Obamacare Wasn’t Worth It

In 2009, Obama entered office with an unmistakable mandate and control of both houses of Congress — including a rare fillibuster-proof majority in the Senate — and the Democrats wasted it. They pushed through a stimulus package that barely offset the cuts in government spending at the state and municipal level, providing line-item veto power to a small rump of centrist Republican senators in exchange for bipartisan “cover.” And most of the rest of their “political capital” was spent on a Republican health care plan that the Republicans immediately demonized them for. Obama was determined that it be “deficit-neutral” over a ten-year period, and the conditions of its passage (using the reconciliation process, which was only necessary because of the Democratic majority’s foolish refusal to abolish the fillibuster) absolutely necessitated it.

This meant that most of its provisions wouldn’t even go into effect until four years later, so that the Democrats literally could not point to a single concrete benefit to a law that sounded… pretty bad. Yes, the Republicans exaggerated, as is their habit, but this was hyperbole that centered on an unavoidable truth about Obamacare: Americans would be forced by the government to give their money to some of the most hated and distrusted corporations on earth, whose continued profitability is taken as axiomatic under the terms of the health care reform law. Obamacare does a lot of good things other than that, and the insurance mandate has in fact decreased the number of uninsured — but the central premise of the law is one that is deeply offensive.

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Let us assume, shall we, the ubiquity of now.

Apparently, Jack Chick, of Chick Tract infamy, is dead. He passed quietly, it seems. No chariots or such. The internet perked up for a moment, which seems mostly to have passed. Just like Jack Chick.

Jack Chick was neither David Bowie or Prince, it should go without saying.

Mind you, I’m not a fan. I don’t imagine any of you are either. And yet, for we who grew up within the world he informed, if even only its margins, he would menace his way into occasional, odd remembrance.

Even today.

I’m reposting something I wrote quite a while ago now — four or five years ago. It is, I hope it’s clear, neither an ode nor an homage.

But Jack Chick is dead . . . and remembrances keep happening.

This afternoon I read for the first time since high school C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. As it turns out, it is a lot better read when you believe in letters more than you do devils. I somehow had completely forgotten the random bit where Wormwood turns into a caterpillar and requires a secretary to dictate the rest of his letter.

I got it in my head that I wanted to write my own evangelistic tract, but from the perspective of Lucifer. Using Lewis and the weird world of free tracts available online as my guide, I came up with the following.

On the cover is a comic-book style illustration of Satan–Van Dyke as sharp as horns, crimson cloak wrapped inhumanly tight by a black belt, dijon mustard green cape billowing without any apparent wind, pitchfork out of hand but within arm’s reach—hunched at work over a writing desk, pen to paper, semi-circled by an orange and red inferno that had presumably also ignited the contents of the waste basket at his feet and the drawers near his elbows. Below this was written, in a jagged flame-like font:

Lucifer Writes A Letter.

Dear God Damned If You Do,

You may not realize it, but I like watching you. I’m doing so now, actually. I see you stopped reading for a second there—did a little double-take and glance over your shoulder? No, I’m just kidding. I’m not watching you read this letter. Well, I am, but not while I’m writing it. I may not be human, but I’m still pretty much as bound by time as you. I guess you could say I’m a little god damned that way myself. Ha Ha Ha.

No . . . when I say I’m watching you now, as I’m writing, it’s best to not get too pedantic. What with reprints, revisions, and subsequent editions of this letter, who can say when “now” is, right? I mean, let’s face it, I could just as well be referring to any old peeping Tom, Dick or Harry in the past or the future. Let’s just assume, shall we, the ubiquity of now, and take for granted, get our cards all on the table, that I’m always watching. From beginning to end. Period.

I have to say, my friend, I like what I see. You have a lot of damned potential. Ha Ha Ha. I couldn’t resist. But seriously, you have a way about you that makes a fella like me perk up and pay attention. You and I, we like the same movies and jokes. The dirtier the better, am I right? And who can cuss people out better than we? No-fucking-body, I say. Ha Ha Ha. What else? Oh yeah . . . petty theft that stops short of felonious grand larceny. Check! Telling lies so well and often that we eventually believe them ourselves? Check! Guess that makes us hypocrites too, huh! You’re my kind of sinner, my friend. Why, we’ll stab you kin in the back and claim the knife was there for as long as we knew you — don’t blame us for your own lack of attention. Losers.

