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Michael Jackson, Child Abuse, and JW Apologist Firpo Carr

Michael Jackson, Child Abuse, and JW Apologist Firpo Carr

“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.” – William James

Recently, I participated in an online discussion in the comments of an article written by a prominent friend/adviser to the late Michael Jackson.

Michael Jackson & Jehovah’s Witnesses, by Firpo Carr

The Michael Jackson case and the issue of child abuse are both important to me, but I didn’t really know who Firpo Carr was when I made my first comment. I’d run into his name before, but I was a little under-prepared for his particular style of debate. I felt pretty battered by the end of it, much like what happens when I try to have a political discussion with someone who has already been stirred up by their favorite propaganda machine.

His back and forth with Jerry Bergman is illuminating and true to form.

A sampling of Carr’s other L.A. Sentinel articles for you to chew on:

One article on money and priorities took an argument that was very familiar to me from JW days, and made it much more compelling and interesting. He’s clearly a smart guy, but something….

I hadn’t really thought about this very much before, but there might be a serious educational problem with a dependence on some forms of long-distance learning, especially at the upper levels in the humanities. Potential scholars may simply lose too much by not participating on-site at their universities. There is a sort of human osmosis effect that can only be learned by being there. It’s important to have both peers that are interacting with you and trustworthy mentors that can call attention to your blind spots without attacking you as a person. It may be more difficult to absorb the values and norms of dialogue and debate if you’re not part of the ebb and flow of discussion.

On campus, you become part of a network of friendship that includes worthy adversaries, and you develop different skills as you learn how to respect people independently of whether or not you have disagreements. Constant exposure to a wide range of scholarship and discussion not only helps the scholar to develop an ethical sense of discernment, but also models the qualities that they admire (or reject!) in a teacher. At its best, university life at the graduate level is amazingly liberating, intellectually stimulating, and fulfilling.

It’s not just the “immorality” (sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll) of university life that JWs object to, it’s the training in strong interpretations and critical thinking, along with the ethics of scholarship, that would be dangerous for them to condone in their followers. Independent thinking is against their religion.

Firpo Carr has written a fair number of books. Good for him for being so prolific! However, some supplemental reading might be helpful. Start with a selection from my page of reading recommendations for former JWs. To that, add:

Why? Because this latter list contains non-JW-influenced resources for understanding some aspects of the mindset that can lead people to be manipulated – and possibly continue the chain.

To stick to the topic at hand, though, readers should be aware that child abuse among Jehovah’s Witnesses is a systemic problem, one that is reinforced by setting unreachable standards of perfection, demonizing “worldly authorities,” defending questionable biblical interpretations with out-of-context snippets, defending the two-witness rule for any accusation of foul play, subordinating women, presenting an almost comical style of discourse and argument, hours of weekly meetings for repetition and reinforcement, the paucity of choices for a mate, the fear of disfellowshipping and abandonment by friends and family, the threat of demonic possession, the undermining of kindness, and the almost complete lack of pastoral care.

Firpo Carr can of course believe what he likes and project what he needs to – his path is none of my concern – but it’s a very odd position from which to deny or rationalize child abuse. Even more so now, I wish that I had followed my instincts while Michael was still alive. Michael Jackson describes some of the abuse he and his siblings suffered at the hands of his father in this video.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mc8HjdK7kJ8[/youtube]

Watch that, then read our discussion. Remember that Firpo Carr says he was Michael’s friend. I’m sorry, but I have serious doubts that Firpo Carr brought much of spiritual value to the friendship. Now he says that Michael Jackson took him aside and told him that he wished his children to be brought up as Jehovah’s Witnesses – and to have them study with Carr!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnAhcHMgR_8[/youtube]

I wonder if Michael said that to anyone else, or (shall I be this cynical?) if he said it to anyone at all.

In related news – some new documentation on the Watchtower child sexual abuse settlement. It’s not hearsay – it’s signed, sealed with gag orders, wrapped up in lies, and delivered:

“Documents show that the church knew for years that some prominent members were sexually abusing children and did little.”

The Watchtower PR department issued a statement. “For the sake of the victims in these cases, we are pleased that a settlement has been reached.” Sigh. It’s not for the sake of the victims, or their policies would be different.

This is the way they protect known predators. Imagine how they handle psychological and physical child abuse, and then start Googling for the testimonies…

Here’s a sweet sad Monty Python/Michael Jackson mashup. Maybe it will start to express the inexpressible value of caring and kindness.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1Z04RssKWI[/youtube]

For a while, Michael was able to redefine and transform his experience. He created music that brought fun – and even joy – to people all over the world.

