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“Christian Culture Cleansing Of The West”: Despising The Holidays; When Christians Led The ‘War On Christmas’

In the 1640s, during the years of the English civil wars, a popular broadsheet with the title The World Turned Upside Down became the equivalent of a blockbuster.

In the chaos of the era print was cheap and plentiful, and the collapse of the licensing laws insured a degree of free speech hitherto unknown in the British Isles. The World Turned Upside Down would prove so enduring that it has been an English folk ballad for more than 350 years.

The song’s opening verse, “Holy-dayes are despis’d, new fashions are devis’d. /Old Christmas is kicked out of Town” remains pertinent. It seems that a supposed “War on Christmas,” whether real or imagined, has been going on for a very long time.

One of this season’s silliest skirmishes is certainly the Starbucks Christmas Cup ‘Controversy’—as per The Atlantic.

Whereas in previous years the coffee behemoth had offered up small, grande, and venti cups with (obviously secular) images of snowflakes and reindeer, 2015’s version has replaced this festive decoration with a minimalist, crimson blood-red design.

Supposedly this has enraged a portion of the Christian right, who view this decision as a rejection of Christian values. This portion of conservative Christians – exactly how many remains vague in media coverage – apparently views the crimson cups as evidence of secular humanistic creep, and the replacement of Christianity with a pluralistic perspective that these individuals view as an affront to their religious liberties.

Joshua Feuerstein, the activist (and known oddball) whose Facebook post attacking the chain over the issue is what initially went viral, claims that the company “wanted to take Christ and Christmas off of their brand new cups. That’s why they’re just plain red.” Feuerstein has encouraged customers to pretend that their names are “Merry Christmas” to seemingly force anti-Christian baristas to haplessly write a godly message on the apostate drink-ware. (This rather than a boycott, apparently.)

The so-called “War on Christmas” has been a staple of right-wing culture warriors for generations now, seemingly so incensed over people saying “Happy Holidays” that they can’t help but resort to hyperbole so bizarre that you can’t tell if it’s parody or not.

It’s this perennially aggrieved attitude that allows a writer at Breitbart.com to claim that the decision of a massive privately-held corporation (normally the heroes in conservative morality-plays) indicates that “Starbucks Red Cups Are Emblematic Of The Christian Culture Cleansing Of The West.”

That at this very moment ISIS is trying to actually ethnically cleanse entire regions of Christians makes the faux-outrage over a cup that happens to not have Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on it all the more obscene. That Mr. Feurstein and his supporters didn’t go a step further and claim that the Starbucks mermaid logo is actually the ancient Philistine deity Dagon is presumably a failure of creativity on their part.

The irony over the kabuki-play that is our annual ceremonial anger over perceived attacks on Christianity is that the only actual sustained “War on Christmas” in the West was promulgated by religious Christians.

The World Turned Upside Down was written in angry response to an actual attempt at banning (or at least heavily regulating) Christmas festivities under Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan government in Britain, and concurrently in the charter-colonies of New England. The Puritans saw Christmas as tainted by “popery,” (after all, the word ends with “Mass,” which had also been abolished) and identified its extra-biblical elements as dangerously pagan.

In England there was fierce resistance to this attempt to regulate Christmas, where, as scholars like Eamon Duffy have demonstrated, the Reformation was hardly as seamless or as popular as triumphalist Protestant historiography has often portrayed it.

During the thirteen years that Christmas was replaced with a day of fasting by Parliamentary order there was fierce resistance among the populace. Celebrations were restored in 1660 with the Stuart Restoration, but the animus towards the holiday remained in America, where New England Puritans disparaged the holiday (as Bruce Forbes describes here) as both a Catholic and pagan innovation—one which encouraged drunkenness and slothfulness.

In 1712 Cotton Mather railed against “the feast of Christ’s nativity… spent in reveling, dicing, carding, masking, and in all licentious liberty…by mad mirth, by long eating, by hard drinking, by lewd gaming, by rude reveling!” In 1659 – a year before Christmas would return to Britain with Charles II – countrymen across the Atlantic in Massachusetts and Connecticut made the celebration of Christmas punishable by a five shilling fine.

The contemporary Christian Right often claims that the New England Puritans are their intellectual ancestors, but this is willfully misreading the historical record as surely as creationists misread biological evidence. Contemporary American fundamentalism, from its pre-millennial dispensationalist eschatology to its free-market economic ideology is at odds with the actual ideology of American Puritanism. The reductionist ‘culture wars’ obscure the nuances of history and culture, while failing to recognize the full complexity of both secularism and religion.

This year’s tempest in a coffee cup has provided us all with an unintended lesson in semiotics.

