Religious bigotry

I’m feeling burdened by the bigotry and ignorance of people who are objecting to the Cordoba Institute’s community center (and yes, mosque) at a location in lower Manhattan near the World Trade Center. (The so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.”)

Although some of the rhetoric has de-escalated to “they may have the right to build it, but it is insensitive,” I find that most of what is said is out-and-out religious bigotry. People who say Western Civilization is built on Judeo-Christian ethics. People who call Muslims ragheads. I won’t link to it, but if you search for “Joseph Phillips Ground Zero Mosque” you’ll find an opinion essay with this ugly morsel:

There is a small segment of the left that simply hates America. There is no other way to describe it. These hard-core leftists do not respect America’s traditions or institutions, so they are comrades-in-arms with any force that seeks to undermine or insult those institutions and they rush to stand in opposition to anything that smacks of patriotism or national pride.

If you read the version that’s at bighollywood, you’ll find a commenter named “TrueBlueMormon” who defends his use of the term “ragheads” by saying “facts are facts, they do wear rags on their heads, it is a cultural thing.” Well then, I suppose he won’t mind when I refer to his magic underwear. The irony is so, so sad.

But my support for the Cordoba Institute’s community center is not just a reaction to know-nothings, xenophobes, and religious bigots.

I support the community center because local government is an American value. The elected regulatory boards and the mayor of New York City have approved and defended the community center construction.

I actually think that most Americans treat private property as an idol, but since the laws do, indeed, tend to privilege private ownership over public good, then those laws should be equally applied.

I support the community center because freedom of religion is a bedrock American value. I support the community center because this is the result of not supporting freedom of religion:

statue of Mary Dyer by Sylvia Shaw Judson

That is a statue of Mary Dyer by Sylvia Shaw Judson. It sits just down the street from where I work, in front of the Massachusetts State House. Mary Dyer was hanged on Boston Common on June 1, 1660 for being a Quaker. She had earlier been sentenced with William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson, who were hanged on October 27th, 1659.

Joan Walsh has written a wonderful essay reminding Roman Catholics of their history in the United States.

Until today, I had always thought the belief that Catholics couldn’t be “unambiguously Catholic and American,” or that the Catholic Church had “illiberal tendencies,” represented prejudice, the kind of prejudice that collided with and eventually gave way to American ideals about equality and religious freedom. I didn’t realize my people had to be “inspired” into fully embracing “the virtues of democracy” by Nativists, often by violence: from Charlestown, Mass, where Nativists burned a Catholic convent in 1834, to Philadelphia in 1844 (where thousands of Nativists attacked Irish Catholics, derided as “scum unloaded on American wharfs,” burned Catholic churches and convents, invaded the homes of Irish Catholics and beat residents), to St. Louis, where a Nativist riot against Irish Catholics killed 10 and destroyed 93 Irish Catholic homes and businesses, or Louisville, Ky., where Nativist mobs killed at least two dozen Catholics on “Bloody Monday,” Aug. 6, 1855.

There are, sadly, two American approaches to freedom of religion. I’m glad that the one that hangs people of other religions and burns down their houses of worship lost. I support the Cordoba Institute’s community center because all the arguments I’ve seen against it boil down to religious intolerance at best or religious bigotry and hatred or worse.

Resistance to Cordoba House

Most New Yorkers seem to have their heads on straight about Cordoba House, the Islamic community center proposed in downtown Manhattan. Mayor Michael Bloomberg (via the Cordoba Initiative):

If somebody wants to build a religious house of worship, they should do it and we shouldn’t be in the business of picking which religions can and which religions can’t. I think it’s fair to say if somebody was going to try to on that piece of property build a church or a synagogue, nobody would be yelling and screaming. And the fact of the matter is that Muslims have a right to do it too. What is great about America and particularly New York is we welcome everybody and I just- you know, if we are so afraid of something like this, what does it say about us? Democracy is stronger than this. You know, the ability to practice your religion is the- was one of the real reasons America was founded. And for us to say no is just, I think, not appropriate is a nice way to phrase it.

I couldn’t agree more.

