Category: violence

Murder rate soars in Chicago; what can be done?

By Alan Bean

There were 506 homicides in Chicago last year, a 16% increase over 2011.   That amounts to 10.83 homicides per year per 100,000 population.  The rate in New York City is 2.72, which is just over half the national average of 4.8.

Homicide rates fluctuate wildly, historically and regionally.  Chicago’s homicide rate is about one-third as high as New Orleans (America’s true murder capital).  The Crescent City was plagued with 32.65 homicides per 100,000 population last year, and Detroit (27.38) and Baltimore (18.22) weren’t far behind.  These rates make Chicago look downright pacific.

Speaking of the Pacific, the homicide rate in Los Angeles last year was 4.19  but Oakland’s rate was over three times as high (15.89).

Homicide rates also vary radically by nation and continent.  Some Central America countries have rates in the 90s, while European countries hover between 1 and 2 homicides per 100,000.  Canada is 1.6; Mexico is 22.7. (more…)

The ungodly history of Smackdown Jesus

By Alan Bean

Fred Clark’s Slacktivist blog is aimed at recovering evangelicals; particularly ex-devotees of the commercially marketed Christianity that hit its stride in the early years of the Reagan revolution.

I always know when Fred links to one of my blog posts, the usual number of hits increases by a factor of five.  Slacktivist posts regularly garner hundreds of comments.  Few mainstream website generate that kind of interest.

There are three reasons for Fred Clark’s success.  First, he writes extremely well.  Second,  his work is carefully researched and edited, he approaches blogging like a full-time job).  Finally, there are a whole lot of recovering evangelicals out there.

Some of these folks remain in the big-tent evangelical camp but are looking for authentic alternatives to a narrow and increasingly irrational tribalism.  Fred Clark also ministers to a large cadre of atheists and secularists who grew up addicted to with-God-on-our-side religion.

When you grow up born again you never really get over it.  A certain subset of the atheist-agnostic community appreciates Fred Clark’s blog even though he remains a committed Christian.  He  has deep insight into a slice of their experience that genuine secularists can never understand.  The Slacktivist is a form of therapy, an opportunity to work through painful memories and thorny issues.

In a recent post, Clark uses a music video from the 1980s to examine the toxic world of “evangelical tribalism”, the “us-against-them” mindset that has characterized commercial Christianity for the past quarter century.  The video features Carman, a smooth-talking white rapper who always reminded me of the post-Vegas Wayne Newton and Petra, a Christian 80s band that transformed the power chords and vocal hooks of early metal music (think softcore  AC/DC) into a highly marketable form of “Christian contemporary” entertainment.

Here’s the video version of “Our Turn Now”

And here’s Clark’s summary of the contents:

The lyrics begin by lamenting the 1962 Supreme Court decision ending state-sponsored establishment prayers in public schools. Carman, rapping like MC Neil Diamond, offers a litany of post-hoc argumentation, blaming everything he considers bad on the court’s ruling. He calls it “religious apartheid.”

“It’s our turn now” proclaims the chorus — a rallying cry for the tribal rule of sectarian religion. And everyone else, everything outside the tribe, is on the side of the “devil.”

I was introduced to Carman by a member of the ecumenical (nominally American Baptist) congregation I pastored in the early 80s.  The young man who played the song for me (assuming I’d be thrilled) was in his early 20s, a highly intelligent high school band teacher.

The basic idea was that Jesus and Satan are starring in a WWF-style Smack Down main event.  Satan (like every good wrestling heel from that era) enters the ring full of strutting, ranting bravado, but after the Savior gives him the thrashing of his life, Satan’s bold baritone devolves into a whining, emasculated falsetto.

Carman ended the song, as I recall, with an oblique reference to the book of Revelation.  Message: our side wins.

The message of “Our Turn Now” is much the same.  In professional wrestling, “the face” (or crowd favorite) gets slapped, kicked, gouged and mangled for a good twenty minutes before he shakes off the cobwebs and turns the tables to the appreciative roar of the crowd.  “It’s our turn now.”  Carman’s message never transcended the crass world of wrasslin’ melodrama.

But who, in this us-against-them world, is “us” and who is “them”?  In Our Turn Now, the heels, the bad guys, the spawn of Satan, were the justices of the Supreme Court who tossed God out of the classroom, the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, liberal “Christians” (who generally supported the court’s decision), secularists, atheists like Marilyn Murray O’Hair, secularists of every stripe; in short, everyone who is not a card-carrying, washed in the blood evangelical Christian.

As Clark suggests, the mindset was binary, Manichean,  darkness and light .  They took the reins of government and did their worst; well, now it’s our turn now.  Soon evangelical Christians who love Jesus and Carman in equal measure will control Congress and the White House.  Godly laws will be passed.  The glory of Jehovah God will return to the classroom, drugs and sexual promiscuity will be abolished by statute, and national righteousness will be restored.