That someone might see Christianity in reindeer and snow-flakes (neither of which are mentioned in scripture) but not in the color red (which could certainly be anything from Christ’s blood to Eucharistic wine) – speaks to the arbitrary nature of symbols. They can only be understood within cultural context, and culture warriors would do well to remember that no secular order in American history has ever successfully waged a “War on Christmas,”—but that a Christian theocracy once did.

 

By: Ed Simon, Religion Dispatches, December 21, 2015

December 25, 2015 Posted by | Christians, Christmas, Puritans, Religious Beliefs | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Acknowledging Our History In Negotiations With Iran”: Avoiding Repeats Of The Past, A Stunningly “BFD”

This was a pretty stunning statement coming from the President of the United States.

Clearly, he added, “part of the psychology of Iran is rooted in past experiences, the sense that their country was undermined, that the United States or the West meddled in first their democracy and then in supporting the Shah and then in supporting Iraq and Saddam during that extremely brutal war. So part of what I’ve told my team is we have to distinguish between the ideologically driven, offensive Iran and the defensive Iran that feels vulnerable and sometimes may be reacting because they perceive that as the only way that they can avoid repeats of the past.”

In case you don’t know what he’s talking about, in 1953 the United States and Britain coordinated a coup against Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh after their parliament voted to nationalize Iran’s oil industry. Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, was set up to effectively rule the country as an absolute monarch. It was the brutality of the Shah, supported every step of the way by the United States, that led to the 1979 Iranian Revolution and set up the theocratic Islamic State.

The involvement of the United States in the 1953 coup is not simply the stuff of leftist conspiracy theorists. Less than two years ago, the documents describing what happened were declassified.

On the 60th anniversary of an event often invoked by Iranians as evidence of western meddling, the US national security archive at George Washington University published a series of declassified CIA documents.

“The military coup that overthrew Mosaddeq and his National Front cabinet was carried out under CIA direction as an act of US foreign policy, conceived and approved at the highest levels of government,” reads a previously excised section of an internal CIA history titled The Battle for Iran.

None of this is meant to justify the behavior of Iran’s current leadership. But do you think that perhaps when the West comes marching in talking about nuclear programs this time instead of oil – maybe they’d have reason to be a bit cautious?

For President Obama to not only talk openly about these events and Iran’s reaction to them (as he did previously in his 2009 speech in Cairo) – but to instruct his negotiating team to keep those concerns in mind strikes me as a stunningly BFD. Therefore, I’ve been surprised that at this point I can find no one who has commented on it.

It is the contention of many of us on the left that this kind of covert meddling in other countries around the globe contributed to much of the unrest we’re witnessing today. Now we have a President who is not only acknowledging those mistakes, he is doing so publicly as he attempts to heal some of those wounds. I’d suggest that it’s time we noticed.

 

By: Nancy LeTournea, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 11, 2015

April 13, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iran, Middle East | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Ideology Of Policing”: After Ferguson, Can We Change How American Police React To Potential Threats?

The story of Michael Brown and Ferguson, Mo., is not over, even if the city is calmer today than it was just after the decision not to try officer Darren Wilson was announced. As we look for lessons about race, power and justice, we also have to ask some fundamental questions about the ideology of policing in the United States.

One of the defenses people have offered of Wilson’s decision-making on that day is that if a police officer fears for his safety, he is allowed to use deadly force. And that is indeed a standard, in one form or another, used by police departments around the country. But that standard is near the heart of the problem that Brown’s death has highlighted.

American police kill many, many more citizens than officers in similar countries around the world. The number of people killed by police in many countries in a year is in the single digits. For instance, in Britain (where most officers don’t even carry guns), police fatally shot zero people in 2013 and one person in 2012. Germany has one-quarter the population of the United States, and police there killed only six people in all of 2011. Although official figures put the number killed by American police each year around 400, the true number may be closer to 1,000.

The most common explanation is that since we have so many guns in America, police are under greater threat than other police. Which is true, but American police also kill unarmed people all the time — people who have a knife or a stick, or who are just acting erratically. There are mentally disturbed people in other countries, too, so why is it that police in Germany or France or Britain or Japan manage to deal with these threats without killing the suspect?

This is where we get to the particular American police ideology, which says that any threat to an officer’s safety, even an unlikely one, can and often should be met with deadly force. We see it again and again: Someone is brandishing a knife; the cops arrive; he takes a step toward them, and they fire. Since Brown’s death, at least 14 teenagers have been shot and killed by police; the weapons they were wielding included knives, cars and a power drill, all of which can be obtained by European citizens, at least as far as I know.

