Contact me

Use the form on the right to send me a quick note.


123 Street Avenue, City Town, 99999

(123) 555-6789


You can set your address, phone number, email and site description in the settings tab.
Link to read me page with more information.

2015-01-15 12.33.40.jpg


Filtering by Category: News

He Is Who We Thought He Was

Thomas Whitley

I usually like being right.

Not this time.

Ten months ago I wrote about Donald Trump's dangerous nativism, saying that while it had survived in the shadows for a long time, it now looked poised to thrive in the light. Even as prescient as that looks now, I could not fathom what we are seeing today.

By July, I had written that Trump combined "the racialized nationalism of Hitler with the erratic strongman facade of Gaddafi and the opportunism of Mussolini." I have not ceased since then to do what I believe is my duty: point out the dangers that I believe Donald Trump poses - to our country and to the world.

On Friday, Trump signed perhaps his most pernicious executive order yet. The order makes sweeping changes to our country's immigration system by suspending the entire refugee admissions system for 4 months, suspending the Syrian refugee program completely, and banning entry to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries, among other things. The immigration ban also applies to green card holders who are legal permanent residents of the U.S. This is, quite simply, despicable. In the midst of a dire refugee crisis (that the U.S. is at least partially responsible for) - and on Holocaust Remembrance Day, no less - Trump did what he promised all along that he would.

Donald Trump has now said with his actions - as he has said before with his words - that Christian lives are more valuable than Muslim lives. This order will tear families apart. It will send people to their deaths, just as our actions did when we turned away Holocaust refugees. This ban will make our country less safe. But it should not surprise us.

This is who Donald Trump said he was. This is what he promised to do.

Less than a week after the election I wrote that Donald Trump did not deserve the "chance," the blank slate that many were calling for. His past actions simply did not merit it. But I also wrote that he did have a chance - a chance to prove us wrong, a chance to unequivocally denounce autocracy, racism, sexism, and xenophobia. But that was not to be. For Donald Trump is an insecure nativist wannabe autocrat.

I have been inspired by the resistance that has formed so quickly in the wake of Trump's election. I was honored to march with millions of men and women around the world in the Women's March the day after Trump's inauguration. People are beginning to live fully into their role as citizens and fight for what this country can be, what this country should be, what this country must be.

This first week has been exhausting, but this is a fight worth fighting, and it is a fight we must win. Our country, our lives, and our souls depend on it. Let us not grow weary in doing what is right.

Yes, Donald Trump is who we thought he was. But we are better.

Sexual Slander in American Politics

Thomas Whitley

On the latest episode of Thinking Religion we discussed, among other things, how the same sort of sexual slander I study in early Christianity is alive and well in American politics. The examples just in the past week are too many to enumerate, so a few will suffice.

Earlier this week, Marco Rubio attacked Donald Trump for his small fingers (a particular area of sensitivity for The Donald, dating way back to 1988 when Spy Magazine began calling him a "short-fingered vulgarian").

You know they say about men with small hands . . . you can’t trust them.

It's obvious what Rubio was alluding to, even if the media chooses not to say it explicitly. The pregnant pause after the first half of his statement is designed to allow people to finish the phrase themselves: "they have small penises." 

Today, after Mitt Romney went after Donald Trump in a speech, Trump responded by saying that Romney begged him for his endorsement in 2012, but he didn't stop there.

I could have said, ‘Mitt, drop to your knees,’ and he would have dropped to his knees.

Yes, on the one hand, Trump's statement conjures up images of people on their knees begging, but it is also designed to conjure up the image of Mitt Romney dropping to his knees to perform fellatio. The clear insinuation being that Trump is the stronger man and Romney is the weak man who would have allowed himself to be orally penetrated by Trump.

But the sexual slander works the other way around too. Just think of how often you've heard a Republican say on the stump or on the debate stage that someone else (usually liberals) are going to "ram [something] down our throats." This is a particular favorite of Marco Rubio. Here, the tables have been turned such that Republicans can cast themselves as the victim of liberals, who are apparently raping Republicans with their Hollywood values.

Sexual slander is ubiquitous in American electoral politics. Start looking for it and you'll see it popping up everywhere.


Image via Michael Vadon

Why Do (Some) Bernie Sanders Supporters Hate Hillary Clinton So Much?

Thomas Whitley

I wrote recently about how some of Bernie Sanders’ supporters are hurting him with their seeming inability to allow anything positive to be said about Hillary Clinton or anything negative to be said about Sanders. The term “Bernie Bros” has been coined for this group, though they are certainly not all men. Some Sanders supporters have also been on the receiving end of negative comments by Clinton supporters, though not to the same degree. I am not interested so much in casting blame as in trying to understand the intense hatred that some Sanders supporters harbor for Hillary Clinton.

In doing some reading this morning for my class — Sex and Sexuality in Early Christianity — I was rereading Stephanie Cobb’s fantastic book, Dying to Be Men: Gender and Language in Early Christian Martyr Texts, and it hit me. Hillary Clinton is the progressive proximate other.

The radically ‘other’ is merely ‘other’; the proximate ‘other’ is problematic and hence of supreme interest.*

In other words, the proximate or near other presents a greater threat to one’s identity than does the radically or far other. Thus, the Republican candidates for President pose very little threat to the identity of Bernie Sanders and his supporters as liberal, progressive, democratic socialists. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, a moderate mainstream Democrat, posses an enormous threat to his and his supporters' identity because she claims to be one of them. “I am a progressive who gets things done for people,” Clinton said in her speech Monday night after the Iowa Caucuses closed.

Stephanie Cobb uses the proximate other theory to explain early Christian group identity as seen through martyrologies and the danger that Jews pose (as opposed to pagans) to the identity of Christians as well as the danger that an apostate poses. The theory is applicable here as well. Many of Bernie Sanders’ supporters do not think that Hillary Clinton’s actions “conform to group norms” and thus she is “perceived as a threat to group identity and is rejected” (Cobb, 22). Cobb goes on to describe the reaction to those in-group members who have not, to some, adequately performed their group identity.

