A Shameless Supreme Court Ruling

Last night, in denying a request for a muslim man scheduled to be executed to have an imam in the chamber rather than a Christian chaplain, the christianist caliphate of the Supreme Court laid waste to the first amendment:

Time and time again the courts have demanded religious neutrality from the state, whether the context is schools, government programs, or religious displays. Alabama acknowledges that since 1997, the Rev. Chris Summers has witnessed nearly every execution in the state, kneeling and praying with prisoners just before they are killed. But they would not allow Ray’s imam to do the same.

As the 11th Circuit noted, this was not a complicated question: “The central constitutional problem here is that the state has regularly placed a Christian cleric in the execution room to minister to the needs of Christian inmates, but has refused to provide the same benefit to a devout Muslim and all other non-Christians.” The state argued that only the chaplain was allowed to be present because he was a prison employee and “a member of the execution team.” He was trained in execution protocols—but prison officials would not explain what such training demands, or why Ray’s imam could visit him regularly in prison but not be with him at the time of execution. The appeals court was bothered by the paucity of briefing and had ordered a fast-track hearing to better understand the reasons for the policy. The state agreed that the Christian chaplain need not be present and, feeling that it had cured the constitutional defect, asked the high court to vacate the stay. Ray’s attorneys responded in pleadings that “Mr. Ray does not dispute that the state has an interest in enforcing its judgments. But it does not have an interest in doing so unconstitutionally.”

This will do down with other appalling decisions from the past and the near future.



Falwell and the Pool Boy*

*(Alternate Title: Michael Cohen: Zelig for Scumbags)

So, while we wait for the next irruption of lethal folly from Dear Hairpiece, how’s about a little fun from the Evangelosphere:

The prominent evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr. has for the first time acknowledged putting up $1.8 million for a business venture managed by a young pool attendant whom he and his wife befriended during a stay at a luxury hotel in 2012.

This story has been kicking around for a while:

BuzzFeed News first reported in May on a lawsuit that claimed the Falwells had developed a “friendly relationship” with Giancarlo Granda, then 21 years old, at the lavish Fontainebleau Miami Beach, flying him in a private jet, offering “financial assistance,” and ultimately setting him up in business. [All links in quotes are from the originals.]

“Friendly relationship” is a nice way of putting…whatever.

I got no problem with whatever connection either or both professional Christians and Mr. Granda may have.  But there is a sinner, stone and glass house problem here, and I’d say the good (Narr: he was not good) Mr. Falwell is up to his neck in “got some ‘splainin’ to do.”

What makes this all a bit more than the usual sexual fear-mongering-Christianist-hypocrite schandenfreudal moment is this. Falwell was famously the first major Talibangical leader to back Trump, giving him a venue at Liberty (sic!) University and a powerful endorsement.  This didn’t come out of the blue:  “Trump visited Liberty University Sept. 24, 2012, to give the convocation address.”

The timing was convenient:

Six months after evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr. and his wife befriended a Miami hotel pool attendant in 2012, the young man was introduced to Donald Trump during a visit to the large religious school Falwell runs, Liberty University, according to a photograph sent to BuzzFeed News.

Guess who connects Falwell, the pool boy, and the failed president.

No prizes for guessing Michael Freaking Cohen.

Why was Cohen there? Turns out…

Cohen was an acquaintance of Falwell’s and helped arrange Falwell’s milestone endorsement of Trump during the 2016 election campaign, BuzzFeed News reported, citing a high-ranking official at Liberty University.

But not to worry:

As BuzzFeed News had previously reported, a source close to Falwell said he was “sure” Falwell had discussed the Granda case with Cohen prior to his unexpected decision to lend his backing to Trump. There is no evidence that these discussions played any part in the endorsement.

That’s their story, and I’d say they’d best stick to it.

Open thread!

Image:  William Morris Hunt, The Bathers, 1877

 



Fake Jews*

These fucking guys:

Mike Pence got a rabbi who is really a Christian to pray for synagogue dead.

On Monday, Vice President Mike Pence led a campaign event in Grand Rapids, Michigan where prayers were said by Rabbi Loren Jacobs, who is affiliated with the Messianic synagogue Shema Yisrael. “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, God and Father of my Lord and Savior Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah, and my God and Father too,” Rabbi Jacobs intoned. During the prayer, he also condemned the “hate-inspired shooting in synagogue in Pittsburgh.”

A rabbi referring to Jesus as the Messiah is, of course, an unusual event but Jacobs is no ordinary rabbi. He is, in fact, a Christian. Shema Yisrael is a synagogue devoted to Messianic Judaism, which is to say, towards a faith that mixes Jewish cultural practices with a variation of Christian theology.

