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Joan Rivers

[ 36 ] September 4, 2014 |

When I started out, a pretty girl did not go into comedy. If you saw a pretty girl walk into a nightclub, she was automatically a singer. Comedy was all white, older men. It was Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Bob Hope, Shelley Berman, Red Skelton … even Amos and Andy were white men, which is hilarious if you think about it.

Phyllis Diller was happening right before me. But even Phyllis was a caricature, and I didn’t want to be a caricature. I was a college graduate; I wanted to get married.

I didn’t even want to be a comedian. Nobody wanted to be a comedian. Nowadays, everyone wants to be a comedian. You look at a Whitney Cummings, who is so beautiful — she wanted to be a comedian! I wanted to be an actress. I was an office temp when one secretary said to me: “You’re very funny. You should go do stand-up, be a comedian. They make $6 a night some places.” And I said, “That’s more than I’m making as an office temp” — I made eight, but I had to also pay for my Correcto-Type because I was a lousy speller — so I thought, “Oh, I could do that and have days free to make the rounds.” And that’s why I became a comedian.

I had no idea what I was doing. The white men were doing “mother-in-law” and “my wife’s so fat …” jokes. It was all interchangeable. Bob Hope would walk into a town and say, “The traffic lights in this town are so slow that …” and it could be any town. When I went onstage, that just didn’t feel right. So I just said, “Let me talk about my life.” It was at the moment when Woody Allen was saying, “Let me talk about my life,” and George Carlin was saying, “Maybe I’ll talk about my life.” So I came in at the right moment.

My group was Woody and George and Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby. Rodney Dangerfield. Dick Cavett. All the ones who were coming up at the same time. But I never was one of the guys. I was never asked to go hang out; I never thought about it until later. They would all go to the Stage Delicatessen afterward and talk. I never got to go uptown and have a sandwich with them. So, even though I was with them, I wasn’t with them.

Everybody broke through ahead of me. I was the last one in the group to break through, or to be allowed to break through. Looking back, I think it was because I was a woman. Because in those days, they would come down to the Village and look at you for Johnny Carson. I was the very last one of the group they put on the Carson show.

I was brought up seven times to the Carson show — interviewed and auditioned seven times by seven different people, and they rejected me, each time, over a period of three years. Then Bill Cosby was filling in, and the comedian that night bombed. Bill said to the booking producer, Shelly Schultz: “Joan Rivers couldn’t be any worse than this guy. Why don’t you use her?” And that’s when they put me on the show. But they didn’t bring me on as a stand-up comic. They brought me on as a funny girl writer. I’m the only stand-up that never did a stand-up routine on the Carson show.

Carson, give him credit, said on air in 1965, “You’re gonna be a star.” Right smack on the air.

I adored Johnny. In the ’70s, I did opening monologues, I was hosting. The turning point was when I left the show. Everybody left the show to go to do their own shows. Bill Cosby. David Brenner. George Carlin. Everybody. I stuck around for 18 years. And they finally offered me my own late-night show.

The first person I called was Johnny, and he hung up on me — and never, ever spoke to me again. And then denied that I called him. I couldn’t figure it out. I would see him in a restaurant and go over and say hello. He wouldn’t talk to me.

I kept saying, “I don’t understand, why is he mad?” He was not angry at anybody else. I think he really felt because I was a woman that I just was his. That I wouldn’t leave him. I know this sounds very warped. But I don’t understand otherwise what was going on. For years, I thought that maybe he liked me better than the others. But I think it was a question of, “I found you, and you’re my property.” He didn’t like that as a woman, I went up against him.

And I was put up against him. In the press, he said, “She didn’t call me, and she was so terrible.” When you’ve told the truth and you read a lie, there’s nothing you can do about it. To this day, I’m very angry about that. Don’t f—in’ lie. You’re making, what, $300 million a year? What are you talking about? And I was going on Fox. Fox didn’t even have call letters at that point. Fox wasn’t Fox. Fox was six stupid little stations.

