests and crowd in the square before Pilate called for the crucifixion of Jesus, and when given the choice, selected Barabbas to be freed over Jesus. This is fully depicted in Gibson's Passion.
The film, however, is silent about the fact that Jesus, his mother Mary, Peter, James, and the other Disciples and supporters in the crowds were themselves Jews. In Emmerich and Gibson the Jews come off as the main enemies of Jesus, provoking the Romans not only to crucify him, but to torture him and inflict maximum suffering. I think the point in the film is even more anti-Jewish: it's that Pilate tries to placate the Jews with the beatings, but they won't be satisfied—some real blood thirstiness here!
Is The Passion of the Christ anti-Semitic? Yes, flagrantly so, in my judgment. The Passion repeats the description of the Jews portrayed in medieval art and Passion Plays, which provoked in no small measure anti-Semitic pogroms and persecutions suffered by the "Christ killers” for centuries. Much has been said about the fact that Mel Gibson's 85-year-old father Hutton Gibson is a Holocaust denier. He has been quoted as saying that Vatican II was "a Mason plot backed by the Jews"Mel Gibson removed from the subtitles of the original version of his film the statement from Matthew (27:25-6): "The blood be on us, and on our children,” though apparently it remains in the spoken Aramaic text.
To his credit, Pope John Paul II in 2000 made an historic apology, declaring that the Jews of today cannot be held responsible for the death of Christ. Still, the Passion film debuts at a time when anti-Semitism is growing worldwide, especially in Europe and throughout the Islamic world.
According to scripture (especially the Gospel of John), Christ died on the cross because God sent His only begotten Son to die for our sins; thus, all sinners are responsible, not simply the Jews of ancient Israel. Mel Gibson has himself blamed all sinners for the crucifixion. If this is the case, the crucifixion of Christ had to happen, and was for that matter foretold by Him. Why God was willing to allow His only beloved Son to suffer a horrible death is difficult to fathom, but according to Christian apologetics it was preordained so that those who believed in Christ could be saved. Thus it was God—not the Jews alone or the Romans—who was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. One might even say that if this was part of a divine plan, the Jews should get the credit for carrying it out.
Is the Biblical Account Reliable? Is the account of Jesus as described in the New Testament—in this case of his trial, crucifixion, and death (let alone his birth, ministry, and resurrection) – an accurate account of historical events? I doubt it. This negative appraisal is drawn from careful, scholarly, and scientific examination of the New Testament account.
The key point is the fact that the authors of the Gospels were not themselves eyewitnesses to the events described in those documents. If Jesus died about the year 30 CE (this is conjectural, since some even question whether he ever lived3), the Gospel according to Mark was probably written in the 70s of the first century; Matthew and Luke in the 80s; and John anywhere from 90 to 100 CE. They were thus written some 40 to 70 years after the death of Jesus. The Gospels are based on an oral tradition, derived at best from second- and third-hand testimony assembled by the early band of Jewish Christians and including anecdotal accounts, ill-attributed sayings, stories, and parables. The Gospels' claims are not independently corroborated by impartial observers—all the more reason why some skepticism about their factual truth is required. They were not written as history or biography per se—and the authors did not use the methods of careful, historical scholarship. Rather, they were, according to Biblical scholar Randel Helms, written by missionary propagandists for the faith, interested in proclaiming the "good news” and in endeavoring to attract and convert others to Christianity.4 Hence, the Gospels should not be taken as literally true, but are a form of special pleading for a new ideological-moral-theological faith.
In writing the Gospels the authors evidently looked back to the Old Testament and found passages suggestive of a Messiah who would appear, be born of a young woman (or a virgin), and could trace his lineage back to David—which is why Matthew and Luke made such a fuss about having Jesus born in Bethlehem. Accordingly, the Gospels should be read as works of literary art, spun out of the creative imagination in order to fulfill passionate yearnings for salvation. They are the most influential form of fiction that has dominated Western culture throughout its history. Whether there is any core of truth to them is questionable; for it is difficult to verify the actual facts, particularly since there is no mention of Jesus or of his miraculous healings in any extant non-Christian literature.5
Tradition has it that Mark heard about Jesus from Peter. Eusebius (260-339 CE) is one source for this claim, but Eusebius wrote some three centuries after the death of Jesus. In any case, Matthew and Luke most likely base their accounts on Mark.6 The three synoptic Gospels are similar, though they contradict each other on a number of significant events. Scholars believe that some of these were derived from still another literary source (Q or quelle in German, or "source”) that has been lost.
