Thoughts on Secular Queer Spaces

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Alex Gabriel argues that queer groups should stay secular, free from pandering by Christian organizations. Gabriel’s overarching reason is purely pragmatic: queer-identified people have faced trauma from religious (read: Christian) institutions and might need a space from religious discourse:

Many in queer communities have histories of religious abuse, whether ordinary queerphobia or physical, sexual or emotional varieties: the mere presence of guests in holy orders, even entirely friendly ones, can make an event a no-go area. There are apostates from all forms of religion who feel unwelcome or uncomfortable in LGBT groups that have been godded-up, as I did at university.

Gabriel goes on to assert that many who are queer-identified persons within these groups who have reservations about the role of religious (again read: Christian) groups have with purportedly non-religious/Christian organizations. Gabriel’s blog has spurred a lot of thoughts I have had about the relationship between queerness and religion (indeed, it has spurred me to start-up my blog once again).

Praise for Gabriel’s Article

Gabriel is correct that queer groups spend significant amounts of time focused on religious (read:Christian) issues, and this lends some credence to religious privilege (specifically Christian privilege). The fact that queer-identified people must focus on religious issues reinforces a narrative that queer-identified people will only be able to gain legitimacy through religious acceptance of queer people. This is not dissimilar to the critique Jasbir Puar makes about what she calls “homonormativity,” drawn from Lisa Duggan, in which queer ideologies that “replicate narrow racial, class, and gender national ideals” (Puar 2010, xxv). Here one might add religious national ideals as well in following Gabriel. In order to gain ascendency, queer-identified persons must cling to the modes of religiosity that are dominant and normative (at least speaking of the United States). For instance, it should come as no surprise voices such as Michael Vines dominates the conversation about queer religious inclusion that panders to white evangelicalism. Even Jay Michaelson’s book, God vs. Gay? reified the conversation around white evangelicalism even while Michaelson himself identifies as Jewish.

What is more is that the feeling I get as a queer Jew is often one of suspicion from affirming Christian groups because it seems as if their larger goal is still to either win converts or to win back souls who have strayed from the Church. Of course, this has no basis in fact, but is rather a feeling. Yet, I think it speaks to the larger issue that Gabriel hints at, namely, the pink washing of Christianity’s past. I am fully aware, following Michael Satlow’s dictum that “there is no history of Judaism but only histories,” applying it to Christianity. This is what Gabriel hints at when he states, “[i]f as liberals claim, Christianity’s impact over millennia has been antithetical to Jesus’ words, the question is not why Christians have missed Christ’s real message – it’s why Jesus was the worst communicator in human history.”

But the sense in which Christianity has failed to fully address this past lends some credence to my suspicion on interactions with affirming Christians. The question I want to ask, “Can Christianity be queer-affirming without some form of radical reconfiguration?” It seems like the model that Vines and Michaelson promote is that Christianity (or more broadly) religion can go on without some form of radical reconfiguration that allows religion to be inclusive in any real way. 

To move forward, the larger part of Gabriel’s point that I worry others might miss is that Christianity has played a significant role in religious trauma. Queer groups, in his opinion should function as spaces for those who want to be removed from that trauma, and thus, religious groups should keep arms distance from queer groups. Thus, Gabriel’s point, and I think it is important concern.

Critique

Although I share Gabriel’s concerns, I believe his position must be critiqued because  Gabriel’s position takes much for granted. First, Gabriel asserts religious trauma as if religious institutions are the only institutions that have (or still do) promote queer antagonism. Second, Gabriel appears to evoke “safe space” without fleshing out a definition of a “safe” space. Third, although Gabriel discusses “the secular” instead of “secularism,” Gabriel presumes that “the secular” offers a neutral ground.

To speak to the first issue, Gabriel relies on the proposition that religion is inherently queer antagonistic. I do not mean to belittle the point: religious institutions have been the dominant force in perpetuating oppression against queer-identified persons. Yet, it is valuable to critique Gabriel here because religious institutions are not alone. It crafts an essentialist history about Christianity in particular and religion more generally. Secular (or explicitly anti-religious organizations) have likewise perpetuated queer antagonism. The forms of queer antagonism that I have faced as an individual were neither implicitly or overtly religious in their tone. Again, this is not to dismiss Gabriel (religious institutions do play a large role in oppression), but rather to ask whether focus on religious trauma obscures non-religious forms of queer antagonism? 