The only thing that worries me is that I’m hearing word that you’re thinking about giving all this up. Tell me this isn’t so, my friend! I mean, thanks for the memories and all, but there’s so much more we could do. There’s a whole eternity of torment and toil waiting for you with me down here. All you have to do is just keep on doing what you’re doing.

No matter what you do, don’t you dare pray, don’t even think it, stop reading now, ‘Lord Jesus, I’m a sinner, forgive all my sins and set me free from the bondages of sin. I believe you died on the cross for my sins, and I now confess with my mouth and believe in my heart that God raised you from the dead. Forgive me and come into my heart, and fill me with joy everlasting.’ And God help you if you keep praying and you find words of your own to truthfully say, ‘By faith I accept you as my Savior and Lord, and I will serve you forever.

Never forget . . .

Eternally Damned If You Don’t,


What is a Person?

This is a guest post by Ashon Crawley. Ashon is Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at University of California, Riverside. His research and teaching experiences are in the areas of Black Studies, Performance Theory and Sound Studies, Philosophy and Theology, Black Feminist and Queer theories. His book, Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility (Fordham University Press), is an investigation of aesthetics and performance as modes of collective, social imaginings otherwise. Find him on twitter at @ashoncrawley or at ashoncrawley.com 

Walking through the streets of Philadelphia – or taking a trolley, the El or a cab – was for me always an exercise in intense emotion and feeling. There is so much that happens on the streets: the smells of food or the steam from sewers in the winter, the sounds of music playing in cars, from stores or churches. And it was there on those streets – mostly West Philly, Center City, Southwest and sometimes a bus to North Philly – where I first tried my hand at clandestine dating or at least late night trips to try to figure out my erotic life with young guys who were, like me, likely on their way to church on Sunday morning. I’d call the Party Line and talk until I found someone to take to the streets to my apartment, or me to the streets for theirs. It was all about feeling something deep and intense and varied and warm. I felt a kinda freedom in fugitivity, a freedom in clandestine hookups for kissing and hugging and sex. I wanted to feel something.

And so it was in Philadelphia that I first felt something along the line of the uncertainty that feeling could produce, the unstable ground that feeling could be. Reading Linn Marie Tonstad’s God and Difference: The Trinity, Sexuality, and the Transformation of Finitude transported me backwards, from 1998 until 2005, my time living in Philadelphia. And this because her scrutinizing attention to debates about the concept of the trinity, my reading of it, has been the first occasion in such a very long time for me to think my own relation to the concept of the character of godhead. In Philadelphia, I was quite acquainted with debates about the concept because it is one that animates lots of Blackpentecostal inquiry and dissent.

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Rebooting the conservative continuity

Many years ago, I argued that one of the biggest problems facing conservatism is how baroque and complicated its “universe” had become. Its fans are expected to have immediate recall of obscure concepts and plot points, while tolerating obvious continuity errors in matters like when personal freedom is good and when it’s bad, when the government should be small and when it should be much more heavy-handed, etc. The result has been a dwindling audience as fewer and fewer people are willing to put in the work of becoming emotionally invested in such a complex fictional universe all for the sake of justifying their support for some pretty mediocre contemporary content.

In that post, I argued that it might be time for a Crisis of Infinite Earths of conservatism, which could wind down the unnecessary complexities while still maintaining some kind of continuity over time. Read the rest of this entry »

The Story of Brexit, in the style of Mideast reporting

Radical Protestant separatists have rocked the European Union, voting to leave the federation that had tenuously unified Christians belonging to opposed sects. Britain, which adheres to its own idiosyncratic version of the Protestant sect, had only recently reached an uneasy truce in a territorial dispute with its Catholic neighbor, Ireland. It is hoping to join a group of other Protestant countries in Northern Europe who have negotiated trading privileges while keeping their distance from the Catholic-dominated group.