I will remember him that way.

The First Presidential Debate

The First Presidential Debate

I had signed up to rate the debates at “Rate the Debates,” because it was billed as getting a jump on the pundits. I was hoping that this would serve as a pulsepoint. I’m disappointed that the survey was more about the moderator’s performance than the substance of the debate itself.

Overall, I thought both candidates did fairly well. They both got angry, but held their tempers. They both looked a little silly smiling when they were hearing digs aimed at them.

Neither one of them adequately addressed the economic issues, but I guess that’s really for a later debate. As a matter of national security, they covered the basics. I thought some of the discussion about foreign relations was the most interesting part of the debate.

I would have liked to have seen them both actually debate a little more rather than just responding – but Lehrer tried his best to encourage that (and he was a good and fair moderator). It’s a matter of the format, I think.

Oh – and I can’t wait to hear from that old battleaxe Dr. Kissinger. He must be pleased that he’s still so important despite his many crimes.

Here are a few things that made me halt: “wait, hold on a second there, stop the train.”

McCain

1) He kept saying that Barack Obama “just didn’t understand” – didn’t understand how to deal with foreign leaders, didn’t understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy, etc. etc. – all with a slightly pitying look and a sorrowful shake of the head. I didn’t count how many times he said or implied it, but this mannerism ran through the whole debate. I can understand how he would try to use the “elder statesman” role to his advantage, but I don’t think this worked. I kept wondering when he was going to complain about those damn kids next door. It didn’t make him look wise, just old. It was pretty clear that Obama did understand – better than McCain in many cases – and I think he was on weak ground with that attempt.

2) He called for the consolidation of regulatory agencies. What, like Homeland Security? Or so that conflicts of interest can become involved in a power monopoly? It’s not enough that the agencies are riddled already?

3) The invocation of a spending freeze was not wise, and the way he described the way he would handle cuts sounded a bit disastrous to me.

4) He called for 45 nuclear power plants. Not good.

5) He noted – twice – that he was not elected “Miss Congeniality” of the Senate. That’s not a good image for him to invoke. Ick.

6) He seemed to think that if we had trained interrogators, they wouldn’t torture. The documentation that I’ve seen about the history of torture techniques during this administration doesn’t suggest to me that training was the only, or the most important, issue.

7) I think he really tried too hard to pull on the heartstrings. It came off as hammy and undermined what I think really might be his authentic feelings on some issues.

Obama

1) He didn’t mention nuclear power in the first set of remarks on energy, but then later he did add “and yes, nuclear power.” Sigh. I just don’t like the dangers of nuclear energy and its byproducts.

2) I thought he made good points about our standing in the world, but I’m not sure about the way he characterized 20th-century vs. 21st-century governments. He could have reframed some of the discourse about why America isn’t trusted within a more robust terminology.

3) I thought that he let too many things “go.” I could see where he needed to focus on the things of core importance, but he was almost too reasonable. I wanted to see some of his fire and air, and he was in water and earth mode.

4) I thought he overemphasized the word “investment.” I agree with the ideas, but it’s not a word anyone wants to hear right now.

5) That whole thing with the bracelet was too much. “I have a bracelet too, and THIS mother said…” I know I’m jaded, but I don’t want to see two grown men talking about military deaths in terms of bracelets. Really, give me a break. I expected that sort of ooze-fest from McCain, but Obama disappointed me on that one.

The whole thing was fascinating, but I hope they both polish up for the next go-round.

Fun with Watchtower Covers

Fun with Watchtower Covers

Fun with Watchtower covers, from TruthBook Blue (this is number ten in a series!)

[youtube]http://youtube.com/watch?v=4l3WNTu1oZk[/youtube]

If you read this blog, I am quite sure that you already have an idea of what I might have to say about the following question:

Does “the faithful and discreet slave” endorse independent groups of Witnesses who meet together to engage in Scriptural research or debate?

This question – and its answer by the Governing Body – appeared in the September “Q&A” section of the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Ministry publication.

It’s a great example of Watchtower-speak. They start off with a simple question about endorsement. Of course,there’s no reason that they should feel they have to “endorse” independent studies. However, they gradually move into a prohibition against reading anything but the Society’s publications – even suggesting that learning Hebrew or Greek might not be such a good idea.

And people still try to argue with me about the way the control their members and take the god-position.