If you pay careful attention to the Carman video (yes, I know that means having to watch it twice–suck it up, this is important) you will note that although all the primary performers are as white as heavy metal, all kinds of black kids are shaking it to the music, witnessing to white kids, and giving their ultra hip stamp of approval to the ascendancy of Christian America.

In other words, when we talk about “us” we’re not just talking about white people.

Why then, are nine out of ten registered Republicans, by a recent estimate, non-Hispanic whites?

At the 2008 Republican Convention, 92% of the delegates were white while it sometimes appeared that half the folks on stage were people of color. Why are white people so much more excited about Carman’s vision of Christian America than the non-white minority?

Because the “us” celebrated in the video were really the folks who were humiliated by the 1960s–white, primarily southern, evangelicals.

The marketing magic behind Carman was the linking of popular culture (heavy metal rock, professional wrestling, Ramboesque violence) with Southern Baptist piety.  In the 1950s, Elvis was Satan; by 1980 he has joined the choir triumphal.  Young people were free to celebrate the values of the American entertainment machine as long as they were down with a Jesus who palled around with marines, corporate moguls, chamber of commerce presidents and was comfortable in the smoke filled rooms of the Grand Old Party.

Rock and roll, pro wrestling, and romantic violence got a pass because the Right needed a really big army to fight liberalism, particularly the brand of liberalism shaped by the civil rights movement.  In the South and the great American heartland, white evangelicals had grown accustomed to being in control, calling the shots and dictating moral standards.  Suddenly, and quite without warning, white evangelicals were being pilloried as nasty Jim Crow racists determined to deprive the Negroes of their civil and constitutional rights.

Evangelicals still haven’t recovered from the shock.  In the South, evangelicals (with Southern Baptists leading the way) climbed out onto the segregation limb until the civil rights movement, to the surprise of everyone, sawed it off.

The routine popular association of conservative religion and blatant racism was deeply humiliating.  By the mid-1970s it was no longer possible to defend the old Jim Crow system, but white hot racial resentment was creating rich opportunities for a resurgence of some kind.

The key was to rebrand the 1960s.  The big issues weren’t civil rights and Vietnam, the new argument went, it was all about two Supreme Court decisions: driving God out of the schools (1962) and Roe v. Wade (1973).  These two liberal decisions, the argument went, paved the way for violence in the streets, the drug culture, sexual promiscuity, perversion and every other evil imaginable.

But it’s Our Turn Now.

Why have African Americans and Hispanics been reluctant to jump on the bandwagon?  Because it’s too awkward.  The GOP is the unofficial Party of White and the Christian Right, though officially Neapolitan, is vanilla clear through.  Check out the crowd at the next Romney rally and see if you can find any people of color in the crowd.  If you got $5 for every one you couldn’t gain admission to a ticket to a $100 a plate fundraiser.

This didn’t happen overnight.  In 1973, most prominent southern evangelicals were big supporters of the separation of church and state and evangelical views on abortion tracked national opinion.  The big opportunity was raging white resentment, but neither leading evangelicals nor GOP strategists couldn’t admit as much.

Abortion was, and remains, a legitimate moral issue, but a particularly thorny one.  As the current tug-of-war between supporters and detractors of Todd (“shut that thing down”) Akin suggests, banning abortion for rape and incest survivors is about as popular as back alley abortions.  Hence, most Americans are unwilling to go all the way with the pro-life movement.

This is precisely why true believers, as defined by opinion leaders within the Religious Right, can tolerate no compassionate exceptions to pro-life orthodoxy.  Go down that road very far and pretty soon most Democrats will be agreeing with you.  The goal has never been to make abortion safe, legal and rare.  From a culture war perspective, the more abortions the better.  The tragic statistics feed an effective wedge issue.

The goal was to get rank and file evangelicals (mad as hell about being branded as racists but lukewarm on abortion) to stop talking race and start screaming about abortion, abortionists and the horrors of the sexual revolution.

At the same time, the Religious Right launched a campaign to convince southern preachers that the separation of church and state was a liberal abomination.

W.A. Criswell was pastor of First Baptist Church Dallas, in its heyday the largest congregation in Protestant America.  In 1960, Criswell used traditional southern support for the separation of church and state  to argue that John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic who was sure to take his marching orders from the Vatican, was unworthy to be president:

It is written in our country’s constitution that church and state must be, in this nation, forever separate and free.  In the very nature of the case, there can be no proper union of church and state.

But in 1980, with the nuptials between Southern Baptists and Reagan’s GOP a done deal, Criswell opined thus:

I believe this notion of the separation of church and state was the figment of some infidel’s imagination.

How do we account for this amazing transformation?  Criswell got the memo.

By 2012 David Barton was arguing that Thomas Jefferson, the father of church-state separation, was an orthodox evangelical who dreamed of Christian theocracy.  Only when a holy host of conservative historians cried foul did Barton’s publisher pull the Jefferson book.  Not surprisingly, Barton’s good buddy Glenn Beck has agreed to publish the Jefferson manuscript.

