Pastor Steven Anderson and Christian Hate

Hating Is Not a Crime - Faithful Word Baptist ChurchGraham Greene’s excellent Monsignor Quixote is mostly one big excuse to discuss the overlap between religious and political faith. A one point, Quixote relates a story about a saint from La Mancha who was being raped by a Moor in her kitchen. She had a knife, and the man had nothing. Yet she allowed him to rape her. Sancho responded sarcastically, “She wanted to be raped, I suppose.” And Quixote counters, “No, no, her thought was quite logical. Her virginity was less important than the salvation of the Moor. By killing him at that moment she was robbing him of any chance of salvation. An absurd and yet, when one thinks of it, a beautiful story.”

The point of the story is about God’s love and redemption and all that Christian stuff. I don’t find it compelling, but then I’m not a Christian. Just the same, I find it impressive. And it certainly has theology to back it up. But most Christians in America would have the same reaction to it that the atheist Sancho has, but without the sarcasm, “She wanted to be raped…” But she didn’t. She just took her religion really seriously. It would be asking too much to expect Christians to live by this. But it isn’t asking too much to expect them to understand and appreciate this.

But far too many, I’m afraid, are like Pastor Steven Anderson of the Faithful Word Baptist Church. When faced with Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover, his reaction was that he was looking at a “filthy sodomite.” Okay. I guess that opinion is consistent with the Bible. It’s not exactly clear because I don’t remember anything about dress codes in the Bible. But being against transgenderism has got to be more supported by that Iron Age dogma than being against abortion. And being supremely judgmental is fully within the Christian tradition.

But Anderson went much further than “hating the sin.” He said, “This person is just the evangelist of sodomy and filth to the world, and people are like, ‘Oh, we need to pray for him so that he finds Jesus.’ I’m going to pray that he dies and goes to Hell.” This is exactly the opposite response as we saw from the saint from La Mancha. He also said, “I hate him with a perfect hatred.” According to Raw Story, he said this “as congregants murmured amen.” Truly vile preaching like this does not exist in a vacuum. It exists because it sells.

Anderson and his church have quite a colorful history. In 2009, Anderson announced that he was praying for the death of Barack Obama. And not surprisingly, the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the church as a hate group. But I haven’t been able to get much of an idea about how big the congregation is. The church’s website has very few picture of the members. But their Facebook page has almost 4,000 likes. And the place where Anderson rants looks like it holds a few hundred people. It sounds like there are as many as a couple hundred people at his most recent sermon. I know that doesn’t sound like that much, but go to a Baptist church in your town next Sunday and I doubt you will see any more than that — and you are likely to see a lot less.

Anderson’s argument in this case is that “turning the other cheek” can only be taken so far. He mentions serial killers. But isn’t the idea that anyone can be saved through God’s love? Looking at the guy, I have a feeling that he isn’t so big on turning the other cheek when it comes to more minor sins. Regardless, I also wonder if he doesn’t have homosexual thoughts. It’s always hard to escape that conclusion when people lose all composure regarding the sex lives of the LGBT community. Of course, Anderson seems to have a more general hatred, so who can say?

One thing is for sure: God’s love does not seem to be flowing out of the Faithful Word Baptist Church. It seems to be one big excuse to justify whatever its pastor hates. If I were a Christian, I would pray that they all find God’s love. But I’m not, so I’ll just write them off as another hate group that uses the Bible to justify themselves.

Wrong in 2006 and Wrong in 2016

Mark J PennIn the past 50 years, independents have grown from one-quarter to one-third of the electorate, according to Gallup polls. In California, the number of independent voters more than doubled between 1991 and 2005. The fastest-growing political party in the United States is no party.

According to the American National Election Studies at the University of Michigan, the number of split-ticket voters in the electorate — meaning people who vote for a Democrat for president and a Republican for Congress, or vice versa — has gone up 42 percent since 1952. That shows a radical new willingness on the part of Americans to look at individual candidates, not party slates. It is a sign of a thinking electorate, not a partisan one.

Mark J Penn
Swing Is Still King At the Polls

H/T: Ed Kilgore

Iceland and the Power of Good Government

IcelandYou may remember the 2010 documentary, Inside Job. It was about the 2008 financial crisis. It was a lot of fun. On the other hand, it gave the wrong idea about the crisis. It made it all about bad bankers. While that was true, if it hadn’t been for the bursting of the housing bubble, it wouldn’t have been that big a deal. But one thing highlighted in the film was very true: Iceland was pounded by the financial crisis — worse than almost any other country. So why is it that we don’t hear much about Iceland anymore? Well, because they weathered the storm far better than pretty much any other country.