Tightening the leash: the Watchtower’s attempt to put an end to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ apologists is an excellent point-by-point analysis and rebuttal posted by The Apologetic Front.

Before this talk, I didn’t really have much of an idea as to the extent to which the Watchtower has control over its members. Now I can sadly say that I do.

Do Political Blogs Change Your Views on Issues?

Do Political Blogs Change Your Views on Issues?

In answer to NOW’s Question of the Week: Do you read blogs? Tell us if blogs change your views on political issues.

Blogs are of many kinds: scrapbooks, personal journals, advertising spaces, photo logs. Political blogs are only one form of the blog. The blogosphere is about freedom of expression – dittoheads, propaganda portals, soap boxes, fake identities, but also debate, discussion, original ideas, and scrapbooked information/evidence/argument.

Some political blogs actually investigate and report news. Some are focused tightly on one specific topic so that there is a constant flow of targeted and detailed information. Others are like a scream of despair, or a series of billboard advertisements.

Blogs do affect my political views, if for no other reason than that they are a valuable supplement to the information and perspectives that I am able to glean from other media. If you are interested in a particular topic, you can search for related keywords (using search engines or more specific tools like Technorati) and get the latest range of feedback and opinion. Subscribe to your favorite blog rss feeds, and it’s like building your own newspaper. Through a service like Feedblitz, you can even have the feeds delivered via e-mail.

What is still more powerful, however, is that because of the ease of blog publication, more people are writing and publishing. There is a sense of political empowerment that comes from dwelling with your thoughts and observations long enough to claim your own distinct perspective – and then to express it, to “offer it up” to others. Blogs encourage this. People who might never write an article or book for print publication can still have a syndicated column as a blogger. Blogs are used for political opinion, activism and reporting. Blogs can distribute information, and calls for political action. Bloggers can report on things that even investigative journalists never observe – and they offer the viewpoints of many who are otherwise never heard.

Blogs encourage people to read, think, write and debate – all in mutally reinforcing feedback loops that make them better at doing all of them. What’s not to love?

As opportunities for real political discussion in public spaces dwindle, the blogosphere offers one form of the social arena for information exchange, conversation, and debate that in other times and places might have been held at the local pub or cafe or quilting bee or bowling night or barbeque. In many cases, we simply don’t have the places or the occasions for those discussions, but we need them more now than at any other time in my life’s memory.

We need more debates in the public sphere. We need politicians to debate in front of us rather than simply reading their statements to the press. Pundits and spokesmen and think tank representatives aren’t enough for us anymore. Americans do smell mendacity, and we are working it out for ourselves as best we can. Political blogs help us to do that.


What’s your view on this question? Post it there, post it here, post it at home.

Atheism is Not Enough

Atheism is Not Enough

Slavoj Žižek makes a very interesting defense of atheism in the editorial “Defenders of the Faith” (New York Times, 3/12/06). Certainly atheism deserves the restoration of the inherent dignity of its position. But his overall argument, at least in the context of our current realities, is flawed. It could be a readerly effect, since the article looks as though it might have been chopped up. (Boo-hiss to the editor if that is the case – Žižek deserves better.) Still, I read the piece and was surprised. So I’ll respond.

In the piece, Žižek proposes atheism as the (only?) position or standard that might offer a chance for peace.

Today, when religion is emerging as the wellspring of murderous violence around the world, assurances that Christian or Muslim or Hindu fundamentalists are only abusing and perverting the noble spiritual messages of their creeds ring increasingly hollow.

…the lesson of today’s terrorism is that if God exists, then everything, including blowing up thousands of innocent bystanders, is permitted — at least to those who claim to act directly on behalf of God, since, clearly, a direct link to God justifies the violation of any merely human constraints and considerations. In short, fundamentalists have become no different than the “godless” Stalinist Communists, to whom everything was permitted since they perceived themselves as direct instruments of their divinity, the Historical Necessity of Progress Toward Communism.

Very interesting comparison. Although he then nods in the direction of compassionate ethics as a mode of the religious (something I see in more progressive faith positions), he attributes to atheism the standing of being the only home of ethics in contemporary reality. Why should people act ethically, why should they do good, be good, strive for good? Doing so for reward (praise, salvation, paradise, heaven) or from fear of punishment (opposition, scapegoating, shunning, criminal punishments, hell) is a low moral standard – but it has often served as a starting place.