It is typical of group behavior for undesirable in-group members — i.e., members who fail to perform specified group characteristics — to be disliked to a greater degree than out-group members; they may even be denied association with the group altogether. . . . One way to protect social identity is to propagate negative attitudes toward in-group members who deviate from normative standards. (Cobb, 87)

And so, according to Cobb, we should expect to see some Sanders supporters viewing Clinton as even more undesirable than the Republican candidates and to see them propagating negative attitudes about her. Unsurprisingly, this is precisely what we have seen. I’ve heard some Sanders supporters say they would vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, for instance. And Clinton has been labeled a “liar,” a “cheat,” a “shill,” “cold," “calculating,” etc. — and all of this by other Democrats.

When it comes to the “progressive” identity, Hillary Clinton is the proximate other and as such is more dangerous to the identity of progressives who support Bernie Sanders than even Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. Because of this she must be exposed as the imposter they perceive her to be.


Image via Wikipedia

* Jonathan Z. Smith, "What a Difference a Difference Makes," in "To See Ourselves as Others See Us": Christians, Jews, "Others" in Late Antiquity, ed. Jacob Neusner and Ernest S. Frerichs (Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1985), 25.

Why It’s Getting Difficult for Me to #FeelTheBern

Thomas Whitley

I like Bernie Sanders, I really do. I like a lot of his policies and respect his passion. I also think he has some shortcomings. Not least of which is his insistence that economic inequality is the only real problem in this country and that racism, sexism, etc. would all be solved by breaking up the big banks, enacting campaign finance reform, and raising the minimum wage to $15/hour. Thanks to the continual prodding of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, he has begun talking more about the realities of race, but even in his answers at Monday night’s #DemTownHall it is evident that he still really believes fixing economic inequality should be our main (if not only) focus. I’m all for fixing economic inequality, but it is more than a little disheartening that the most “progressive” candidate in the race seems not to realize that structural racism cannot be fixed through economics alone. But I digress.

I have some legitimate concerns with some of Sen. Sanders’ stances and policies, but those are not keeping me from supporting him. In fact, I have been inclined to support him since he got into the race, though I am still far from convinced he has any chance at winning a general election. But what is making it the hardest for me to #FeelTheBern is his supporters. Support for Bernie Sanders has become something of a litmus test on the left; support him or else you’re not a true “progressive.” No matter that I am probably left even of Sen. Sanders. And beyond this, many of his supporters appear to have made it their life’s mission to track down any Democrat who doesn’t support them and berate them, as if this would suddenly open their eyes.

I experienced more of this while live tweeting Monday night’s #DemTownHall than I have to date. In response to a question that Hillary Clinton was asked about young people believing her to be dishonest, I remarked on the gender bias in politics and how women in positions of power are perceived as less trustworthy than their male counterparts (Carly Fiorina has been on the receiving end of similar claims). You would think I had said that Hillary Clinton was Jesus and that Bernie Sanders was the anti-Christ. Some Sanders supporters could not stand that I was suggesting that gender bias is real (and apparently that I wasn’t being effusively positive about Sanders). Because they believe Hillary Clinton to be a “liar” and “crooked,” then she must be and this must mean that gender bias doesn’t exist.

But just as winter does not disprove climate change, feminist women who support Sanders and think Clinton is a liar do not disprove the existence of gender bias in politics.

I was not the only one who felt the burn of Sanders’ supporters. It was so bad during the #DemTownHall Monday night that Sanders’ own Rapid Response Director had to tell Sanders supports to be respectful.

I am not so naive as to think that all of Sen. Sanders’ supporters are acting like this; in fact, many of my close friends support him and are nothing like this. But those followers of Sanders who cannot stand for any non-negative thing to be said about Hillary Clinton and who are focused not on dialogue but on telling you why you’re wrong are having the opposite of what I imagine is their intended effect. They are pushing me towards Hillary Clinton.

I remain undecided. I think that Clinton is much more electable than Sanders and that even though her policies are fairly mainstream Democratic policies (and are mostly right of Sanders) she has a greater chance of getting any progressive policies passed as President and that a Clinton presidency would thus result in a the enactment of more progressive policies than an ideologically more-liberal Sanders presidency. But what may push me over the fence are Sanders’ supporters who are not determined to join together to defeat Donald Trump or Ted Cruz and ensure that the Affordable Care Act is not rolled back, that we win more protections for the LGBTQ community, etc. but rather to lecture all of us Democrats who are not head-over-heels in love with Bernie Sanders about how we don’t understand politics, how we’re supporting a crooked liar, and how we aren’t really progressives.

I know that Sen. Sanders doesn’t control his supporters, but I’ve had enough of the demands for ideological "purity," the arbitrary litmus tests, and the more-progressive-than-thou attitude. So, well done, supporters of Sen. Sanders, you just may have succeeded in getting me to vote for Hillary Clinton.


Image via Gage Skidmore




No Peace for Paris

Thomas Whitley

 Peace for Paris.

This is the prayer of many and this has been the sentiment shared almost nonstop across social media these last 24 hours, illustrated rather cleverly in the Banksy Eiffel Tower/Peace sign mashup. But I can neither pray nor hope for peace for Paris because there is no peace to be had in Paris.  

The gunfire may have been quieted and the explosions may have ceased, but Paris will not experience peace. Daughters and sons, mothers and fathers, friends and lovers have been lost. They will not be brought back. No amount of "pitiless" war will bring them back. No justifications of retaliation will soothe the pain. No body count will be high enough to satisfy. 

French soldiers will be dispatched. A war has been promised; it will be long and bloody, but it will not bring peace. More deaths — French and Syrian; soldiers and civilians — will come. This will be pseudo-solemnly lauded as tough but necessary. The French dead will be honored in the West; their “sacrifice” celebrated. The Syrian dead will be forgotten in the West; their expandability will be their silent legacy. Brown bodies will be demonized and vilified because of our fear, a fear that we will not seek to combat, nor even seek to understand, because we do not believe in fear. And yet this fear has just condemned thousands to death.

There is much I do not know, but this I know: in the wake of the attacks in Paris, there will be war, there will death, there will be hubris, there will be xenophobia, there will be loss, there will be loneliness, there will be despair, there will be unquenchable pain, and we will have been the author it. But there will be no peace for Paris, for it is we who will not allow it. 

#CharlestonShooting: The Relevant Context

Thomas Whitley

What's the relevant context for the Charleston shooting? Is it mass shootings? Is it attacks on places of worship? Is it white supremacy? Is it attacks on Mother Emmanuel? Is it the lives of the victims?

This is the question Rachel Maddow asked on her show last night. What's the relevant context? This question is important, as she points out, because what we determine is the relevant context shapes how we make sense of this event, how we make meaning.