To speak to the second issue, that is the issue of “safe space,” I want to legitimately ask if safe space is actually possible. Here I can only think of my own evolution of the concept of “safe space,” which has been formed in light of drug use within queer spaces (not religion). Some, following Eric Peterson, would argue that the notion of safe space enforces racism and transphobia, where “safety,” the freedom from fear, allows for internalized (and not so internalized) racism and/or transphobia to manifest themselves. Although I believe there are significant issues with Jack Halberstam’s piece on trigger warnings (Halberstam misunderstands what a trigger warning is), Halberstam’s larger point that coalitional politics has given way for neo-liberalism, which focuses too much on individualism. In what ways can the very idea of safe space promote the neo-liberal individualism that Halberstam critiques? Again, I am unsure if I have an answer whether or not we abandon the notion of safe space in general. Yet, I think it is worth questioning the concept of safe space because whose safety is privileged. 

Lastly, I think it is worth questioning whether a secular space actually functions as a neutral space. Again, William Connolly has noted of Asad’s critique of secularism, secularism itself can be a carrier of harsh exclusions. What is more is that by creating a new definition of “religion,” (a private practice), secularism amoralizes problematic aspects of Christianity. In the United States at least, it becomes common practice for religious conservatives to argue, “we’re not bigots, we’re just practicing our religion.” Thus, I am less convinced that the so-called secular space offers a neutral space as Gabriel suggests.

Conclusion

None of the critiques I have provided is to suggest that we should abandon Gabriel’s key points. Indeed, I believe it is imperative that we formulate a discourse of br oader societal queer-inclusion not based on religious rhetoric alone, which I believe only privileges Christian rhetoric. Nevertheless, I am not wholly convinced by Gabriel’s argument, in part, because I study religion in such a way that attempts to avoid essentialist formulations (religion as homophobic). Moreover, I am unconvinced that secularism hasn’t played a role in espousing queer antagonistic ideas and practices. Christianity, in the end, wins only because it’s been around longer than secular movements. Though, as I would continue to maintain, the point of this post was not to come down on either side of the issue.

Let’s Talk About the Marriage Amendment Minnesota!

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Alright, rather than devoting my time and energy about how cynical I feel about the general election, I should devote my time and energy to something I feel is important, perhaps even just as a citizen of Minnesota. There are other posts where I have talked about my religious reasons as a Jew for opposing this amendment and applauding the Minnesota Rabbinical Association for doing so—although I could probably write a whole book on Jewishness and queerness—and I have written about my own complicated relationship with regard to same-sex marriage and my own sense of queer politics. The last one is not to be divisive but to be honest with people to say that there is more at stake and that there should be open and honest conversations about these politics. But my point is to argue against this amendment.

The way that I have seen it is that this amendment has thrown religion to the forefront of a debate that is immensely complicated and several different issues rolled into one: how should religious institutions best be a public witness to their own message? How do we understand the “church”-state divide? How do we understand marriage as both a religious institution but also as a civic and economic institution that provides benefits to couples?

Nevertheless, it seems to be framed as a religious debate that has spilled into the public sphere. If you ask most Jews or most Unitarian Universalists, for instance, we’d tell you that same-sex marriage is a religious and public virtue. The debate is largely settled with these specific religious groups. Thus, I think the issue is largely a Christian debate. Christianity has had a large hegemony over the public sphere in the history of the United States, so this seems like a logical conclusion. Considering that secularism has always been influenced by Christian virtues and ethe (pl. of ethos) and I would argue, still is today, it should be no surprise that this can also play out as a seemingly non-religious debate.

But then I also believe it is incorrect to push this debate into other sectors of civil society where the debate is largely a non-issue. For a moment, I would like to go to Dietrich Bonhoffer and especially his so-called “religionless Christianity.” Bonhoffer at one point in time in his letters from prison discusses what is known as Arcani Disciplina (in German, Arkandisziplin), or the discipline of the secret.  The Discipline of the Secret was an ancient Christian practice that meant not discussing the mysteries of the faith, such as the Eucharist, in the presence of the unbaptized. Only those instructed in the faith and willing to make a Christian commitment through baptism were admitted to the Eucharistic communion part of the Lord’s Supper. Bonhoeffer reformulated this in light of the modern world, where Christian truths were forced upon an unwilling world. The Church should not wield the coercive sword in order to preserve the mysteries of the faith. Rather, they are to preserve them through prayer, worship, and example. 

Now, I would like to move to early Evangelical thought in the United States. It might surprise some of us today that evangelicals were the strictest supporters of separation of church and state, to such a degree that many supported taxing religious institutions. Their support of separation had much to do with a high view of God and religious volunteerism. Their high view of God was a plurality of religious groups should coexist and it is up to God and not the state to decide which religions should flourish and which should whither away. Religious volunteerism was important because state coercion or control of an individuals choice on matters of conscience would interfere with their free choice to choose the will of God. If religion and state intermingled, it meant that individuals no longer had a free choice and they could no longer rely on their own conscience to tell them what was right and wrong. Lastly, these evangelicals also believed that they had a divine mandate and the state would corrupt this mandate. Essentially, when state and religion mix, it is religion that becomes compromised. All of these views begin to make sense when we recognize that in the 18th century, Baptists and other evangelicals were an actively persecuted religious minority in states such as Massachusetts and Virginia that did have state-sponsored religion.

To Synthesize 

The evangelicals and Bonhoffer might not agree completely but I think both had a high-mindedness about truth. This is important in any democratic society, if we care about a democratic society. If the state takes a side in this issue, it signals the debate is effectively over.  Personally, I believe that if this amendment passes, that it will only be law for a short period of time because the debate isn’t over. I think the fact that the debate is occurring is a consequence that a consensus against same-sex marriage is quickly eroding. Then again, I take a view of the public sphere that is largely intolerant once there is a large consensus. Those who oppose same-sex marriage no longer have a monopoly on public acceptability and I fear that they are moving to the sword of the state to enforce their views of religiosity upon the public as a whole. Using the sword of the state shuts off a real public discussion about not only the issue of same-sex marriage but all the other questions that I mentioned above. The evangelicals in colonial America might agree with conservatives about marriage, but they would disagree with the way in which it is being handled because individuals no longer have a hand in making conscientious choices with regard to matters of religion. It also says that God’s truth can no longer win out, we need the coercive power of the state to enforce our views. Lastly, I bring up Bonhoffer for an important reason. First, I bring him up because I think he is correct about the issue of forcing witness on populations who largely don’t understand or accept it. It leads to the question of whether it is appropriate to amend our state constitution in such a way that privileges one sector of Christianity. Does witness belong to the entire state or does it belong to the faithful? Moreover, does an amendment such as this not make the population de facto Christian in a perhaps immensely problematic way?

These are reasons why I oppose such an amendment. It forces non-Christians to reckon with a debate that is effectively a Christian one and it removes the democratic potential of such conversations. We no longer have the face each other and discuss our conscience openly and honestly. The state gets to make those decisions for us. In the end, my post is an attempt to not only honor a more democratic discussion, but also to discuss ways in which one can oppose this amendment for fundamentally religiously conservative reasons.

For more more information, I would encourage you to go to Minnesotans United for All Families.

Gay Marriage is so Neoliberal

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I felt the need to talk this one out via my blog. It has to do with a combination of Obama’s tacit acceptance of same-sex marriage and a lot of other news events

One thing that occurred was with the United Methodist General Conference. Many of my friends were at the conference or following it closely. The thing that consistently appeared on my facebook feeds were about their disappointment in not including queer people in the church. At the same time, the general conference voting against divestment from companies that build the equipment that help perpetuate Israeli state violence against Palestinians. I am sure that a few words were said on the latter but most of the discussion was about the former issue.  For a Jewish perspective on the failure to end divestment, you can read here.

To be honest, I was angered that more reaction was given on a clause than on divestment from businesses that actively participate in the Israeli government’s oppression of Palestinians. To be fair, I think about Israel a lot as a Jew and I think about Palestine a lot and that the state of Israel really signifies the failure of the Jewish ethical tradition (not only the rabbinic tradition but also the philosophical tradition). I am also not Methodist, so it may not be up to me to judge the internal affairs of a church with which I do not participate (even if their decisions indirectly affect us all). So the human rights abuses by Israelis against Palestinians is something that I follow probably a lot more than most Methodists.

This kind of reaction is perhaps why every time we talk about someone supporting same-sex marriage, I roll my eyes. Or, I get angry even if the people posting the comments are well-intentioned (and they are definitely well intentioned). For some reason, focusing on the same-sex marriage debate got it in our heads that it is the main queer issue. Queer people are everywhere and in every strata of the societies which we live. To be more transparent, queer people’s houses are being bulldozed through the money the United Methodist Church invests in Caterpillar. My point is not to condemn the United Methodist Church, nor my friends who have spoken passionately about including queer people in their church, but really to see the failure of talking about certain issues as somehow meriting the “queer issue” status while other issues are somehow not. I think this is a systemic issue. In reaction to Obama’s approval, one of my friend’s on facebook said, “this is all nice, but where was the community support when CeCe was on trial?”

Marriage has become increasingly important, as neoliberal policies continue to dismantle the already small welfare state and privatize and deregulate our government. Marriage becomes the means of getting healthcare, affording housing, getting a green-card, so on and so forth. In a way, it’s ironic that those most staunchly opposed to same-sex marriage are also the people who supported the policies that helped bring about its genesis. Rather than talking merely about marriage, why are we not also discussing a public option for healthcare? It’s not that radical of a position, considering the majority of American citizens actually support a public option. Why are we not talking about homelessness in queer communities? Or housing discrimination? Or trans rights? Why aren’t we advocating more fiercely for more inclusive immigration policies? Or why aren’t we talking about the fact that the marriage debate is really about notions of respectability (the only way for queer citizens to be respected is to look respectable) and why aren’t we challenging those terms of respectability? Why are we focusing on what Obama has said when our foreign policy  supports the bulldozing of Palestinian housing? Or why aren’t more of us standing in solidarity with CeCe in her unjust imprisonment?

I guess these are the things I think about when I hear news about a politician’s views on same-sex marriage finally “evolving” to support it.

Barton’s Follies

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Reading through John Barton’s The Nature of Biblical Criticism, I find myself unconvinced about his arguments concerning biblical scholarship. Part of this has to do with the convoluted nature of his argumentation but I suspect that this is intentional. While Barton argues that biblical scholarship is not primarily about advocating the historical-critical method, he also seems to believe that the text has one meaning (or makes assumptions about the author of the text, i.e. he considers 2 Thessalonians one of Paul’s epistles, even though many Paul scholars would contest him on that assumption).

It’s clear that the paradigm in biblical hermeneutics is shifting, allowing more room for critical social theory to enter into the fray of biblical scholarship. Then again, I am not sure that positivist readings of scripture are on the decline either, as Barton claims. I see these kinds of claims all the time in Hebrew Bible departments and even the program I am entering has been primarily such a program. My main contention is that he appears to dismiss advocacy readings in favor of a ‘plain sense’ of the scripture.

What this plain sense means is a “semantic or linguistic and a literary operation first and foremost, only indirectly concerned with the original, the intended, the historical, or the literal meaning” (101). Essentially, the plain sense of the text is the proper semantic or linguistic meaning of the words used in the text, “the texts mean what they mean, what they have always meant” (102).  At the same time, the ‘advocacy’ readings Barton disparages are essential.

Why reject advocacy readings? For a particular attack, he singles out Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza (my home gurl). Schüssler Fiorenza, for reference, has been immensely influential in my work, despite our fields differing. Schüssler Fiorenza is correct in noting that biblical scholarship has been primarily concerned with objectivity and positivism (which I still think that Barton’s hermeneutic falls under) and this has obscured marginal voices in biblical scholarship. Barton contends that our arguments against any notion of objectivity are fallacious because we really do think that the text confronts us with something. In some sense, I agree with this criticism. Our advocacy readings are, in some senses, concerned with objectivity.

I have thought about this a lot in relation to the historical-critical method, especially in relation to Benjamin’s definition of historical materialism, where the oppressed past appears at moments of conflict in the present to confront us. Feminist, queer, afro-american, post-colonial, and other literary readings obviously have historical elements to them and helps in historicization (or contextualization of the text). Working with ancient Israelite texts, I do make the assumption that these privileged texts have silenced or glossed over the ‘oppressed past.’ In a way, I try to think of my work in literature as an extension of Howard Zinn’s method. Israelite texts that survived are the texts of the winners, those with the power in the culture to be able to preserve said texts and even then, I think we can gain inferences from the oppressed past within the privileged documents of the Hebrew Bible (and sometimes these texts stand against some of the normative practices of Israelite culture). But is this really a means to deny a whole host of literary hermeneutics that has helped in advancing in our understanding of the text and its critical engagement?

Perhaps in the end, I really feel the same way as Roland Boer.

The Conservative-Liberal Divide as a Red Herring

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So last weekend, I read a blog post about rabid partisanship. I critiqued the article on the basis that it produced the very partisanship that it sought out to critique. Then my friends and I fought over it, reproducing the very partisanship that we (liberals and conservative, and perhaps I as the sole libertarian socialist) seek to argue against. But I thought about it for a week and have come back to the article with the main reasons why I think that rabid partisanship is always a red herring. How it is reproduced by the media and educational institutions but how this doesn’t necessarily point to the inherent liberalism of these institutions (thus reproducing the partisanship). Rather, it points to the neoliberal policies and ideologies that have slowly taken hold of our society in the past 40 years and it is an ideology that most Democrats and Republicans embrace.

As a point, I agree that the media and the education sector tend to enforce the rabid partisanship in our country. However, these institutions are heavily influenced by corporate ideals and policies because not only is the media run by corporations, thus compromising their supposedly objective reporting, but colleges and universities are for-profit institutions that are out to secure business. In other words, they’re business friendly and their pursuit of knowledge is thus compromised. Rabid partisanship appears to me to be a red herring and more than anything it appears to be socially manufactured because both the Democratic and Republican parties advocate this kind of corporatizing of our culture and politics.

A good example is the current debate about whether oil companies should receive tax subsidies. President Obama favored cutting off these subsidies because these companies made millions in profits last year. That is, they don’t need the corporate welfare of the state in order to survive in the free market. Republican, on the other hand, argued for continuing the corporate welfare of these companies, advocating an inherently protectionist or interventionist approach to the market. On this issue, the parties switched: Obama supported a free market measure where Republicans advocated a position that was inherently interventionist (and thus in their own parlance, big government). No one has really noted this change whatsoever. It makes sense, however. It’s like 1984, where Republicans advocated Keynsian growth while Democrats advocated for fiscal conservatism. If both parties are dominated by business interests, then it is just a means of revealing the shifting business interests and needs. This is why I think that the liberal-conservative divide is a red herring because it means we don’t notice the ways in which our party system is united.

To reinforce the point, the term liberal tends to be synonymous with Democrat in our society because the term conservative tends to be synonymous with the Republican party. This ideological nomenclature is quite misleading, however. If one looks at the dominant platform of the Democratic party, they look like moderate Republicans of 30 to 40 years ago. Rachel Maddow, for instance, is one of these so-called moderate Republicans. My parents, in another instance, are moderate Republicans who were ousted from their party because its increasing move to the Right. So my parents look like Democrats and tend to vote Democrat. What this has reveals is a shift in thinking. The term liberal cannot really apply to a leading number of notable Democrats in the contemporary. This is the same for the term conservative, as well. Perhaps the most notable conservative is Barry Goldwater, who was pretty much what might amount to as a libertarian. At the same time, the people who hijacked his ideals were not really conservatives themselves. Most Republicans today do advocate for government intervention all the time, but it is welfare for the corporate sector and redistribution of money upwards. These people are statist and it is misleading to call them conservative. Like Noam Chomsky, I don’t believe real conservatives really exist in the United States or else they would be more adamant in challenging the forms of state authority that most Republicans tend to accept. In the end, “liberal” and “conservative” are simulacra, terms with almost no referent in real life.