Every time I hear of Jews for Jesus I think of Ted Striker knocking the guy out in the airport lobby during Airplane! and the fact that I was only 10-11 and thought he was saying “juice for Jesus.” Which, in fairness, makes about as much sense.

*Joke stolen shamelessly from Molly Jong-Fast








Inciting Religious War

Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to the republic, and the mainstream press is still missing the plot.

Here’s the money quote of what he said last night to a gathering of evangelical religious leaders hypocrites once the press was gone:

“The level of hatred, the level of anger is unbelievable…Part of it is because of some of the things I’ve done for you and for me and for my family, but I’ve done them,” he said, per NBC News. “This Nov. 6th election is very much a referendum on not only me, it’s a referendum on your religion, it’s a referendum on free speech and the First Amendment….They will overturn everything that we’ve done and they’ll do it quickly and violently, and violently” if the GOP loses, Trump said, per the report. “There’s violence. When you look at Antifa and you look at some of these groups — these are violent people.”

Here’s The New York Times thoughtful, considered headline for their report on this speech:

Trump Privately Urges Pastors to Help Him From the Pulpit in Midterms

And here’s its lede:

WASHINGTON — In remarks to evangelical ministers in the White House State Dining Room on Monday night, President Trump spoke in high-minded tones about religious liberty, abortion and youth unemployment. He noted a John Adams quote carved into the room’s fireplace: “I pray heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house.”

But once reporters and television cameras were ushered out of the room, Mr. Trump turned to the more pragmatic concerns of how evangelical leaders can use their pulpits to help Republicans win in the midterm elections, according to an audiotape of his remarks provided to The New York Times by someone who attended the event.

Michael D. Shear, the author of the Times story, only takes notice of Trump’s claims that a Democratic victory in November will spark a violent attack on self-styled Christians in paragraph 18.

To be clear: the president’s assertion that his opponents are violent criminals is a pre-emptive justification for violence against them — us. In the context he uses, the alleged threat to a certain religious group or set of views, it is a pre-emptive justification for a religious war.  It is, as usual, a de-humanizing of political opposition: his people are good, folks of faith. His antagonists and theirs are haters, prone to violence and too angry to reason with.  This is how dictators frame those they want to unperson.  This is Trump, and his base.

And yet, somehow, the finest journalistic minds of our generation (just ask them) can’t seem to recognize what’s actually going on.  It’s a mystery — and I’m not being sarcastic.  Shear and his colleagues are way higher up Trump’s enemies list than I am likely to be, and they don’t see it.  Given the role The New York Times plays in our polity, that puts us all in real danger; them first.

Image: Philippe de Champaign, Triple Portrait of Cardinal Richelieu, c. 1642. It’s deeply unfair to associate that subtle and effective political churchman with the bozos on either side of the podium at Monday’s event — but you have to admit it’s a hell of a painting.



America is Not a Theocracy and Attorney General Sessions and The White House Press Secretary Don’t Know Anything About the Bible

As BettyC mentioned earlier, both Attorney General Sessions and Sarah Huckabee-Sanders, the White House Press Secretary, decided to take their religion out and wave it around in everyone’s faces today. This was done to justify the change in policy that the President, via Attorney General Sessions, made in 2017 that children will be separated from their parents if they either present themselves for asylum or enter the US without documentation. The White House Press Secretary defaulted to the more generic argument that throughout the Bible it is asserted that laws should be followed.  The Attorney General decided to (mis)apply Romans 13 to justify the unjustifiable.

Pat Robertson’s pet Trump spirituality translator for evangelical Christians, David Brody, was dispatched to provide support.

Given that Jeff Sessions is a small minded, racist, bigoted, homophobic, xenophobic, unreconstructed Confederate, and anyone who is trying t0 profit off of conning evangelical Christians into believing that the President is both a man of devout faith and a tool of the Lord, probably isn’t much better, it should be no surprise that they went with the favorite biblical exhortation of those who were pro-slavery prior to the Civil War.

Fortunately the Bible provides believers with very, very specific instructions about how to treat strangers.

Mentioned no fewer than 36 times throughout Scripture, the Torah’s exhortations on the treatment of the stranger often appear with a companion explanation: Heed the stranger’s treatment because “you know the feelings of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).

And the over thirty-six commandments (yep, there are more than 10…) about how to treat strangers bears directly on the immigration debates in the US in 2018. Especially for those like the Attorney General, David Brody, and the White House Press Secretary who cite scripture to cover their wickedness. (emphasis mine below)

In his just published book, Justice for All: How the Jewish Bible Revolutionized Ethics, biblical scholar Jeremiah Unterman writes that “…it is startling that the legal portions of the Torah contain more than fifty references to the resident stranger….”