Looking back, and I never like to say it, the Carson breakup hurt me a lot, without realizing it. Even now, with our reality show Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best? or Fashion Police, when I say, “No, this is wrong,” people say: “See? She is a bitch. She is a c—.” If I were a man, they’d say: “So brilliant. He’s tough, but he’s right.” Nobody ever says to me, “You’re right.”

I have a friend. She was a producer at NBC and so brilliant. And they fired her because she was very abrasive. Lorne Michaels has a reputation of being a tough nut. But they all say, “That Lorne, he’s mean, but he’s brilliant.”

This woman, they said, “Oh, she’s too nasty.” But she pulled in the numbers.

It’s very tough in the business. My act consists of my gown that I carry and two spotlights and a microphone. I’ll do my sound check, and sometimes they’re not happy when I say, “The sound isn’t right,” or “Can we try other lights?” Because they’re men at the board.

And lighting is very key for a woman, especially. I’ve been in the business almost 50 years — I know my f—ing lighting. And there is always pushback from the lighting people. They just don’t want to hear it from a woman. They just don’t want to give you that cookie.

I don’t want to hear that male comics want someone to match wits with. No, they don’t. They want someone to sit there and gaze at them adoringly. That’s still what they want. The upside is, they don’t get to wear the pretty clothes. They don’t get to have the pretty dressing room. Women comedians get the private bathroom first.

During women’s lib, which was at its height in the ’70s, you had to say: “F— the men. I could do better.” I think women did themselves a disservice because they wouldn’t talk about reality. Nobody wanted to say, “I had a lousy date” or “He left me.” But if that’s your life, that’s what they wanna hear. If you look around, very few women comics came out of the ’70s. It really started again in the ’90s, when they realized, it’s all right to say you wanna get married. It’s all right to say I wanna be pretty. That’s also part of your life. Thank God. Because now you know, we’ve got Whitney. I love Whitney. I think what she does is so smart. Sarah Silverman, oh my God. You just look at them and go: Good girls.

I love stand-up — the connection with an audience is awesome. I just played Royal Albert Hall, which is 4,500 people, probably not a lot for some. But for me, it was amazing. The energy! From the beginning, and to this day, I would never tell a lie onstage. So now I walk out, I go, “I’m so happy to see you,” and I really truly am so happy to see them. The one thing I brought to this business is speaking the absolute truth. Say only what you really feel about the subject. And that’s too bad if they don’t like it. That’s what comedy is. It’s you telling the truth as you see it.

I think it was Cosby who also said to me, “If only 2 percent of the world thinks you’re funny, you’ll still fill stadiums for the rest of your life.”

My advice to women comedians is: First of all, don’t worry about the money. Love the process. You don’t know when it’s gonna happen. Louis C.K. started hitting in his 40s; he’d been doing it for 20 years. And don’t settle. I don’t want to ever hear, “It’s good enough.” Then it’s not good enough. Don’t ever underestimate your audience. They can tell when it isn’t true. Also: Ignore your competition. A Mafia guy in Vegas gave me this advice: “Run your own race, put on your blinders.” Don’t worry about how others are doing. Something better will come.

Ignore aging: Comedy is the one place it doesn’t matter. It matters in singing because the voice goes. It matters certainly in acting because you’re no longer the sexpot. But in comedy, if you can tell a joke, they will gather around your deathbed. If you’re funny, you’re funny. Isn’t that wonderful?

If there is a secret to being a comedian, it’s just loving what you do. It is my drug of choice. I don’t need real drugs. I don’t need liquor. It’s the joy that I get performing. That is my rush. I get it nowhere else.

What pleasure you feel when you’ve kept people happy for an hour and a half. They’ve forgotten their troubles. It’s great. There’s nothing like it in the world. When everybody’s laughing, it’s a party. And then you get a check at the end. That’s very nice.

I’ve been told this is a good documentary.

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Were Black People Disproportionately Harmed By Slavery? Views Differ!

[ 208 ] September 4, 2014 |

Shorter Verbatim some Economist hack, on The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism: “Unlike Mr Thomas, Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy.”

