Donald Trump, Nigerian Prince

I cleaned out my spam box today, which means that business deals from a dozen Nigerian princes, several “virgin hair” dealers, and many companies seeking to help me increase traffic to my blog got deleted.

How do people fall for such foolishness?

Well, why do people still support Trump?


419 schemes (named after the part of the Nigerian criminal code that addresses them, since so many of them come out of Nigeria) ask you to send in a little money in exchange for the promise of much more later. These advance-fee scams are lucrative business. In Nigeria, there is an entire industry of them, one that has turned into a kind of subculture, with its own criminal language and organization. This isn’t a technically sophisticated crime, and most of those involved probably don’t even know how to code. Instead, the crime is committed using old-fashioned fraud techniques, like counterfeiting letterhead, and social engineering–cultivating and then exploiting relationships. Victims lost about $5.3 billion last year in email scams, according to the FBI.

Nigerian pop singer Olu Maintain sings his wildly popular “Yahooze,” which celebrates the success of internet scammers. 

The Nigerian Prince scam continues to be effective, despite having been around for ages now. The target gets an email from someone claiming to be a Nigerian prince (or an astronaut). He asks you to wire transfer funds to him because of some terrible tragedy that has befallen his royal family, with the promise that you’ll get more in return as soon as he’s able to solve the problem he’s facing, if only you help him out. You do, and suddenly your money is gone forever, and the promised repayment is never happening.

Why do people agree to something so obviously stupid?

  1. They want something for nothing. The Nigerian Prince scheme, after all, isn’t just a con: it’s an invitation to pull a con on someone else. Victims put in thousands of dollars with the expectation of getting a million bucks? The interest on their investment is coming from somewhere else, and they know it’s not a legitimate source. Still, they do it because, if given the opportunity, some people will be con artists. The thrill of cheating someone else is part of the attraction.
  2. The fact that this isn’t really how the world works for most of us doesn’t dissuade them because they don’t think the rules of the world should apply to them. They don’t mind a world in which some people get something for nothing (which means that that “something” is coming from people who are losing it in exchange for nothing). They deserve more than others. In fact, scammers may keep the more ridiculous details of the scam (the Nigerian prince who has been kicked out of his corrupt family! treasure discovered by an Iraqi war veteran! a Nigerian astronaut abandoned in space by Russian who needs help getting home!) in order to keep the target’s thinking in the realm of fantasy. If targets think realistically, they know that this isn’t how the world works, so scammers don’t offer a realistic story.
  3. They’re really, really stupid. This type of scam signals it’s a scam in order to weed out anyone who is smart enough to avoid it. Victims self-identify as naive/stupid enough to actually go down to Western Union and send thousands of dollars to a the scammers. The most profitable victims will continue doing so as the scammers up the charges and delay the promised repayment.  Embarrassment at their own stupidity in the first place keeps victims sending more money in and prevents them from asking for help. Sometimes, the continued hope of future riches–or at least recovery what they have lost–pushes them to send in more.

I used to think that this number of people must be very small, that the world would run out of people who were greedy, stupid, and rich enough to fall for this. Then I look at the poll numbers and see that, somehow, Republican voters still approve of Donald Trump. I see no real concerted effort coming from the GOP to stop him. (Why would they? Doing so would mean that the stupid folks Trump has turned out will vote against them. I mean, they could fight Trump, maybe even bringing him down, and lose their jobs as politicians, which would be the right thing to do, but that seems to be beyond folks like Jeff Flake, who are losing their jobs anyway.)

I understand that locking immigrant babies in detention centers won’t shake many of Donald Trump’s fans. Lots of them are racist and all of them at minimum accept racism as the cost of getting their political way (which is… I’m not really sure any more. The only thing Trump really delivers for them is the racism.), and they like to see him be cruel to vulnerable people. (The sadism in this group takes my breath away some days.) But I had thought that perhaps the crash of soybeans or skyrocketing debt would be compelling. Nah. Trump supporters throw good money after bad, perhaps embarrassed by their losses but now, in shame, doubling down rather than backing off.