Another historical fact to bear in mind is that the Gospels were written after a protracted war between the Romans and the Jews (66-74 CE), which saw the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple (70 CE). Hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed in these wars and were dispersed throughout the Mediterranean world. Jerusalem was eventually leveled in 135 CE. The synoptic Gospels were influenced by the political conditions at the times of the various authors who wrote the Gospels, not during the years of Jesus. John's Gospel, written somewhat later, reflected the continuing growth of Christianity in his day. The other book attributed to John, Revelation, which is so influential today, predicts the apocalyptic end of the world, the Rapture, and the Second Coming of Jesus. This book in the view of many scholars reflects the ruminations of a disturbed personality. We have no reliable evidence that these events will occur in the future, yet hundreds of millions of people today are convinced that they will – on the basis of sheer faith.
Let us consider another part of the historical context in the latter part of the first century, when most of the New Testament was composed. Two Jewish sects contended for dominance. First was Rabbinic Judaism, which followed the Torah with all its commandments and rituals (including circumcision and dietary laws). Drawing on the Old Testament, Rabbinic Judaism held that the Jews were the "chosen people"Once slaves in Egypt, they had escaped to the Promised Land of Palestine. Someday after the Diaspora the Jews would be returned to Israel, and the Temple would be rebuilt. The second sect was early Jewish Christianity, which attempted to appeal not only to Jews but to pagans in the Roman Empire. It could do so effectively only by breaking with Rabbinic Judaism. This is the reason for increasing negative references in the Gospels to "the Jews” (especially in John), blaming them for the crucifixion of Jesus. Christianity was able to make great strides in recruiting converts and competing with other sects, such as the Mithraic religion. But it could only do so by disassociating itself from Rabbinic Judaism. It developed a more universal message, which, incidentally, was already implicit in the Letters of Paul (written some 15 to 20 years after the crucifixion of Jesus): The new Christians did not need to be circumcised nor to practice the dietary laws.
Thus, the Biblical texts drawn on in The Passion of the Christ should not be read literally as diatribes against the Jews per se, but rather as the record of a dispute among two Jewish sects competing for ascendancy—between traditional and Christianized Judaism.
If one reads the four Gospels side-by-side, as I have done numerous times, one finds many omissions. Evidently their writers never knew Jesus in his own lifetime. Each Gospel was crafted post hoc to satisfy the immediate practical needs of the new Christian churches then developing. They were contrived by human beings, motivated by the transcendental temptation to believe in Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. The Gospels thus are historically unreliable, and insofar as The Passion of the Christ used them this is also the case. But Gibson goes even beyond the Gospels, as I have indicated.
The Establishment of Christianity
I submit that there are two important inferences to draw from this analysis: First, the union of a religious creed with political power can be extremely destructive, especially when that creed is supported by the power of the state or the Empire. It was the conversion of the Emperor Constantine (around 312 CE) that led to the establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, some three centuries after the crucifixion of Jesus. The "Nicene Creed,” which was the product of the Council of Nicaea (convened in 325 CE), said that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate. It also declared Jesus the divine son of God "in one substance” with the Father. The decision which books should be included in the New Testament was political, determined by the vote of the bishops attending the Council of Nicaea. At this and other church councils, various apocryphal books revered by particular Christian communities were omitted from the canonical scriptures. So much for historic objectivity.
The Emperor Julian (331-363 CE), a nephew of Constantine and a student of philosophy, became skeptical of Christianity and was prepared to disestablish the Christian church, which he would probably have done had he not been murdered, most likely by a Christian soldier in his army. In any case, Christianity prevailed and the great Hellenic-Roman civilization of the ancient world eventually went into decline. But this occurred in no small measure because of political factors: the grafting of the Bible with the sword, and the establishment of an absolutist Christian creed, intolerant of all other faiths and willing to use any methods to stamp out heresy.
