Brother Jed Resistance Reports: Friday, February 20th 2009

The Mill Avenue Resistance reports are written by Kyt Dotson as an extension of anthropological research on the population of Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. Since the Resistance does their protests Friday and Saturday there are two reports a week. The supporting material not related to the Resistance reports can be found on the Under the Hills blog.

Brother Jed is an increasingly irrelevant campus evangelical prostylizer and he visited ASU campus today. The Mill Avenue Resistance and the ASU Secular Free Thought Society went out to meet him—they didn’t have to go far. The SFTS have a tent and table set up on the main mall in front of the Memorial Union where Jed preaches so they only had to venture out from their shade to see him.

And he didn’t impress.

Fridays on ASU campus have a weaker contingent of students who are finishing up their last classes for the week and are looking forward to the weekend. They really weren’t biting. Between Brother Jed and Sister Pat’s inflammatory and rude speeches (claiming girls are whores, and boys are rapists) they failed to hook anyone and only faced the SFTS the entire time.

Even the klaxon yells of, “Pervert alert! Pervert alert! Girls close your legs, it’s a fraternity boy!” didn’t garner much of any response from any passerby.

Slow to start up, Jed and Pat were equally slow going, and eventually petered out entirely around lunchtime.

I stopped and talked to him a little while. Where he showed a certain amount of ignorance of my dress aesthetic—which I don’t entirely blame him for, he is a Christian evangelical preacher, and would not fit in on the floor of a Goth dance club. Claimed that I was limiting my influence by dressing the way that I do; although, I attempted to explain that I’m dressed like this for show. He then noticed my nametag that states that I’m an Anthropologist and said, “So you study anthropology. That’s the study of man. Tell me: what is the purpose of man?”

“If my badge said that I was a geologist, would you have actually asked me, ‘What is the purpose of rocks?’”

I knew what I was getting into when I started talking to him. Really, I want to talk to the person not to their religion, but an evangelical Christian out on a campus talking to anyone is essentially working. They’re not being themselves—they’re being their job, and that job is to sell their religion. However, Jed did talk about some real world things in between his farcical carnival act gestures and religious gesticulations.

During our little discussion, over which I did more listening than actual talking but I’m not sure that I can bridge the generation gap between Jed and I, he decided that I was a good candidate to read his book. So, now I have a copy of it. Which he claims is going out of print. I did promise to read it, so I will certainly attempt to do so. After I am done, I am donating it to the SFTS so that they can put it into their library.

After I disentangled myself from him, he took his chair and sat amidst the SFTS and talked to people there. I will have to interview the various members of the group to find out what exactly they talked about because I spent more time instructing other ASU students.

The STFS had a massive turn out of worthwhile people including Kevin, Max (the Jewish guy from last year), Brian, Cale, Kyle, Kazz, Todd – I am probably missing some but people were out in force.

Roosevelt Resistance Reports: Friday, February 6th 2009

The Mill Avenue Resistance reports are written by Kyt Dotson as an extension of anthropological research on the population of Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. Since the Resistance does their protests Friday and Saturday there are two reports a week. The supporting material not related to the Resistance reports can be found on the Under the Hills blog for Friday, February 6th 2009.

Note: A correction was made to the observation report for Saturday, January 24th 2009.

Just like last week, the Way of the Master preachers and a couple others additional to the group, split themselves across Roosevelt. They took up their mantel in the triangle of dirt lot at 3rd and Roosevelt, with Jim and Valerie, as usual with a Prayer Station—including a little cross and two candles reading, “Jesus”—and across the street there were Edwin, and a few others. The Resistance set up at the triangle with their speaker and Omar went across the street to talk to the other group.

There were also two other evangelical groups at the Art Walk. One of them happened to be Vocab Malone’s group further away, and a Christian Rock Band a short distance from Conspire.

The evangelicals across Roosevelt had a large man who brought his young daughter with him (7 or 8 years of age.) A behavior which many of the Resistance react with some disgust. This behavior does seem counter-normative to the mainstream culture, but a great deal of cultures do involve their extremely young children in rituals and activities of subcultures. It may not itself be counter-normative to the evangelical subculture because it is extremely often that small children appear with these groups. This behavior is however not blatantly counter normative to the outlying culture, otherwise it would have diminished away by now—it is well known that religious cultures are affected greatly morally by the cultures they are embedded within.