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Trump devotees at a recent rally in Wilkes Barre, PA. Photo from Washington Post.

The targets for Trump’s scam are out there, signaling through their Q t-shirts and shitposting and continued attendance at Dear Leader’s rallies that they’re as stupid, as gullible, as greedy, and as ready to get to work getting taken advantage of as ever.

I don’t really think they are victims, of course. They freely chose to vote for a man who is exactly who he said he is: someone who takes advantage of others.


What Fred Phelps and Alex Jones Have in Common

Hi Joel,

I’ve been thinking again this week about Snyder v. Phelps, the 2010 Supreme Court case in which the court decided, 8-1, that Westboro Baptists had the right to picket funerals, provided they complied with local and state regulations about the time, place, and manner of such pickets, and that the mere act of picketing was not an “intentional infliction of emotional distress” (IIED) upon those who witnessed it. Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, concluded:

Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and—as it did here—inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course—to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate. That choice requires that we shield Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case.

In the “facts before us” of Snyder, members of Westboro Baptist Church traveled to Maryland to picket the funeral of a Marine killed in a non-combat accident in Iraq. Though Maryland didn’t have any regulations regarding funeral picketing at the time, the church was still within the law that would later pass–in other words, what they did wasn’t illegal because there was no law against it and, even if there had been a law, they would have been within it. They picketed near but not within hearing distance of the Catholic church where Snyder’s funeral was held, the tops of their signs (but not the messages) visible from a distance. Albert Snyder, the father of the fallen Marine, saw that people were gathered where the church members were located, but he did not understand why they were there or what they were doing. Only when he turned on the local news later and saw coverage of the picket did he understand that the church had targeted his son.

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Above, Westboro Baptists picketing outside of the Supreme Court the day the Court heard their case.

Church members brought a variety of signs–some engaging (if crudely) genuinely important political issues of the day, like homosexuality within the military. (This was pre-DADT repeal.) Others, though, weren’t really about politics: “God Hates You,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” and “Not Blessed Just Cursed” are theological statements aimed, in this case, at Snyder and his mourners–and also to the national audience that WBC’s pickets have created.

Chief Justice Roberts says we can’t squash “even hurtful speech on public issues,” but what is a “public issue” is unclear. In an online screed explaining why Snyder, specifically, was in hell, the church said that his parents’ choice to raise him in Catholicism was an effort to hand him over to Satan. They also criticize Matthew Snyders’ parents’ divorce. Had they known, at the time, that Albert Snyder was gay, I’m sure that would have been cited, too. All of these things, though, are facts available to the public  (in Matthew Snyder’s obituary, in the divorce decree), but they are not really public issues. Or, as Judge Richard D. Bennett said in the original ruling,

“[d]efendants cannot by their own actions transform a private funeral into a public event and then bootstrap their position by arguing that Snyder was a public figure” (italics mine

or as Justice Alito said in his dissent, issuing a press release saying terrible things about Snyder

“thus turned Matthew’s funeral into a tumultuous media event” (italics mine again).

Underlying the Court’s decision, Alito argues in his dissent, is the idea that hateful language is somehow less hurtful if the purpose is creating a media spectacle rather than for some other more personal reason, like the fact that you just think the other guy is a jerk. Alito finds this ridiculous:

And as far as culpability is concerned, one might well think that wounding statements uttered in the heat of a private feud are less, not more, blameworthy than similar statements made as part of a cold and calculated strategy to slash a stranger as a means of attracting public attention.

The Court focused on those signs that did raise issues of public concern (the US invasion of Iraq, child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, DADT) but did not address those signs that were targeted more narrowly at Snyder and his family. These signs all invoked theological claims that are not falsifiable. That is, we can measure the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests. We cannot measure whether soldiers go to hell.

Religious claims don’t get analysis by the Court because the Court can’t use empirical knowledge or logic to test them. In general, I think this is a good idea–the Court shouldn’t get into the business of deciding if eating pork is a sin or whether babies should be baptized.