If you’ve read parts of Wilson’s account of his confrontation with Brown, you know that the justification so commonly made in cases like this — I was afraid for my safety, and therefore I killed him — is the basis of his defense. You don’t have to be convinced that Wilson should be tried for murder to find his version of events absurd at every level, starting with the assertion that he politely inquired if Brown and his friend might consider walking on the sidewalk, only to be met with a stream of invective and an unprovoked assault from this “demon” with superhuman strength.

Maybe that really is what happened. But it seems much more likely that, as the account of Brown’s friend goes, Wilson began the encounter by shouting at them to “Get the [expletive] on the sidewalk” — in other words, seeking to establish his authority and dominance. This, too is part of police ideology: that one way to keep safe is to make clear to those you interact with that you are the one in control and that they should fear you.

Two months ago I interviewed an expert in police training procedures around the world, and she pointed out that in many other countries, particularly in Europe, future police officers go through much more extensive training than American police do, a large part of which is learning how to calm down agitated people and defuse potentially dangerous situations. American cops, she said, average only 15 weeks of training before getting their badges. Even after they’re on the job, they continue to be inculcated with the idea that in a situation with a potentially dangerous individual, they need to be ready to kill to protect themselves.

Much of the focus of discussions about Ferguson has been, quite properly, on race. And race matters to this question as well; we know that cops are more likely to see black people as potential dangers to their safety. But the question is whether, even beyond the differences in how different groups are treated, we can change the way so many American police approach confrontations, both actual and potential.

Of course, this is easy for me to say. Nobody’s going to wave a knife at me while I sit in front of my computer every day. Being a cop is hard and dangerous work, particularly in places where crime is common. Most officers are never going to fire their guns in the line of duty. Even in Ferguson itself, there are officers trying to approach people as people and not as potential threats. But the fact that police all over the world manage to do the same job while killing barely anyone, while American cops kill hundreds of people every year, means that something is wrong with American policing.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, November 28, 2014

December 1, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Gun Violence, Police Officers | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Winning The Argument”: Reagan Wanted To Shrink Government, Today’s Republican Party Wants To Destroy It

In his bid to be remembered as a transformational leader, President Obama is following the playbook of an ideological opposite, Margaret Thatcher. First you win the argument, she used to say, then you win the vote.

Obama is gradually winning the argument about what government can and should do. His State of the Union address was an announcement of that fact — and a warning to conservatives that, to remain relevant, they will have to move beyond the premise that government is always the problem and never the solution.

It’s ridiculous for critics to charge that Tuesday night’s speech was not sufficiently bipartisan. Repairing the nation’s infrastructure is not a partisan issue; bridges rust at the same rate in Republican-held congressional districts as in Democratic ones. The benefits of universal preschool will accrue in red states as well as blue. Climate change is not deterred by the fact that a majority of the Republican caucus in the House doesn’t believe in it.

There is no bipartisan compromise between “do something” and “do nothing.” Obama’s reelection reflected the progress he has made in convincing Americans that “do something” is the only option — and that “do nothing” leads inexorably to decline.

Thatcher’s reshaping of British politics and governance is instructive. The Iron Lady came to power at a time when Britain was sinking. The ideological pendulum had swung too far to the left, and the nominally socialist Labor Party, architect of the modern British welfare state, was out of ideas. Thatcher’s Conservative government roused the nation from its torpor. She was an enormously polarizing figure, and much of what she did — fighting the unions, privatizing state industries and public housing — met with bitter resistance.

Today, Britain remains one of the wealthiest countries in the world and continues to play a major role in international affairs. London is arguably the world’s preeminent financial center. I doubt any of this would be the case if Thatcher had not won the argument about how her nation should move forward.

When Obama took office, the United States was in a similar funk. Ronald Reagan’s conservative ideas had been corrupted by his followers into a kind of anti-government nihilism. Reagan wanted to shrink government; today’s Republican Party wants to destroy it.

Obama assumed leadership of a country in which inequality was growing and economic mobility declining, with the result that the American dream was becoming less attainable. It was a country whose primary and secondary schools lagged far behind international norms; whose airports, roads and bridges were showing their age; and, most important, whose path to continued prosperity, in the age of globalization and information technology, was not entirely clear.

Obama’s State of the Union speech was a detailed reiteration of his position that we can and must act to secure our future — and that government can and must be one of our principal instruments.

To understand why Americans reelected Obama in November and sent more Democrats to both houses of Congress, consider the Republican response to the president’s address, delivered by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Never mind the unforgettable moment when Rubio stooped almost out of sight and reached for a bottle of water, all the while trying to look straight ahead at the camera like John Cleese in some Monty Python sketch. I felt genuinely sorry for him — and appalled at the Republican Party’s incompetence at basic stagecraft. First they give Clint Eastwood an empty chair to perform with at the convention, and now this?

Even more unfortunate, in the end, was the utter lack of ideas in Rubio’s speech.