A blonde man with a moustache and beard had a long, frenetic talk with Omar across Roosevelt. And this is one of the things he said as he was starting to bow out,

“God bless you,” he gestured to the sign. “Godless for Goodness. I know, I know, we will see each other again.” He was referring to a previous statement about how in 30 years Omar would “come to his senses” and realize that this crazy blonde guy that he talked to on the street was right. To which Omar pressed him about believing that he was correct and therefore Omar would be wrong.

The conversation disintegrated quickly when the blonde man wasn’t willing to concede the plausibility of opinions on these matters and it descended mostly into Christian dogmatic mirror-speech.

The triangle side of Roosevelt saw Joe, Brian, Kazz, and others holding one-off conversations with the evangelicals. Including more notably Valerie and Jim. Joe spent a lot of his time quoting from the Bible, talking about varied translations from Greek and Hebrew, and even wrote a variation of Epicurius’s Riddle on the ground in chalk. Including a phrase saying, “Defeating God for over two-thousand, five hundred years.” The riddle is the famous “then whence come evil?” question. Heated discussions were spotty, mostly one on one, some small crowds, but nothing altogether noteworthy.

The setup of the Resistance drew in quite a few interested people who took a look at signs, read them, and looked around wondering what it was about. However, without Kazz at the station for a long period of time, and others not really standing near it, they didn’t find anyone to talk to and eventually wandered away bemused. While many people were engaged during the beginning of the night, very few were even noticed later into the night.

The Prayer Station was broken down around 10pm and the entire force of evangelicals on Roosevelt left around 10:30pm. The evangelicals across the street left a little bit earlier. Melting into the crowds.

Kazz’s newest sign was taken and destroyed. A whiteboard that read, “Do you believe in God? Why?” and then listed statistics, logical fallacies, and other evidence that distinctly does not support the existence of the various incarnations of the evangelical god. Including starvation statistics, amid other elements. The vandals managed to grab the sign without notice, ripped it to shreds, tore the top askew, and left only one word on the entire sign:

“God?”

An interesting message if this was done by anyone from the Christian culture.

Overall crowds ran from thick and thin, people did stop to have discussions with Kazz and others, the evangelicals gathered crowds here and there, but mostly added to the First Friday backdrop in the same manner they did before. The sidewalks got chalked, a good time was had by many.



Westboro Baptist Church Resistance Report: Friday, January 30th 2009

The Mill Avenue Resistance reports are written by Kyt Dotson as an extension of anthropological research on the population of Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. Since the Resistance does their protests Friday and Saturday there are two reports a week. The supporting material not related to the Resistance reports can be found on the Under the Hills blog.

Westboro Baptist Church takes a shotgun approach to protesting. Spending no more than 30 to 45 minutes at a single location. We followed them through several different locations throughout Phoenix according to their schedule, which they posted loud and clear in order to attract counter-protesters. Especially they were probably interested in media attention. They don’t do a very good job of actually getting their message across—especially in the media—because instead of focusing on their message, the media makes them look like insane people.

The first location we visited involved a military funeral for a soldier who died in Iraq.

As Kazz was pulling his sign and some other things out of the back of his vehicle we were passed by a suspicious looking man. Overweight, sunglasses, greasy hair, and sauntered past and then back again and started to ask if we were going to the protest. He then identified himself without credentials as a police officer. “We just want everyone to have a safe, good time,” he said. So did the Resistance so there was no reason to have much concern.

We got there ten minutes before they left the funeral protest. They had set up over 100 meters away from the actual location of the cemetery, far out of line of sight, and even out of sight of the freeway. The Resistance and at least three others—including a photographer—set up across the freeway exit ramp. One man, who went to every single protest, stood with a two meter length US flag.

Outside of the German Consulate—which we still don’t know where it is because it was so nondescript—the counter-protesters ran into an issue with a person who identified themselves as the groundskeeper of 1002 Missouri. He blurted out, “Keep them off of the property!” at the counter-protesters. He then went to the police, spoke with them, and then threatened the counter-protesters with arrest if they went on the property. At no time did the counter-protesters, the Resistance, or anyone even appear to be going on the property he was protecting. He behaved belligerent and rudely. Perhaps he was in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church protest which was across the street from the counter-protest? Maybe mixed them up? Or perhaps he just didn’t care and simply likes to threaten people for doing things they weren’t. The police appeared thoroughly uninterested in his complaint (possibly because the counter-protest was small, didn’t move towards the property, and weren’t as scary as the WBC.)