But the consequence of Snyder‘s refusal to consider the place of these theological claims in the harm that Albert Snyder suffered is that the LESS factually supportable the claim, the MORE protected it is. Indeed, the Court said that Westboro Baptist Church’s words were protected BECAUSE they “were not provably false”–but, of course, it is impossible to “prove” any kind of religious claim.

Further, the MORE OUTRAGEOUS the claim, the MORE PROTECTION the speech gets. Westboro’s words “were expressed solely through hyperbolic rhetoric,” the Court said, which was probably a surprise to members of WBC. While they had hoped to stir emotions with their words, they were also dead serious about them. When WBC says, “Go to hell!” it is quite different from the guy who just cut you off from traffic saying it: they really mean it. There is no hyperbole here.

In other words, in Snyder, by disallowing the claim of an IIED torte, the court incentivizes the use of hateful (and potentially harmful) speech when it is done in public for the purpose of drawing attention to an issue of public concern, when it isn’t grounded in fact, and when it is so outrageous that decent people assume it’s hyperbolic (even when the speakers do not).

Which brings me to Alex Jones (and why I’m thinking about Alito’s dissent in Snyder).


Jones was recently banned from Facebook as part of that company’s effort to purge sites that “sought to inflame social and political tensions in the United States” and who may have engaged in “activity…similar — and in some cases connected — to that of Russian accounts during the 2016 election.” Which is pretty vague. “Similar to Russian accounts”? Like, how, exactly? Also, why is “inflaming social and political tensions” illegal? I’m not even sure it’s a bad idea. In fact, sometimes inflaming social and political tensions is a downright good idea. Sure, some problems have been solved with “inflammation,” but our worst ones–slavery, for example–have not.

On the other hand, if God hates anyone, it’s Alex Jones, who encouraged his devotees to harass and threaten the parents of kindergartners killed in the Sandy Hook mass shooting. Somehow, conservatives who think that Fred Phelps was evil for causing grieving families further pain at their children’s funeral still put InfoWar bumper stickers on their cars, missing the parallels between these two men. (For what it’s worth, I think Jones, with his larger audience, is far more hateful and more dangerous. He is likely to get someone killed.)

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Either Alex Jones has the world’s best cardiologist or he is just acting and really isn’t as upset as his on-air screaming and bawling suggests. Maybe if he doesn’t really believe the bullshit he spews, his fans shouldn’t either.  

So I’m not exactly crying over Jones’ temporary banning from one social media platform. And I don’t think that kicking him off Facebook, which is a private company after all, is a First Amendment violation. He has no more right to be there than I have to sell books in a particular bookstore. If the bookstore doesn’t want to sell my books, they don’t have to, and they don’t impinge upon my rights that way. That’s how freedom (and free markets) work.

But I am concerned that Jones will be a forefather of a movement that exploits Snyder (as well as a host of other laws, regulations, and practices). It’s not just Donald Trump who acts as if words don’t matter: the Court in Snyder said they don’t either. (Interestingly, the Court uses the same logic to defend the inclusion of “Under God” in the Pledge: because it is religiously empty–that is, no one really believes it–it gets to stay.)

Snyder opened up the possibility that the less supportable with facts and the more outrageous our words are, the more protected they are from claims that they hurt others–which just pushes people to make less supportable, more outrageous claims. In 2018, that’s how you get to be an internet star like Alex Jones. In 10 years, we could see far worse than him.


PS. I still think Snyder was rightly decided–just not using the logic that the majority used. Proving an IIED is really hard, and I don’t think the facts of this case support the application of that torte here. But that doesn’t mean that another set of facts wouldn’t have.






To Those Who Want to Live Outside Ideology

Hi Joel,

Of all the horseshit that Caitlin Flanagan could have written in her vapid Atlantic article about misogynist Jordan Peterson, this was the horseshittiest:

With identity politics off the table, it was possible to talk about all kinds of things—religion, philosophy, history, myth—in a different way. They could have a direct experience with ideas, not one mediated by ideology.