Matt Yglesias wrote about how all this came to be, Iceland Put Bankers in Jail Rather Than Bailing Them Out — and It Worked. Iceland managed to make its crisis relatively mild regarding its workers and then improved very quickly. He provided the classic comparison between Iceland and Ireland. The latter country is held up throughout Europe as an exemplar — as though it were the well behaved child in the kindergarten. Iceland is now almost back to its normal pre-crisis unemployment. Ireland — which did everything the plutocrats said was “right” — still have an unemployment rate that is almost six percent points above its pre-crisis level.

So how did Iceland manage this? Well, to be honest, it didn’t really have much to do with jailing bankers. But let’s not cast that off. Jailing bankers really will help prevent another crisis. In Iceland. In the rest of the advanced world, bankers were coddled and so have every reason to do the same thing again. But that whole thing about not bailing out the banks? That was big. Dean Baker has dealt with this issue, The Myth that Sold the Financial Bailout. But the main this is that the power elite who run our government cared about saving the bankers — not the banking system.

One of the ways that Iceland dealt with the fallout from the banking collapse was to use good old Keynesian style demand side policy. The government racked up loads of debt to get through the crisis. While all over America and Europe, people were shouting about the clearly wrong Reinhart and Rogoff 90% debt cliff, Iceland was calmly pushing its debt to GDP ratio over 100%. And then, as its economy got better, its debt started coming down. This year, it is in the mid-80%.

Iceland also did something that I’ve been screaming about for years: it allowed its inflation rate to go up. This was especially important for them, and inflation went up to a very troubling almost 20% annualized rate one month, and in the mid-teens for about a year. But it is back to about what ours is: 2%. The difference is that we’ve been laser focused on inflation. It has never been even as high as 4% annualized rate for a month since the crisis. And most of the time, it’s been less than 2%. This, of course, has been great for the rich. It’s been a catastrophe for workers.

Iceland also imposed capital controls: restricting the movement of money from the country. In fact, that’s the big news: Iceland is in the process of lifting its capital controls, which ought to give the economy another boost. I don’t think that capital controls were much of an option in the United States. But the takeaway from all this is that there were lots of options for how we dealt with the bursting of the housing bubble. We chose to do those things that kept the rich rich and did as little as possible for working Americans. Democracy in America!

Louisiana Legislators Ask Grover Norquist for Absolution and Ignore Voters

Grover NorquistI learned from Tierney Sneed this week at Talking Points Memo, Louisiana GOPers in Fiscal Mess Beg Grover Norquist to Relax No Tax Pledge. As you probably remember, Norquist is the man who is best known for the quote, “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” It’s a curious thing to say. It’s supposed to be clever, but it misses the mark. He doesn’t want to abolish government, he wants to weaken it so that he can murder it? So he wants to abolish government! Whatever.

Anyway, Norquist’s great political idea was to get all the Republicans to sign a little pledge that says they will absolutely never raise taxes in any way. It’s part of a larger trend in Republican politics where every vote is “scored.” This leads to politicians being far more conservative than their constituencies. And there is also something fundamentally treasonous about the pledge. What if we suddenly got into World War III? I’m sure the Republicans would abandon Norquist if it ever came to it — just as they would if they ever got any backbone. But smart people don’t legislate by starting out with a long list of things they will never do. And that is a big reason why Republicans are such useless legislators.

But all over the country, there are state legislatures controlled by Republicans that would very much like to to have a little flexibility to deal with their budget problems. Currently, the state faces a $1.6 billion budget shortfall — about 5% of their total budget. Seven years ago, the state had a one billion dollar surplus. What happened? Well, after becoming governor, Bobby Jindal pushed through a huge tax cut. Just like in Kansas, this was supposed to spur growth. But it didn’t. It never does. But Jindal won’t budge. As Kevin Drum noted, “Bobby Jindal is still delusional enough to think he’s running for president.”

As you can see in the following graph, when Bobby Jindal took over control of Louisiana, unemployment was better than the country as a whole. When recession hit, it was not hit nearly as hard — because of the oil industry. But overall, it tracked along with the country pretty well. But since the beginning of 2014, it has taken a turn for the worse. And as of mid-2014, the country as a whole is doing better than Louisiana. Am I blaming this on Jindal? Not at all. But note that there is no reason to think that the tax cut helped to create jobs — not that Jindal and the rest of his Republican allies ever cared that it did.

