Monday, July 31, 2006

So you're finally getting laid

Since we're on the topic of marriage, let's talk about sex. For you Christians sex is supposed to happen only within marriage (the unitive and the procreative, remember?), and since sex ed is not going to be happening in a school near you, you're going to get to your wedding night a hopelessly clueless virgin.

No longer. Mother Jones reports that all you need to know can be found at The Marriage Bed: Sex and Intimacy for Christians. To be honest, LHG is rather impressed. Among other things you'll find the most detailed description of male and female genitalia we've ever seen (the more prudish can choose the no-pictures option), an exhaustive discussion of types of birth control, tips on how to strip for your man, whether oral sex is really sex, what to do with a vibrator, do's and don'ts in relation to bondage, phone sex, adult nursing, role playing and all sorts of other useful information. The entries on "Sex for the Clueless Bride" and "Sex for the Clueless Groom" are not to be missed.

Our one complaint? Nothing on Catholic schoolgirl outfits.

Welcome to the Halls of Power

Who Needs Marriage? Part II

The LHG is on record as being in favor of gay marriage. Yesterday's Sunday The New York Times, however, has an interesting piece on gays who oppose seeking the right to marry. On what grounds you ask? On grounds that the gay movement was not about gaining all the rights that heterosexual people possess, but rather was about the freedom to pursue lives unburdened by the weight of convention.

Here are some highlights:

"To these activists, the fight for gay marriage is the mirror image of the right-wing conservative Christian lobby for family values and feeds into the same drive for a homogeneous, orthodox American culture. The Stonewall confrontation and early gay rights movement, after all, was about the right to live an unconventional life, and to Mr. Dobbs and others like him, marriage is the epitome of convention. He said that he does, however, support civil unions for all as a replacement for civil marriage."

"But as the fight for same-sex marriage rages across the country — this month being defeated in the highest court in New York State as well as Washington — the anti-marriage gay men and lesbians say they are feeling emboldened to speak out against what they view as the hijacking of gay civil rights by a distressingly conservative, politically correct part of the gay establishment. They say the gay marriage movement, backed by major well-funded organizations like Lambda Legal, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, has drained resources and psychic energy from other causes like AIDS research, universal health insurance and poverty among gay people."

"They question whether monogamy is normal. They wonder why gay men and lesbians are buying into an institution that they see as rooted in oppression. They worry that adapting to conventional “family values” will destroy the cohesion that has made gay men and lesbians a force to be reckoned with, politically and culturally."

"And some see the insistence on defining homosexuality as strictly a matter of biology — rather than a matter of choice and sensibility as well as biology — as part of the same conformist impulse. Rob Klengler, a businessman in Marblemount, Wash., is troubled by the focus on what is normal in sex or domestic life. I don’t know if I would use the term ‘normal’ or not,” he said. 'To me, it’s a simple choice. To me it’s a choice like whether I eat red meat. I like chocolate versus vanilla ice cream. It’s just a choice.' Other groups, while supporting gay marriage, are using the issue to push for legal recognition of other nontraditional relationships, like unmarried couples of all kinds."

While we still support the drive for gay marriage (if you're gay and don't want to get married, just don't) we like the disruptive thrust (no pun intended) of the argument. In particular, we like the way the personal politics, who and how you choose to love, overflows into societal politics as it challenges traditional family structures. We also like the rejection of the whole idea of the gay gene. While the LHG is not up on the literature on this topic and we're sure this will come across as naive, we have long thought that a Sartrean like choice to be gay is more empowering than the idea of succumbing to a biological impulse - in the former it's about the creation of new ways to be human, in the latter it's an accident of fate.

We appreciate the ambiguous advice Sartre once gave a young man torn between two incompatible paths: "choose, that is, invent."

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Get Religion, the missing pages

Gospel of Judas it ain't
Another dumpster (this time behind the office) uncovered the garbage stained missing pages to Get Religion! A Guide for Democrats. Can this book keep the Democratic party from striking out when thrown the religion curveball?

Chapters (continued)

5. To Get to Heaven You Need the Hell Knocked Out of You: Gays for God or What Part of “Love” Don’t You Understand: God and Gays, One Happy Family or God Hates Shrimp: God and Gays, One Happy Family

Like chapter four, here I tackle a one of the most controversial issues in American politics today. Once again, Democrats have accepted the way Republicans have defined the issues: God and Republicans on one side, homosexuals and Democrats on the other. Like in chapter four, I’ll reject these terms and show how Democrats can bring God on board the “gay” side of the debate.