(I’m glad that it’s the quotation you focused on, because it’s reveals how very difficult it is to find conservative thinkers with something smart to say. When Jordan Peterson is your intellectual leader and Caitlin Flanagan is where you turn to insightful commentary, you know that your movement simply doesn’t have a deep bench.)

What does this even mean–to have a “direct experience with ideas, not one mediated by ideology”?

It means that Flanagan doesn’t know what ideology means. But she uses the word anyway–which is so much of the problem with conservative commentators. Peterson, Maclean’s suggested last fall, is a “stupid man’s smart person” (“he never seems to say ‘know’ where he could instead say ‘cognizant of’”), and Flanagan seems to have fallen for it.

I’ve taught a lot about ideology, including to the the type of young white men that Flanagan asserts have been marginalized by identity politics. And I’ve seen them thrash a bit as they learn about ideology for the first time. But, by and large, through careful reading, respectful conversation, and thoughtful analysis, they get it–and, unlike the young men Flanagan describes, they find it enriches their understanding of the world rather than diminishing it. They don’t give up, as Flanagan’s men do, because it is hard and because they prefer a world in which they can ignore ideology. Indeed, writes French theories Louis Althusser, denying it is a sign of its power over us:

what thus seems to take place outside ideology (to be precise, in the street), in reality takes place in ideology [….] That is why those who are in ideology believe themselves by definition outside ideology: one of the effects of ideology is the practical denegation of the ideological character of ideology by ideology: ideology never says, “I am ideological.”

Here’s the short version:

Marx argues that ideology creates “false consciousness”–a false understanding of the way the world works. For example, women buy Virginia Slims cigarettes because smoking them promises “freedom”–when, in reality, the tobacco industry was built on slave labor, continues to place precious workers in dangerous situations, lies about health risks, passes the harms of its business to the public, and is in a business that literally kills its customers. Neither farm workers nor those dying of lung cancer are enjoying the kind of “freedom” that cigarette companies show in ads.

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Above, a Virginia Slims ad from the 1970s. An attractive blonde woman steps toward the viewer. She wears trousers and a matching jacket and carries a briefcase under her arm, a cigarette extending from her hand. Behind her and on the left, women of the late 19th/early 20th centuries congregate. The familiar slogan–“You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby”–is printed above two packs of cigarettes on the right.

That’s not hard to see at all–capitalists lie to us (“You’ve come a long way, baby!”) to convince us to ignore reality (emphysema). And, yes, racial messages work the same. White people tell ourselves all kinds of lies (like that race is biological) in order to convince us to ignore reality (it’s a cultural invention used to justify oppression).

Althusser pushes the idea of ideology a different direction: there is no “reality” out there that we can penetrate if we just can see through the ideology. In part, this is because the only way we can access reality is through language: if we don’t have a word for it, we can’t think it, and so it’s not real to us. If that seems radical, do this experiment: ask both a man and a woman what color your hair is. In general, women have a larger lexicon of words to describe color (a “focal vocabulary”)–not because we see more colors but because we are inundated with messages about cosmetics and fashion. Unless a man is a hair dresser, he’ll probably describe your hair as brown. A woman is more likely to describe it as “chestnut” or “dark ash” or one of the dozens of other colors they can find in the hair color aisle at CVS.

So, for Althusser, the fact that we think in language always prevents us from thinking outside of ideology. Ideology informs our language, right down to the grammar–which is why, in some languages, certain objects are masculine and others are feminine (die/der in German and la/las in Spanish, for example). Through language, we tell a story about ourselves to ourselves, and how we tell that story has tremendous consequences, even if it’s a total lie. Or, as my students eventually grow tired of chanting at the start of each class session, “Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence” (Thesis 1 of Althusser’s “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus). Because we rely on language to define reality but language itself is ideological, we can only ever see the reality our language lets us create.