Reproduction of the liberal-conservative divide, thus, is a rather misleading trope. Both dominant parties in the United States tend to promote neoliberal policies and ideology. Thus, it might be apt to speak of a neoliberal coalition of Democrats and Republicans. Of course, we cannot because it would mean that the very forms of economic life advocated by Republicans, has led to the necessity of same-sex marriage, for instance. It means that we have to talk about the fact that both the Tea Party and the Occupy movement are influenced by a sense of urgency in our society: the basic quality of life in this country has dropped in the last 30 years. It means having to talk about why a public option for health care is always tabled by both Democrats and Republicans. It also means having to explain why the private sector always talks about how ineffective the public sector is, but when politicians offer public options to anything (like health care or the post office), the private sector opines that it will never be able to complete. People are working harder and longer hours while wages have stagnated. No one wants to address this issue because it means revealing that both parties have contributed to this decline in our economic life. I think that these are things that we ought to be critiquing and talking about, rather than the blame game.

Perhaps this is a good starting point?

MRA Votes No on Proposed Marriage Amendment

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Although I am not surprised that the Minnesota Rabbinical Association decided to vote No on the proposed marriage amendment that would define marriage between a man and a woman, it is great news to hear. You can read the news here. Moreover, you can read their proposal over at Jewish Community action, which outlines their rationale for opposing the marriage amendment.

News like this doesn’t surprise me because the Pew Research Center has shown that a majority (75-76%) of the Jewish population has supported same-sex marriage, the group with the largest support of it. Even though the queer politics of same-sex marriage is immensely complicated (that is, same-sex marriage having some deep messianic significance in the queer community and the amount of attention and funding that goes to this issue instead of say poverty, which I think is a far more important queer issue, among many important queer issues, for instance), I still think that stories like this are important to me as a queer and observant Jew. Equally important is the title of the Pew article titled,  “Beyond Secular versus Religious.” I think titles like these are important to combat the impression that same-sex marriage is a secular issue or the narrative that same-sex marriage is supported by a secular elite and being forced on religious groups. Therefore, somehow any  innovation is constituted as a threat to religious freedom. Polling like this shows, however, that many political issues are not issues of religiosity over against secularity but religious people versus religious people. This isn’t to mitigate the importance of secular or nonreligious voices. However, what it is to point out is that religion should not be used as a linchpin argument. That is, if religiosity is important to us, it should have community value for us, not be something that is forced upon all of America. I recognized that “forced” is a highly contentious term. But it is also clear that the right’s vision of the United States as a Christian nation is a reading of the past that, to use Benjaminian terms attempts to convey to the present how the past “really was” and these totalizing readings of the past tend to end in violence because they flatten out the inherent tensions in history.

To move to the MRA’s rationale is equally significant because it reveals the “flashes of the past” that Benjamin found as a site of potential liberation. The MRA had two principles surrounding their decision Kavod HaBriyot “the dignity of [God’s] Creation” and Lo ta-amod al dam rei-echa “do not stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds” (Lev 19:16). The importance of the first rationale is significant because it is a specifically halakhic degree employed by rabbis in exceptional circumstances. That is, if Halakha is found to deny the dignity to human creations, or to use Butler’s term, if Halakha renders subjects unintelligible, then by the power of human dignity, Jewish law is suspended. I believe this is an immensely intelligent move on part of the MRA because while it does not deny that Halakha is discriminatory in regards to queer sexual activities, it argues that in this case human dignity trumps halakhic decision making. Moreover, their use of this term brings up “flashes of the past.”

The Association states, “The Jewish community has faced discrimination and therefore we will not stand by while others are targeted.” This leads them to the second principle found in the Torah. This represents the flashes of the past precisely because the Rabbis are recognizing that in this historical moment, that another group is facing discrimination. They are not arguing that this is exactly like the past, but are recognizing that our shared historical experience as the Jewish people has visited upon us disasters. It means that if we are witnesses to the injustices of our own past, it means that we must take a stand against the injustices of the present even if such a decision runs counter to our own traditions.

It is interesting that I am reading about Benjamin and also reading a book entitled Lost Intimacies: Rethinking Homosexuality under National Socialism by William Spurlin. Spurlin employs queer theory to argue that homosexuality in and of itself was not targeted in Nazi Germany but talks about the ways in which sexuality was racialized in Nazi Germany and that it was considered a Jewish invasion upon German sexuality. Moreover, Jewish men in European culture were often feminized and that homosexual men and Jewish men were often considered synonymous because both were too feminine. Spurlin is careful to argue that the persecution of homosexuals was less systematic than that of the Jewish people but he also points out that this persecution was not only real but that we cannot work out oppression on the basis of a single-axis of analysis.

The flashes of the past, at least for me, is that European culture often feminized Jewish men and considered them the root of homosexuality in Europe. This history signifies to me the importance of standing in solidarity with queerness and Judaism. It signifies solidarity and support in the present. For that, I am glad that the MRA evokes the Jewish past in their decision, even if such an evocation fails to mention the intersections of the queer and Jewish communities in Europe. It also means that religiosity moves not only beyond its often scriptural assumptions but also the assumption that religion is solely about faith and towards a sense of shared culture and historical memory.

An Abstained Vote for the President

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Tuesday I am supposed to caucus with the Democratic Party and cast my vote for the candidate who will represent us. The presumption is that we all support President Obama in his reelection campaign. I’ve gone back and forth between whether I vote for Obama again. For me, criticism of state violence is not only one of my central political tenets but also religious tenets. Judaism has been a major source of critiquing not only the state violence perpetuated by the United States but Israel as well. My conscience tells me that it would be inexcusable for me to vote to reelect an administration whose policies are often similar to or exactly the same as the policies of the Bush administration. It is not merely a question of disappointment or disillusion with the fact that Obama didn’t turn out as the progressive that I had hoped. When it comes down to it, most politicians with that much power employ Machiavellian realpolitik. It is also to say that the administration itself has also been stopped at every point by a Republican senate and house. The Obama administration has had to ostensibly compromise and even after compromise the Republican party has refused to support him out of some misplaced sense of appearing purist.

On domestic policies, I was disappointed that his administration abandoned stronger versions of healthcare. We’re a wealthy industrial nation. We offer every citizen thirteen years of education paid for by the government, we should be supporting initiatives that give affordable and effective healthcare to all of our citizens. This is a Jewish conviction that shares similarities with Islamic thought. Blessing is not meant to be hoarded. Rather, material blessing from God demands that we bless others in turn. The Obama administration has effectively refused to support single-payer system as Max Baucus explicitly tabled the single-payer system without any discussion of it. While reformist attitudes have argued that we need to work up to a single-payer system and create the infrastructure for it, I believe that the infrastructure for it already exists and not only that but the majority of our population actually does support it, especially if you call it “medicare for everyone.” Moreover, I think that the Obama administration has largely pursued technocratic free-market policies and not ostensibly being rooted in issues of social justice. Again, I actually think on economic issues that our population is more to the Left than voting would have us believe.

This turns me to issues of surveillance, indefinite detention, due-process-free policies, and the continuation of the so-called war on terror. The one plus I can grant to the Obama administration is a stronger position on torture. At the same time, we have seen the escalation of the war in Afghanistan and conflicts in Libya that have resulted in the continued loss of human life. The Obama administration remained silent on the massacre in Gaza. Moreover, it seems abundantly clear that we will go to war with Iran in the upcoming year as an ally to Israel, resulting in even greater loss of human life. While I would argue that war dehumanizes not only abroad but also at home generally, it is clear that the war on terror has increased orientalist rhetoric within our homeland. We have seen a social dehumanization of Muslims, Arabs, and Sikhs. The Obama administration has continued the policies of the Bush administration, ones that many of us on the Left critiqued when Bush was president of the United States. It seems contradictory to shift my stance simply because a Democrat is in office. This is the worst sort of identity politics.

With that said, I cannot in good conscience, or as the Quakers would say, I feel moved to vote against the Obama administration this time around. Perhaps I will change my mind due to other circumstances, such as the potential for the House and the Senate to be Republican controlled. At the same time, I remain convinced that voting to reelecting Obama would result in a serious compromise of my own principles.