Unterman examines the multitude of general admonitions not to harm the stranger, along with the positive exhortations to provide the stranger with basic food and clothing, with prompt payment of wages, and with legal justice. He points out that quite a few of these verses about the treatment of the stranger are juxtaposed with statements about God. The Torah understands the care of the stranger as imitatio dei, the imitation of God through the observance of the commandments. Unterman sees this as part of the ethical revolution of the Bible and notes that “nowhere in the ancient world is such a divine concern for the alien evinced.” He concludes with a most timely reminder that these laws should serve “to eliminate any shred of xenophobia.”

A striking phrase courses through the laws of the stranger that provides another powerful motivation for fulfilling these commandments ⏤ that appeals to believers and unbelievers alike:

“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”(Ex.22:20).

“You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the soul of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex.23:9).

“The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Lev.19:34).

“You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deut.10:19)

“You shall not hate an Egyptian, for you were stranger in his land” (Deut.23:8).

“Always remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore do I enjoin you to observe this commandment” (Deut. 24:22)

So what does this all really mean. What exactly is a stranger? There are two types and they’re both protected by over fifty biblical commandments (emphasis mine below):

Ancient Israel was acquainted with two classes of strangers, resident aliens and foreigners who considered their sojourn in the land more or less temporary. The latter were referred to as zarim (זָרִים) or nokhrim (נָכְרִים), terms generally applied to anyone outside the circle the writer had in view (e.g., Ex. 21:8; 29:33). They retained their ties to their original home and sought to maintain their former political or social status. On occasion they came as invaders (II Sam. 22:45–46; Obad. 11). More often they entered the land in the pursuit of trade and other commercial ventures. The usual laws were not applicable to them, and they were protected by folk traditions concerning the proper treatment of strangers (cf. Job 31:32) and by special conventions resulting from contractual arrangements between the Israelites and their neighbors (cf. I Kings 20:34). In the legislation of Deuteronomy, an Israelite may charge a foreigner usury though he may not do so to a fellow Israelite (Deut. 23:21), and the septennial remission of debts does not apply to the debts of foreigners (Deut. 15:3). On the other hand, barred from the cult (Ex. 12:43), the foreigner was also not bound by the ritual laws, and it was permissible to sell him animals that had died a natural death (Deut. 14:21). The fact that Deuteronomy includes a special prohibition against foreigners’ ascending the throne (Deut. 17:15) and that Solomon specifically requested that God listen to their prayers (I Kings 8:41) may indicate the important position some foreigners occupied during the age of the monarchy.

In contrast with the foreigner, the ger (גֵּר), the resident alien, lived more or less permanently in his adopted community. Like the Arabic jār, he was “the protected stranger,” who was totally dependent on his patrons for his well-being. As W.R. Smith noted, his status was an extension of that of the guest, whose person was inviolable, though he could not enjoy all the privileges of the native. He, in turn, was expected to be loyal to his protectors (Gen. 21:23) and to be bound by their laws (Num. 15:15–16).

Since all of the landed property belonged to Israelites (cf. Lev. 25:23–24), the gerim were largely day laborers and artisans (Deut. 24: 14–15; cf. 29:10). Both the Book of the Covenant which classed them among those who were dependent (Ex. 23:12) and the Decaloguewhich referred to them as “your stranger” (gerkha; Ex. 20:10; cf. Deut. 5:14) attest their inferior position in Israelite society. While a few acquired wealth (cf. Lev. 25:47), most of them were poor and were treated as the impoverished natives. Thus, they were permitted to share in the fallen fruit in the vineyard (Lev. 19:10), the edges of the field, and the gleanings of the harvest (Lev. 23:22; see also Poor, Provisions *for). Like the other poor folk they were also granted a share in the tithe of the third year (Deut. 14:29) and the produce of the Sabbatical Year (Lev. 25:6).

Since the foreigners’ defenselessness made them vulnerable, the Israelites were frequently reminded of God’s special concern for the weak (Ex. 22:21–22; cf. Deut. 10:17–19) and were enjoined not to molest them (Ex. 22:20; cf. Jer. 7:6). They were not to be abused (Deut. 24:14) and were to receive equal treatment before the law (Deut. 1:16; cf. 24:17; 27:19). In case of accidental homicide, the cities of refuge were open to them as well (Num. 35:15), for there was to be “one standard for stranger and citizen alike” (Lev. 24:22). Moreover, the Israelites were enjoined to be especially solicitous of the welfare of the ger and to befriend him as one of their own, since they could recall the sufferings of their own people in the land of Egypt (Lev. 19:34; cf. Deut. 10:19).

It is a sad statement on the character of the Attorney General, David Brody, and the White House Press Secretary that the Bronze Age, tribal religion that forms the foundation for their own spiritual belief were far more evolved and far more humane than these three degenerate examples of the American conservative movement, conservative Christianity, and the Republican Party in 2018.

Stay angry!

Open thread!