But ideology doesn’t stop with language–it “has a material existence” (Thesis II)–that is, it is enacted in rituals, practices, conventional behaviors, etc. We perform our ideology every day. For example, when an opposite sex couple walks hand-in-hand, it is most common that the man’s hand faces backward while the woman’s faces forward, just as an adult’s hand faces backwards when it clasps a child’s forward-facing hand. This is a practice that reflects a particular gender ideology (men’s protectiveness/possession/leadership of women).

We perform our ideology without even thinking about it. This is because, according to Althusser, “all ideology hails or interrelates concrete individuals as concrete subjects (Thesis III). That is, it calls to us–“Hey, you there!”–and we respond because we know it’s talking to us. Ideology does this to us from all directions–through what Althusser calls ideological state apparatuses (religion, family) as well as repressive ones (the police) but also through the media and popular culture (Horkheimer and Adorno’s insight into ideology).

And we’re always the subject of ideology–even before we are born! Althusser, writing in the mid-1900s, notes that, even before we’re born, we are identified as our father’s child and will bear his name. Gender theorist Judith Butler notes that it happens when the the obstetrician yells “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl.” But we don’t have to wait for the baby to be delivered to make them the subject of gender ideology: the wild popularity of “gender reveal” parties is evidence that Americans have a deep (and tacky) obsession with making even fetuses ideological subjects.

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Above, snacks for a gender reveal party. A glass bowl with blue and brown candy-coated nuts sits next to one with pink, red, and white candies in it. A blue onesie made of paper sits in the first bowl with the word “Nuts?” on it, while a pink onesie sits in the second bowl, the words “No Nuts?” written on it. Get it? Get it? Guests are invited to bet on whether the baby has a penis or a vagina, according to the sonogram, and later in the paper, the parents will reveal the baby’s sex–perhaps by popping a ballon filled with either blue or pink confetti or cutting open a cake with either blue or pink icing inside.

This system works really well to reproduce society as it is. And lots of people like it! It’s pretty easy to convince men that they are superior to women, to convince whites that they are superior to people of color. In fact, if ideology is on your side, then you don’t feel “convinced” at all–you feel entirely free, as if you are, indeed, having “direct experience with ideas,” as Flanagan’s men yearn to have. Ideology is so smart–it tells that we are in fact free! That’s part of its appeal. And then, we freely accept our subjection to it.

Which is cool if ideology leaves you on top, like it does for Peterson’s fans. It’s less cool if it leaves you on bottom, though. Turns out that many people who are not well-served by the dominant ideology fight against it. Sure, there are oppressed people who buy into their own oppression, but many also fight back. There are Ben Carsons in the world but also Nat Turners. Just as defenders of ideology embody it in practice, so is it practiced on the bodies of the poor, vulnerable, and weak. For them, ideology isn’t a mental exercise performed by college students angry about their ethnic lit or world history requirement but a hungry belly and a broken back.

You know who doesn’t need Flanagan’s lecture on why ideology is a distraction from “real” issues? Everyone who is oppressed by the white supremacy and misogyny that Jordan Peterson advocates. Also, the enslaved Africans helping white enslavers get “direct experience with ideas” in Hale Woodruff’s Rising Up.

Still, Althusser’s version of ideology is much harder to get around that even Marx’s. But that doesn’t mean you’re stuck–or that you have an excuse to smoke Virginia Slims or be a white supremacist. Careful, honest, critical thinking helps us see that we are implicated in ideology–and we can resist it and change it and shape it, even if we can’t escape it.


Can we dedicate posts? If so, I dedicate this to Bobbie, Charlie, Claire, Meagan, and the many, many other first year college students who plunged into Althusser with me over the years.