Similarly, there were recent news accounts in which journalists are all victims, and ISIS terrorists all villains. Why can’t we get some fair-and-balanced reporting on this morally complex issue?

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[ 2 ] September 4, 2014 |

Last week I did an interview on airpower and stuff with the Buter. Check it out.

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Super Bowl odds

[ 141 ] September 4, 2014 |

I’m a lifelong Seahawks fan, but a fairly casual and not particularly analytical NFL fan. So perhaps someone who knows the league better than I would care to explain why the Seahawks are longer shots for the title than the Broncos?

Three possibilities:

1) Path to Super Bowl in AFC easier than NFC

2) Events of February 2, 2014 were an outlier, not indicative of likely future outcomes in matchups between the two teams.

3) Off season personnel changes improved the Broncos’ roster relative to the Seahawks.

I assume (1) is doing the most work here. It’s not clear the NFC’s greater strength was all that significant in 2013, but of course perceptions matter as much as reality in setting the line. Am I missing something?

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D.C. Circuit Vacates Embarrassing Opinion

[ 37 ] September 4, 2014 |


The D.C. Circuit will hear Halbig en banc, and in the order vacated this decade’s answer to Bush v. Gore.  Since the arguments for not hearing Halbig en banc were almost as terrible as the arguments made by the Halbig plurality itself, this is not exactly shocking.

Of course, there will be no particular urgency among ACA troofers to get the case before the Supreme Court, since I’m sure they’re confident that their arguments could persuade anyone who isn’t a fanatical ideological opponent of the Affordable Ca…sorry, I can’t even finish this sentence without laughing.

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Will life be worth living after Derek Jeter’s retirement?

[ 106 ] September 4, 2014 |

field of dreams

Not the Onion:

The New York Yankees announced Tuesday that the team will wear a patch of Derek Jeter’s final-season logo on all player hats and uniforms from Sunday, the day that the shortstop will be honored at Yankee Stadium, through the end of the season.

There’s an actual Derek Jeter “final season logo?” For he IS the Kwisatz Haderach!

Meanwhile let us not begrudge a bit of beak-wetting among the solemn ceremonials:

The baseballs with Jeter logos that will be put in play on Sunday, and the uniforms used in the game and throughout the rest of the season will be sold by Steiner Sports, company president Brandon Steiner said.

New Era is selling a limited-edition three-cap box of Derek Jeter commemorative hats for $150.
Steiner also has an exclusive autograph deal with Jeter and has been selling more than 200 Jeter-signed products, including game-used jerseys that retail for $25,000.

Leading up to Jeter’s final games, an even greater flow of merchandise has hit the shelves. New Era is selling a three-cap box of Jeter hats for $150. The hats, which are available only at Yankee Stadium and official Yankees stores, are limited to 2,014 sets.

A man’s got to feed his family. (Per Baseball Reference Jeter has collected $265,000,000 in salary over the years.)

LGM is celebrating The Final Month of Derek Jeter’s Final Season with an official commemorative Derek Jeter Two Minute Hate:

(1) Derek Jeter has become in his logoized Final Season a truly awful player. Indeed he might be the worst regular in the entire league. The Yankees keep putting his .310 OBP and .312 SA at the top of the lineup because he’s Derek Jeter, and continue to play him at a key defensive position even though at this point he has the range of a sleeper sofa, and doing so is actively harming their already-tenuous postseason hopes.

(2) Derek Jeter and Alan Trammell had, per the most advanced metrics, essentially indistinguishable careers, in terms of regular-season value to their teams (Jeter played in a year’s worth of post-season games because he was on a bunch of great teams: games in which he played no better or worse than he did during the rest of his career, despite the endless hosannas to his reputed clutchiosity.) Trammell remains largely ignored by HOF voters, while Jeter is going to have a national monument put up on the DC mall eventually.

(3) Derek Jeter may or may not be an admirable person generally. His baseball career tells us exactly nothing about that. This insight is brought to you courtesy of People Who Are More than 12 Years Old (and don’t cover sports for a living).

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Nothing More Needs to Be Said

[ 38 ] September 4, 2014 |

Jessica Williams has the final word on catcalling and sexual harassment.