What counts as context here for what happened in that church last night, it all either feels too obscene or too sacred to tie it down, right? All we really, really know is that this keeps happening, and every single time it’s unbearable.

Some want to point to the lack of gun control laws in this country and the fact that we are the only developed world where this type of thing happens at this rate. Others [*cough* the NRA *cough*] are blaming the pastor himself for voting against guns in churches. Many are questioning why we continue to speak of white shooters as lone wolves who probably have some mental illness and seem unwilling to label this event "terrorism." Fox News is grasping for any explanation other than racism. All of these are attempts to provide context, and thereby to provide meaning to this event.

Yet, as Rachel said, it seems impossible to tie down the context. it is all either too obscene or too sacred, to one person or another. One person's obvious context is the next person's harmful activism. But it is the decisions we make early on, the context within which we set this event, that determine how the story is told, how it is understood, how it is made meaningful, or how it is dismissed.

Context matters here. Context matters every time we sit down to write history. The context we choose determines the history we will write.

My Week (Or So) In Writing

Thomas Whitley

I am, as always it seems, plugging away at my dissertation. I'm currently working on a chapter about Carpocratian views on metempsychosis (transmigration of souls). It's going a bit slowly, but I think the reorganization I've done will make the chapter better. I've also been writing non-dissertation stuff too.

I wrote a paper for the upcoming FSU Department of Religion Graduate Student Symposium titled "Carpocratianism, Authority, and the Communism of Wives." I'll be presenting that next weekend. If you're in town, you should come to the symposium. There will be a lot of great papers and Bruce Lincoln is giving the keynote Friday evening. Some of the ideas in this paper led to the post that went up on Monday on the American Society of Church History's History of Christianity blog, Heresiology as a Zero Sum Game.

A little over a week ago I wrote Are We Fighting a "Religious War" Against ISIS? in response to a CNN interview that President Obama did. Then last Thursday, President Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast and made comments on violence committed by Christians. The response was swift and largely negative. I wrote On Differentiating Between Christian Violence and Islamic Violence the following day to examine the arbitrary and self-serving nature of such differentiations, which were a staple of the responses. That post was, by my site's standards, wildly popular. Thank you to those who shared it and for the feedback I've received. That post also resulted in my being asked to write for Marginalia Review of Books' MRBlog. My first post, The Rhetoric of Similarity: Republicans, Complementarians, and ISIS, went up yesterday and it looks at the response to the response to President Obama's Prayer Breakfast speech.

Religion is in the news as much these days as ever, but solid analysis is lacking in the pieces produced by large publications (Lawrence O'Donnell's recent segment was a welcome exception). The theme of much of my writing this week has focused on this need and tried, in a small way, to fill this gap.


Image: Leonid Pasternak, The Passion of Creation, via Wikipedia.

On Differentiating Between Christian Violence and Islamic Violence

Thomas Whitley

Two days ago I wrote about the criticism of President Obama for his reluctance to say that the US is fighting a "religious war" with ISIS. Yesterday he spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast and again addressed the topic of religious violence.

Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post, among others, took issue with parts of the speech. In discussing those who "hijack" religions "for their own murderous ends," Obama attempts to say, in a sense, we've all been there.

And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.

Obama was apparently not very successful because the backlash was swift. Ingraham does not like Obama's invitation to "weigh very different forms of violence and suffering against each other, which is not typically a smart idea." I am unclear as to why this is "typically" a bad idea. I am clear, though, on how differentiating between the Crusades and modern Islamic violence benefits many Christians. Ingraham lays it out for us.

Of course, if you think about this for a bit you start to see the problems with the comparison. Some slave traders may indeed have sought justification for their actions in the Christian faith, but much of the trade was driven by economic reasons (a demand for cheap labor) and racism. The Crusades were just as much about political power as they were about religion.

And so, Obama’s drawing parallels between today’s acts of violence in the name of Islam and acts of violence through history in the name of Christ omits a key nuance.

The key nuance that Ingraham wants us to believe is missing is that the Crusades, slavery, etc. were all really about power or economics, but modern Islamic violence really is about religion. Such a distinction serves the dominant Christian ideology in two ways. First, it allows that some Christians did some terrible things, and they may have even said it was in the name of Christ, but it was really about politics, power, and cheap labor. In other words, "Christianity" is not tainted by these acts of violence. The implication is that since we can see "non-religious" motivations behind or benefits from these acts of violence, the religion is not implicated in the violence (besides, true Christianity isn't violent anyway, amiright?) Second, this distinction allows Christians to ignore the "non-religious" motivations and benefits of modern Islamic violence so that they can continue to believe that Islam really is violent. Issues of land, western imperialism, economics, and theories of governance can be ignored if the violence carried out in the name of Allah really should be connected to Allah.

When Ingraham says that "the Crusades were just as much about political power as they were about religion" he is missing that such a statement is true about every act that is ostensibly "religious." Christian bishops cutting off the grain trade to another city in order to starve that city and that city's bishop into (theological) submission was "just as much about political power as [it was] about religion." So, the problem is not that Obama did not pick an apropos enough comparison nor is it that Ingraham has misread the Crusades, but rather that Ingraham has read the acts of violence perpetrated by Christians as really being about power and politics and has failed to realize that the same is true for all acts carried out "in the name of" any religion.

P.S. Might I suggest that this is why the Washington Post and other news organizations should employ scholars of religion to write about religion (and why Religious Studies is a worthwhile major in college). Completely unrelatedly, you can always contact me here.

Image: Charles Dharapak, AP

New Book on the Second Amendment

Thomas Whitley

The Second Amendment Doesn't Say What You Think It Does | MotherJones: But when you actually go back and look at the debate that went into drafting of the amendment, you can squint and look really hard, but there's simply no evidence of it being about individual gun ownership for self-protection or for hunting.

This has long been clear to those who are willing to sit down and do the research or, heck, even just read the text of the 2nd Amendment.

I'll admit that I'm getting closer to supporting a repeal of all gun rights. Many will claim that to be "un-American," but if "American" is synonymous with the rights of some (to own a gun for protection or to hunt) being more important than the rights of others (to live) or if "American" is synonymous with simply accepting the tens of thousands of gun-related deaths per year in our country, then I don't want to be "American."