After that final protest the police approached the counter-protesters to talk about what might be happening at the high school—which would turn out to be the hugest part of the protest. The WBC obviously chose the Desert Mountain High School venue because it would draw a great deal of attention. Media, and otherwise. They were going to put their riotous protest right in front of a school, after all, in the vicinity of a middle school and a grade school. The police decided that it would be best to cordon the area. Not because they were concerned about counter-protesters; but because the high school students probably wouldn’t be as disciplined as adults.

To their credit: the high school students were nothing short of awesome.

The Resistance set up their tripod and speaker at the front of the student cordon, surrounded by signs admonishing bigotry, elevating humanity, professing love and adoration for all people—students and counter-protesters alike were invited to use the speaker to provide speeches to the WBC.

“We can see you dancing to our music over there; if you want to put down your sign, and come over to this side, you’ll be welcome over here!” They said the Fred Phelp’s granddaughter.

The counter-protest drown out anything that the WBC hoped to say: music, speeches, hopeful words…

And at least one rickroll.

With a turn out that exceeded three hundred people, it was the largest protest. The presence of media, counter-protesters from across the state, FOX News, and other media. Apparently the rickroll elicited some unhappy grimaces from Shirley Roper-Phelps as a news interview took place.

A member of the Resistance, Brian Key, managed to make the news broadcast, as did the Resistance speaker, and my top hat.

During the protest at the high school, I spoke with Greg and Jose, two Catholic priests (at least, I believe so because they were wearing Roman collars) who had come with cameras and regularly counter-protest the WBC. They told me about an inititive that they are part of called “No Longer Silent: Clergy for Justice” (http://nolongersilent.org/). This group is especially rankled by the WBC because the behavior of the family-cult pollutes the public perception of Christianity, churches, and the proper behavior of religious figures. They appear to be a primarily Phoenix based group.

The final leg of the protest circuit happened in Tempe, near the Chyro Arts Venue where they were going to show Closet Drama: A Hetero/Homo Collision. The counter-protesters visited the parking lot, received information on the play, and even spoke with members of the venue about the play itself and the existence of the protest. If nothing else, the presence of WBC coming out to their venue greatly increased knowledge of the play for the surrounding community.

For those interested, here is a web resource about Closet Drama:

http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/events/closet-drama-a-homo-hetero-collision-1031932/

http://www.chyro.org/

The TEAM security were the poorest behaved of the would-be security. When they approached the Resistance and the other gathered protesters they went through the same spiel that the police did elsewhere, but instead of presenting the problems of a protest they immediately threatened violence. Stupidly undiplomatic talking about Macing people if things got out of hand. “If anything happens, you’ll get Maced, and then we’ll handcuff everyone. I mean everyone.” The actual police took a far more peaceful and hopeful tact of talking about how they were cordoning off the area and where the do-not-cross lines were. They did not threaten to Mace the protesters, they did not threaten anyone with arrest; they were civil, thoughtful, and lent their presentation to giving the protesters a safe place and manner to protest.

In the future TEAM may want to revise their tactics for talking to protesters because threatening people with assault is a bad idea. It sets up a violent atmosphere and makes the entire situation inherently more dangerous. Or, just wait for the police to arrive before they say anything more than, “This is private property, the venue here doesn’t want to be connected to the protest, since they’re not,” and avoid making violent threats. TEAM are not police officers, if they Mace someone they can and will be arrested, they cannot handcuff people; they are not extensions of the policing force and if they commit assault they themselves will be arrested and charged accordingly.

Shame on those TEAM security workers; please act smarter next time.

The WBC set up far away from the venue, on the corner with Skysong visible on the horizon. Counter-protesters flooded around the Wells Fargo there, trying not to clog the drive-thru ATMs while they drown out the bad singing, and petulant slogans of the WBC. Although, this was to be their longest protest, they only stayed an hour total. The gathering reached at least seventy people at its largest, a snowball second only to the high school counter-protest.

I saw a good number of people from the high school there as well, including visitations by the Phoenix Anonymous.

Overall, everything went great. As an experience this was wonderful, the turn out against WBC was solid, the media did not protray them as anything other than wackjobs, they managed once-again to build stronger community ties through bringing together gay activists. They have helped the gay community by bringing light to a play that had little notice before.

Mill Avenue Resistance Reports: Saturday January 24th, 2009

The Mill Avenue Resistance reports are written by Kyt Dotson as an extension of anthropological research on the population of Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. Since the Resistance does their protests Friday and Saturday there are two reports a week. The supporting material not related to the Resistance reports can be found on the Under the Hills blog for Saturday, January 24th 2009.

This night reared its ugly head at about 8pm with a surprising number of people on Mill Ave. The Resistance appeared at about that time and the new set of preachers were wandering about already—this being Jeff Rose and Vincent Piater, also Valerie and Jim of more familiar people.

Jeff says that he’s going to be here for another week or so before returning to his preaching circuit in the UK. Going on about how he normally preaches in Glasgow, and other places. Apparently he has quite a wide ministry, and it will be interesting to hear how the Scotts take him; I think I already have some ideas how the Irish would, if the sort of reactions he inspires on Mill are any indication.

Jeff does not present himself well. The way that he plays the crowd is in a manner deliberately like 3rd graders arguing, picking up clipped phrases from those talking to him and trying to turn them over and over in his hands; he also spends time demagoguing the audience with divisive speech, designed to rile and incite violent emotions. and It’s particularly disrespectful of his audience and the listeners and makes it obvious that he’s just out there for the spectacle and the theater.

He is a powerful and passionate speaker and when he’s actually replying to people and being part of conversations he sounds intelligent. However, when it comes to his act he descends into the disrespectful, delivering what he certainly knows to be misrepresentations of his debate opponents. He also spends a lot of time pretending friendship in the fashion of one who knows Machivelli well—“To stab someone in the back, one must first get behind them.” It is hard to believe that he actually considers himself “friends” when he spends a lot of his time belittling the Resistance, misrepresenting what they said in a juvenile fashion, or simply pandering to the crowd in a sleazy car salesman tone.

Perhaps both his charge of friendship and his preaching are both acts; it’s impossible to tell when a person behaves differently to what they say.

“Put your faith in Jesus Christ,” shouts Jeff.

“Put your faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster,” replies Kazz. “Put your faith in Zeus. Put your faith in Thor.” He points out that from the perspective of the atheist outsider any of these sound bites can be switched out with any other god.

Jeff consistently misunderstands or misrepresents what’s being said to him. He plays dishonest linguistic games with cuts of the oppositions speeches such as a parody reply about gravity:

“I don’t believe in gravity;” says Cale; “it’s the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s Noodly Appendage pushing me down to the ground.”

“Atheists don’t believe in gravity! So go jump off that building and you’ll fly!”

And then there’s simple, blatant nonsense:

“Do you believe in leprechauns?” Kazz asks.

“You don’t believe in God,” he replies, “so obviously you do believe in leprechauns!” And on and on.

It is obvious for some reason that Jeff inspires an atmosphere of threat and violence, possibly from his immature invective which is polarizing to the crowd. It seems to empower rude, uncivil behavior on those who listen; this generates shouting matches, and gives expectation to would be bullies and drawing animosity from many sides of the social gem. Several near-violent incidents happened while he preached.

When everyone was in front of Urban Outfitters a black youth wearing a safari-style hat kept sneaking around to his speaker, and yanked out his microphone cable. I didn’t get a chance to speak to him, but he seemed to claim that he wanted to test the Christian non-violence sympathies. This is certainly not a good behavior and only tends to create more potential violence, and in fact it did.

After his second successful attempt to yank the cable, Jim (the man with Valerie) said, “Try that again.” He folded his arms and gave a glare. “Try it again.”

Finally the whole thing came to a head. The third time the black youth went for the cord, Vincent jumped him and struck him hard in the chest, throwing him from his feet. The black youth hit the ground hard and slid, legs splayed. That set him into an angry attitude; he dropped his backpack, and stormed back posturing. He stood up against Vincent, threatening, and others had to get between them and talk over his angry words to diffuse the situation. Certainly it seemed like soon the police would have to be called.

Later, in front of the Post Office a small group of males appeared. All in their early 20s or late teens (college age) and displaying the jock or frat brother look. Broad bodies, square faces, t-shirts, jeans, while they looked fairly fit not a one was athletic or even muscular. One in particular, a young man wearing a blue t-shirt that read “AERO” bullied and threatened others who were speaking to Jeff. He repeatedly threatened Joe,

“You should really take that over there.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m going to knock you out.”

And he would tell other people things like, “Walk on Spiderman.” As if looking for a fight.

While a lot of this was going on, he and his four friends formed almost a line of scrimmage next to Jeff, and facing the Resistance. Folded arms, glaring, with the alpha male posturing, calling names, bullying, and generally threatening. While Jeff called people “perverts,” “garbage,” insulted their children, the alpha threatened to punch people, dismissed them, and attempted to intimidate anyone who spoke back to Jeff himself.

They eventually left, but not after calling Kazz a “freak.” Among other behavior that created a lot of animosity in the Resistance, especially Brian who spent a bit of time posturing himself (although not in the presence of the boys) about how he was actually a lot bigger than any of them and perfectly ready to rumble if they started anything.

Jeff’s preaching seems to be designed to create this sort of mistrust and strife in his audience. The Way of the Master preachers (with the exception of Jeremiah) generally do not produce this sort of violence and polarization, even with their rude and deliberately divisive speech. So it must be something in particular about Jeff’s message that is designed to exploit an in-group and out-group experience in his audience. In fact, yesterday he faced another instance of violence against him, reasons are unknown.

A man pulled a knife on him, grabbing his bullhorn cord. Then, after threatening to cut the cord, the man put the knife against his chest. According to Jim Coleman, police arrived quickly and arrested everyone—but they quickly released most, took the knife brandisher to jail. It is told that the knife was taken away, and the brandisher would spend a night or two in jail before being released.

It has become obvious that Jeff invites a lot of this behavior with the method of his preaching. He uses deliberately immature speech that panders to the drunken and bullies-at-heart, he has an ultra-loud amp which drowns out almost all replies, and he does nothing to dismiss or disarm building animosity in those who speak against him and especially not in those who are bullying those trying to converse with him. In short, he is using demagogue techniques in order to incite and rile the crowds that he gathers.

Because Jeff is going out of his way to create this divisive atmosphere, it is doubly more important that the members of the Resistance not fall into the maw of the spiraling violence. Try to remain calmer, don’t become angry at him or passersby who want to support him by either bullying or intimidating. Try to calm down passersby who are riled and irritated by his belligerent speech; he obviously does not care about what he’s doing because he doesn’t do these things or he’s oblivious to his incivility. So it falls on you to not allow things to escalate.

Good luck out there, and please continue to leave Mill a better place than when you arrived.

Editor’s Note 02-07-2008: There has been a correction to the above. Originally it read that Jim had been the one that jumped the black kid who was pulling the speaker cord. Valerie corrected this in pointing out that it was in fact Vincent. As this actually sounds more plausible than Jim, the change has been made.

Mill Avenue Resistance Reports: Saturday, December 20th 2008

The Mill Avenue Resistance reports are written by Kyt Dotson as an extension of anthropological research on the population of Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. Since the SFTS does their protests Friday and Saturday there are two reports a week. The supporting material not related to the Resistance reports can be found on the Under the Hills blog for Saturday, December 20th 2008.

A few of the Resistance had already appeared by the time that Kazz showed up with his speaker and microphone. When he started up, Jim was on the mic for the evangelicals (this is Valerie’s Jim) and he stepped down an instant later. To which there was a quip from Kazz, “Yeah, he’s afraid of me.”

Almost instantly a woman with straight, lank dark hair stepped up and started talking to Kazz. Her name, I would learn during my later interview of her, is Diana. I missed a lot of the conversation between her and Kazz, but I think that they discussed some of the ordinary first-day evangelical sound bite memes. (See Agents for Christ section.)

I actually got asked, “So, whose side are you on?” by some of the onlookers who had been drawn into the crosstalk between the Resistance and the evangelicals. With an amused wit, I replied that I’m on the people’s side, really, since I like people.

Also visiting the Resistance tonight were Spyral and Gina. Spy is an actual accredited anthropologist (opposed to my amateur) who joined into a bit of the conversations that were scattered about with her own thoughts. I really should have stayed and recorded her presentation when she spoke with Diana and others because she’s well spoken and comes from a different philosophy of thought than I do.

Bill

A twinkling funhouse of mirror-speak—right down to the vision warping, bent type. He started out the conversation with the obvious starter of asking what I thought was going on. This particular starter has always confused me a little, especially because after I notice that’s what they’re doing it makes the approach feel actually disingenuous—as if the person who is talking to me didn’t care that I was standing there personally and just set off to strike up this script.

He tried very poorly to use a watered down version of Pascal’s Wager asking me how it would go for me if the Christian god happened to be true—asking if I’d agree if it would go badly for me. I have never found this compelling as I generally ask if they actually have asked that question for every god that they’ve discovered? I mean, how would he feel if the Morrigan is actually real, and she’s not happy that he hasn’t been out in the field of glory killing and maiming for her.

If someone wants to play Pascal’s Wager why don’t they wage it with every belief system they meet? Easy answer: because it would take them forever to wager every god ever imagined.

His mirror-speech was just a series of propagandist and conversational tricks. Eventually he did go on to talk to Brian while he stood near the Resistance’s speaker on the stand, but I missed out on most of that conversation.

Diana and Danielle

I spoke with Diana and Danielle, sisters. I could be wrong about Diana’s name, she could be Diane—but I recall thinking of the Italic goddess Diana, Greek Artemis’s likeness as the goddess of the hunt. Danielle wore this lovely little matching woolen sweater and cap, topping off round spectacles and also watched quietly like I normally do.

They haven’t yet visited Mill before, so I welcomed them. And I learned that they are basically a nomadic family who go from place to place evangelizing. Sold all of their worldly possessions and now they live out of an RV. I hope that they had a good time. I gave Diana a copy of my book as well just because.

The Agents for Christ

“I believe he is going to reveal himself to you. I honestly have no hard feelings,” Diana to Kazz.

The really interesting thing about Diana is that the holy book she was carrying was only the New Testament. After debriefing Kazz on his encounter with her I am told that she didn’t have a strong cognition of a lot of Old Testament phraseology and so on. I’m not sure what schism of Christianity that they belonged to, but I always thought that the entire Bible held some sort of significance for most of them.

With Diana were a number of younger children, who like children, tended to parrot back sound bites. Even once there was a mention of people being “expelled” for speaking about Creationism, which Kazz took as a mention of Expelled, the badly drawn propaganda movie by Ben Stein. A movie which has been by in large revealed to be a fraud by a number of watchdog organizations and roundly laughed out of the academic circles for citing people who had lost their careers not for Creationism but for being cheats and frauds. (One man in particular was shunned by his peers after he himself resigned because he skipped the process of peer review by reviewing his own work and inserting it into a journal; deliberately bypassing the rules is indeed a good way to get “expelled.”)

Some interesting messages came up which paraphrase down to, “So my son couldn’t stand up in a science class and preach about Creationism?” And really, Kazz replied that there is very little anyone can preach in a science class—in a very straight-up way, no students get to disrupt a classroom by choosing to shout at everyone in the middle of any class. An adult who disrupts a college class certainly would get removed by security and expelled from school; we treat children differently than adults in that we attempt to educate them as to classroom etiquette. If a student stood up during a biology class and started talking only about gravitation, it would create the same sort of disruption as making noises about Creationism, or social studies, or political science, etc ad nauseam.

There is an academic forum for science already.

I have received a card from Diana that I will get scanned and put into this document so that people can see it.

Diana tells me that her brother-in-law is the one who runs their little group. They came out to see the Way of the Master evangelicals because there was some e-mails that had gone out about Mill Avenue. As I said above, they live out of an RV and have a semi-nomadic life. Moving from city to city to evangelize at cultural centers.

Mill Ave is a good place for them to show up, therefore; and that way they’ll get a chance to talk to people like Kazz, Omar, and others who are compassionate and interested in presenting the case for atheism to even the evangelicals and would really like them to know that in spite of propaganda, people like the Resistance and atheists do not wish theists harm.

Hopefully they shall come out to Mill Avenue more often.

Kazz and Jim

Our friend, Jim in his wheelchair, stopped to talk to Kazz about some things.

Mostly it was a conversation about physics, studies, and probably a lot of things that Jim has brought from Answers in Genesis—a profoundly wrong propaganda website that spends a lot of time pretending at science but has never actually succeeded in getting a single article through peer review due to numerous failures in rhetoric, evidence, and process. I could bring up more about AiG (again) but why.

