Sunday, January 11, 2009

Just a Downer of a Post

Friday evening was a tough evening. The stars conspired to send me a constant stream of sad and terrifying news items, one after the other. And now, as a public service, I will relate all of these pieces to you, dear reader. Because we're not all kittens and snowflakes over here.

1) The Palestinian death count in Gaza climbed above 900 today, including 275 children and 93 women. 13 Israelis have died. In the past, I would have described myself as being cautiously pro-Israel, if for no other reason than because I respected their ability to dominate their region so totally politically, militarily, and economically. An extreme form of Realpolitik, if you will. But this latest invasion seems to me to be just beyond the pale in terms of its brutality and cynicism as to eliminate what ever sympathy I still had for the Jewish state. I guess that the article that really swung my opinion was the Times piece with the title: "Israel Strikes Before Ally Departs."

But enough about the Middle East. What other sources of misery and suffering can we find in the news? How about something closer to home?

2) Oh, yes. Here is a video of the BART security officers murdering Oscar Grant. And here is another. And another. And another.

It's not like police brutality or institutional racism are anything new. (In either this country or any other. I don't mean to get down on America, specifically. It's just that this is the country that we happen to be living in at the moment.) Not that that's an excuse. But what is particularly crazy about this shooting is how it has been recorded. In some of the above footage, you can see how almost everyone immediately has their cell phones and cameras out, watching the officers of the law. In fact, the first thing the cops did after the murder was try to confiscate everyone's recording devices. And now all those videos are on YouTube. So even when technology is allowing government and corporate entities to track you with ever increasing efficiency, it is also allowing you to survey these institutions, and perhaps be able to form some kind of political force to counteract and balance the primary power structures.

There's an important philosophical treatise hidden here. Probably many - please let me know what you have read about this.

Also, Post-Script, here is today's San Francisco Chronicle article on the developing situation. Officer Johannes Mehserle, 27, has resigned.

And speaking of institutionalized racism:

3) On Friday night, a drive-by shooting at 29th St. and MLK Jr. Drive wounded five boys aged between 15 and 19. The shooting occurred outside of Dunbar Vocational Career Academy, during a basketball game that, at the time, was tied and in double-overtime. As of today, two of the victims remain hospitalized, although they are both in stable condition. Thank God for small favors, huh?

The authorities (see #2, above) believe that the attack was gang-related. But there is something about the fact that it took place outside of a high school during a basketball game - one attended by families and children - that just makes it particularly scary. And I think that it might be incidents like this one that causes people to fall back into habits and routines that make them feel safe and strong and - perhaps above all - not helpless or vulnerable. And then you throw in someone like this guy:


Meet Mark Driscoll, the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, who, according to the NY Times, has "resurrected a particular strain of fire and brimstone, one that most Americans assume died out with the Puritans: Calvinism..."

Don't get me wrong. I appreciate a little fire and brimstone as much as the next guy. I also empathize with Mars Hill's criticism of contemporary evangelical churches, especially those that "play down doctrine in favor of upbeat, practical teachings on the Christian life." I particularly cannot stand these two:

Joel and Victoria

I don't know if Jesus would want me to be happy or not. But I am pretty confident that he really doesn't want me to be rich. So Mars Hill's emphasis (am I the only one frightened by that name?) on wanting to glorify God before man. But why is the perceived alternative to this kind of superficial, materialistic, inauthentic type of Christianity a brutal, stripped down kind of Christianity that targets as its principal enemies homosexuality, feminism, and liberalism in general?

Post-Script: From the Times article:

Most people who attend Mars Hill do not see themselves as theological radicals. Mark Driscoll is just “Pastor Mark,” not the New Calvinist warrior demonized on evangelical and liberal blogs. Yet while some initially come for mundane reasons — their friends attend; they like the music — the Calvinist theology is often the glue that keeps them in their seats. They call the preaching “authentic” and “true to life.”
Now here's your irony. The etymology of "authentic" runs as follows: [authentic: 1340, "authoritative," from O.Fr. autentique (13c.), from M.L. authenticus, from Gk. authentikos "original, genuine, principal," from authentes "one acting on one's own authority," from autos "self" + hentes "doer, being." Sense of "entitled to acceptance as factual" is first recorded 1369. Authentic implies that the contents of the thing in question correspond to the facts and are not fictitious; genuine implies that the reputed author is the real one.]

As Heidegger knew, "authenticy" is connected with the concepts of ownership, author-ity, having control over one's life. That's why the possibility of "authentic Being" is so central to Being and Time. But a lot of (this kind of) Calvinist Theology is a kind of giving up authority and (perhaps above all) autonomy to an angry, angry God. So, in a way, the appeal of this kind of... cult... is the surrendering of responsibly to an external (higher) power.

Like what this group of predominately white, unemployed, working and middle-class men did.

(I feel better now.)

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