By the fifth century more and more of the inhabitants of the Roman Empire became members of Christian churches, which replaced pagan religions. Christianity reigned supreme across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. The latter two were overrun by the Muslims in the seventh and eighth centuries, but feudal Europe remained stolidly Christian as it entered into the so-called Dark Ages. Only with the Renaissance, the Reformation, the development of science, and the democratic revolutions of our time was the hegemony of Christianity weakened. The secularization of modern society brought in its wake naturalistic ideas and humanist values.
The union of religion and political power has generated terrible religious conflicts historically, pitting Catholics against Protestants, opposing Jihadists versus Crusaders, and triggering constant wars among Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and others. God save us from God-intoxicated legions that hold the power to enforce their convictions on those who disagree! All the more reason to laud the wisdom of the authors of the American Constitution who enacted the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment, prohibiting the establishment of a religion.
Freedom of Inquiry
The second inference to be drawn is that the origins of the Christian legend have for too long lay unexamined, buried by the sands of time. The New Testament was taken by believers as given, and no one was permitted to question its sacred doctrines allegedly based on revelations from On High. But skepticism is called for—the same skepticism that should also be applied to the alleged revelations by Moses on Mount Sinai and other prophets of the Old Testament. Orthodox Jews who accept the legend of a "chosen people” and the promise that God gave Israel to the Jews likewise base this conviction on uncorroborated testimony. Today, we have the tools of historical scholarship, biblical criticism, and science. This is based on two centuries of sophisticated scholarly and scientific inquiries. They enable us to use circumstantial evidence, archaeology, linguistic analysis, and textual criticism to authenticate or disconfirm the veracity of ancient literary documents. Regrettably, the general public is almost totally unaware of this important research. Similarly for the revelations of Muhammad and the origins of Islam in the Qur'an. Since they are similarly uncorroborated by independent eyewitnesses, they rest on similarly questionable foundations. There is again a rich literature of skeptical scrutiny. But most scholars are fearful of expressing their dissenting conclusions.
The so-called books of Abraham—the Old and New Testaments and the Qur'an—need to be scrutinized by rational and scientific analyses. And the results of these inquiries need to leave the academy and to be read and digested more widely. Unfortunately, freedom of inquiry had rarely been applied to the foundations of the "sacred texts"Indeed, until recently severe punishment of religious dissenters was the norm in many parts of the world.
Given the tremendous box office success of Mel Gibson's film, there are bound to be other Jesus movies produced — for Jesus sells in America! The Passion of the Christ unfortunately may add to intolerance of dissenters; and this may severely endanger the fragility of social peace. It may further help to undermine the First Amendment's prohibition of the establishment of religion, which has been the mainstay of American democracy. This indeed is the most worrisome fallout that the Gibson film is likely to produce.
A Post Modern Priestess looks at the new wave of Non-Believers
I was watching the best show on HBO tonight, Real Time with Bill Maher, and I decided it was finally time to write this article. One of Bill's guests was George Carlin who joined him in his signature declamation of "religion". That was merely a trigger for me to go ahead and write this response to the "Bright" movement espoused by Richard Dawkins, among others. Once every few years I re-read Robert Anton Wilson's book Prometheus Rising and do some of the exercises. One of them involves immersing oneself in the literature of a group that you don’t belong to in an effort to understand their mind set. The theory is that this will make you more aware of your own reality tunnel. For this go ‘round, I subscribed to Free Inquiry magazine.
Free Inquiry is the official magazine of the Secular Humanist movement. Once upon a time, I thought the label “Secular Humanist” was just a slam TV preachers used to put down liberal heretics that weren’t adding to their coffers. As it turns out, there is a well-defined core of Secular Humanist… practitioners? Advocates? I’m not sure how you define a belief system that insists that it has none. I'll come back to that later.
Some of theseFree Thinkers, Secular Humanists, Agnostics and Atheists are making a conscious effort to improve their P.R. Just as the homosexual community adopted the word Gay for their very own to make their perfectly natural variations more palatable --- or at least less threatening -- to those with no taste for diversity, the Unbelievers are taking on a new label. In an attempt to sound less subversive and more user-friendly, they now wish to be known as Brights. They’re careful to point out that Bright is a noun, not an adjective. They don’t want to sound smug or condescending. (I’m afraid that ship may have sailed.) They want to start organizing around their non-belief so that they can win friends and influence elections.