One's desire to hunt (it is not a right guaranteed by the Constitution) should not trump the right of every other citizen to not be shot. As President Obama said recently of our now-regular shootings,

The United States does not have a monopoly on crazy people. It's not the only country that has psychosis. And yet we kill each other in these mass shootings at rates that are exponentially higher than anyone else. Well, what's the difference? The difference is that these guys can stack up a bunch of ammunition in their houses, and that's sort of par for the course. . . . There's no advanced developed country on earth that would put up with this.

Except for us, of course, because some people have engaged in revisionist history and willful ignorance when it comes to the Second Amendment and because some people honestly believe that their right to own a gun should be more important than someone else's dead kids, especially when these dead kids are black and brown.

As Michael Waldman's new book, The Second Amendment: A Biography, points out Justice Scalia's argument that he is an "originalist" - basing his decisions on the original intent of the framers of the Constitution - is fundamentally flawed. For it is impossible to know the original intent of an author. In my field, this question comes up time and again with reference to ancient texts, especially the Bible. Many argue for "authorial intent," and base interpretations on what the author meant, but as has been made clear for centuries now, this is not something we can know, even when we are confident that we have gotten very close. In reality, it is our current circumstances, world-views, and various social and political leanings that most influence how we read old texts, the Constitution notwithstanding. This is why, for instance, Waldman is able to show how interpretations of the Second Amendment have changed so much over time.

This should be reason enough to abandon the fantasy that we can interpret the Constitution for today based on what it meant when it was first written. But I think that we should go beyond even this. We simply do not live in the same world as those who wrote this Amendment in 1791 lived in. We have no need of militia's, we have no recent memory of a foreign power ruling over us. Since we are already interpreting the Constitution based on our place and circumstances, why not be honest about it and maybe try to do some good. It is not unheard of for us to realize that things needed to be changed. The Thirteenth Amendment did this, turning over the then-Constitutional Three-Fifths Compromise.

After George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin February 26, 2012 I heard a lot of people echoing the comment of NRA President Wayne LaPierre, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." (This is a myth, by the way) But I wonder why, if we have so many "good guys" in this country, they don't care enough about those around them who are getting killed every day to do something about it. Maybe we could start by making it tougher to buy a gun than to vote or drive a car or purchase antihistamines.

Noah, Irenaeus, and Classification (Or, Look Mom My Research Does Matter)

Thomas Whitley

Noah Movie ScreenshotEveryone, it seems, is weighing in on the new Noah movie that has just been released. My favorite "review" comes, unsurprisingly, from The Onion. By far, though, the vast majority of reviews of the film I have seen and read have come from evangelical Christians urging other Christians not to see the movie. This led me to stumbling upon one by previously-unknown-to-me Brian Mattson, Sympathy For The Devil. Mattson's review is interesting for a host of reasons. First, his review provides a stellar example of how classification works and why classification matters. For Mattson, Aronofsky was not making a movie based on the Bible, it was instead based on the Kabbalah and is highly "gnostic." Here's why this matters:

Darren Aronofsky has produced a retelling of the Noah story without reference to the Bible at all. This was not, as he claimed, just a storied tradition of run-of-the-mill Jewish “Midrash.” This was a thoroughly pagan retelling of the Noah story direct from Kabbalist and Gnostic sources. To my mind, there is simply no doubt about this.

You see, for Mattson Kabbalah and Gnosticism cannot equal anything close to Judaism or Christianity. Nevermind that many so-called "gnostics" likely self-identified as Jewish or Christian in some way, Mattson is now the one that gets to classify and they are not Jewish or Christian according to his classificatory scheme. (Aside: I will speak to "gnosticism" since that is squarely within my research and "expertise," Kabbalah is not. Further, I say "many" and "likely" because we do have sources that survive from "gnostics" that allow us to know this, but many "gnostic" sources were intentionally destroyed or simply did not survive the accidents of history, so we must speculate about their means of identity formation.) Aronofsky, then, according to Mattson, has not told a Jewish story (or a Christian story) - regardless of the Jewish texts that contain many of these traditions like 1 Enoch, Jubilees, etc. - he has told a pagan story.

The next aspect of Mattson's rewview that caught my eye was his use of the 2nd century heresiographer Irenaeus of Lyons. Irenaeus wrote Against the Heresies in which he identified "heresies" and "heretics." Scholars have known for some time that Irenaeus is not the most reliable source, particularly in this text. For we should always be cautious about trusting one's opponents to give an accurate view of a person or group. That would be like trusting Sarah Palin to accurately describe Democrats or trusting Chris Matthews to accurately describe Paul Ryan. Yet, this does not stop Mattson from accepting Irenaeus as gospel.

Here’s a 2nd century A.D. description about what a sect called the Ophites believed:

“Adam and Eve formerly had light, luminous, and so to speak spiritual bodies, as they had been fashioned. But when they came here, the bodies became dark, fat, and idle.” –Irenaeus of Lyon, Against Heresies, I, 30.9

Mattson does not question Irenaeus' claims, though we know that Irenaeus and those who followed in his footsteps, like Epiphanius, often made up "heretical" groups whole cloth. Their project was about labeling those who were "in" and those who were "out." They would list out the "heresies" and urge people to avoid them. Some descriptions were loosely based on historical groups with whom Irenaeus happened to disagree on some matters, others were simply straw men used to strengthen his position, to scare his readers about those numerous and crafty "heretics," and to offer him a chance to denounce something that someone might come to think/believe or to denounce a group about which he had heard rumors. This is exactly the type of literature with which I work on a daily basis, which leads me to my last point.

I am in agreement with Mattson that more and more people should be reading Irenaeus.

In response, I have one simple suggestion:

Henceforth, not a single seminary degree is granted unless the student demonstrates that he has read, digested, and understood Irenaeus of Lyon’s Against Heresies.

Because it's the 2nd century all over again.

Now, Mattson and I will clearly differ on what it means to have "read, digested, and understood" Against Heresies, but more people reading it can only mean a bigger audience for my work (right? right?!).

There is more that could be said about Mattson's review: he rails against "Gnosticism" while apparently not recognizing the dualism and "gnostic" elements that are ever-present in his Bible (just a cursory reading of Paul or the gospel of John will reveal this); he went looking for Kabbalah, so he found Kabbalah; he legitimately believes that Aronofsky did all of this as one big, elaborate, expensive experiment to make fools of evangelical Christians; he derides the "elitism" and the prominence given to special knowledge in "gnosticism," but advocates a clear hierarchy between "rank-and-file" Christian viewers and "Christian leaders: college and seminary professors, pastors, and Ph.Ds."