Louisiana Unemployment Rate Under Bobby Jindal

So now, many Republicans in Louisiana would greatly appreciate it if they were allowed to fix the problem some other way than savaging their college system. In fact, they went whining to Norquist saying that they should be given credit for the previous tax cut. Norquist rightly noted that by such logic, Obama could claim to be a tax cutter. Just the same, I can’t help but remember that Norquist didn’t care about the payroll tax going back up. That’s consistent, however; Norquist doesn’t care about taxes that hurt the poor. No major Republican “thinker” does.

But the whole thing is quite the spectacle. Instead of dealing with each other, Louisiana Republicans are forced to go to Grover Norquist to get approval on how they are supposed to govern. Of course, he only has power because they give it to him. And, of course, because Bobby Jindal thinks he has a chance of becoming president. Some day, the people of Louisiana might consider voting for people who will do right by them and not outsource their thinking to a subgenius ideologue like Norquist.

See also: Swing State Voter Regret Is Killing Me.

Morning Music: Ornette Coleman, RIP

Shape of Jazz to Come - Ornette ColemanAs you may have heard, Ornette Coleman died yesterday. I’ve enjoyed him at times, but I’ve never been a fan. And the reason doesn’t speak well of me: his work is too difficult — too demanding. His earliest work was fundamentally bebop, but even then with his trademark micro-tunings it is difficult — it’s really are an acquired taste.

My first introduction to him was Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation. Like most jazz that I heard when I was a kid, it sounded like noise to me. I just couldn’t hear it. Even today, it is hard to listen to. But at least now I experience the shape of the it and I appreciate how the musicians interact.

But I like his more constrained work. Here is a relatively recent performance of his best known tune, “Lonely Woman,” from his unquestionably great album, The Shape of Jazz to Come:

Anniversary Post: French Take Jargeau

Joan of Arc at Siege of OrléansOn this day in 1429, the French took Jargeau with Joan of Arc leading the way. She’s quite a figure. And it doesn’t say a lot for the Catholic Church that she is a saint. But I guess that is one nice thing they did for her after trying her and burning her at the stake. But let’s back up.

It was well over a hundred years into the Hundred Years’ War. For all that time, the English had been trying to take over France. Really: it was just a war of aggression. But at least it was honest. No one was running around talking about how France needed to be made safe for democracy or any other such nonsense. But at this point, it really wasn’t going well for France. The English had been barely hanging on and there was a good chance that the royal family would fall.

Enter Joan of Arc — a teenage Christian mystic who had been visited by three saints — Michael, Catherine, and Margaret — and they told her that God wanted France to win the war. Furthermore, she became convinced that the only way this was going to happen was if she was there to lead the French army. There’s one weird trick that all crazy people know: certainty sells! And Joan of Arc was very clearly crazy. And so she managed to work her way up through the royal bureaucracy — all the way to Charles VII. They were impressed and did exactly what she wanted.

But let’s be clear: they were desperate. They had given up hope that they would be able to hold off the English. It’s kind of like if everything had gone wrong in your life: your spouse left you, the house was in foreclosure, and the next day the newspapers were going to report that you had been molesting neighborhood children for the last three decades. Then some young woman came to you and said that God had told her that if she did a little dance on your law, all your problems would go away. You’d let her do the dance, right? What do you have to lose?

And she probably really did help the French cause. She was so certain about her visions that other people believed her. And in the end, the French did win the Hundred Years’ War — although it would take another decade, but what’s that in the context of the war that your grandfather was forced to fight in? And then she was captured and handed over to the English. And they convicted her of heresy, because it had to be the Devil talking through her; certainly God was on their side. Also: she had dressed as a man while making her way to the front. So they killed her in the most viscous way they could think of. Like good Christian everywhere.

The whole thing is amazing. I still think the idea that God wants this or that country to win a war is ridiculous. Yet that is what people thought then. And that is clearly what people think today. I just cannot get my head around the idea of a god so pathetic that it cares about such little things. But that’s what religion seems to be for most people: an idea that validates their very small, very pathetic lives.

We mark this day — the high point of Joan of Arc’s life — 586 years after the French took Jargeau.