But the ADL, which says it “fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all” had this to say on Friday (reported by the NY Times):

The issue was wrenching for the Anti-Defamation League, which in the past has spoken out against anti-Islamic sentiment. But its national director, Abraham H. Foxman, said in an interview on Friday that the organization came to the conclusion that the location was offensive to families of victims of Sept. 11, and he suggested that the center’s backers should look for a site “a mile away.”

“It’s the wrong place,” Mr. Foxman said. “Find another place.”

Asked why the opposition of the families was so pivotal in the decision, Mr. Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, said they were entitled to their emotions.

“Survivors of the Holocaust are entitled to feelings that are irrational,” he said. Referring to the loved ones of Sept. 11 victims, he said, “Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.”

That is, in a word, bullshit. Irrational and bigoted anguish is still irrational and bigoted. Is that really the way he wants us to live together as a nation, captive to everyone’s irrational and bigoted emotions? Or are some irrational and bigoted emotions privileged?

Thank God not everyone agrees with him:

“The ADL should be ashamed of itself,” said Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, which promotes interethnic and interfaith dialogue.

People disgust me

Here is what the anti-American “tea party” is like:

First, Islam is NOT a religion, it is an ideology — the religious portion only encompasses 11 % (the qur’an) the rest is the Sira and Hadith and the closest parallel to Islam is the Ku Klux Klan — if that is Six Flag’s idea of ‘appropriate’ then by all means, hold your day on September 12th but don’t plan on expanding any time soon because not only will we ensure that you don’t grow, we’ll make sure that your parks become a thing of the past.

This, and the verbal attacks on the Islamic community center in downtown Manhattan and the resistance to building a Mosque in Temecula make me wonder what country I’m living in. This is certainly not what I was raised to believe in as an American.

Morning meditation

I’ve moved (not far, just over Winter Hill, about a mile). The new apartment is wonderful: Third floor (instead of basement); four rooms (instead of studio); wood floors (instead of nice tile); lots of double-hung windows (instead of four little ones). My new commute to work puts me on an outdoor train platform. This is the grafitti opposite where I choose to stand:


“We’re all gonna die.”

Just a shortened version of the Five Remembrances of the Upajjhatthana Sutta.

What Is Real? Lessons from a virtual life

Order of service and message presented to Unitarian Universalist Association staff chapel Nov 10, 2009

What Is Real? Lessons from a virtual life

By day, Kenneth Sutton is the mild-mannered managing editor of UU World magazine. But by night, he is Otenth Paderborn, gentleman, landowner, Steampunk, and DJ in the virtual world of Second Life.

Chalice Lighting (by UUA Chaplain)

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.

First Reading: A Psalm of Life, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream! —
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act, — act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

Hymn 315 This Old World

Words from a traditional American hymn, adapted

This old world is full of sorrow,
Full of sickness, weak and sore.
If you love your neighbour truly,
Love will come to you the more.

We’re all children of one family,
We’re all brothers, sisters too.
If you cherish one another
Love and friendship come to you.

This old world can be a garden,
Full of fragrance, full of grace;
If we love our neighbors truly,
We must meet them face to face.

It is said now, “Love thy neighbor,”
And we know well that is true;
This the sum of human labor,
True for me as well as you.

Sharing of Joys and Concerns

Reading Macbeth Act 5, scene 5, 19–28, William Shakespeare

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.
                                   Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Hymn 109 As We Come Marching, Marching

Words by James Oppenheim

As we come marching, marching in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing: “Bread and roses! Bread and roses!”

As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men,
For they are women’s children, and we mother them again.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!

As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient cry for bread.
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
Yes, it is bread we fight for — but we fight for roses, too!

As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days.
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler — ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!

Sermon: What Is Real?

I know I should aspire to ensure that each of you, while sitting here, has a good chance of connecting all the dots I made in my choices of readings and hymns. I fear, however, that is not how I approach reality. Reality is, first, rough-and-tumble, but it also has shifting appearances and defies easy definition. If you don’t see the connections (or if you imagine others of your own), I invite you to engage with me in that sort of discussion best carried out after work at the 21st Amendment.