But the most important point of all of this is that my research is relevant. The processes of identity formation are not new. Heresy and orthodoxy are both political creations of parties with something invested in who's in and who's out. Just as Hippolytus, Irenaeus, Augustine, Epiphanius, etc. drew boundary lines to demarcate "Christians" and "heretics," people today are doing the same thing. The data set is different, but the process and the goals remain the same. Place arbitrary significance on some aspect of difference, put yourself in a position to name and classify, and you'll end up in while your opponents end up out.

And God Bless The United States of America

Thomas Whitley

Obama State of the Union (2010)The State of the Union address is tonight. For the first time in as long as I can remember I will not be watching it live, though I will read it or watch it tomorrow. I think these kinds of things are important. No, these speeches do not usually change poll numbers or have a huge effect of legislation, but I think it's good to hear the vision that our President thinks is important to lay out for the next year(s). President Obama's vision for the next year is not all that will be on display tonight, though. No, we will see a great example of civil religion on display.

So, as you prepare to watch the SOTU, or after you have watched it, check out our latest episode of ThinkingReligion in which we take up the topic of America's civil religion.

ThinkingReligion 21:  American Civil Spirituality | Thinking.FM:

Thomas and Sam continue last week’s conversation on canon and discuss whether America really is moving toward a new civil spirituality and whether an American civil religion can survive in a religiously pluralistic society.

God bless you and God bless the United States of America.

“Same Love” and Theology at the VMAs

Thomas Whitley

This was originally posted on the ABPnews Blog on August 27th. I watched the VMAs Sunday night, in their entirety, and I’m pretty sure that’s a first for me. The show created a significant amount of buzz on social media platforms for a myriad of reasons. There were the rumors of an *NSYNC reunion, which happened for a song and reminded everyone why an *NSYNC reunion would be a terrible idea. There was the repeated and continual tribute to Justin Timberlake. And there was whatever that was that Miley Cyrus did, which I’m sure had Billy Ray Cyrus once again singing “Achy Breaky Heart.”

But what most caught me was the performance by Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, and Mary Lambert of their song “Same Love.” The song won the award for Best Video with a Social Message. It’s a song many are familiar with, as it’s gotten a lot of radio play this year. But not everyone is a fan.

Many Christians have rebuked the song as not understanding God, or Christianity, or theology. I read one tweet last night that said Macklemore needed an “intro to theology,” implying that his understanding of God didn’t even meet the standards of an introductory Christian theology course. Let’s take a closer look.

In the first verse Macklemore says,

The right wing conservatives think it’s a decision And you can be cured with some treatment and religion Man-made rewiring of a predisposition Playing God, aw nah here we go America the brave still fears what we don’t know God loves all his children, is somehow forgotten But we paraphrase a book written thirty-five-hundred years ago

Reparative (or conversion) therapy enjoyed a few golden years, but as the recent apology and closing of Exodus International demonstrates, its days are quickly coming to an end. But the fact still remains that many conservative Christians do see one’s sexuality as a choice, at least when it’s not their’s that is under the microscope. Just as I do not wake up each morning and choose to be attracted to the opposite sex, my gay friends do not wake up each morning and choose to be attracted to the same sex.

Macklemore is offering a critique of the type of Christian message that  one minute claims “for God so loved the world” and then spews hate the next. He addresses the reality of a “canon within the canon,” which is the practice of elevating certain books and passages over the rest (I’ve written more about that here). Many Christians are quick to trot out Leviticus 20.13 but never seem to get as passionate about Deuteronomy 22.11 or Exodus 34.26.

Macklemore goes on to sing about the content of one’s Christian message:

When I was at church they taught me something else If you preach hate at the service those words aren’t anointed That holy water you soak in has been poisoned

The message of Jesus, as I recall it, was not to hate each other and hate your enemies, but to show love for one another and love your enemies.

And then later he sings what is probably his most controversial line:

Whatever God you believe in We come from the same one

That this line would be controversial is not surprising, but it is not a new idea to Jewish or Christian theology. The Hebrew Bible (aka Old Testament) offers ample evidence of YHWH overtaking the personalities and traits of various local deities such as El, Baal, and Asherah. Many psalms and hymns are at heart henotheistic and/or homogenizing. Henotheism is the belief that many deities exist, but that there is one high God. We see God among the divine council, for instance, in Genesis 1.26 and Psalm 82.1. Other passages and beliefs are homogenizing in the sense that they make the claim that while God may be called something else by someone else, it is really God that is being worshipped. This is the basic claim made by theologian Karl Rahner when he spoke of “anonymous Christians” (with which I do not agree for a host of reasons).

I do fully understand the backlash that “Same Love” is getting from the conservative political and religious arenas, but the dismissive attitude exhibited toward the song that is meant to convey the message that it possesses an “un-Christian” message and “infantile” theology is misguided, at best.

There is no doubt that Macklemore, with his song, and MTV with its introduction of the song by Jason Collins, are making political statements. Jason Collins said, “I knew that hating someone for their sexual orientation was the same thing as hating them for their skin color.” To be sure, not every one agrees with Jason Collins or with MTV’s move. That is to be expected. But the theology behind it? Well, we’ve been down this road before.

Just as many today claim that one’s sexual orientation is a legitimate reason to hate them or cast judgment, many of our baptist ancestors used the same arguments, only then with a racial motivation. The so-called “mark of Cain” or “curse of Cain” was used as justification for slavery by the Southern Baptist Convention. But just because we’ve made these mistakes in the past does not mean we must make them again. Just as we rejected the notion that one’s skin color was an adequate indication of his/her character or relationship with God, so too we must reject using sexual orientation as a litmus test for whether one can call themselves “Christian” or whether one understands God or theology or ecclesiology.

So today I am applauding both the song and its high-profile placement at the VMAs Sunday night. The song does line up in some ways with my theology of God, my understanding of love, and my belief in equality for all, though not nearly a hundred percent. But beyond that I celebrate that the song works to make gay students and gay teachers and gay cousins and gay neighbors know that they’re not alone. It fights for one less person to take his/her life because of the hate they have experienced. It fights for love and life in a way that not much else in popular culture does right now, including many Christians. And it offers a healthy critique of our “Christian” messaging. That’s something we need. And as for the message that God loves all of God’s children? Well, that’s a theology I’m not ashamed to espouse.