On the whole, I support the Brights in their efforts, and am eagerly watching their attempts to revamp their image. Generally speaking, a trend toward rational discourse in policy and politics would be a great thing in this age of right wing ideologues who rewrite science to suit their own narrow agenda. As the venerable Mr. Carlin pointed out, there is a distinct dearth of Critical Thinking these days. I would like to point out, though, that a little cynicism goes a long, long way. I’d also like to state that I believe their premise to be flawed.
Religion (as in "belief") n.: a strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny; 1
Brights define themselves as having a Naturalistic worldview, with no supernatural elements. That sounds perfectly simple and reasonable, if you accept the definition of religion quoted above. They’ve drawn a pretty clear dichotomy but frankly, I don’t feel comfortable on either side of the spiritual divide.
The first two issues of Free Inquiry gave me a headache. I mean literally caused me pain because, seriously, how many ways can you say “religion is wrong” in one average magazine? For every 20 or thirty “they’re wrong’s”, they’d throw in a few “we're right’s” and only an occasional "we can be good people without being afraid of going to hell" essay. It was draining. Then, toward the end of the second issue, I had an epiphany. If I substituted the word Patriarchy for the word Religion, I agreed with almost every point they were making.
That’s the crux of the problem. I don’t agree with their definition of religion. For example the “supernatural” tag is inaccurate. Yes, I believe in subtle forms of energy and spirit that they would label as being outside of nature. I consider these to be perfectly normal, natural phenomena. My own experinces tell me that humans and animals alike have at least 6 senses. Only humans stunt their intuitive gifts out of social training and political pressure. A fully functional human uses more than just the left frontal lobe in interacting with the world. It isn’t that my view is not “Naturalistic”, it’s that I define Nature differently. The fact that we don’t have instruments to measure a thing yet doesn’t mean there’s nothing there to measure. It just means we have more to learn.
My religion does not require any sacrifice; Pagans don’t proselytize; we don’t seek control over anything but ourselves; there are no nationalistic, chauvinistic or militaristic elements. It would never occur to us to force our views on others, let alone try to legislate our beliefs to control your behavior. Most importantly, we believe in Science.
That’s another problem I have with the Bright point of view. They, like many Patriarchists, believe that Science and Religion are incompatible. They don’t have to be. One of my core requirements for my belief system is that it has to be consistent with Science. I consider evolution to be the birth process on a planetary scale. Earth, a.k.a. Gaia, gave birth to the life on her in a particular process that is mimicked in the development of the human fetus in the womb. In other words, ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. No conflict.
The one difference in my view of Science and the defined “Naturalistic” view is that I don’t ignore the anomalies. I know that the Theory of Evolution is just that – a theory. It has holes. There are still aspects of it that are incomplete, and there’s some archeological data that doesn’t fit neatly into the package, so I consider it a model that can be used to describe life, but not the literal canon that a Bright might profess it to be. Recognizing the flaws doesn’t put me in the same category as the Creationists, so I don’t appreciate being lumped in with them. There’s a difference in science and scientolatry. P.E. I. Bonewits describes Scientolatry as “using science as religion”. The two defining elements of Scientolatry are that 1) it is not a religion and 2) all other religions are superstition. It has been my experience that many of the most vocal and best-educated Brights are firmly in this category.
Using science in this way can engender a kind of arrogance that makes it difficult for any real communication between religious and non-religious people. There’s a conceit in the attitude that we know everything through science. We’ve only begun to understand the universe. If you think we have all the answers, go read some of the latest discoveries in quantum physics. Quantum Mechanics work across time and space in ways that are turning the scientific community on its ear. If scientists really want to understand Entanglement, they’d be well advised to study magick. (That’s magick with a K not magic with a C like the rabbit-in-a-hat bit they do in Vegas.) The universe is not linear or logical. It isn’t symmetrical, or precise, though it does follow certain patterns and equations, as does any organism. As fond as the intelligentsia may be of the “universe as computer” model, they will always be disappointed if they use such a sterile symbol for our vibrant reality. She -the universe- is not a computer. She is a living being.
