Conspiracy theories and religion

In the latest podcast at the Religious Studies Project, Carmen Celestini, a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre on Hate, Bias, and Extremism, talks about her research into conspiracy theories. She begins by offering one of the best definitions I’ve ever heard of what a conspiracy theory actually is:

“A conspiracy theory is usually some articulation of fear and trying to find an answer to what’s causing the fear or causing sustained sense of disaster. It’s an explanation when some of the things that you would normally turn to aren’t providing the answers you’re looking for.”

Then she offers a fascinating overview of conspiracy theories in North America, from the Know-Nothings in the 19th century, to the John Birch Society in the 20th century, to QAnon in the 21st century. She covers a bunch of topics that I’m currently fascinated with, including the resurgence of the John Birch Society in recent years, “Blue Beam,” “White Lives Matter,” the Council for National Policy, and the role of religion among people who refuse to get vaccinated.

She concludes by saying that it’s not helpful to merely dismiss conspiracy theories, because they’re not going to simply disappear:

“Possibly when people get back to work and the pandemic is over and people start engaging with social groups again, [the prevalence of conspiracy theories] might lessen a little bit, but those ideas of distrust are not going to simply go away. Those ideas of distressing the media or government are not going to go away. And it is something that the government and media and all of us have to articulate. We have to be out there in our public intellectualism talking about these things and not dismissing people but engaging and trying to understand.”

This is useful advice for religious liberals who may be inclined to dismiss conspiracy theories, and the religious impulses associated with them. Instead of dismissing them, we’d be better off using our skills in interfaith and cross-cultural understanding. The distrust underlying conspiracy theories is real, and it behooves us to try to understand.

COVID’s impact on health care providers

The Wild Hunt, a pagan news blog, has a good post on how health care providers are dealing with the current COVID surge: “Pagan health providers respond to the Delta variant surge.” The author, Stacy Psaros, interviews several nurses who say things like, “You have healthcare workers being driven out of the industry due to burnout, physical and emotional stress of the situation.” Psaros also includes a few facts about how the current surge is different, including that in the week ending August 19, 22.4% of the weekly reported COVID cases were children, according to the American Pediatric Association.

Towards the end of the article, Psaros spends too much time quoting a nurse who doesn’t believe in vaccine mandates for health care providers and doesn’t think the experts are to be trusted — so much so that the editors of The Wild Hunt had to insert a disclaimer refuting some of this interviewee’s more ridiculous assertions. Sadly, it sounds like Psaros agrees with this interviewee, while not really understanding how this kind of libertarianism actually contributes to the health care provider burnout she’s reporting on. Nevertheless, despite this serious flaw, the article is worth reading so you can hear from some health care providers about what they’re experiencing.

Transgracial

“Transgracial” — that’s not a typographical error. Rebecca Tuvel, professor of philosophy at Rhodes College in Memphis, explores the implications of a “transgracial,” or combined transgender and transracial identity, in a post to the American Philosophy Association (APA) “Black Issues in Philosophy” blog. In this post, Tuvel argues that transracial identity is analogous to transgender identity, where “analogous to” doesn’t mean “identical to.” When she first published these ideas in 2017, apparently some people were outraged. But I think Tuvel’s proposed analogy is less interesting than an essay she refers to written by Ronnie Gladden, who presents as a black man but who identifies as a white woman.

This essay, published in 2015 in Queer Cats Journal of LGBTQ Studies is titled “TRANSgressive Talk: An Introduction to the Meaning of Transgracial Identity.” The author, at that time a doctoral student in education at Northern Kentucky University, identifies their names as both Ronnie Gladden and Rachael Greenberg, so I’ll refer to them as Gladden/Greenberg. (For reference, it appears in 2021 that they identify simply as Ronnie Gladden.) In 2015, Gladden/Greenberg began their essay by saying:

“My confrontation with my internalized racial unrest, along with a growing awareness of my authentic gender identity, has been prompted, in part, by two socio-political shifts: 1) the escalating tensions belying the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, and 2) the increased visibility of transgender individuals in a myriad of public spaces. Increasingly, I feel an urgency to be forthcoming about my true identity in an era where transparency is not just encouraged; it is demanded. In spite of presenting as outwardly black and male — by and large I view myself as white and female….”