I’m involved in, and this service is inspired by my experiences in, Second Life, which is a persistent, three-dimensional, virtual, user-generated, social environment.

I recently attended SteamCon, a science fiction convention in Seattle. I went in order to meet people I already knew from Second Life, the third time I have met friends I previously knew only virtually. It is the consistency of these experiences, as well as oft-heard ribbing about virtual worlds or “computer games” or “social media” that spurred these reflections, which I first presented in a nondenominational Christian church service in Second Life.

Are the pixels one sees in Second Life real?
In the sense that we are not each dreaming, or imagining the screens before us, they are real.
They are real pixels, then.
No, they are not flesh. No, I do not have horns (although two people at SteamCon both offered to make horns for me).
To be real is to acknowledge inherent nature—and inherent limitations.

Is art real? –and not just in the facile sense of being real canvas and pigment.
And no, “I know it when I see it” isn’t a good answer, either.
Neither is “I like it.”
Art can take so many forms. What is it that makes it real art?
Among other things, real art is created with intention by an artist.
To be real is an acknowledgement of intent.
Real art is meant to feed the spirit and heart.
To be real is to acknowledge dimensions beyond what we can touch and see.

Is a telephone conversation real? Are the people on the other end of this conference call real?
Hello! Can anybody hear me?
It is real sound, created by real electromagnetic energy.
It is a real intention.
But what makes it a real conversation is not only the intention (leaving a message in voice mail is not a conversation!)
A real telephone conversation is communication.
To be real is to communicate.

Is love real?
It is a real emotional state–whether reciprocated or not, whether permanent or not, it can cause real differences in behavior, resulting in physical action in the world.
While it may take one by surprise, it is intentional when expressed.
It is, hopefully, communication.
But beyond that, healthy, mutual love is connection.
To be real is to connect.

So back to the pixels that one sees in Second Life.
Beyond the reality of their pixelness, the reality of the images,
they were created with intent
sometimes they were created to inspire
they were created to communicate
they were created to allow us to connect.
They are, while “only” real pixels, also real on a much deeper level.

So, the people at SteamCon:
Were the people real avatars?
Sometimes the genders didn’t match.
No one had horns, wings, or blue skin.
Some people were multiple avatars.
To acknowledge inherent nature, no, the humans and the avatars have a different inherent nature.

And yet,
and yet.
*Is* the inherent nature actually different?
It depends often on intent.
Does the human intend to use the avatar to deceive?
(Setting aside the fact that humans often intend to deceive, without the need for an avatar, and yet they are still “real” humans.)
Does the human intend to obfuscate or deny the relationship to the avatar?
(Setting aside the fact that humans often obfuscate or deny their previous actions, and yet they are still “real” humans.)
Is there a congruence between what the human and the avatar communicate?
Sometimes there is.
In many ways, there is a consistency between what is communicated by the avatar and by the human.
It doesn’t even have to be conscious–we humans are very good at reading one another’s subconscious communications.
Even if an avatar is meant not to reveal anything “real” about the human, how can it not?
We express our reality with every action we make. Every choice tells the world something real about us.
We cannot help but infuse our avatars with intimations of our human reality.

What is real?

Real is when someone at joys and concerns at a UU church service in Second Life shares that he has lost his job (and this, sadly, is shared all too often these days, in all of the social circles of Second Life).
Real is when one of your communities reminds a member faithfully every night to take his medications.
Real is when an acquaintance lets your community know she is undergoing chemotherapy.
Real is when your friend tells you her plans to leave her husband, who has Asperger’s, and to whom she is married only in name.
Real is when that friend tells you her husband has pancreatic cancer and she has decided to stick by him until he dies.

Sometimes, sometimes,
there is a connection.
And I don’t mean romance, or sex.
I mean those moments when we choose to reveal our hearts to another, and to witness another’s heart with respect and love.
That can happen here.
Is it not what we are hoping will happen at this very moment?

What is real?

This moment is real.

Savor it.

Hymn 128 For All That Is Our Life

Closing Words The Tempest Act 4, scene 1, 148–158, William Shakespeare
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Go in peace.