As a Pagan, I'd like to have natural alliances in both the Naturalistic and Religious communities. We all share an interest in Freedom of Religion. That would seem the most basic area of agreement, yet it is the most contentious. True Believers in any system can be difficult to deal with if they aren’t capable of the emotional detachment that allows us to consider that our opinions and perceptions might be in error. I’ve often thought that a class in Sensation and Perception like the one I took in my Psychology studies would benefit people in this area. If people came out of high school with a clear picture of the subjective nature of “reality”, it would make it easier for them to allow for someone else’s point of view. As it is, we often demand that others alter their views to adapt to our own. Since that rarely happens, we remain in conflict. Frankly, it's working against us all.
There's a concerted effort to establish a theocracy in America. If that happens, it will be to the detriment of everyone, religion or no, who does not subscribe to the narrow Christo-fascist doctrine being insinuated into the courts and into our laws. If we don't get very clear on who the enemy really is in this fight, we give them the upper hand. Ultimately, this is not about what we believe or don't. It's about the efforts of a few to control the wealth and limit the liberty of an entire culture as they cloak themselves in a fictitious mantle of "faith". Their actions belie their feigned beliefs, and misdirection is a classic Republican technique. By focusing on Religion instead of the Patrist/Fascist program hiding behind it, we let them pull the ultimate bait and switch on moderate, well-meaning people who want to do the right thing.
So I do look forward to a "Bright" future, but I appeal to them not to get mired in arguing the tenants of Faith. I ask them to stand with the rest of us, believers or not, who treasure the right to choose for ourselves whether to believe, and what. Many little groups carving for themselves can instigate skirmishes, but a united front of many can win wars. An air of pluralism will benefit us all much more than the "us vs. them" approach I see now.
Addendum: Since beginning this article, the Secular Humanist movement has rejected the "Bright" meme officially, though the movement still exists. My perception is that they may be looking at the equivalent of the "Witch Wars" that plague the Pagan community. My advice would be the same thing I advocate for us - to forget about the minutiae and focus on the real goals of solidarity, freedom, and inclusion.1Definition from Nisus Thesaurus
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My political past is somewhat checkered. When I was 7 years old my parents had me out with them collecting signatures for Wallace. That's right, George Wallace. I wasn't old enough to understand what I was doing, but I did develop a love of political involvement. I take my politics seriously.
Being from the South, my heritage was that of working class Democrats. My parents were staunch independents and were somewhat taken aback when I went "backwards" and registered as a Democrat, though they eventually followed my lead and my Mother in particular was a darling of the Democratic fundraisers during the Clinton years. In the last election, all three of us were delegates to our state Democratic convention. It was the most disappointing experience of my life. It was obvious that many of the items we were there to vote on had already been decided in back rooms. There was an air of collusion in the way votes were counted, and it was obvious that some of the decisions announced were not according to the actual vote. The higher in the organization, the less it mattered. It wasn't a great leap to make the connection that the Powers That Be have things pretty well sewn up long before the national conventions. It's all theatre.
Long before the vote in the 2000 election, the Big Boys were losing me. I was appalled that Nader and the other Presidential candidates were not allowed to participate in the debates. If your name is on the ballot, you should be allowed to challenge the other candidates. That's the most basic behavior in a Democracy, and I was stunned when it was limited to the usual players. Imagine what Nader's percentage of the vote might have been if he had been allowed to challenge George and Al up front!
The election that followed was a nightmare. The Democratic candidate I had worked so hard to promote suddenly started sounding suspiciously like a - dare I say it - Republican! Gore started attacking Hollywood for violence and sex in movies. When did Democrats start championing censorship? Weren't we supposed to be the party that defends all civil rights, including free speech? He never brought Clinton into the campaign at all, even though we were experiencing the greatest economic boom in history. He seemed embarrassed of Clinton's sex scandal, which never concerned me in the least. Weren't we supposed to be enlightened liberals? Weren't we more concerned with jobs and equality and helping the poor than what consenting adults do behind closed doors?
Then the election itself was a debacle, and Gore didn't have the killer instinct to stand up to a dynasty of crooks. He never challenged the voting irregularities in Florida. Don't we get upset anymore when blacks and immigrants are systematically disenfranchised? Not only did Al miss it, but the media didn't seem to care either. finally the Supreme Court, in the greatest act of cynicism - and possibly treason - since the Warren Commission, stops the re-count! Isn't the whole idea of democracy to vote and be counted?