Fox News Doesn't Understand How Academia Works

Thomas Whitley

In one of the more bizarre interviews I've ever seen, a Fox News host interviews Reza Aslan, author of the new book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. In the interview the host - Lauren Green, who is a "religion correspondent" for Fox News Channel" - can't seem to wrap her head around the fact that Aslan, a scholar who happens to be Muslim, has written an academic and historical book about Jesus. The very first question of her interview is about this:

Now I want to be clear about, you're a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?

This is an odd question to anyone who has spent any time around the academic study of religion, which this host clearly has not, as Aslan's personal faith has absolutely zero relevance to his work as a scholar of religion. After Aslan explains that he has four degrees, one in New Testament, is fluent in biblical Greek, and has been studying Christianity for more than two decades, the host interrupts him to ask

It still begs the question, though, it begs the question, why would you be interested in the founder of Christianity?

For starters, no, it does not actually "beg the question;" that is a very specific logical fallacy and not simply another way of saying, "but it makes me wonder." But pet peeves aside, I was continually amazed at the host's inability to understand the very basic principals of how academia works. During the rest of the 10-minute interview, the host brings up Aslan's Muslim faith at least 7 more times, every time dumbfounded that a Muslim could write an academic work about Jesus and there not be some secret Muslim plot afoot.

On Fox's website where they have the video posted, the description of the video even hints at their disbelief that this is possible:

Reza Aslan, author of 'Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,' says he wrote the book as a historian, not as a Muslim. [Emphasis mine]

The persistence of the host to continuously bring up Aslan's faith, which is still completely irrelevant to his work as a historian, is bad enough, but she then quotes critics of the book (who seem to not have actually read the book) as if she has dismantled his entire argument. The first critic of the book she quotes is John Dickerson, a journalist and political correspondent - i.e. not an academic, not a historian, not a scholar. Aslan then proceeds to tell her how scholarship works:

Of course in any scholarly discussion of Jesus, as with any scholarly discussion of any ancient figure, there are going to be widespread differences.

Anyone who has even taken an introductory course in religion in college understands full well that scholarship is a giant, centuries-long discussion. Scholars put forth arguments and other scholars either agree or disagree with those arguments. Step by step, the field moves forward based on the evidence at hand and the application of theories and methodologies to our material. The process is exactly the same as it is in the so-called hard science fields like biology and math. Again, I am baffled.

But this interview has done more than just baffle me. It has renewed my conviction that groups like the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion must get involved in efforts to educate the media and the general public. These organizations, both of which I am a member, should be acting like trade unions, of sorts, and like lobbying groups.When news breaks that relates to our field, SBL and AAR should be contacting news outlets and putting them in touch with actual experts.

It is sad and immature that news organizations think that quoting a journalist's Op-Ed is a legitimate critique of an academic book, but I think that we too must bear some of the responsibility. News organizations, for the most part, wouldn't know who to contact if they wanted to and likely wouldn't even know where to start looking. We should bear the burden of pointing them in the right direction, or at least in a direction that is toward someone who actually has a PhD in the matter being discussed.

So, yes, we should be outraged and we should work diligently to shame Fox News and Lauren Green (as I know the academic community already is on Twitter and elsewhere). Yes, we as a general public and especially as scholars of religion should demand more from news organizations "religion correspondents." But then we need to get to work taking our job as educators seriously and in some cases that will mean that we need to move outside the classroom and on to the airwaves.

Soaring Cost of Higher Education

Thomas Whitley

In a much-hyped speech on the economy today, President Obama actually addressed a plethora of issues ranging from health care, home ownership, Afghanistan, equal rights, and yes even education. One part of the speech caught my attention:

I’m also going to use the power of my office over the next few months to highlight a topic that’s straining the budgets of just about every American family – the soaring cost of higher education.

Three years ago, I worked with Democrats to reform the student loan system so that taxpayer dollars stopped padding the pockets of big banks, and instead helped more kids afford college. I capped loan repayments at 10% of monthly income for responsible borrowers.  And this week, we’re working with both parties to reverse the doubling of student loan rates that occurred a few weeks ago because of Congressional inaction.

Being a student and hopefully soon a full-time employee within the world of higher education, I am glad to see the President addressing this growing problem. And make no mistake, this is a real problem:

Between 2000–01 and 2010–11, prices for undergraduate tuition, room, and board at public institutions rose 42 percent, and prices at private not-for-profit institutions rose 31 percent, after adjustment for inflation.

Addressing the doubling of student loan rates is an important part of a solution, but it is only a minor step.

Now, if we could get something like Elizabeth Warren's bill which pegs student loan interest rates on Stafford loans to the rate that banks receive from the federal reserve to pass, then we would be on to something. Her proposal makes a lot of sense: if banks can borrow money from the federal government at 0.75%, then students should not be paying 6.8% on the money they borrow to get an education. Here are her own words on why the status quo is morally indefensible:

Instead of helping our students, the government is making a profit on student loans. That is wrong. It is morally wrong. That is obscene. The government should not be making profits off the backs of our students. Period.

However, the larger problem facing education costs is the continuation of states to cut education funding in their state budgets. Over half of the states in this country cut spending per student for this year. And while some states are slowly edging education spending back up, we are still not where we were before these drastic cuts. In the state of Florida, where I live as well as attend and work for a public university, I am glad that our state's most recent budget restores "the $300 million in recurring funding to our university system with performance measures." The new budget also includes some other important improvements to our state's education funding, but it is difficult to be too ecstatic about these increases when compared with the numerous, repetitive, and drastic cuts over the last few years.

In fact, in the School Funding Fairness group's latest report, Florida doesn't fair too well:

To focus on the areas over which states exert the most control, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota and Virginia received a grade of “D” or “F” on both State Effort and Funding Distribution. So not only do these states dedicate a low proportion of their fiscal capacity toward their education systems, they also have allocated that money in a way that does not systematically ensure that districts with higher poverty levels get more funding. . . . Three states — Florida, Missouri and North Carolina — received low ratings in each of the four indicators. These are low-effort, regressive states receiving a grade of “D” or “F” on both indicators, and ranking in the bottom half in terms of the overall level of funding provided and Coverage.

