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Cruelty and Suffering

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There's this statistic I encounter every so often about how conservatives donate so much more money to charity than progressives. I guess it must be true since there's supposedly hard data to back it up, but I wonder how much religion pays a role. After all, conservatives tend to be more religious than liberals, and donations to churches count as tax-deductible charitable contributions. Mormons, for instance, are expected to donate 10% of their income to the church. That's a lot of charity.

That's a lot of charity even for me personally, considering that I started paying tithing before I turned eight. When I was a poor college student with a part-time job, after I wrote that big monthly check the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I didn't feel like I had a lot of money left over to give to other organizations.

When I quit going to church and could give specific amounts to specific groups, I found that I favored organizations that took care of animals. But instead of saying, "Well, I care a lot about animal welfare, so I'm going to give money to groups dedicated to that," it was was more like I figured out that I cared a lot about animals because I preferred donating to the Humane Society over writing a check to the Red Cross. It's not like I never give money to organizations dedicated to taking care of people; I just give more to groups focused on animals.

So Quiet You Can Hear the Ants Pissing Outside

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Yesterday I went to a screening of a really boring, unsuccessful documentary ostensibly and nominally about forgiveness. I say it that way because although the film--or rather, the first half of the four-hour film--claimed to explore forgiveness, it spent most of its time discussing the offenses and crimes that someone then did or didn't forgive. And there were some pretty horrific crimes: torture and murder in South Africa under Apartheid, the shooting of Amish school girls in Pennsylvania, two college girls out camping in Oregon and being run over by a truck before being attacked with an ax, the murder of a cop during a bank robbery.... there was so much attention to these crimes that the movie felt like some sort of investigative piece you'd see on the Discovery channel.

As for what it actually had to say about forgiveness, that was pretty trite and unsurprising. I didn't hear a single thing I hadn't encountered several times before in either a Sunday school class, a self-help book, or both. In fact, aside from grisly details about the crimes presented in the movie, the only truly memorable thing it contained was when a woman who had to forgive A) herself for being a drug addict and stealing from her daughter and B) her boyfriend for giving her HIV, told the camera that as a result of learning to forgive, she could sleep very well, and that at night her life was so peaceful "you can hear the ants pissing outside."

Unsuccessful and boring as the movie was, it did make me think that a thorough exploration of the topic is warranted--in some other forum. This project should not have been a movie but a book--a thorough, well-researched, well-documented, well-edited, scholarly exploration of the history of forgiveness and current ideas about it.

The Good News: Sometimes, They Get It

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OK, first of all, I want to make clear that this entry ends up happy, or at least happy-ish, because I'm going to spin it as a feminist success story. But there's some gross stuff to get through along the way.

Thanks to Salon's Broadsheet, I have been reminded that Feminists suck all the humor out of sexual harassment, always, all the time, though in this case it's because feminists object to ads that try to sell cleaning products to women through jokes about sexual harassment and threatened rape.

Apparently feminists' lack of humor so upsets some guy that he delivers a REALLY HORRIBLE misogynist rant arguing that women who are offended by the use of the imagery and language of sexual violence to market products to them, should be silenced, killed and sexually assaulted.

And when people point out that his misogynist rant is as gross as the original ad, he says, "But I didn't see it that way. I didn't see the rape imagery in the original ad, or in my own comments. When i said that women who didn't think it was funny to see a woman threatened with sexual assault, should be confronted by a bunch of guys who ejaculate foamy white stuff on them, I wasn't try to offend anyone."

And then there's a long discussion of male privilege, and one wise commenter points out that The greatest advantage of privilege is the ability to be blind to it.

That reminded me of old entry of mine that makes a similar point: namely, that one of the privileges of being on top of the power hierarchy is that the people in that position don't have to spend a lot of time worrying about the people below them, the people who take care of them.

Here's the good news part of all this:

Reciprocity and Gratitude

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When I was engaged two decades ago, I was in a position to do things for my fiance that he could not do for me. This was OK with me at the time. I was in love: it brought me joy to do things for my beloved. It let me think of him, and imagine his happiness, and feel close to him.

At some point I noticed, however, that while he enjoyed the things I did for him, he didn't see them as special the way I did. Not only did they not require reciprocity--which we both knew he couldn't provide--they didn't even seem to require gratitude or, more disturbingly, acknowledgment at times. I began to realize that he thought they were his due, what he was entitled to, not something I willingly chose to do for him because I loved him, and that I could have chosen not to do.

I met my fiance in Arizona but he was British, and I knew that at some point before the wedding, he'd have to go back to England. The particular way he decided to go home involved considerable sacrifice and hardship for me. I wasn't happy about it, but I understood that sometimes, things just have to be a certain way. You deal with it as well as you can, which is what I tried to do; I also tried to make things easier for him.

On the eve of his departure, I told him, "I need you to say two words to me."

"What?" he asked, grinning. "Bug off?"

A few months ago, in the midst of a rant from me about how VILE Twilight is, a friend suggested that I read Fascinating Womanhood by Helen B. Andelin--he was pretty sure it would help to explain Twilight. He'd never read either, but he had Mormon daughters and a Mormon ex-wife, and he knew plenty of women who had read both.

In case you didn't know, Fascinating Womanhood is, like Twilight, a thoroughly Mormon book that never mentions Mormonism. Andelin, who taught marriage enrichment courses to Mormon Women in California during the 1950s while her husband was busy being a dentist, fasted and prayed about how Mormon women might achieve an ideal marriage--and the answer is contained in Fascinating Womanhood.