So I started looking for answers. I contacted the Libertarians, the Democrats and the Green Parties to see what they had to offer. I still have that feeling that if you don't vote for one of the big 2, you're wasting your vote, but I also know that that kind of thinking won't support change in our society. I still believe in government of the people, by the people and for the people. anyway, my first act was a heartfelt letter to Tom Daschle, pleading for some reassurance that the Democrats still represent progressive idals. No response. Fine.
The Libertarians have some interesting ideas. They believe in personal responsibility. I agree with that. I don't need government to parent me. They believe in legalizing drugs and using the money wasted in that "war" to improve health care. That works. They believe in decentralization of government. I can't get behind that for one reason - technology. The world has changed. Communication and transportation make it possible for us to do things simply, fairly and in a consistent way throughout the nation. I don't believe we should act as if we are 50 separate little countries. That causes too much duplication and too many layers of bureaucracy, both of which means nothing gets done and graft gets missed. On the plus side, they are the most communicative of the parties, sending email several times a week.
Then I went to the Green Party. First, let me say that I am still unimpressed with Green organization. I haven't received any communication from them, even though I requested it, and their web site is lacking. They do, however, have the most detailed platform, and they are nothing if not progressive. My only hesitation with the Greens is that they are so detailed that there are some points I can't get totally behind. The thing I love about the Greens is their aggressive stance on civil rights, women's rights and the environment. There seems to be a true desire for social reform, for best use of our resources and for justice. Where the Libertarians just want to be left alone, the Greens seem to want to make things better and I'm all about that. Being Pagan, I find that the Green Party is completely in step with my religious beliefs. so now when I say I'm a Green Witch, it has a whole new meaning.
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"Golden Gwyneth" says the magazine cover. Darkened eyes peer at me from under straight bleached hair. I am fascinated. I am repulsed. I wouldn't say I'm obsessed with this chick, but she definitely bugs me. The first time I saw her, my reaction was typical. Another skinny blonde actress - how original. she seemed such an instant success that I quickly came to loathe her. I had a rule - I would only see her movies if someone was trying to kill her. Interestingly enough, there were several of those. Did Hollywood know? Anyway, a friend dragged me to just such a movie, and I found myself rooting for her at the end. Holy shit! Did I actually like the girl? Ok, radical change in thinking here. It's happened before . I'm not afraid to admit when I'm wrong. So I saw a couple more of her movies and I found that I liked them. Then I found out she was Blythe Danners daughter. Looks just like her. Blythe Danner had been in a great TV show in the 70's called "Adams Rib", where she played a married feminist attorney and had thus had a hand in the formation of my developing feminist sensibilities. (I was about 10 or so.)
Then it began. The Academy Awards where G. wore the dress of my dreams and the hairstyle of my nightmares. She was a hit. She was everywhere. She was goddamed inescapable. The new "It" girl, the magazines proclaimed and galvanized my ambivalence about her very existence. To be perfectly fair, she seems like a nice person and she can definitely be entertaining. If I met her, I'd probably think her a perfectly lovely human being. Personality aside, I think I'm upset more about what she represents than about her actual being. Every minute of my life I think " I should have been born Gwyneth Paltrow."
I exaggerate. I told you, I'm not obsessed. Let's face it though - G. is the ultimate clean white girl. You know the type. A tall W.A.S.P.-y vision fit for boarding schools and board rooms and you just know she took riding lessons. A younger, hipper "lady who lunches". She dated Ben Affleck and makes movies with Matt Damon. Maybe I do hate her. What I really hate -- or rather, resent--is the access that she has and I never did or will have. I used to be young but I was never "fabulous" except in an over-done, drag queen sort of way. Even if I had come from money, I wasn't tall, wasn't thin and I never felt "clean". I didn't have that smooth white skin that glows rather than perspires. I didn't learn the unwritten rules of the gentile country club set. It's the unknown that tortures me. I know that she sees things and goes places and knows things that I really don't understand because I'm not a part of that culture. The hell of it is that I'm just outside of it. The evidence is everywhere. Gwyneth at the runway shows on the evening news. Gwyneth at a premier in a Magazine. Gwyneth frequents this spa and that designer and was in Madonna's wedding. And that is the real source of my discomfiture. How can you get on with your life if you know that there is a party going on and you aren't invited?
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