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Like Toyota, Only with Submarines

[ 11 ] September 4, 2014 |

Some thoughts at the Diplomat on Japan’s entry into the diesel sub market:

Germany, France, and Russia have long dominated the existing market for diesel-electric submarines. The German Type 209 submarine serves in over a dozen navies, with more than 60 boats currently in service. While the design stems from the 1960s, the newest boats entered service in the last decade. Germany’s successor, the Type 214, is scheduled for export to Greece and South Korea, but has suffered some setbacks. France has exported the Scorpene-class to Malaysia, Brazil, and India, and Russia continues to export its Kilo-class subs and Improved Kilos to a handful of countries, at least until Russian industry can work through the problems with the Lada-class.

The Japanese Soryus are extremely competitive with these boats. At 4,200 tons submerged, the Soryu-class is considerably larger than either the Type 214, Scorpene, or Improved Kilo, and can carry a much heavier weapons load. This size also makes them quieter and longer-ranged than the other boats on the market. At current price expectations of around $500 million, the Soryus are not wildly more expensive than the other boats.

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[ 52 ] September 3, 2014 |

This Rolling Stone profile of Willie Nelson is pretty great, even if magazines should not refer to their own work as “definitive,” which is the equivalent of talking about your own integrity since evidently we can just judge ourselves objectively these days.

Willie is a deserving legend and I say very little negative about his music. I do think that his love of marijuana has come to dominate discussions of the man who wrote “Crazy” and “Hello Walls” and “Night Life” and so many other definitive songs, not to mention full albums like Phases and Stages and Red Headed Stranger. Of course all of that was a very long time ago and Willie started resting on his laurels a bit by the late 1970s, not writing too many songs after that and certainly not writing songs on the quality level of the first half of his career. But then he didn’t have to. When the world is at your fingertips, as it was for Willie in the last 40 years (IRS notwithstanding), why try? But when you are in your mid-30s, kind of a mess as a person, and still holding onto the dream of making it in Nashville, yeah, you are going to write “Funny How Time Slips Away.” But I do wish that he wasn’t something of a joke for his weed smoking. The article certainly engages that side of him and maybe for good reason, since its not like he has hidden it.

Overall, there are some great stories and crazy stuff in the article. Willie worked as a plumber’s assistant in Eugene? Why did he end up there for awhile? And the number of country singers who spent time in the Pacific Northwest for random reasons is really quite high, most notably Loretta Lynn, whose worthless husband dragged her out there just as she was getting started as a singer. Buck Owens was working up there for awhile too. Willie’s drummer Paul English was a pimp? Whoa. On the other hand, English knew how to handle the rednecks which Bee Spears and Mickey Raphael struggled with during those transitional years in the 70s. Willie probably needed a roughneck in the band somewhere given the craziness.

Anyway, lots of laughs here and well worth a read. Also, check out some footage of this Willie show on the first ever episode of Austin City Limits in 1974. This is great stuff.

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Strategic (Mis)Uses of Academic Freedom

[ 80 ] September 3, 2014 |

Liel Leibovitz has an extended defense of UIUC’s firing of Steven Salaita. Let’s start with this:

Another tweet applied just as much nuance in declaring, “Zionists: transforming ‘anti-semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.” Subject that last utterance to a close reading—an exercise that passes for rigid and original thinking in most American universities these days—and you learn that the author approaches anti-Semitism with the one-two punch of unreality: It doesn’t exist—hence the quotation marks—and if it does exist then it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Given the unoriginality of Leibovitz’s misreading, I would have let it slide had he not patted himself on the back for his “close reading” (while, paging SEK, criticizing people who think this is a real skill.) Even looked at in isolation, the “close reading” is somewhere between “uncharitable” and “inept.” The designation of anti-Semitism as “horrible” makes it pretty clear that Leibovitz is wrong to say that the quotation marks around “anti-Semitism” are an argument that anti-Semitism doesn’t exist. Rather, the most natural reading of the tweet is that conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism is cheapening the latter term, which describes a very real and very serious problem. I wouldn’t go quite so far as to say that this is the only possible reading of the words in isolation — we’re talking about a medium that limits communications to 140 characters, after all. But I would say that Leibovitz is not very well-positioned to be accusing others of lacking “nuance.” (As I’ve said before, I do agree that Salaita’s tweet wishing that the settlers would vanish is entirely indefensible, although to imply that it’s a literal incitement to violence is silly.)

And, of course, it’s worse than that. Since we’re not fanatical opponents of the ACA trying out any legal argument that might convince the right majority of hacks, we should not read the tweet in isolation but in the context of his other writings. Doing so makes it abundantly clear that while Salaita is a strong (and at times uncivil and even crackpottish) critic of Israel on his Twitter feed, he believes that anti-Semitism is both very real and very deplorable. And since Leibovitz has no actual evidence that Salaita is an anti-Semite, his “replacing references to Jews and Israelis with blacks, gays, or women” analogy is specious.

Let’s move on to the other bad argument at the core of the op-ed:

And it’s tempting, in analyzing this situation, to focus on its minor irritants and point out, for example, how deliciously ironic it is that the champions of academic freedom riding to Salaita’s defense did it by boycotting his university, a blunt tactic that, in this case, causes much more harm to the principle of academic freedom than the incident it wishes to protest.

I’m mystified by how scholars declining to make appearances at UIUC as a protest — the very minimalist boycott most of the disciplines are engaged in — damages academic freedom at all. Leibovitz doesn’t explain, and I’ve never heard of the idea that academic freedom requires accepting all speaking opportunities. (It seems obvious to me that cancelling appearances is itself a form of speech, not a suppression of speech.) There are certainly forms of boycott that could be inconsistent with academic freedom — blackballing UIUC scholars from conferences or publication, for example — but as far as I can tell nobody is advocating this.

Even if we were to assume that there’s an academic freedom problem with refusing to take UIUC’s speaking space and/or money, I’m really baffled how this could be more damaging to academic freedom than firing a tenured faculty member for expressing political views. (McCarthyism: no real threat to academic freedom, so long as the faculty willing to take loyalty oaths never turn down a speaking gig!) I think I can understand why there’s nothing but bare assertion on offer for this proposition.

Actually, there’s another reason why Leibovitz hasn’t thought very clearly about what the principles of academic freedom mean. Namely, he’s against them:

Some, of course, may argue that the answer is still yes, and that subject-matter expertise ought to be the single and sacred standard by which we hire, reward, and promote our professors. But many more believe, like Chancellor Wise, that while we ought to fiercely insist on protecting our scholars’ freedom to say whatever they please, we should also insist that speech, like action, have consequences. In some cases, we may listen to scholars speak out on unpopular subjects and reward them for their insight and their courage; in others, we may hear things so vile that we decide the speaker, no matter how well-versed in his or her discipline, has no place in an institution that depends on the unfettered exchange of ideas, and that scholars who cannot translate their passions into well-reasoned arguments are better off opining on Twitter rather than in the classroom.

Until academics live up to this obvious condition, until they realize that, like the rest of us, they operate in a community and enjoy no special license to speak and act with utter impunity, until they understand that public engagement is not a privilege but a responsibility, they will continue to find themselves marginalized. It’s a price that neither they nor we can afford to pay.

This argument is at least more honest than those of Wise, since she claims to support academic freedom in principle. The argument that firing faculty members solely for expressing disagreeable political views is perfectly OK is at least a real argument. (And remember that it’s wealthy and/or politically connected donors and trustees ultimately policing the bounds of acceptable discourse once the principles of academic freedom are abandoned.) If you think that Coke Stevenson’s Texas is as good a way of organizing a university as any other, that’s your privilege. I strongly disagree, but it’s good to have the stakes made clear.

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The best nightclub in New Jersey

[ 130 ] September 3, 2014 |

Las Vegas casinos invariably give me the creeps. (My entry in a Saddest Place on Earth contest was “Nine PM Christmas Eve, all you can eat buffet, Caesar’s Palace”). I can only imagine the unspeakable dread evoked by a few nights in Atlantic City.

Revel Casino Hotel opened with a bang a little more than two years ago amid high hopes of turning around Atlantic City’s struggling casino market.

But the $2.4 billion resort went out with a whimper in the wee hours of the morning Tuesday, as its casino closed one day after the hotel checked out its last guest. . .

“It’s a … shame,” said Ruthie Fenimore of Warren, New Jersey, one of the last gamblers to play at Revel on Tuesday. “I really love this place. This place would be perfect if it was in Las Vegas. It would be right up there with Wynn. All the restaurants were awesome and HQ is the best nightclub I’ve ever been to in New Jersey. I remember the first time I came here, I was lying on the bed opening and closing the curtains with a remote control. It blew my mind. The bathroom was bigger than my home.” . . .

Revel had been slated to close at 6 a.m., but staff shut it down 35 minutes early, pulling yellow chains across its entrances, and herding the small handful of gamblers that remained inside toward the doors. A pre-recorded announcement programmed in advance blared through loudspeakers precisely at 6 a.m., saying “Attention: Revel Casino is now closed.” Immediately, lights began snapping off inside the glass-covered building, built to appear as it if had been sculpted by waves.

But Revel had gone mostly dark hours earlier. Its hotel, shaped like the 1950s cartoon character Gumby, was closed on Monday, and it was virtually invisible in the early morning darkness. The iconic ball atop the building, designed by the son of actor Frank Gorshin, who played “The Riddler” on the “Batman” TV series, was also turned off, and the only illumination was two emergency red lights at the very top of the structure to warn away approaching aircraft.

Apparently four of Atlantic City’s 12 casinos are closing this year. Of course this is all a product of the gusts of creative destruction unleashed by gradually legalizing gambling from coast to coast. (A few months ago I drove from Ann Arbor to Kalamazoo, MI, and noticed that half the billboards were advertising either “gaming” establishments, or bankruptcy services.)

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Christianity and Same Sex Marriage

[ 207 ] September 3, 2014 |

Horning in on Damon Linker’s turf, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry offers another defense of the “this time is different” argument regarding Christianity and mainstream american social and political norms. He first presents the erroneous view, based on a “misreading of history”:

The false premise goes something like this: Christianity, as a historical social phenomenon, basically adjusts its moral doctrines depending on the prevailing social conditions. Christianity, after all, gets its doctrines from “the Bible,” a self-contradictory grab bag of miscellany. When some readings from the Bible fall into social disfavor, Christianity adjusts them accordingly. There are verses in the Bible that condemn homosexuality, but there are also verses that condemn wearing clothes made of two threads, and verses that allow slavery. Christians today find ways to lawyer their way out of those. Therefore, the implicit argument seems to go, if you just bully Christianity enough, it will find a way to change its view of homosexuality, and all will be well. After all, except for a few shut-ins in the Vatican, most Christians today are fine with sexual revolution innovations such as contraception and easy divorce.

If this is mistaken, how should we understand Christianity?

Christian opposition to homosexual acts is of a piece with a much broader vision of what it means to be a human being that Christianity will never part with. The story Christians have been telling for 2,000 years goes something like this: The God who made the Universe is also, by his very nature, Love, and he made human beings with a very lofty vocation. Humans are meant to reflect His glory in the world; to be like God, that is to say, to be lovers and creators. Everything in the Universe has been put here to be used by God’s children to reflect his loving glory — and to teach them about God’s love. This is particularly true, or so the story goes, of the unique sexual complementarity between men and women. The sexual act is meant to reflect God’s love by fostering a union at once bodily and spiritual — and creates new life.

