Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Towers and Virgins

If you’re not from these parts, you may know that Berkeley and San Francisco are both in the Bay Area, both inspire scorn among the neocons and the religious right, and both are connected by one of America’s moderately successful public transit systems. But you may not know that, for all that, Berkeley and San Francisco, only 20 minutes apart by BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), are not the same place.

To wit:

Item in the latest Berkeley Daily Planet (March 28, 2006)...

“In other action, the (Berkeley Zoning Adjustment) board also voted to deny approval to a bell tower added to the Jesuit School of Theology at 1725-35 Le Roy Ave. The tower had been constructed without a city permit, and board members and neighbors were critical of the design. The board voted to give the seminary until May 25 to come up with a better design.”

There you go, Mr. and Mrs. Jesuit. (There’s no Mrs. J.?) (I knew that.) We don’t like that tower you built on your church, so you’re going to have to tear it down and replace it with one we like. Something a little more Julia Morganesque. Maybeck, maybe.

Meanwhile, across the Bay, San Francisco’s supervisor Mark Leno, pops off the other day about a bunch of young evangelicals who held a rally at City Hall, “They’re loud, they’re obnoxious, they’re disgusting and they should get out of San Francisco.”

Whoa, there, big fellow. Loud, yes, these Christians are loud. Obnoxious, yes, but so are a lot of people in these parts. Disgusting??? Probably the first time ever so many teen-age virgins gathered in one place in this city. In Berkeley we think virgins are cute. Silly, maybe, but disgusting?

Free speech, Marco! Free speech!

These (loud obnoxious) evangelical kids are anti-gay, anti-women’s equality, anti-lots of good things like carbon dating, but “get out of San Francisco?”

To be fair to Mark Leno, we have to report that his enthusiasm for chasing the virgins out of Dodge by nightfall quickly waned and he quickly apologized. “...Not one of my prouder moments,” he later said.

That means you can come back, Bob and Betty. Scream for Jesus all you want. We were wrong about your right to be obnoxious.

You might want to check out the data on studies which show people who wait till marriage to have sex have more problems later in life, but that’s a story for another day. For now, come to San Francisco. Wear a flower in your hair, if you like.

Go visit Berkeley while you're here. Free Speech University is over there, along with all those other 60s folks.

Leave your heart here.

And your plans for any ugly towers.

March 29, 2006

Letter to Jeff Jacoby

Dear Mr. Jacoby:

I’m writing in response to your claim in your March 16 op-ed piece in the Boston Globe that the Human Rights Campaign’s choice of words, “ugly political agenda” in regard to the Catholic Church’s decision to prohibit gay adoptions was a “projection.”

Your thinking is muddled on at least two levels. You are working on the assumption that any idea, as long as it is held by a religious institution, is worthy of respect. And on the assumption that when that institution acts in the public arena, what they do is religious and not political.

Organized religion has preached all manner of horseshit from the pulpit. That poor fellow in Afghanistan who is under a death threat for turning Christian is being hounded by people with religious convictions. In our own country the church has condemned women for seeking the right to vote, politicians who vote for abortion rights, black men who want to marry white women. Would you say that calling those ideas “ugly” was projection?

The Catholic church’s insistence that gay people are, as a class, inferior to non-gay people is a ferocious affront to human decency. In a perfect democracy, I think anti-Semites should be allowed to say in public that Jews are money-grubbing thieves, and white supremacists should be able to claim that Negroes are an inferior race without fear of violence to their person. And homophobes should be able to claim that any and all gay people lack the character to make good parents. But even in our imperfect world, I don’t see why an egalitarian democracy cannot and should not make laws preventing those people from acting out on their convictions. Even if they are convinced it is the will of God.

Yours truly,

Alan J. McCornick
Berkeley, CA
March 29, 2006

written in response to:

Adoption, kids, and the gay agenda

Mar 16, 2006
by Jeff Jacoby

In psychology, "projection" occurs when someone attributes to others his own unpleasant beliefs or motivations. It is projection, for instance, when a liar assumes that everyone he deals with is dishonest, or when a man tempted by adultery accuses his spouse of planning to deceive him. Projection occurs in the public arena as well, as when supporters of racial preferences label "racist" those who believe the law should be strictly colorblind.

A fresh example of projection arrived the other day by way of a news release from the Human Rights Campaign, one of the nation's largest gay and lesbian political organizations.