What the hell, I thought, when my friend suggested I read this. I'd read The Rules years ago. I'd grown up Mormon and been to plenty of Standards Nights. How much worse could this particular exploration and defense of caricaturized femininity really be?

Well.

Part of the difficulty in battling sexism and gender assumptions is that they are sometimes subtle, sometimes difficult to tease out. What makes FW so shocking is how blatant it all. Seriously: if I hadn't known, in all certainty, that it wasn't a joke, I would have thought it was satire. It was difficult to believe that anyone could take this crap seriously. But it is deadly in its seriousness--which is a tad ironic, since the overall thrust of the book is to teach women how to be frivolous.

That's right, ladies: being frivolous is serious business. Because the crux of gender differences and relationships between men and women boil down to one fact, repeated over and over throughout the book and presented in all caps, so you'll feel its pithy truth all more forcefully:

Torture and the Temple

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There's an entry I've been meaning to write for a long time, about the links between Mormonism and torture in the Bush administration, but luckily I found that someone had already done it, and done it quite well. In the April 2008 issue of Sunstone, Boyd Peterson has an excellent essay entitled "Mormonism and Torture--Paradoxes and First Principles." I didn't read it when it came out because the magazine arrived when I busy getting my house ready to sell, and I stuck magazines in boxes rather than read them.

I am glad I finally got around to correcting that oversight. I highly recommend this essay if, for some reason, you missed it like me. My only complaint with it is that it makes no mention of the ways torture is enabled by the temple ceremony.

Now, Sunstone has a strict policy of not discussing the details of the temple, which isn't all that remarkable, since when you go through the temple, you make a vow never to discuss it. There was, however, an article in the most recent issue about how Mormons might make the temple seem less weird and more respectable to people who will never understand what's going on in there. The article is seriously whacked. It enraged me as few things have lately, and I seriously considered both A) posting an angry rant about it and B) writing a letter to the editor of Sunstone about all the failings in the article, but then I decided I had better things to do than explain to the pompous Mormon man who wrote that delusional piece of shit just how clueless he is about the reasons why people REALLY dislike the temple.

But then John R posted something on his blog about how he's probably going to be exed for a previous blog entry about the gruesome death threats made in the temple.

In a comment, John illustrated how he felt about the vow of silence he made in the temple with this analogy:

More Important Virtues

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Gay men are not known for being "nice," which might be one reason I like them. In fact, two of my favorite statements about niceness come from gay men. In "Disappointed," Morrissey sings

Don't talk to me
about people who are nice
for I have spent my whole life
in ruins
because of people who are nice

And in Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim, the witch tells the townspeople

You're so nice
You're not good
You're not bad
You're just nice
I'm not good
I'm not nice
I'm just right

I have long had a problem with niceness myself, not because there is anything wrong with it in and of itself, but because it is too often a shoddy substitute for more important virtues.

Dentistry, Torture and Intent

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that dental work can really fucking HURT. But is it ever accurate to call it torture?

I was cursed with crappy teeth. All of them are extra small, most of them didn't start out where they were supposed to be, three of them never came in because they didn't exist in the first place, and one of them was grafted to my jawbone and thus impervious to the reshaping efforts of braces, on top of which it was malformed and looked like a teeny tiny little fang. When I was 22, a molar on the bottom left side broke one evening while I was eating a bowl of noodles at a dinner party in Taiwan, and three years later, the molar above it simply disintegrated one day, for absolutely no apparent reason.

In an effort to make my teeth look the way adult human teeth are supposed to look, I underwent all sorts of dental procedures. I had three orthodontists and two sets of braces, and I have three crowns and two bridges.

People whose jobs involve hurting me in some way--dentists, rolfers, electrologists--have occasionally told me that I have an exceptionally high pain threshold. "I don't think that's true," I said once. "It's not that these things don't hurt me; I just try to breathe through the pain and not freak out or cry, because I've learned the hard way that those things don't do any good." But I've been assured that when it comes to pain, I'm a model of stoic endurance.

Excommunicate the War Criminal, Already!

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Just in case anyone is unclear on the relationship of state-sanctioned and inflicted torture--and more particularly state-sanctioned tortured inflicted on political prisoners by a western army occupying some portion of the middle east--let me remind you that that's how Jesus died.

Jesus was tortured to death. The "Prince of Peace" (not the Prince of Abstinence, nor the Prince of Sobriety) was tortured to death. So if someone else also tortures people--maybe not to death, at least not on purpose--but as violently as possible without causing death ON PURPOSE, does that make the person or people doing the torture followers of A) the Prince of Peace or B) his executioners?

The Mormon church worked hard to say that the reason they excommunicated the guy who created the shirtless elder calendar wasn't because he created the shirtless elder calendar; it was because he had stopped wearing garments, didn't pay tithing and was inactive. This is pure bullshit. The church doesn't excommunicate inactive people who don't pay tithing, wear garments or attend church; it bullies and harasses them by sending home teachers, and devotes part of each General Conference to inviting them to come back to church. (My sister mentioned that when she heard that in the GC two weeks ago, she said to someone she was with, "Those people aren't listening!" No duh.)

The stated rationale for excommunicating the guy might have been that he didn't wear garments, but the reason he had to be disciplined was the calendar. He embarrassed the church. That was his real crime.

Thanks to Spike for this clip considering what people really mean when they complain about "political correctness gone mad":

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