Gladden/Greenberg writes about an intersectional identity that I hadn’t thought about before. They describe tensions in their life that I wouldn’t have thought about. At the same time, claiming a transracial identity in the U.S. today may not seem possible, given the way we understand race in our society. But a 2014 article in Georgetown Law Journal by Camille Gear Rich, Gould School of Law at USC, titled “Elective Race: Recognizing Race Discrimination in the Era of Racial Self-Identification”, referred to in Tuvel’s blog post, may help to think further about the question of transracial identities. In this article, Rich writes:

“[W]e are in a key moment of discursive and ideological transition, an era in which the model of elective race is ascending, poised to become one of the dominant frameworks for understanding race in the United States. Because we are in a period of transition, many Americans still are wedded to fairly traditional attitudes about race. For these Americans, race is still an objective, easily ascertainable fact determined by the process of involuntary racial ascription — how one’s physical traits are racially categorized by third parties. The elective-race framework will challenge these Americans to recognize other ways in which people experience race, including acts of voluntary affiliation as well as selective and conditional affiliations.”

Rich acknowledges that this new elective model of race poses distinct challenges: “The elective-race framework rejects claims about the obdurate, all-encompassing nature of white privilege and the need for racial passing” (p. 1506). Rich isn’t denying that white privilege is real, but at the same time different individuals may navigate white privilege in different ways. Rich also points out that “neither lay understandings nor institutional understandings of elective race are fully developed”; I’m finding Rich’s article to be an excellent resource as I develop my own understanding of elective race.

Given that a significant number of people — let’s say, a growing number of people — accept the evolving concept of elective race, it should be no surprise to find people who identify as living at the intersection of transracial and transgender identities. I imagine that will be a difficult intersection at which to live. I wonder how Unitarian Universalism (and other religions, for that matter) will respond to the persons living at that intersection.

Jokes from class today

The question of the day in today’s middle school class was “What’s your favorite joke?” This unleashed a spate of jokes. We all laughed (and groaned) a lot, and I realized that during the pandemic I don’t hear jokes much any more. Below are some of the jokes I can remember from today’s class; add more (clean ones preferred) in the comments.

Why is pi the loneliest number?
No one talks to him because he goes on forever.

A goat, a drum, and a snake fall off a cliff.
Baa, dump, tss.

What do you call a cow with no legs?
Ground beef.

Why did the whale cross the road?
The chicken was on a break.

What’s the stickiest Greek monster?
The Mino-tar. (thanks, Benjamin!)

How to make Halloween costumes for your stuffies

If you can’t go out trick-or-treating this year, or go to a Halloween party, how about making costumes for your stuffed animals? You could even hold a costume party for stuffies. Here’s a video with some idea on how to make easy, effective costumes for your stuffed animals:

Click on the image above to take you to the video on Youtube.

In the video, you’ll see Dr. Sharpie Ann get costumed as a queen (Queen of the Universe, of course), Packie the Dusky-footed Woodrat as a pirate, Possum as an angel, and Hedgehog as a cowboy.

Once you dress up your stuffies, take their photos and post them on social media.

Adventures in mask making

As of April 2, the San Mateo County Board of Health recommends that everyone wear a mask when they’re in public places.

I’ve been doubtful about the efficacy of masks, since my understanding is that wearing a mask won’t do much to protect you from being infected by others. But I’ve come to understand that masks might protect others from being infected by you, if you happen to have COVID-19 but are still asymptomatic.

So today I decided to be a good citizen and sew a couple of masks, one for Carol and one for me. I am very slow at sewing, partly because I don’t know how to use a sewing machine, and partly because I don’t know what I’m doing. But I found a good online video showing how to make one of the 2-layer pleated masks that are supposed to be the most effective handmade masks. I didn’t have the elastic bands called for in the video, but I had some 1/4 inch polyester cord to use for the ties. Carol has a big bolt of unbleached cotton muslin, and I sacrificed an old t-shirt. Sewing the pleats by hand was kind of a pain at first, but I quickly figured it out.

After two or three hours, I had a mask for Carol and a mask for me. We went to the grocery store, and three quarters of the people there were also wearing masks. Mask wearing peer pressure has begun.

Me wearing my mask

As soon as we got home, I washed both masks in hot water, as you’re supposed to do.

Next step: make another mask for Carol using a high fashion fabric for the outer layer….