On March 10, Catholic Charities of Boston had announced that it was being forced to shut down its highly regarded adoption services, since it could not in good conscience comply with the government's demand that it place children for adoption with homosexual couples. Caught between the rock of Catholic teaching, which regards such adoptions as "gravely immoral," and Massachusetts regulations, which bar adoption agencies from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, the Boston Archdiocese had hoped to obtain a waiver on religious-freedom grounds. But when legislative leaders refused to consider the request, the archdiocese was left with no option but to end a ministry it had been performing for a century.

Whereupon the Human Rights Campaign issued its news release. It was headlined "Boston Catholic Charities Puts Ugly Political Agenda Before Child Welfare," and a more perfect illustration of psychological projection would be hard to imagine.

For the political agenda driving this affair is the one favored by the Human Rights ampaign and its many allies in the media and state government: the normalization of homosexual adoption. So important is that agenda to its supporters that they will allow nothing to stand in its way -- not even the well-being of children in dire need of safe and loving families. Catholic Charities excels at arranging adoptions for children in foster care, particularly those who are older or handicapped, or who bear the scars of abuse or addiction. Yet the Human Rights Campaign and its friends would rather see this invaluable work come to an end than allow Catholic Charities to decline gay adoptions.

Note well: Catholic Charities made no effort to block same-sex couples from adopting. It asked no one to endorse its belief that homosexual adoption is wrong. It wanted only to go on finding loving parents for troubled children, without having to place any of those children in homes it deemed unsuitable. Gay or lesbian couples seeking to adopt would have remained free to do so through any other agency. In at least one Massachusetts diocese, in fact, the standing Catholic Charities policy had been to refer same-sex couples to other adoption agencies.

The church's request for a conscience clause should have been unobjectionable, at least to anyone whose priority is rescuing kids from foster care. Those who spurned that request out of hand must believe that adoption is designed primarily for the benefit of adults, not children. The end of Catholic Charities' involvement in adoption may suit the Human Rights Campaign. But it can only hurt the interests of the damaged and vulnerable children for whom Catholic Charities has long been a source of hope.

Is this a sign of things to come? In the name of nondiscrimination, will more states force religious organizations to swallow their principles or go out of business? Same-sex adoption is becoming increasingly common, but it is still highly controversial. Millions of Americans would readily agree that gay and lesbian couples can make loving parents, yet insist nevertheless that kids are better off with loving parents of both sexes. That is neither a radical view nor an intolerant one, but if the kneecapping of Catholic Charities is any indication, it may soon be unsafe to express.

"As much as one may wish to live and let live," Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon wrote in 2004, during the same-sex marriage debate in Massachusetts, "the experience in other countries reveals that once these arrangements become law, there will be no live-and-let-live policy for those who differ. Gay-marriage proponents use the language of openness, tolerance, and diversity, yet one foreseeable effect of their success will be to usher in an era of intolerance and discrimination.... Every person and every religion that disagrees will be labeled as bigoted and openly discriminated against. The ax will fall most heavily on religious persons and groups that don't go along. Religious institutions will be hit with lawsuits if they refuse to compromise their principles."

The ax fell on Catholic Charities just two years after those words were written. Where will it have fallen two years hence?

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for

Copyright © 2006 Boston Globe

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Spray it away

Two encounters with religion yesterday have left me wishing there were something you could spray on it and make it go away. Only after the second occurred did I realize the first had left such a nasty residue. Let me tell you about the second one first.

Last night I sat in an auditorium listening to Chris Hedges wax lyrical about the horrors of war. Because the theme was the intersection of violence and religion and because he shared the program with Hamza Yusuf, the audience was largely religious and Muslim. And because this is Berkeley, the message was outspokenly anti-Bush and filled with illustrations of how things are seriously wrong with America. My kind of crowd, in other words (anti-Bush, I mean, not religious Muslim). Taku asks why I keep going to these events where people come to Berkeley to find an adoring choir to preach to. Chalk it up to a yearning for community in a hostile world.

So while waiting for the speakers to get started, I’m listening to this conversation in the row behind me. Three or four guys were in from out of town for some kind of computer conference. After yakking a bit about how hard they had to work, they moved from work to a discussion of what evidently drew them all together, their masjid. (If you’re not au courant, you may not know we don’t say mosque any more, but masjid.)