It’s true that you don’t need to believe in God to assess a situation and do what you think is the right thing. A moral deed doesn’t require God. One can do a good thing because you feel you should, or when your compassion rises, or when it increases your well-being, or even because it’s just not too inconvenient at the moment. You could do the right thing for the wrong reasons. You could do the right thing completely by accident. Or you could do the right thing because that’s the kind of person you have become – by habit, by inclination, by choice, because you like attention, or are turned on by sacrifice, because of a sense of noblesse oblige or solidarity, to gain some greater advantage, or just because your mamma told you to.

It’s the fixed idea of absolute authority, absolute truth that is more of a problem. The article even gives the idea of Communism that became a kind of “religion” as an example. One could add “manifest destiny” or “privatization” or “superior race” or any number of other ideas – when such an idea is ascendent, watch out!

So it seems to me that the alternative should properly be a kind of agnosticism, rather than atheism, which can be just another form of fanaticism (the zeal of the truly anti-religious).

I would go further than Žižek does here in this respect, and claim that religious systems of belief actually undermine ethical thinking and actions in very specific ways. Beliefs interfere by mandating rules that can and do silence narratives of experience, or cut some people off from equal consideration, or simpy reinforce existing power structures, no matter how oppressive they might be. Beliefs set up clusters of priorities that may have little relevance to the actual situation. Moreover, Zizek misses here his strongest argument, which is the tendency of some to claim authority (even the authority of the absolute – of God) as their own simply to take advantage of their apparent ability to do so. If God is in any sense within us, God is within us all.

However, I am not at all convinced that atheism is the solution. While atheists might (not always!) tend to be more tolerant of religion than the religious are of atheism, there are no guarantees that atheists are good, or will strive for the good, either. There are nasty horrible atheists, too. I don’t actually find that religious affiliation (or a lack of one) really has very much to do with what kind of a person someone is, or how they behave. Religion only creates a set of standards on what the community of believers will regard as good or bad. That creates its own effects, such as the thrill of transgression. Sometimes people will create a public persona to conform to the standard, while having a secret life that is quite different.

Žižek says that when he himself does a good deed, he does it “because if I did not, I could not look at myself in the mirror.” Fair enough, and it’s also a standard of my own. I judge myself a bit harshly (more so than I would judge others), perhaps as a holdover from having been a Jehovah’s Witness. It is difficult to judge oneself clearly and honestly, even when one really truly wishes to do so. There are also those (whether fanatical, religious, or without significant motivations based on systems of religious belief) who are not terribly concerned with honest, realistic self-evaluation or insight. It’s a completely separate topic from the one at hand.

The larger points – that it is better to do something out of love than because you have been trained to do it, and that atheism actually creates a “safe public space” for believers – really illustrates how far the religious world as a whole has fallen. Those are both religious concerns!

These weird alliances confront Europe’s Muslims with a difficult choice: the only political force that does not reduce them to second-class citizens and allows them the space to express their religious identity are the “godless” atheist liberals, while those closest to their religious social practice, their Christian mirror-image, are their greatest political enemies. The paradox is that Muslims’ only real allies are not those who first published the caricatures for shock value, but those who, in support of the ideal of freedom of expression, reprinted them.

However, allies are not always accepted (or seen as allies) if one feels disregarded or insulted – or when one of your own is whipping you into a frenzy. One has to look at how different people will prioritize the spheres of difference.

What does it really mean to respect the beliefs of another? What follows from that ideal?

If you take it seriously as a high value, then according to Žižek you are left with an aporia. Your choice then is either a patronizing tolerance (as toward a child – Santa Claus, the tooth fairy) or a relativist stance of multiple “regimes of truth” in which ultimate truth claims themselves become a kind of transgressive violence. The first choice has obvious problems. I lean toward the latter myself because I have come to believe that “Truth” is more of a goal than a possession, and that we project our truths as much – if not more so -than we discover them. Neither of these alternatives faces the actual situations he concerned with here, nor does the admittedly fascinating historical events he mentions.

We’re missing some pieces. I think there are other alternatives – alternatives that are not new, just not being activated. One is reciprocal dialogue (I agree to listen if you agree to listen, etc.), but this – and other options – depend on the will to dialogue, a will to the cessation of violence, a will to peace. Why don’t we have this, do this? That is the central question, and it is to some extent a religious question.