I wasn’t totally privy to the conversation but it is well know to me that Jim spends a lot of time trying to understand the world. It would probably help him some if he got away from AiG or at least looked at the lay descriptions from others in the community as to how AiG is misinforming people.

The most common type of misinformation that AiG delivers is a type of refutation that tends to go: “This is a wrench. It can be used to tighten bolts and it’s good at it; but here’s a screw, the wrench does a terrible job of tightening screws; therefore wrenches are bad tools.” A great deal of the AiG documents about dating methods run this pattern: they take a dating tool, pick a well-known and documented situation where that tool would never be used, and therefore isn’t used—like using a wrench to tighten a screw—and then suggest this means the dating tool is wholly inaccurate and useless.

I don’t see how this sort of abuse of lay people is really useful to anyone. It damages extremely good pursuits of scientists and the knowledge of the public about these tools. These disagreements promulgated by these lay sites about these tools don’t exist in the scientific community because they’ve already been hashed out. Scientists using these dating methods do not grab their wrench when the screwdriver would be required; or either when neither will work. And the reason why is obvious: they would be destroyed by their peers when they went to publish.

Lots of people are fooled by this. Why? Because they’re credulous lay people (who very much want to learn and grow and understand) who don’t live in academia and therefore cannot tell the difference between the wrench and screwdriver.

Vocab Malone and Vince

Vince got himself into a long winded discussion with Vocab Malone and a bunch of the people who hovered around him—also people who were good at the rapping that Vocab does. The discussion sounded pretty interesting, but I missed out on some of it because I don’t have a background in Christian history. I believe it revolved around some sort of theological discussion about the nature of the Christian god, YHVH. Specifically about how it changes through the Old Testament of the Bible into the New Testament.

I should be clear here that this conversation was mostly Vocab attempting to unwind and understand Vince’s concepts, listed below (also see comments) not so much a discussion as Vince elaborating–which is something he often does at extreme length–and Vocab querying. Here I’m trying to frame Vince’s explanations. Hopefully he might comment too at some point.

The premise stretched on about how YHVH is flesh and his holy (where holy means something like complete, mature, finished…) And that YHVH has improved over the journey of the Bible, matured from the entity at the beginning of the Bible to later on. It sounded almost like an interesting character study of the mythological character of YHVH. And Vince did mention part of the Flood myth that I recall where YHVH does promise never to destroy the world again with a flood.

The last part I mention because one of the Jewish scholars that I’ve spoken to about this promise is that it seems that the promise is only not to flood the world again. Not a promise not to murder everyone again with something else. Apparently the appealing inference from that passage seemed to be that YHVH promised not to destroy the world again, when in fact it may not have actually promised that.

Vocab eventually had to leave, but Vince stayed on speaking.

Later that night while the Resistance went on to do Cthulhu carols the group who remained behind from Vince’s discussion started to break out and stop people heading past and going to Borders (which had closed.) One of them attempted to rephrase the Good Person Test using the judge metaphor with a few stopped passersby as I watched and listened.

Roosevelt Resistance Reports: Friday, December 5th 2008

The Mill Avenue Resistance reports are written by Kyt Dotson as an extension of anthropological research on the population of Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. Since the SFTS does their protests Friday and Saturday there are two reports a week. The supporting material not related to the Resistance reports can be found on the Under the Hills blog for Friday, December 5th 2008.

Yes, the title above is a joke. When wrapping up the night on the microphone, Todd told the dwindling crowds about the STFS, the Mill Avenue Resistance, “Perhaps we’re the Roosevelt Resistance at the moment—I don’t know.”

The STFS hit First Friday in force and I followed in their wake because, well, I haven’t been to First Friday in so long and I guess I can give up on Mill Ave for a night… Sigh.

I noticed that there were at least twelve of the various evangelical preachers who visit Mill Avenue out tonight. Taking various turns on the loudspeaker (whom the Resistance moved quickly to set up against) were Valerie, Sean, and Linda.

I also saw two very young girls handing out tracts with the evangelical group. I received at least two tracts from them.

Discussions at length

The most conversant among the different speakers against happened to be Joe. Bringing with him his vast Biblical scholarship. And there were some fun discussions about misinterpreting the Greek in the Bible, the fact that there are multiple translations of the Bible; which ones people accept, which ones various groups don’t… I heard about an Oxford Annotated Bible that is very good for people who want to examine the literary criticism of the work as well.