From there, they got onto the subject of stiff shoulders and the importance of regular massage. “You’d better hold off on the massage while you’re in San Francisco,” says one of them. “That’s what my mother is worried about.” Laughter all around. I missed the reference until they said, “Did you see that episode of Seinfeld where they were wondering if massage could make you gay?” More laughter all around.

When does gay sensibility walk over the line into paranoia? I turned around and took a look at these guys. Nurdy geeky types, not Orang Utangs at all. Gentle men. Their next topic was their children and how active little Ali was now that he was approaching his second birthday. It’s going to be hell, these terrible twos. More laughter all around. All part of a pattern of light chatter among ordinary American church /shul /temple /synagogue /mosque /masjid folk.

The fact they were religious Muslims (and therefore a suspect category when it comes to homophobia) is not incidental. Sheikh Yusuf’s talk was focused on the need for religion as an antidote to all social ills. He spoke about violence and greed and commercialism, the American abuse of women as pornographic objects. Nothing I’m sure the audience didn’t agree with completely. It was a completely safe place for anyone with the local sense of values.

One guy behind me was wondering if a gay man’s hands on his shoulders could turn him gay. I don’t think so, I wanted to tell him, but these gay hands on your throat could probably lower your intake of air. The sense that a neck-hold on this nice man would probably ruin the event for him and for me gave me pause. I then thought of asking if turning gay would be such a terrible fate, but I don’t see much point in asking questions when the answers are obvious. So, as usual, I said nothing, and stewed in my own juices.

Which brings me to the morning event, something I read in the morning Chronicle about former Archbishop Levada. I was struck with how the gentle level of homophobia in the boys behind me is different from the blatant bigotry of people like William Levada in the mainstream catholic church, but it feeds from the same pig trough. Levada, in case you’ve allowed your subscription to Today at the Vatican to elapse, recently took over Papa Razzi’s former job at Inquisition Headquarters. His latest move was to send out word that catholic charities will no longer be getting out of line and allowing gay people to adopt kids. Never mind that the five kids adopted by gays in his San Francisco days were the hard-to-place kind that nobody wanted, and he had ample opportunity to see the benefits up close.

Time will tell whether the gay parents turn out to be good parents, of course, or whether the kids would have been better off in the orphanage or shunted from foster home to foster home. If past experience is any indication, the gay parents will do at least as good a job as parents who fall into the mixed-gender marriage category.

Old Bill Levada, however, appears uninterested in such social analysis, preferring to follow the dictates of Mother Church and prejudge the parents on the basis of this noxious belief in not touching yourself or others in an interesting way unless you’re making babies. "Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children."

No shit. That’s what the bastards had to say on the issue. Violence to these children.

It’s hard sometimes to sort out all these various homophobias. To separate the harsh from the probably benign and then both of these from the possibly mislabeled.

That last category was illustrated this week in the Academy Award’s preference for Crash over Brokeback Mountain for best picture. My first reaction was to bend to the argument that Crash was a good movie. Roger Ebert, who I agree with probably 90% of the time called it a better movie than Brokeback Mountain. I’m in the 10% this time, obviously, since nothing has blown me away in a theater like Brokeback Mountain in years, and quite possibly ever. The portrayal of the evils of the closet and the insidiousness of closeting was unexpectedly brilliant, and the fact the movie won for best story adaptation, best music, and best directing all give wings to the argument being made by people crying foul.

In the end, we have to let this one go, though. Short of polling the members of the academy and getting honest answers, we will never know whether their vote was actively or passively homophobic or whether it reflected a deep-seated preference for LA stories over Wyoming stories. Or whether the topic of racism is better tuned to the zeitgeist than homophobia, or whether there were considerations not related to the movie’s theme. I’m sure there’s a parallel with blacks who think Porgy and Bess would have been a better choice for best film in 1959 than Ben Hur, and with Jews who insist there was more substance to Sophie’s Choice than Gandhi in 1982. Still, I’m troubled by a nagging suspicion about the Academy’s motives. It could also mean we all share a point.

There is a way the guys behind me could have done things differently, though. They might have said, “Hope I don’t get too into those massages and turn gay! I’ve got enough problems with my lust for one sex – I don’t need two!”

If they had said that, maybe I wouldn’t be so pissed off today at Bill Levada.

March 12, 2006

Catholic Charities:

Violence to Children:
"Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children."

Chris Hedges’ book: War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

Gay parenting research: