Sunday, December 02, 2007

Tradition and True Belief

This morning I was in downtown Guimaraes, not far from the castle, when church got out. The people came swarming out onto the streets -- old people, mothers with their children, men in black suits, talkative teenagers. They lined up inside the pastelerias, and the men gathered in clumps in the main plaza to talk. Traffic came to a stop as the pedestrians filled the cobblestone streets, with bells ringing wildly in every direction. The random mixture brought people together by surprise, old friends running into one another, and they would stop on the sidewalk to talk or walk together slowly, catching up, comparing notes. In a few minutes the streets were quiet again.

This week I am in the Minho region of Portugal, a region where the church has deep roots. Religion affects everything that happens here, how people dress, how they behave toward their neighbors. Tradition is not something that is discussed and explained and debated, it is simply the fabric upon which these lives are woven. You could have come to Guimaraes (pronounced "geema-rEYEsh," where the "EYE" is pronounced like the English word "eye") a thousand years ago and seen these same people gathering in this same plaza, eating these same pastries, refreshed after a Sunday morning reunion with God. The teenagers would have not been quite so pierced, and there wouldn't have been mobile-phone ads in the windows, but otherwise, the spirit of this community is constant.

As I walked through the crowds, I wouldn't help comparing this religious life with the "deep religious faith" of bigoted people in my home county. In both cases religion is a force that affects how people behave. I'm sure Catholic guilt has kept many a wild-child in line here in the hilly countryside; I know I myself have had the little old ladies in black turn and give me a withering look for deviating from their expectation. Social pressure defines and enforces norms, and the church plays a role in that, here as well as there, recommending temperance and encouraging parishioners to stay on the straight and narrow path of righteousness.

Part of the reason it works here is that everyone participates, everyone here is Catholic, the society is quite homogeneous. The little old ladies can give you "the look" on the street because they assume you are one of them, stepping outside their norms -- they do not suspect you are a foreigner who just doesn't know the local customs.

Part of the reason it doesn't work in America is just the complement of that: we are a culture based on diversity. Each subgroup might have its own norms, the Italians can have theirs and the Nigerians theirs, the Jews and the Poles and the Punjabis each with their way of talking, their expectations about how their people will behave and who they will marry, where they will work and live. And it is even okay for members of one group to look down on members of another, it's not something to encourage, but it is not unthinkable that an ethnic group would think itself superior. Well, actually, they just about all do. Whatever, keep it at home, it is not a topic for public discourse whether Group A is superior to Group B, in America that kind of talk is vulgar.

We do not accept one group, whether it's an ethnic group, a religious group, a fraternity or gang, defining the personal norms for people in another group. And in fact, in America, if your own group has standards you don't agree with, you are free to light out and hang with whoever. That's hard to do, but it happens every day.

The CRC is behaving as if they were those little old ladies in black with the withering glances, as if they had some authority over a person who decides to live in a way they don't understand or approve of. They want to give "the look" to gay people, to transgender people, and ... make them stop. But one, they don't have the right to do that, and two, it won't work. It doesn't work here in the shining valleys of the Minho, and it won't work there in the Chesapeake watershed.

It's interesting to turn it around, it's interesting of them to paint the new nondiscrimination bill as an attack on them. They will be forced to tolerate something they can't understand, and so the problem is that that's an imposition on them to change. I'm sorry, but when some innocent person's life if pure hell because of the way ignorant people treat them, it's not the innocent person's fault. Societies do impose norms on their members, and in America the norm is tolerance. We're all different, and we respect those differences, whether we understand them or not. If you can't handle that, move somewhere where everybody's the same.

20 Comments:

Anonymous Mr. Teacher Man said...

Well said, Jim!

I completely agree.

December 03, 2007 10:20 AM  
Anonymous electrified said...

That's a shock, Teacher-ahem-Man!

Kind of like Improv finding a study backing him up on www.copulation-nation.com .

December 03, 2007 11:12 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

Electrifried, if you don't have anything to say, don't post here. Next one's gone.

And if you change names, I don't care, I'm going to delete stupid stuff, no matter who posts it.

JimK

December 03, 2007 11:19 AM  
Anonymous Mr. Teacher Man said...

OH, you are so funny, Electri(-ahem-)Bigot.

Are you trying to imply that I am less of a man because I am gay?

Just wondering.

Thank goodness I work in a school system that treats me as a human being and not some second-class citizen (as you, PFOX and CRC would just looooove to have it).

Equality wins.

December 03, 2007 5:41 PM  
Anonymous electrified said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

December 03, 2007 6:09 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Electrifried

Sorry, that didn't meet the TTF standard.

Should I block the Charlottesville Holiday Inn Internet, or will you try to stay in bounds?

JimK

December 03, 2007 6:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrea- not anon
Nutty/Bigot anon keeps posting with different aliases but his low class and limited intelligence shine through all of his disguises.

December 03, 2007 6:28 PM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

Jim writes,

As I walked through the crowds, I wouldn't help comparing this religious life with the "deep religious faith" of bigoted people in my home county.

There...you said it...now doesn't that feel better Jim?

The CRC is behaving as if they were those little old ladies in black with the withering glances, as if they had some authority over a person who decides to live in a way they don't understand or approve of.

And how is Jim behaving? Some might say like the "flower children" of the Sixties...I don't know...I really cannot be sure. I do know of someone close to me that that just turned 18 and is sometimes mature, but as often willful, defiant and disobedient. Your attitude and weltanshuanng reminds me alot of this 18 year old.

I guess it is more than a cliche that some grow up, while still others simply grow older...

December 04, 2007 7:33 AM  
Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

Orin,

I wonder if you saw my question. What did you think of "The Riddle of Gender"?

December 04, 2007 7:38 AM  
Anonymous Emproph said...

Orin Ryssman said...
Jim says: "The CRC is behaving as if they were those little old ladies in black with the withering glances, as if they had some authority over a person who decides to live in a way they don't understand or approve of."

Orin says: "And how is Jim behaving? Some might say like the "flower children" of the Sixties...I don't know...I really cannot be sure. I do know of someone close to me that that just turned 18 and is sometimes mature, but as often willful, defiant and disobedient. Your attitude and weltanshuanng reminds me alot of this 18 year old."


So Orin, is your complaint that Jim is more immature than the CRC, or equally immature, and therefore still has no complaint?

Or is it that he is generally immature and they are not?

I ask because you didn't give examples to make it clear.

December 04, 2007 10:06 AM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

Emproph said...

Orin Ryssman said...
Jim says: "The CRC is behaving as if they were those little old ladies in black with the withering glances, as if they had some authority over a person who decides to live in a way they don't understand or approve of."

Orin says: "And how is Jim behaving? Some might say like the "flower children" of the Sixties...I don't know...I really cannot be sure. I do know of someone close to me that that just turned 18 and is sometimes mature, but as often willful, defiant and disobedient. Your attitude and weltanshuanng reminds me alot of this 18 year old."

So Orin, is your complaint that Jim is more immature than the CRC, or equally immature, and therefore still has no complaint?

Good question...hummm, I would not describe Jim as more or less immature than the folks at the CRC...to be honest, they did not register on my radar.

Or is it that he is generally immature and they are not?

Personally I think the approach the CRC has taken to these issues shows a lack of sophistication that is surprising...are they immature? Perhaps...

I ask because you didn't give examples to make it clear.

Fair enough...I am rather distracted by school and work these days, all the while keeping a wife and two teenage daughters happy.

I was thinking of this comment that Jim made,

The CRC is behaving as if they were those little old ladies in black with the withering glances, as if they had some authority over a person who decides to live in a way they don't understand or approve of.

which reminded me of my maternal Grandmother (of Blessed Memory). Like these old ladies in black, she could cast a withering glance that could (and did) stop a ten year old boy in his tracks. Jim thinks this is a bad thing...and that the people trying to maintain some moral order in the public square should either just get over their hung ups or move somewhere else (wow, now that is tolerant, isn't it???).

Jim writes,

Societies do impose norms on their members, and in America the norm is tolerance.

Sorry Jim...that is akin to asserting that two plus two equal five. It doesn't. (Which reminds me of of this comment Jim made, "Religion affects everything that happens here" - a comment that could have only been made by a tourist, not someone truly familiar with the religious culture of Western Europe. Religion has been all but dead for a while in Western Europe...though not to worry, Muslim immigrants plan to change that...) There is more...much more...to the United States than tolerance, too often an excuse for the licentious lows to which we have allowed our common culture to descend.

And no, I do not plan to leave the United States...I like it here quite well, thank you.

December 04, 2007 3:20 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

... [re little old ladies' withering glances] Jim thinks this is a bad thing...and that the people trying to maintain some moral order in the public square should either just get over their hung ups or move somewhere else (wow, now that is tolerant, isn't it???)...

Wow, Orin, I had no idea that's what you meant. The little old ladies here have powerful Catholic mojo, they keep the order, and even if you don't know what The Look is for, you know you'd better mind your P's and Q's. You wouldn't want to piss them off if you lived here.

I got nothing at all against that, and I'm blown away that you'd read that into what I said. In a town like this (I just came back from a reception at a 700-year-old palace), it works. There is a single culture here, and everybody's part of it. If you get on the bad side of those little old ladies, you'd better think about leaving town, and it's no joke, they're the law.

I have no problem at all with that. In fact I think it's a beautiful system, it really works in a one-culture society, it works perfectly.

I was in Spain once, and we came across a beautiful ancient Gothic church on a little side-street, and our friend asked the priest what church it was. We couldn't understand what he was saying, but he wagged his finger at her and chewed her out bigtime. She said he told her, "I can tell from your accent that you're from this town, you should know what this place is, you need to go to church more." He was within his rights to do that, because she was a Catholic girl from that town, and in fact she didn't go to Mass very often. He would have been out of bounds pulling the same thing on us, because we were not part of his culture.

Your "now that is tolerant" comment is ridiculous, making up something you say I believe and then treating it with sarcasm. That calls for an apology, Orin.

The little old ladies' withering looks are fine with me, it doesn't work in America, that's all. The little old Mormon lady can scowl at me for drinking a Coke, the Catholics can complain about Planned Parenthood, the Baptists can badmouth gay people, and it doesn't matter, they're simply out of their turf. America was borne of the Enlightenment, a liberal country where freedom is the prize, including the freedom to live by your culture's norms if you want to, and the freedom from someone else's culture's norms. Those little old ladies would simply be out of line on the streets of America, take it or leave it, but they are the way of life here.

And as for your comment that religion is all but dead in Western Europe, Orin, maybe you read something that said that, but I'm here now, I saw the crowds coming out of Mass, I see the Christmas decorations in every shop and hanging over every street, I'm seeing these people face to face and talking to them -- religion touches everything in their life.

JimK

December 04, 2007 4:17 PM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

Jim writes,

And as for your comment that religion is all but dead in Western Europe, Orin, maybe you read something that said that, but I'm here now, I saw the crowds coming out of Mass, I see the Christmas decorations in every shop and hanging over every street, I'm seeing these people face to face and talking to them -- religion touches everything in their life.

You see "crowds" coming out of Mass...and Christmas decorations everywhere...yes, they are every bit as "Catholic" as John F. Kennedy was once "Catholic".

Devout Muslims have taken note of this and they are taking over Europe by shear force of reproduction (because they believe it their religious duty to do so) and immigration.

Like gold leaf on lead, one must scratch the surface in order to see what is underneath.

December 05, 2007 2:12 PM  
Anonymous surprise, surprise said...

Hey kids. You've probably heard the tide is turning. Something like 14 states have seen the light and have refused funding for abstinence programs and are gpoing with condom-emphasis sex ed over the last three years.

Guess what? Federal health officials reported yesterday that after 14 years of decline, teen pregnancy shot up 3 per cent last year.

Way to go, TTF!

December 06, 2007 6:50 AM  
Anonymous Warning, facts ahead said...

SS said Guess what? Federal health officials reported yesterday that after 14 years of decline, teen pregnancy shot up 3 per cent last year.

It's no surprise you cite no data about funding for your favorite sex ed programs - abstinence-only until marriage. Here's some data you chose to omit.

In Fiscal Year 2005 the federal government allocated $168 million through three separate
funding streams for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. This increased to $178
million in Fiscal Year 2006, and the President has proposed increasing this funding level
to $204 million for Fiscal Year 2007.


And in 2006, ...the Government Accountability Office concluded that such [abstinence] programs have not proven to work, and at times teach children medically inaccurate about condoms and AIDS.

The report found that in one instance, materials used in the class "incorrectly suggested that HIV can pass through condoms because the latex used in condoms is porous."


All that money spent on medically inaccurate "just say no" sex ed, and suddenly the teen pregnancy shot up 3 per cent last year.

Way to go who?

December 08, 2007 8:59 AM  
Anonymous Emproph said...

"All that money spent on medically inaccurate "just say no" sex ed, and suddenly the teen pregnancy shot up 3 per cent last year."

Pretend I'm from the CRC and take me seriously when I say: "I don't follow."

Are you suggesting that not telling teens how not to get pregnant actually leads to an increase in unwanted pregnancies?

Wouldn't that also lead to an increase in abortions?

December 08, 2007 2:38 PM  
Anonymous Warning, facts ahead said...

SS cherry picked a few "facts" and spun them to his liking.

The increase in federal funding for medically inaccurate abstinence-only sex ed programs since 2000 is more likely what led to the increase in teen pregnancies in 2006 than the 14 states that now refuse federal money for it. At least 5 of those states didn't start refusing the money until this year, the year after the 3% teen pregnancy increase.

December 08, 2007 6:03 PM  
Anonymous they spoke against me said...

WFA, the Federal government began funding ab programs in 1996 after privately funded programs spreading across the country had begun reducing teen pregnancy in the early 90s. Prior to 2002, all states other than California had participated. Political pressure from polarizing radical groups have begun to reduce the number of participating states. The abstinence programs had a great track record. Just recently, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, who will never win another election in Virginia, refused to accept funds for abstinence programs despite statistics from a state-funded study proving it was working in Virginia.

Comp sex ed programs also have an established record. They were widespread in the 70s and resulted in an explosion of teen pregancy which continued unabated until the introduction of ab program in the 90s.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

December 08, 2007 8:03 PM  
Anonymous Warning, facts ahead said...

"The abstinence programs had a great track record."

No they didn't. Abstinence-only until marriage programs have been studied numerous times recently and found to be both inaccurate and ineffective.

Henry Waxman's 2004 report evaluated ab-only programs found them to contain medically inaccurate information.
http://oversight.house.gov/documents/20041201102153-50247.pdf

Bearman and Bruckner's 2005 study found abstinence-only programs that employ abstinence pledges failed 88% of the time to prevent teens from having sexual relations.
http://www.iserp.columbia.edu/people/downloads/after_the_promise.pdf

The 2006 GAO report found ab-only programs do not work.
http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d0787.pdf

The programs that work the best are comprehensive programs just like Montgomery County's - they combine the abstinence message with medically accurate information about how to protect one's self and others from unplanned pregnancy and STIs.

December 10, 2007 5:19 PM  
Anonymous Emproph said...

Warning, facts ahead said...
"Henry Waxman's 2004 report evaluated ab-only programs found them to contain medically inaccurate information.
http://oversight.house.gov/documents/20041201102153-50247.pdf

Bearman and Bruckner's 2005 study found abstinence-only programs that employ abstinence pledges failed 88% of the time to prevent teens from having sexual relations.
http://www.iserp.columbia.edu/people/downloads/after_the_promise.pdf

The 2006 GAO report found ab-only programs do not work.
http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d0787.pdf"

~~~
Wow, there's a lot of relevant and resourceful information there. I'm very much looking forward to putting it in my pipe and smoking it. In fact, thank you for that suggestion 'they spoke against me.'

December 10, 2007 11:13 PM  

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