As the Barton episode demonstrates, it has become painfully difficult for thinking conservatives to stick with the Religious Right or the GOP.  For the moment, few malcontents will leap into the reluctant arms of either the Democrats or liberal Christianity.

When Bill Clinton threw the unions under the bus in the 1990s he knew they would stay loyal.  “Where would they go?” he asked.  The same applies to conservative evangelicals who can’t abide the irrational excesses of their coreligionists.  They will stay with the GOP and the Christian Right because they have nowhere else to go.

The culture war has advanced to the point where the tiny strip of middle ground separating conservatives from liberals has become a barbed wire infested minefield.  The corporate interests that funded Carman and Petra like it that way.  So long as the American  melodrama is conceived as a pay-per-view Smackdown between Christ and Antichrist nobody has the luxury of genuine thought.   As the secular left screams in protest (“You can’t do that!  You can’t believe that!  You can’t say that!”) the easier it becomes for the Christian Right to define itself as a tiny island of godliness in a vast Satanic sea.

Rape and the death of empathy

By Alan Bean

Just when it appeared that Paul Ryan’s infatuation with Ayn Rand might be garnering the attention it deserves, Todd Akin made his “legitimate rape” remark.  Suddenly the Republican National Committee was desperate to get Akin off the stage so he won’t ruin next week’s big show in Tampa.

But the Rand-Ryan connection may soon be staging a comeback.  People like Paul Ryan didn’t learn to love the free market by reading hard core economists like Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises or even Milton Friedman; they read novels like Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.  Stories are far more captivating than stats and pie charts.  In the relatively repressed 1950s, Ayn Rand was often a young person’s first brush with the pornographic imagination.   (more…)

Who made James Holmes do it?

I like the balance in this piece.  The NRA didn’t turn James Holmes into a killer.  The Tea Party is not to blame.  Batman didn’t make it happen and neither did the ACLU or the liberal churches of America.  When tragedy strikes, we want to make sense of things, we want to blame somebody.  But as the Joker explained to Batman in an earlier Dark Knight film: “some men just want to watch the world burn.”  AGB

Did Liberals Make James Holmes a Mass-Murderer?

Any suggestion that a cold-blooded killer is God’s agent to punish a wicked land is simply wicked.

By Greg Garrett, July 25, 2012

When tragedy strikes, we always, always, want to know why. If there’s a reason, some one to blame, then tragedy is not mindless.

It fits into a pattern.

It makes some kind of senseless sense.

Why did James Holmes shoot 70 people last Friday?

I don’t know why, and neither do you. The words of Alfred (Michael Caine) in The Dark Knight (2008) in relation to the Joker (Heath Ledger) have been bouncing around the Interwebs as we wrestle with the question: “Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.” (more…)

Time to ban assault weapons

Miguel De La Torre is professor of social ethics and Latino/a studies at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver and an ordained Baptist minister.  When I first read this piece a couple of days ago, I was shocked by its emotional tone and wondered why the horrific events in Aurora CO were affecting this guy so much more deeply than they affected me.  Was he a bit thin-skinned, or was I emotionally retarded?

When I realized that Dr. De La Torre’s children lost friends in the Aurora shooting everything snapped into focus.  This opinion piece originally was originally published by the Associated Baptist Press.  AGB

Time to ban assault weapons

By Miguel De La Torre

It has been a horrific day, and as I type these words the day is not yet over. I have shed tears. I have hugged my daughter closer. I have yelled and cursed God. I am emotionally spent. Still, I must capture this moment in words. Where the hell was God while innocent lambs were being slaughtered?

I don’t know, and, honestly, no response is satisfactory. Rhetorical Christian clichés and unexamined romanticized eschatological hope fall short. Maybe God simply was occupying the same space while God’s only begotten Son hung from a cross. (more…)

The myth of redemptive violence

This article originally appeared in the Red Letter Weekly.

By Shaine Claiborne

I had a veteran friend once tell me, “The biggest lie I have ever been told is that violence is evil, except in war.”  He went on, “My government told me that.  My Church told me that.  My family told me that… I came back from war and told them the truth – ‘Violence is not evil, except in war… Violence is evil – period’.”

Every day it seems like we are bombarded with news stories of violence – a shooting in Colorado, a bus bombing in Bulgaria, drones gone bad and the threat of a nuclear Iran, a civil war in Syria, explosions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This week’s cover story of Time magazine is — “One a Day” — showing that soldier suicides are up to one per day, surpassing the number of soldiers that die in combat. The US military budget is still rising — over 20,000 dollars a second, over 1 million dollars a minute spent on war, even as the country goes bankrupt.

Our world is filled with violence – like a plague, an infection, a pandemic of people killing people, and people killing themselves.  In my city of brotherly love, Philadelphia, we have nearly one homicide a day – and in this land of the free we have over 10,000 homicides a year.

Today, Barack Obama called the shooting in Colorado “evil”.  And he is right.

But perhaps it is also time that we declare that violence is evil, everywhere – period.  It’s obvious that killing folks in a movie theater is sick and deranged, but the question arises – is violence ever okay? (more…)