It is a major blow for Germany, which has assumed a leadership role in an EU increasingly riven by sectarian strife. Germany’s relative balance between Protestant and Catholic groups positioned it uniquely to mediate disputes between those two sects, yet left it in an awkward position as it led the effort to bring the Orthodox state of Greece into line with the rest of the Union. While other Orthodox nations have been successfully integrated, it remains the case that the EU’s chief geopolotical rival — and most powerful neighbor — is the overwhelmingly Orthodox Russia.

The European Union was originally conceived as a way to bring an end to sectarian violence on the continent. By uniting all Christians in a single political and economic unit, it was believed that long-simmering disputes over indulgences and the filioque clause could be put aside. The Brexit separatists have shaken this project to its core, leaving some observers wondering whether Europe will ever be able to leave behind its religious strife and join the modern world.

Introduction: God and Difference Book Event


Trinitarian theology has lost its way. It has become – as I demonstrate in this book – a way to enjoin practices of sacrifice and submission under the banner of countering the rapaciousness of modern subjectivity.

The problem with Christian theological accounts of the Trinity is not, Tonstad argues, that they have become infected by the fallen or secular logics of gender inequality and hierarchy. The logics of heterosexism and heteronormativity are, in fact, deeply theological, and cannot be unsettled simply by the demand that they be made flexible enough to welcome queer people in. What is necessary instead is a radical remaking of the logic of trinitarian procession, moving away from the heterosexual logic of penetration, according to which relationships move according to the thrusting logics of space-making, activity and receptivity, towards the clitoral logic of surface touch, intensification, and non-sacrificial encounter.

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The wrath of God in America

Today we discussed Romans in class, and I described the traditional reading somewhat uncharitably: there’s something wrong with us such that it’s impossible for us to do the right thing, but if we believe in a certain story, then it’s alright. I know I should be more respectful, but no one seemed very disturbed by it. Perhaps I can get away with it because it’s obvious that I know a lot about the Bible and it means something to me (albeit in some kind of weird way). And in fact, that’s what motivates my dismissal of the traditional reading — it renders Romans (and the Bible more broadly) meaningless.

The traditional narrative of salvation, especially in its Protestant inflection, is one that never made much sense to me. I struggled mightily with it, growing up in a particularly evangelical/fundamentalist corner of the Church of the Nazarene. I could never figure out why I as a Gentile ever needed to be released from the burden of the Jewish Law, why “works righteousness” was such an appalling thing, why getting baptized or going to the altar to ask forgiveness wasn’t a “work,” etc., etc. Ultimately I tried to square the circle by joining the Catholic Church, which at least seemed to offer me some objectivity.

That objectivity no longer appeals to me in the same way, but I still can’t get my mind around the Protestant problematic of faith and works and justification. On a practical level, raising children within the Protestant problematic seems like a recipe for neurosis at best (me and all my closest friends) and moral nihilism at worst (all the evangelical Trump supporters, the most prominent of which are precisely the sons of the first wave of leaders).

The reading of Romans I find in Ted Jennings, Neil Elliott, and others presents me with problems that make sense. What do we do when law seems impotent to produce the justice it aims for? How can we maintain integrity while living in a corrupt system that coerces us into complicity with injustice? What would it mean if we really didn’t have to be afraid of death anymore? I find it hard to believe in the resurrection of the dead, but it at least means something in a way that finagling your immortal soul into heaven simply does not in my view.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but I am sure that the wrath of God is revealed against the American Empire, as sure as Paul was that the wrath of God was revealed against the Rome of Caligula and Nero. We are living in Romans 1 every time we turn on the TV news. It doesn’t take divine revelation to know that things can’t go on like this forever. But we go along with it, for the most part, because we’re afraid — more and more afraid as we become more and more precarious. All our politics, our collective life has to offer us is fear.

The resurrection may be a fantasy, but it’s a fantasy that does something, that opens up a space for transformation and hope. A man was subjected to torture and a shameful, painful death, but through some divine power he was able to overcome literally the worst the world could dish out to him — and so we don’t need to be afraid anymore. He is starting a team that we can join so that we don’t have to be afraid. And when we look at the style of thought that something like the resurrection might make possible, then we can look for other things that might fulfill a similar role. Could we arrange a society where we didn’t need to coerce each other with the threat of death, exclusion, starvation, and shame? What would have to happen to make that possible?