Critical analyses of belief structures show respect, treating even the most problematic of “believers” as adults, responsible for their beliefs. But is that really the issue? Why would a zealot feel he has to justify himself to an unbeliever anyway? Where is that going to go? In any case, I question whether the return of fanaticism and violence really has much if anything to do with beliefs. Atheism does provide a safer “space” in many respects, but it is still an absolutist “position.” How do you know that God does not exist – and what does that question really have to do with what is happening anyway? Is this what he means to argue here? Does he really mean something like liberal democracy? (If so, we could use it in America too).

I think a better strategy would be really to push for true public debates, debates that include more voices from within each tradition and viewpoint – and across traditions as well. We are talking past one another. Even in America we are subjected to outright propaganda from all sides. We hear fewer informed perspectives in the media with each passing week, in a country that used to be known for freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and public protest. Now we have biased reporting, “no-protest areas,” illegal surveillance, censorship, use of “propaganda assets,” and erroneous “terrorist” labelling of dissent/anti-war groups, even if they are pacifists!

Critiques of fundamentalist views from the position of atheism, “godless humanism” (and post-humanism) and so on are valuable. I agree that atheism should be afforded its former dignity and more (especially considering how many atheists there really are, even within religious communities). But I also think that critique and reasonable debate “from the inside” of communities is actually much more powerful – especially for adherents and members of a community. Even the simple display of events of such dialogue and debate would be a meaningful improvement. Let’s see the best minds grapple. Let’s fight with words – not fists, not bombs, not backroom deals. Such a series – broadcast all over the world – would be much better than American “Idol” (did they really think that one through?).

Religious traditions are a kind of transmission, meant to preserve the best of what has worked in the past – for stability, for group coherence, for common good, and even for human transformation and spiritual growth. Sometimes the transmission is garbled or misunderstood. Sometimes the conditions under which traditions worked for a long time no longer apply. Sometimes the rules become destructive, and sometimes they are problematic in the first place. The message means different things at different times and with different receivers (the people who hear, practice, mediate, interpret). Where the climate is cold, the vision of hell is colder. This is the time for prophets – they challenge, they teach, they realign, they reattune. Every one of us has something of the prophet within, but also something of the community that resists the prophet. Reattunement, at once longed for and feared, is a process that can never be finished. We find our way by tracing out paths, going off course, adjusting.

A loving, thinking community that argues and critiques itself from within is a stronger and more adaptive community. When communities can no longer do this – even while change is going on all around them – then I question whether the problem really has so much to do with specific beliefs. Does repression, silencing, inciting to violence, and self-righteousness (on any side) show honor to God? Yet there is an undeniable appeal for all of this among many people. What is the nature of the energy that is being tapped here? Can that speak and be addressed in some other way?

The substantial problems that we see have less to do with religious beliefs, practices or traditions than they do with other factors. Simple manipulation of the masses hasn’t gone away, nor have the old social dynamics like the ones that produce the myth of the “good old days” or the idea that diseases start elsewhere. There are economic and political factors. There are power grabs and clashes. There is greed and there is poverty. There is actual suffering and frustration. There are miscommunications and hostilies. There is powerlessness. There is love.

The ethical “accounting” for beliefs that Žižek would direct at violent believers is perhaps something like step 3 in a process that would ethically hear and respond to the multiplicity of issues involved (even supposing that a fundamentalist of any stripe would submit to being judged by anyone who did not share very deeply felt, shaping beliefs – my own modest experience suggests its unlikelihood).

Critical analyses, but also serious public discussion and dialogue across the positions, are lacking. When people are reduced to violence (there are many kinds of violence), it is not about religion – or not only about religion, although religion may be used as a tool. From almost all sides, the participants in conflicts involving religion/culture/nation/ethnicity/race/class/gender/… (almost ad infinitum) appear to lack interest in developing a consensual process to arbitrate disagreement and clash. There are significant power imbalances. Substantial discussion does not take place. Common ground is not found – nor sought.

  • Shame on us all for lacking the wisdom, courage and will to use the tools we have.
  • Shame on us all for treating anyone as subhuman, of treating anyone as unworthy of speaking or of being heard.
  • Shame on us all for turning against one another in hatred, whether in God’s name or in the name of any other.

The twilight space for safe meeting seems to have been taken or destroyed – and it needs to be rebuilt. Realistically speaking, I don’t think that atheism is a viable ground for discussion. I wonder whether we will have to find a common enemy of humanity before we can understand our common interest in our own survival. Is that the plan, to bring us to the brink of global destruction? That’s a dangerous game.

We won’t find solutions, and can’t find solutions, until we can gain consensus and wisdom on the actual problems – and summon the collective determination to face them together.

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