Humanity at the Center of the Story: Children’s Book Recommendations about Immigration

Sixoh6 has asked some of our favorite experts in children’s literature to suggest books to help children understand and engage tough issues. Today, we’re joined by one of the best teachers we know, Samantha Saltz. Here, she shares books about immigration. 
If you have children in your life, consider adding one of these to your collection; if you don’t have children in your life, consider donating one to your local library, school library, little free library, or church library. Maybe even bring one to your upcoming back-to-school night to add to your child’s classroom collection! And if you have other titles that open up conversations about immigration for children, please share them! 
Immigration is a topic that has saturated our everyday conversations. Children are exposed to the divisive words of adults and politicians about what immigration is and what kind of people immigrants are. With all of that weighing heavily on the minds of children, I have put together a list of books that bring humanity to the center of the immigrant story. These books address the complex narratives and perspectives of immigrants. It is my hope that these books are not only read in homes and classrooms but that each book can help generate conversations among all age groups and opinions.


We Are All Born Free: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures by International Amnesty

On December 10, 1948, in response to the Second World War, the United Nations General Assembly signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In this child-friendly version of the original document, each of the 30 Rights is presented in clear, concise language and illustrations students can relate to (ex. “We all have the right to life and to live in freedom and safety”). It not only grounds students in human dignity but offers a set of rules that students are able to understand.

One Green Apple by Eve Bunting

A beautiful story of a young Muslim immigrant named Farah and her transition into the United States. Being the new kid is tough, and Farah is aware of every difference between her old school and new one. Unsure of her own belonging in this space, she feels the frustration of knowing just as much as the other students yet not being able to communicate with them. The author illuminates the insecurities of learning a new language that many native English speakers have never experienced.

Friends from the Other Side/ Amigos Del Otro Ladoby Gloria Anzaldua

This bilingual book tells a story of a young Mexican American girl, Prietita, who befriends Joaquín, a boy who illegally crossed the Texas-Mexico border with his mother to find work. When Joaquín is bullied and called names, she bravely defends him. Later when Joaquín and his mother are threatened by border patrol, Prietita grapples with how to help her friend. This book offers a great perspective and should inspire conversations about what it means to be considered “illegal.”

The Name Jar

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

Unhei, an immigrant from Korea, is nervous that the American kids at her new school will not like her. Afraid to share her actual name, Unhei tries on various American names that her peers put into a name jar, but none seem to fit. When the name jar goes missing, her new friends encourage her to share her real name and she teaches them to pronounce it correctly. This book holds special meaning for me because both of my parents have non-American names. There is real sorrow in losing part of who you are in order to accommodate others. I hope this book encourages those who have lost their real names to reclaim them and for those who encounter a “foreign-sounding name” to have the patience to learn it.

Two White Rabbits by Jairo Buitrago & Rafael Yockteng

A picture book that beautifully illustrates the travels of a father and daughter as they cross Central America toward the north. The words tell an innocent story through the eyes of the young girl and the illustrations convey a much heavier reality. This work offers a look into the trail of a migrant family constantly on the move, working for money to keep going forward and avoiding detention from soldiers.

My Name is Jorge: On Both Sides of the River by Jane Medina

A bilingual book of interconnected poetry written from Jorge’s perspective about leaving Mexico and acclimating to America. Each poem addresses issues of losing and maintaining your identity and culture. I love how the poetry perfectly encapsulates the emotions of Jorge’s transition into America. You feel anger, annoyance, sadness, hope, and so much more while reading, which makes this book especially accessible to all readers. Where experiences may differ, the feelings of inadequacy are painfully familiar.


A Different Pond by Thi Bui

A story of a family who immigrated from Vietnam and struggles of poverty they face in Minnesota. You see a father working tirelessly at multiple jobs to financially support his family. While local families fish for recreation, this family relies on the fish that are caught each morning for food; a bad day fishing means empty tummies. This book’s narrative is beautiful and poignant. At the end of the book, there is an affecting About Me section where both the author and illustrator share photos of their families.

Additionally, I have added a book for educators as a resource for teaching immigration in the classroom.

The Line Between Us by Bill Bigelow

This book is designed for middle school educators, but what it offers can speak to educators at every level. Inside its pages, you will find space to learn about the history of Mexican immigration and discover ideas to facilitate student learning.

Contributor Samantha Saltz is a first-grade teacher in Lawrence, Kansas. Originally from San Fernando, California, she holds a degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education from Concordia University, Portland.

Did you find a great book in this list? Did Ms. Saltz just make your holiday gift-giving a little bit easier? Tell her “thank you” for her personal shopping services by making a donation to support her student’s learning. 



To More Risks!

Hi Joel,

My oldest leaves for camp on Monday. He heads to Wyoming to a camp that’s just 4 miles north of Grand Teton National Park and 2 miles south of Yellowstone. It could reasonably snow there in early August, and the water in the lake hovers around 30 degrees. But it’s the bears that scare me.

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Above, Camp Loll in Wyoming.


My daughter spent two weeks at camp this summer, once in a lovely camp located deep in Provo Canyon and another at a camp high in the mountains–To get there, you drove past the bottom of the ski lift, then up, up, up, past the top of it, then past the cloud line–in the Wasatch Range on the western edge of the Rockies. She’s a happy camper but not the most risk-taking girl. So I was surprised to find that, during her time at camp, she volunteered to go on a lengthy hike that ended in a camp-out far from the center of camp. During their adventure, they got to put their moose protocol into action when a family of moose entered the lake where they were swimming. Carefully, they all moved to the boathouse and stayed inside until the moose were done with their dip.

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Above, Camp Cloud Rim. Below, en route to Provo Canyon.

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I am not a camper. When friends invite me to go camping, it makes me sad because I realize they don’t know me very well. I love nature and the wild–and I prefer to keep it natural and wild by keeping me OUT of it. I respect nature by staying in hotels. As a child, my family once took a vacation in nature, and I sneakily packed my whole suitcase with books because I knew I’d rather sneak off to read rather than build a fort or climb rocks. (It did not occur to 12-year-old Rebecca that this would leave me without clothing for the week–or that it would be very, very difficult to pretend that a suitcase with 20 books in it was only as heavy as a suitcase with clothes.)

Still, I try to keep this to myself because I don’t want my kids to think that camping isn’t fun. They seem to love it–the dirt, the danger, the chance to take a few risks and do things we don’t do at home (Archery? Yes!), and, I think, the distance between them and their parents. Just like little kids like to pretend they are orphans, not because they don’t love us but because they want to imagine the world on their own, my older children like camp. It’s as close to a grown-up free world as they can get.

I’m inspired by them–not to dig a cave in the snow and sleep it in while 10 inches of snow blows in, not to get so close to a moose than I need to implement moose safety procedures, but to take some new risks. It’s my theme for the fall, and if readers would like to join me, I’d love to hear what they’re doing that is risky.


Casualties in the Culture War

I recently discovered a new church in the town where I live. It’s a full gospel type of place–where they say “We do not teach man’s philosophy or our own ideas. We simply teach the Bible as it was originally written.” That aside, they seem to be doing some good things: prison ministry and a spoken commitment to fight racism right on the website (It probably helps that the church is led by two black pastors who are married to each other.) And it’s located in a neighborhood that needs the resources that a church can offer. The group meets in what looks like a small abandoned apartment building or the kind of motel where you are likely to get murdered. Many of the businesses nearby–a barber, a plumbing supply company–are missing windows. Not exactly an upscale place, but a place where there is need and where a church can make on-the-ground changes in people’s lives. I was pretty heartened when I saw it there.

Then I turned the corner and saw a series of banners on the side of the building, including this one:

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Above, a banner with the words “Legalize Jesus” written in white on a red background. A clenched fist rises from the bottom, a bloody hole in the wrist suggesting that it belongs to a crucified Jesus. The URLs at the bottom direct us to and Other banners on the church wall promote the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation and that, only by honoring God publicly, can we thrive as a nation, typical themes in conservative Christian churches. 

It’s a product of an organization that promotes the public display of the 10 Commandments. Of course, displaying the 10 Commandments is not “illegal,” as the banner suggests. Battles over displays of Christianity on tax-payer supported property, though, are really battles for Christian supremacy in the US.