6. I Support the Separation of Church and Hate: Religion in Our Schools or Don’t Pray in My School, I Won’t Think in Your Church: How Religion Can Be Part of Our Schools

This chapter tackles the question of whether religion should be allowed in public schools, in the shape of prayer or actual coursework. Currently, Democrats stand for no religion while Republicans stand for a little bit of religion, usually prayer and some teaching of morality. I’ll argue that Democrats need to out religion Republicans, and present a case for lots of religion in schools. Schools should teach classes in comparative religion and values as well as allow prayer from different faiths. Here our position should be: the more religion the better.

7. Join the Religious Left Today

The concluding chapter outlines the strategies that emerge in each one of the chapters. It provides a kind of cheat sheet Democrats can carry and turn to when frustrated about religion. It’ll include guidelines followed by a short explanation. These are some of the guidelines:

a. Whoever sets the terms of the debate has won half the debate.
b. Shift the terrain, refuse your opponent’s terms and set your own.
c. Ignorance is never an excuse to ignore religion.
d. Sometimes the best antidote to religion is more religion.

8. Appendix: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The appendix provides short introductions to key institutions as well as who matters in religion and politics in America, ending with an actual quotation. The Christian Coalition, Planned Parenthood, the Moral Majority and other institutions, as well as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Jimmy Swaggart, Ralph Reed, Cornel West, Jim Wallis, Michael Lerner, and other figures will be included. Here’s an example:

Pat Robertson founded the Christian Broadcasting Network and his flagship program, the 700 Club, attracts millions of viewers. After a failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1989, he also founded the most visible successor to the Moral Majority - the Christian Coalition. That failure convinced him that the political success of the Christian agenda required more effective organization at the grassroots level and so the Christian coalition concentrates on building strength through local chapters. Its success at this task is a key reason why the Bush campaign was so effective in mobilizing the conservative evangelical vote this past election. In fact, one of Bush’s closest advisers throughout the race, Ralph Reed, was the Christian Coalition’s head until 1996 (before leaving to found his own political consulting business).

Favorite Quote: “The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.” (Washington Post, August 23rd, 1995).

PS. Yes, our staff scavenges in dumpsters.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

A Bit of Intelligent Design

and a lot of nostalgia.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Gathering Our Minions

LHG's two part call on religious education has been taken up by a worthy spokesperson - Daniel Dennett, a famous philosopher (well, as famous as a U.S. philosopher can be these days) who teaches at Tufts and author of the recent Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.

What's our two part call you ask? Shame on you for not remembering. The first part was the claim that religion is worthy of the same merciless rigor with which we should examine all expressions of our humanity. While the second part was the claim that once subjected to this standard religions should be taught in schools, even public schools. So it's with great pleasure that the LHG paraphrases the letter Daniel Dennett sent to the current (Volume LIII, Number 13) edition of the New York Review of Books where he speaks our mind. He writes:

" proposal for a nationwide curriculum on the established facts about the world's religions...Why do I think investing in such a compulsory educational program would be worth the cost? Because all the religious organizations that are widely acknowledged to be toxic - dangerous either to their participants or to innocent outsiders - depend on the enforced ignorance of the young people being raised therein. My proposed political bargain is strikingly uncomplicated and maximally tolerant: teach your children (at school or at home) this national curriculum and then you can teach them anything else you want. (You can even teach them that the obligatory curriculum is a load of rubbish, but they will be tested on it!) I submit that any religion that can thrive under this requirement deserves to thrive, and any that can't deserves extinction. Creating a generation of young people that have a matter-of-fact knowledge of the different histories, creeds, practices, obligations, and prohibitions of the world's religions won't solve all the problems, but it is a first step toward inoculating them against the diverse attractions of fanaticism."

Well put, Denny. Next time, however, don't forget a shout out to your mentors at the LHG...

Monday, July 24, 2006

Colbert's Wisdom

Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Report: "Public Schools are giving more days off to accomodate more religions. If they allowed prayer in public schools they woulden't need to give those days off."