The best we could do for Gobry is to grant that both narratives presented here are just so stories imposed on a far messier and more complicated reality. (His focus on the formal teachings of Christianity regarding men’s and women’s sexuality glosses over the different actual treatments they received at the hands of Christianity as practiced, which poured its energy into social control of one gender’s sexual activity to a far greater degree than the other’s). But even if we grant his historical story, past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Setting aside concerns about the empirical claims Gobry makes for the moment, let’s grant that American Christianity’s “homosexual is sinful” view is properly understood as unchanging for 2000 years, while the previously widely held “the bible justifies American slavery” view was only a few generations old, a theology of convenience ginned up to justify and bolster that particular institution. From an anthropological perspective, I’m not at all sure why the age of the dogma is all that relevant to the hold it is likely to have on the individual believer. That historical difference is unlikely to be felt deeply be the believer, who’s been taught to believe it’s old as dirt by his parents and grandparents, the community he lives in, and the institutional church of which he is a part. He is not a historian of religion. The newer vintage of that particular commitment may, in some way, make it more vulnerable to social change. But merely gesturing toward an age difference doesn’t come anywhere near doing the work necessary to explain why.

One question worth asking, if we’re trying to choose between the two narratives presented above: which narrative better explains the changes of the last 20 years? What’s happening, of course, is that Christians–as individuals and, with a lag, as institutions, are changing their views to match mainstream American views on same sex marriage. I would put it even more strongly: Christianity isn’t just catching up, it is driving the change in the content of mainstream views. Even with 100% support from non-religious people and religious minorities, same sex marriage would have gone exactly nowhere without substantial Christian support.

The only way people taking Gobry’s position can dodge this completely obvious fact is to play a bit of no true Scotsman: we’re talking about evangelicals, or traditionalists, or some other label that carves out a slice of American Christendom as fundamentally different from the rest of it. But this doesn’t work, either, as the narrative he rejects can explain this just as easily. Like America itself, some Christians are liberal and some conservative. It’s extremely normal for liberals to accept social change with greater rapidity and ease than conservatives, and same sex marriage fits this general pattern very well. liberal Christianity changed first, now it’s conservative Christianity’s turn. And, low and behold, nearly half of self-identified evangelicals under 30 support same sex marriage.

I grew up attending church, and one of the very first ideas presented there that struck me as strange and implausible was the notion that Christianity is in some sense counter-cultural and oppositional to mainstream values and lifestyle of ‘the world’. By even by the age of 10 or so, I could see this notion was utterly farcical. Everyone I knew seemed to identify as Christian, and have no problem integrating that identity into an utterly normal mainstream American lifestyle. The position Gobry tries to stake out here requires treating that attitude as uncontested dogma, rather than a contingent empirical claim.

As a concluding note, let me just note how insulting the argument here is to conservative Christians themselves, when coming from people who do, in fact, view gay and lesbian people as full and complete human beings, deserving of the rights that come with that status. It’s essentially a demand for a kind of moral affirmative action, suggesting we should treat anti-gay Christians as permanently morally disabled by their religion, and make exemptions to anti-discrimination laws and norms we would never contemplate for religious racists. But a cursory glance at the social change surrounding this issue makes it perfectly obvious Christians as a group suffer no such disability. It’s extremely condescending to pretend that they do.

….Richard Hershberger with a comment the content of which should have been in the original post, in support of the “age of doctrine/practice not predictive of successful resistance to change” argument:

The argument that the antiquity of the doctrine makes it stronger does not stand up to examination. The prohibition of divorce is just as old, and with a really bitchin’ proof text, for those who think proof texting is the pinnacle of theological debate. Yet supposedly conservative American Evangelical churches have largely thrown in the towel on this one, few making more than token gestures against divorce.

Another one is Sabbatarianism, which has an even more bitchin’ proof text. For some four centuries following the Reformation, this was a bulwark of Protestant respectability. Boys playing baseball on Sunday was considered in all seriousness a police matter, accompanied by denunciations of these sinful days. The churches threw in the towel on this one about a century ago. There is a joke that Yankee Stadium wasn’t the House that Ruth Built: it was the House that Sunday Baseball built. Nowadays Sunday football is practically a sacred rite among Evangelicals, whose churches might quietly wish their members were in church that day rather than in front of the TV, but who are not so foolish as to push the matter, knowing they would lose. The shift is so thorough that it is hard to convince people that this ever really was a big deal.

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