What struck me about this sign on this particular church, though, is that the church really is on a battlefield. All around it, there is poverty, homelessness, addiction, violence, and sadness. Instead of keeping its focus narrowly on meeting the needs of those right in front of it, it turns its attention–and makes it entire visual identity about–the promotion of Christian nationalism. It enters a pretend war with “liberals” and “the government” rather than caring for actual victims of real oppression who are actually going hungry, thirsty, and naked. To be explicit: I don’t think anyone this church could be reaching would be better off if we had more displays of the 10 Commandments in town. 

I don’t mean to pick on this congregation, which I’m sure has many good-hearted people doing important work. It’s just a particularly visually striking example of so many churches’ decision to prioritize a culture war over the needs of the people they could be serving.


The Religious Rights’ Co-Dependency Problem

My friend MC shared this excerpt from a memoir he’s reading: Frank Schaeffer’s Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back (Carol & Graf, 2007).

Schaeffer is the son of Francis Schaeffer (note that this link is to The Gospel Coalition, which presents a particularly rosy view of Francis Schaeffer), an architect of the Christian Right. The memoir tells of his change of heart and politics.

From the book:

[A]fter 9/11, the public got a glimpse of the anti-American self-righteous venom that was always just under the surface of the evangelical right.

Schaeffer’s book was published more than a decade ago, and I see it now as an early entry into a new genre: religious and political “quit-lit.” George Will and Max Boot recently wrote publicly about their change of voter registration recently, and David Gushee’s memoir Still Christian: Following Jesus out of American Evangelicalism asks the same questions many American Christians are asking themselves: if these people are Christians, how can I be?

Some of the authors of these pieces express sadness at how their party/religion has changed over time. They voted with pride for Barry Goldwater, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush I, Dole. Bush II, McCain, Romney. But now the party is something else.

Schaeffer, I think, is more insightful. It’s not that the “venom” is new: it’s always been there. Or, as Jonathan Chait wrote in The New Yorker this winter:

The insistence by conservative dissidents on treating Trump as an alien disease upon their movement prevents them from diagnosing, and therefore treating, the source of the infection. To restore the Republican Party to health, defined as being committed to some baseline relationship with reality and a commitment to democratic governing norms, requires freeing it from conservatism’s grip. It requires a break from decades of American right-wing tradition.

Both Obama  and Clinton agitated, by their race and gender rather than by their relatively moderate ideas, the bigotry that unites the most conservative in the right. The wilder the accusations against them got–birtherism, Pizzagate–the more those rightwing voters were willing to take a chance on a “chaos candidate.”

And conservative Christian voters don’t mind the chaos. In fact, they embrace it. Writes Schaeffer:

What began to bother me was that so many of our new ‘friends’ on the religious right began rooting for one form of apocalypse or another. In the crudest form, this was part of the evangelical fascination with the so-called end times. The worse things got, the sooner Jesus would come back. But there was another component: the worse everything got, the more it proved that America needed saving, by us!

A core tenet of the Religious Right is that Jesus will return–and that return will preceded by violence and suffering. (Check out the Rapture Index for more on this. It’s an online calculator that factors in the state of current affairs–peace in the Middle East (a bad thing in this framework), oil prices, immorality, the jobless rate, and more–to determine how fast we’re hurtling toward Armageddon.) Suffering is to be expected, which means it is welcomed and, in some perverse ways, encouraged.

See the source image

Above, people place their hands on Donald Trump as they pray for him after his electoral win. What, exactly, are they praying for? 

In the same way, the faults of Obama and Clinton were exaggerated (Socialism! Communism! Secret Muslim takeover of the US!) so that rightwing voters could justify what they already wanted to do: vote in man who would bring more violence. There is a kind of codependency, I think: Republican policies undermine our health, safety, and economic stability. Religious conservatives then respond to the crisis of their own creation by supporting candidates who promise to do worse.