Is this such a bad idea? We at the LHG believe that world religions should be taught in public schools. For us teaching religion involves no special challenges, it's no different than teaching philosophy or literature. If there is a difference, it's that religion is a far more important and urgent a subject. Once religion is taught in schools - their history, development, key ideas, etc - why not grant students of different religions a place to pray, meditate, and express their faith? Do so, and integrate that space into the classroom teaching experience.

After all, kids loves fields trips. Do it right and it would be like a field trip without having to leave school grounds.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

On Balls and Economists

While some of our staff count them among their closest friends, our conviction that the great majority of economists represent a lower form of humanity remains strong. Here's an example of why many economists are best viewed within the confines of a zoo. Yesterday's Sunday New York Times has a piece about how the middle class is being squeezed out of major U.S Cities: "The percentage of higher-income neighborhoods in many places has gone up. In New York, the supply of apartments considered affordable to households with incomes like those earned by starting firefighters or police officers plunged by a whopping 205,000 in just three years, between 2002 and 2005."

So what does an economist have to say about this? "Firefighters who want to live in high-priced cities can work two jobs, said W. Michael Cox, chief economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. “I think it’s great,” he said. “It gives you portfolio diversification in your income.”

Can you believe this guy? He draws a parallel between the rich guy who diversifies his financial portfolio and the poor sap who needs to work two or more jobs - and thus never sees his family, barely sleeps, wonders whether he'll make the rent - but in the process gains "portofolio diversification of income."

Mr. Cox, you have muchos huevos grandes, and belong in a cage with other animals of your ball size.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Get Religion

Found in the dumpster outside our offices today: (last pages seem to be missing)

Get Religion! A Guide for Democrats

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Spare Us Lord, Or Why We Need To Get Religion

This chapter shows why Democrats, the United States and God need us to get religion. Democrats need religion to avoid getting spanked again in the next election. We just can’t win unless we make inroads in the religion and values voting bloc. The United States needs religion because the debate about religion and politics is really a debate about who we are as a nation; it transcends any one election or politician. Unless we get religion we can’t participate in that debate, so conservative voices win by default. God needs us to get religion because the religious right’s view of God is just shameful. For the sake of Democrats, the U.S. and God – we must do better.

2. Holy Crap: Does Religion Really Stink?

The introduction shows us why we need to get religion. This chapter explains why we fear religion, why we think religion stinks. I’ll argue that we fear religion because of the way it can inspire people to make radical efforts to transform the world. It’s an unsettling and disturbing force, but it can be a good one. That is, the smell of religion in American politics depends on us, on whether we direct its transformative capacity in a positive direction. I’ll show that religion can be brought into our politics like a fresh breeze – clearing the air of the foul Republican monopoly over issues of values and morality.

3. Freedom Isn’t Free, But Only Poor People Pay: Why God Doesn’t Cut Taxes on the Wealthy

The main religious and moral issues in American politics are abortion and homosexuality. Poverty has not emerged as a moral issue. Yet income inequality in the United States – the gap between the richest and poorest 20% -- is greater than in India. Here I’ll show Democrats how to make poverty a religious and moral issue. Doing so allows us to shift the focus away from abortion and homosexuality, attack Republican economic policies as anti-Christian and frame our liberal economic agenda in Christian terms.

4. Vote for the Bush of Your Choice: Why God isn’t Pro-Life or Pro Life Doesn’t End at Birth: Democrats and Abortion

Here I show that Democrats have accepted the way Republicans have framed the issue of abortion – God and Republicans on one side, women and Democrats on the other. As long as the issue is framed in this way Democrats will be on the losing side, the division must be rejected. Instead, I’ll argue that Democrats can bring God into the pro-choice side of the picture. God need not fall only and exclusively on the Pro-life side.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

On Liberalism and Heartbreak

Fundamentalist Christian denominations (those that usually see the Bible as the literal word of God, support creationism, see gay rights as an assault on a God given family structure) are on the rise, liberal Christian denominations (those that see the Bible as a human text, believe in modern science, and see social structures as historical and contingent creations) are losing members in droves. Want to know why? Click here to read Charlotte Allen's, Beliefnet's Catholicism editor, take on the sins of liberal Christianity.

Meanwhile, let me tell you true story. A long time ago in a frozen land known by the name Cambridge, Massachussetts, a young grad student tired of gazing at a cute girl from afar decided to throw caution to the wind and make a move. To his shock and surprise, the girl seemed pleased that he had struck up a conversation; that is, she actually talked back. Two weeks later, they were kind of dating.