“More government isn’t going to help you get ahead, it’s going to hold you back,” Rubio said. Yet he also said that he never would have been able to go to college without government-backed student loans. And he spoke touchingly of how Medicare paid for the care his father received in his final days and the care his mother needs now.

I expected him to try to reconcile this contradiction. Instead, he went back to portraying government as something to be tamed rather than something to be used. To a majority of Republican primary voters, this makes sense. To the electorate as a whole, it might have made sense 30 years ago — but not today.

Margaret Thatcher never won the hearts of her many opponents. But by winning her argument, she shaped a nation’s future. There’s an increasing chance that historians will say the same of Barack Obama.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 14, 2013

February 16, 2013 Posted by | Republicans, State of the Union | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Looking For Mister Goodpain”: The Doctrine That Has Dominated Economic Discourse Is Wrong On All Fronts

Three years ago, a terrible thing happened to economic policy, both here and in Europe. Although the worst of the financial crisis was over, economies on both sides of the Atlantic remained deeply depressed, with very high unemployment. Yet the Western world’s policy elite somehow decided en masse that unemployment was no longer a crucial concern, and that reducing budget deficits should be the overriding priority.

In recent columns, I’ve argued that worries about the deficit are, in fact, greatly exaggerated — and have documented the increasingly desperate efforts of the deficit scolds to keep fear alive. Today, however, I’d like to talk about a different but related kind of desperation: the frantic effort to find some example, somewhere, of austerity policies that succeeded. For the advocates of fiscal austerity — the austerians — made promises as well as threats: austerity, they claimed, would both avert crisis and lead to prosperity.

And let nobody accuse the austerians of lacking a sense of romance; in fact, they’ve spent years looking for Mr. Goodpain.

The search began with a passionate fling between the austerians and the Republic of Ireland, which turned to harsh spending cuts soon after its real estate bubble burst, and which for a while was held up as the ultimate exemplar of economic virtue. Ireland, said Jean-Claude Trichet of the European Central Bank, was the role model for all of Europe’s debtor nations. American conservatives went even further. For example, Alan Reynolds, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, declared that Ireland’s policies showed the way forward for the United States, too.

Mr. Trichet’s encomium was delivered in March 2010; at the time Ireland’s unemployment rate was 13.3 percent. Since then, every uptick in the Irish economy has been hailed as proof that the nation is recovering — but as of last month the unemployment rate was 14.6 percent, only slightly down from the peak it reached early last year.

After Ireland came Britain, where the Tory-led government — to the sound of hosannas from many pundits — turned to austerity in mid-2010, influenced in part by its belief that Irish policies were a smashing success. Unlike Ireland, Britain had no particular need to adopt austerity: like every other advanced country that issues debt in its own currency, it was and still is able to borrow at historically low interest rates. Nonetheless, the government of Prime Minister David Cameron insisted both that a harsh fiscal squeeze was necessary to appease creditors and that it would actually boost the economy by inspiring confidence.

What actually happened was an economic stall. Before the turn to austerity, Britain was recovering more or less in tandem with the United States. Since then, the U.S. economy has continued to grow, although more slowly than we’d like — but Britain’s economy has been dead in the water.

At this point, you might have expected austerity advocates to consider the possibility that there was something wrong with their analysis and policy prescriptions. But no. They went looking for new heroes and found them in the small Baltic nations, Latvia in particular, a nation that looms amazingly large in the austerian imagination.

At one level this is kind of funny: austerity policies have been applied all across Europe, yet the best example of success the austerians can come up with is a nation with fewer inhabitants than, say, Brooklyn. Still, the International Monetary Fund recently issued two new reports on the Latvian economy, and they really help put this story into perspective.

To be fair to the Latvians, they do have something to be proud of. After experiencing a Great-Depression-level slump, their economy has experienced two years of solid growth and falling unemployment. Despite that growth, however, they have only regained part of the lost ground in terms of either output or employment — and the unemployment rate is still 14 percent. If this is the austerians’ idea of an economic miracle, they truly are the children of a lesser god.

Oh, and if we’re going to invoke the experience of small nations as evidence about what economic policies work, let’s not forget the true economic miracle that is Iceland — a nation that was at ground zero of the financial crisis, but which, thanks to its embrace of unorthodox policies, has almost fully recovered.

So what do we learn from the rather pathetic search for austerity success stories? We learn that the doctrine that has dominated elite economic discourse for the past three years is wrong on all fronts. Not only have we been ruled by fear of nonexistent threats, we’ve been promised rewards that haven’t arrived and never will. It’s time to put the deficit obsession aside and get back to dealing with the real problem — namely, unacceptably high unemployment.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 31, 2013

February 2, 2013 Posted by | Deficits | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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