My point is that what President Obama is talking about is a good start to addressing educational costs, but the reality is that addressing student loan borrowing rates doesn't actually deal with the cost of education, but rather with how much it costs students to borrow money to pay for their education. The "soaring cost of higher education" must be addressed at all levels and with a multi-faceted approach that addresses all the factors involved in the significant rises of late.

Why Religious Liberty Won Today

Thomas Whitley

No doubt you've heard by now that the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on the basis that it is "a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is  protected by the Fifth Amendment." (Read the entire decision here) This is a win for marriage equality, for equal rights, and a huge blow to those who want to continue discriminating. The ruling says that those who have same-sex marriages recognized by their state must also be federally recognized. This means that (some) same-sex couples can now get the benefits that opposite-sex couples have and take for granted every day ranging from tax and health care benefits to parental and immigration benefits. Today was a big day.

But not everyone is happy about it. I suspect many of you are less than thrilled with the decision today and, like Albert Mohler  see this as an indication that national marriage equality is inevitable. Or maybe, like Mike Huckabee, you think you're Jesus' spokesman on this issue:

My thoughts on the SCOTUS ruling that determined that same sex marriage is okay: "Jesus wept."

Today, though, I chose to wear my Baptist Joint Committee t-shirt:

BJC Shirt

But why? Because I also see today as a victory for religious liberty. Religious liberty for all means freedom of religion as well as freedom from religion. This means that you are not required to subscribe to anyone else's religious views and you also are not allowed to force your religious views on anyone else. The fear is rampant among many conservative Christians that I follow that pastors will be "dragged out of the pulpit" or will be forced to perform same-sex marriage.

These reactions fail to understand one of the things that truly does make this country great: real religious freedom. President Obama made this clear in his statement after DOMA was overturned:

On an issue as sensitive as this, knowing that Americans hold a wide range of views based on deeply held beliefs, maintaining our nation’s commitment to religious freedom is also vital.  How religious institutions define and consecrate marriage has always been up to those institutions.  Nothing about this decision – which applies only to civil marriages – changes that.

Yes, I am a Christian and a proponent of marriage equality. But I promise that I will fight just as hard for your religious freedom as I will for my own, because my firm conviction on religious liberty does not allow me to think that my religious freedom is any more important than anyone else's.

Don't Worry, Gay Scouts, Southern Baptists Still 'Love' You

Thomas Whitley

At the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, messengers from SBC churches around the country voted on and approved a resolution concerning the recent change in membership policy by the Boy Scouts of America, which says that "no youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone." It is no secret that the SBC has long believed that homosexuality is in violation of God's intentions for human sexuality and that it is a deplorable sin and affront to God. And as many expected, the SBC messengers voted to express their disapproval of the BSA's decision, their approval of its member churches that feel the need to "prayerfully . . .  assess their continued relationship with the BSA," and their "support for those churches and families that as a matter of conscience can no longer be part of the Scouting family."

The recent decision of the BSA has, overnight apparently, turned Scouting into a new mission field, as if it weren't already an overtly Christian institution.

we encourage churches and families that remain in the Boy Scouts to seek to impact as many boys as possible with the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ, to work toward the reversal of this new membership policy, and to advocate against any future change in leadership and membership policy that normalizes sexual conduct opposed to the biblical standard

None of this surprises me, though it does still bother me in many ways and for many reasons. The kicker for me, though, was the final declaration of the resolution.

we declare our love in Christ for all young people regardless of their perceived sexual orientation, praying that God will bring all youth into a saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sure they think you're going to hell if you believe you were born gay and that it's just who you are. Sure they think your very existence is an affront to God and a grave example of the power of sin in this world. Sure they will tell you that you can never act on the "urges" you have, but have to remain celibate because the person you happen to love has the same genitalia as you. Sure they think their 'sexual orientation' is true and real and pure while yours is merely 'perceived' and is the result of a choice you made.

But it's really all okay, because they 'love' you.

It seems to me that they sure do have a funny way of showing it.

----- NB: Having spent the majority of my life thus far in baptist (and mostly Southern Baptist) churches, I recognize that the SBC does not speak for all members of Southern Baptist churches, nor does it speak for all who identify as baptist or as Christian. This is, though, the governing body, and they do hope (intend) that all member churches follow their stances on issues like this. Churches don't have to adopt every position approved at the annual meetings, but hot-button topics like this (and women as pastors) often lead to churches being kicked out of the SBC, usually at the local (association) level.

The Religious Opposition to Homosexuality

Thomas Whitley

Why do you think homosexuality should be discouraged?The most recent Pew study on gay marriage and homosexuality further confirms what I have been saying for some time now: overwhelmingly, the only opposition to gay marriage is based on religious reasons. I am bringing this up because of my firm opinion that as a secular society (and yes, we are a secular society founded on religious freedom, no matter what the revisionists tell you), we should base not base our laws on religious beliefs or sectarian doctrinal concerns. As a strong supporter of the separation of church and state (as established by both the Free Exercise and Establishment clauses in the Constitution), I believe that we should not be legislating doctrine. Here's how Pew words the relationship between opposition to homosexuality and religion:

The religious basis for opposition to homosexuality is seen clearly in the reasons people give for saying it should be discouraged by society. By far the most frequently cited factors –mentioned by roughly half (52%) of those who say homosexuality should be discouraged – are moral objections to homosexuality, that it conflicts with religious beliefs, or that it goes against the Bible. No more than about one-in-ten cite any other reasons as to why homosexuality should be discouraged by society.

With the seemingly unprecedented major shift in public opinion on the topic, it is time that we take an informed and detailed look at the evidence. The majority of those who oppose homosexuality and gay marriage cite religious reasons and most of the other reasons cited, even by the small minorities that cite them can likely also be traced back to religious teachings. That our country's law on this matter is only supported by religious opposition should be more than enough to tell us that these laws are no longer viable, if we truly wish to be a land of authentic religious freedom.

I just continue to be struck by such a strong relationship between one's religious beliefs and their support or opposition to gay marriage.

Similarly, those who say religion is very important in their lives are only half as likely to support gay marriage as those who place less importance on religion (36% favor vs. 72% favor).

There are loads of us for whom religion is very important who also support gay marriage and we have made great strides in not allowing white Evangelical Protestants speak for all of 'religion' or all of 'Christianity' in this country, but this study makes clear that we still have work to do. For even the language of the study shows the degree to which religious opponents to equality have been winning the conversation: the question was asked, for instance, whether it is a 'sin' to engage in homosexual behavior. The fact that those who attend services weekly or more are more than twice as likely to say 'yes' to this (67% to 24%) says a lot about the teachings in our religious institutions and our understanding of 'sin' from a theological, sociological, and anthropological view.