Then one tragic Saturday the girl asked whether the boy would go to mass with her. Now the boy was no mass goer, and going to mass would also involve missing his weekly soccer game, so the boy was torn. Everything he held sacred told him that picking mass over soccer was wrong. "It would mean a lot to me," she said. So he chose mass.

Mass was, well, it was mass. Until at one point, she reached for his hand and he saw the congregation as a whole hold hands. In one voice, they sang:

Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

On leaving ceremony, boy commented that John Lennon's "Imagine" struck him as more of a campfire than mass song. Soon afterwards, he was cast alone into the Cambridge snow.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Life of the Mind

Just in case there happen to be any PhD. or prospective PhD. students among our readers, a word of warning: the real courage is not the courage to finish the PhD., it's the courage to abandon the PhD.

What can you look forward to? Promotion? In Richard Russo's Straight Man the main character, an aging professor of an English Department in some mid level U.S. state university, looks back over his life and bluntly states "promotion in an institution like West Central Pennsylvania University was a little like being proclaimed the winner of a shit-eating contest."

You've been warned.

PS. Some our staff may have received or be in the process of receiving their PhDs. Some are happier than others. But all agree that warning you, dear reader, is the right thing to do.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Slowly but Surely

the academy will kneel before the LHG...

Who Needs Marriage?

Not same sex couples. Recently New York's highest court upheld a ban on same sex marriage. What's interesting, however, is the rationale - that straight couples may be less stable parents than their gay counterparts and so need marriage to keep them in line.

A Yale law school professor explains in the New York Times:

“Heterosexual intercourse,” the plurality opinion stated, “has a natural tendency to lead to the birth of children; homosexual intercourse does not.” Gays become parents, the opinion said, in a variety of ways, including adoption and artificial insemination, “but they do not become parents as a result of accident or impulse.”

Consequently, “the Legislature could find that unstable relationships between people of the opposite sex present a greater danger that children will be born into or grow up in unstable homes than is the case with same-sex couples.”

That's it folks. Same sex couples don't need marriage because they're likely to make better parents. So let's do the right thing and keep them from making the same mistake so many straight couples have made in the past - saying "i do."

Thursday, July 13, 2006

No World Cup, No World

While LHG was watching World Cup, others were busily plotting the end of the world. The Los Angeles Times reports on various Jewish, Christian and Muslims groups actively working for the endtime. It's heartening to know that the three most important Western religious traditions are finding a common cause.

A reminder: Jesus was most likely an apocalyptic prophet who believed the world would end in his lifetime, thus the urgency of his ethics. Paul also thought the world would end while he was still around. Check out 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 -

16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18Therefore encourage each other with these words.

LHG is hoping for at least one more World Cup before the end.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Decisions, Decisions

This sunday World Cup comes to an end, and with it the meaning that life had since July 9th. What's the lesson from Argentina's defeat in quarterfinals? The main lesson is that in World Cup, as in life, the key issue is not whether you're going to win, but rather how you're going to lose. Winning a World Cup is a close to impossible task, and one, moreover, in which luck and accident - the draw, injuries, referi mistakes, and a whole host of other factors - plays a role in determining the outcome. Focusing on how you're going to lose liberates from the obsession with the end result, and allows the focus to fall on what really matters, the choices you make.

In his "Existentialism is a Humanism" Sartre says that in the absence of God we alone determine who we are. Think of it this way: Before building a table, a carpenter has a mental picture of what the table would look like. In the same way, God, before making human beings had a picture of what we'd be like. That picture is our essence, our existence comes afterwards. But if God doesn't exist, then all we have is existence, and in the process of existing, in the course of the actions and decisions we take or don't take, we make our essence. In the absence of God only our lives determine who we are. In determining who we are, however, we also determine who human beings should be. In choosing for ourselves, we choose for all of humanity - in defining ourselves, we define humankind.

So how are you going to lose? Are you going to lose with your best players on the field at the end of the game? Are you going to lose having defended a 1-0 advantage by playing the way that gave you the goal or by giving up the ball and the field? Are you going to lose having made substitutions geared toward grabbing victory, or geared towards avoiding defeat?

How you answer these questions determines who you are, and how you think the game should be played. Given luck and accident, all we can do is answer them. It's not given to us to achieve victory - only to deserve it.

Saturday, July 01, 2006


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