For me and for many of you that I know, the story is the opposite of the one that this study seems to tell; that is, it is precisely because of our religious convictions that we support equality and gay marriage. So keep supporting organizations like the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and Americans United and soon we can make equality a reality for all, while in the process helping to change the conversation about the "religion's" view on gay marriage.

Marriage Equality and The War on Adoption

Thomas Whitley

I will be the first to admit that I have not always been a proponent on same-sex marriage. In a former part of my life I was as adamantly against same-sex marriage as many who have been protesting in support of Prop 8 and DOMA in front of the US Supreme Court over the past few days. That is to say, I was convinced that homosexuality was a "sin" and that it was "unnatural." I have been fully "out" in my support of same-sex marriage for a number of years now, but I cannot allow myself to conveniently forget how adamantly I opposed it to make myself feel better about where I stand now, on "the right side of history," as some are wont to call it. One line of messaging has stood out to me recently in the arguments over whether same-sex marriage should be legal in this country or not, but it wasn't until I read Tom Junod's wonderfully vulnerable and eloquent piece that I realized just why it was rubbing me the wrong way. The line of argument says that same-sex marriage is "unnatural" because 2 men or 2 women are incapable of physically producing offspring. I pushed back against this argument with the usual points: what about opposite-sex couples where one member is infertile? What about elderly people who are no longer able to have children but desire the companionship that the rest of us desire? Should these people also not be allowed to marry because they cannot procreate?

What Tom Junod laid out so clearly, though, is that the anti-same-sex marriage arguments of this stripe are not just arguments against elderly people and infertile adults, but this is also an argument against adoption, something the right has espoused support for as an alternative to abortion.

How the War on Gay Marriage Turned into a War on Adoption | Esquire: What has changed our understanding of the way some people see our marriage is, of course, the general debate unleashed by the last two days of argument before the Supreme Court on the subject of same-sex marriage. No, my wife and I are not of the same sex; I am a man and she is a woman. But we are infertile. We did not procreate. For the past nine years, we have been the adoptive parents of our daughter; we are legally her mother and father, but not biologically, and since Tuesday have been surprised and saddened to be reminded that for a sizable minority of the American public our lack of biological capacity makes all the difference — and dooms our marriage and our family to second-class status.

And there it was. The very nature of the arguments against same-sex marriage because same-sex couples are unable to produce children is just as strongly an argument against my own family, with a mother who was infertile and chose to adopt both me and my (biological) sister. Our family's very existence is, apparently, a threat to the good, straight, biological family units in this country, and thereby a threat to the very foundation of this country.

Junod rightly points out the elementary nature of these sorts of arguments:

For all its philosophical window dressing — for all its invocation of natural law, teleological destiny, and the “complementary” nature of man and woman — this argument ultimately rested on a schoolyard-level obsession with private parts, and with what did, or did not, “fit.” There was “natural marriage” and “unnatural” marriage, and it was easy to tell the difference between them by how many children they produced. A natural marriage not only produced children; it existed for the purpose of producing children. An unnatural marriage not only failed to produce children; it resorted to procuring children through unnatural means, from artificial insemination to surrogacy to, yes, adoption. The argument against same-sex marriage now boiled down to a kind of biological determinism, and so became almost indistinguishable from an argument against adoption itself.

The idea that the purpose of marriage in this country is procreation serves to label all marriages that chose not to or were unable to produce children as "less than." They are not real marriages. And as a result, those families are "less than." They too are not real families. To many - some much closer to home than one should have to admit - my sister and I are not our parents' "real children." And we are a threat to families everywhere. Never mind the fact that we have a better relationship with our parents than most everyone else I know. We have a relationship based on openness, honesty, communication, and above all love.

No one - gay, straight, or whatever - should have to share those negative experiences with my family. And as much as anything else, this is why I support marriage equality.

There is so much more that needs to be said like how cruel it is to actively keep children in a broken social services system and away from a loving family that desperately wants to love and raise children of their own. Or how, once again, the Right has offered nothing but lip service when it says it cares about children when it is really only concerned with its own "moral disapproval" of the love of others. Or how the only "threats" to anyone's marriage - gay or straight - come from within and not from without. Or how our country's very understanding of "family" needs to take step out of 1950. Or how ludicrous it is to expect that others who do not share your particular religious views to live their lives according to your specific interpretation of a few verses from your holy book.

But for now, urging you to read Junod's article is all I really have. For just as Junod did, I have realized that these arguments are not just arguments against same-sex marriage, but are arguments against me and my family too. Thank you, Tom, for the reminder that we are all in this together.

I am Simply a Pilgrim

Thomas Whitley

As of 8pm Rome time today, Benedict XVI is no longer the Pope of the Catholic Church. In his final address today he had one line that stuck out to me:

I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this Earth.

I quite like this sentiment.

Reminds me of Logion 42 in the Gospel of Thomas: Be passersby.

The Republican Party is "Out of Touch"

Thomas Whitley

At least according to a recent Pew poll.

GOP Seen as Principled, But Out of Touch and Too Extreme | Pew Research Center for the People and the Press: At a time when the Republican Party’s image is at a historic low, 62% of the public says the GOP is out of touch with the American people, 56% think it is not open to change and 52% say the party is too extreme.

Those are some pretty damning numbers. Here's a fuller breakdown:

GOP Out of Touch, Pew

This may mean good news in the short term for the Democratic Party, but I think this is ultimately a bad thing for our country. In a two-party system, we need two legitimate options to work as a sort of balance. This is becoming less likely as both parties are becoming further and further apart from one another. The Tea Party and the Republican Party have succeeded in shifting the entire conversation to the right so that what is "liberal" now would have been a quite moderate (and in some cases conservative) position 20 years ago. This is not the direction I personally want the country to go and I think the woeful image of the Republican Party may help this in the short term. Nevertheless, I still think that a thriving two-party democracy actually needs two parties.

It should go without saying that the Republican Party has brought much of this on themselves over the past 4 years by being "the party of No," refusing ideas that were originally theirs simply because they are being suggested by President Obama, and allowing vocal members of their party to express nostalgia for 19th century views on non-white, non-male citizens. Yet many fail to see this correlation.