These discussions realistically denuded the veil of provenance atop the usage of the Bible for anything. It should be apparent to anyone discussing this subject that if there are thousands of different schisms that use this book as their holy book and each one chooses a different translation that somehow the actual knowledge was never written clearly enough to be propagated in situ. Multiple rewrites, editing, rejection and acceptance of books by various councils and histories have rendered a vast and glorious mythology but no basis to argue truth from. The mere fact that wide swaths of it are interpreted different between different agencies of history and community says that often the book itself is irrelevant to the message. It’s a religious MacGuffin used only for its semiotic relevance.

Some of the more interesting conversations occurred out of the various translations of Greek words. And thus one of my favorite Greek words came up, logos [λόγος]; near and dear to my heart as a linguist and an author. I am extremely familiar with how languages shift, how translations themselves are always a psychological transference from the translator; even language itself shifts within a single culture over a century enough to change the meaning of any work and we can watch this happen.

While Valerie spoke to the crowds, Lux, wearing a gothic styled plague doctor outfit came by and took up the mike. She posited to use a truncated version of the Epicurean paradox—to which most replies are woefully inadequate or require a revision of commonly understood positions by Christianity about the nature of their gods. After getting a titter from gathered moral philosophers, she melted back into the night; her black parasol bobbing through the crowds to vanish finally in the distance. (You can read more about her on my First Friday Nights post.)

Joe got himself some kudos from Valerie tonight because he is polite, well spoken, and extremely scholarly. So I’m glad to see that there is at least a great deal of glowing respect between the parts of this divide. I would like that to remain for the most part.

The Prayer Station

The evangelicals set up a strange booth out of PVC pipe and a table with a large, crimson banner, white lettered: PRAYER STATION. At least one group of passersby actually came to pray with them.

Kevin wanted to know about the station and the hand-outs of glowing noodles; but didn’t want to speak to them with accompaniment, so I offered to go. By in large the evangelicals are not hard or harsh people, they’re people. Which is part of the reason why I’m out here writing about the interactions.

There was little to be learned, though, because the person manning it happened to be eating at the time. However, Kevin did score some glowing noodles which John was kind enough to locate and offer… The STFS mostly swung them at each other

Trevor and Brian on addiction

Later that night I discovered Brian, and his spiked-up purple hair, in a discussion with Trevor. The conversation had gone the way of the witnessing from hedonism—or as I’d think it is, “I was addicted to everything, sleeping with anything that moved, but I’m better now.” Basically the “I got bettah,” of the evangelical bag of witnessing. Suggesting that whatever religion they are selling is therefore a panacea for any given lifestyle that they had become unaccustomed or disenfranchised from.

This rankled on Brian because he too had once spent a lot of time taking drugs and watched some of his friends die from it. Trevor gesticulated and shifted his weight a lot every time he fell into mirror-speech, reciting off entire reams of pleated experiences with drugs and trying work his religion into it. Brian—who admitted to being a little drunk at the time—replied with hollow baritone incredulity basing his argument on the addiction for addiction premise.

The trade-off premise posits that religion is just another addiction that was used to replace the previous one. It does not in fact elevate the person out of whatever hole they were digging themselves into; but instead replaces the risky lifestyle with a slightly varied risky lifestyle. I don’t know that I can fully advocate this sort of a position entirely. While religiosity is apparently addictive in pattern—since the deeply seated forms of it represent a fundamental break from reality—it indeed is often visibly less risky than irresponsible drug culture. It is indeed a totally different type of irresponsibility when used as a bludgeon on good reason and sanity about reality. It is apparent that Trevor is either poorly socialized or he is deliberately provocative and both of these are tied to his religiosity.

I am probably not quite framing Brian’s argument properly here. I would like him to come and give us a clearer example of how he argues these topics.

The Agnostic Position and Mount Rushmore

A newcomer to the fray, Travis, was having a poorly-gone discussion with Sean. Unfortunately, it literally went nowhere for either of them, primarily because Sean wasn’t listening and constantly misrepresented Travis’s position with gross misunderstandings. For example, when Travis brought up that he was Agnostic, Sean attempted to counter with, “The position of the agnostic is that they cannot prove anything; they look at something like Mount Rushmore and state that they cannot say how it got there. Man or God.”

The agnostic position doesn’t apply to Mount Rushmore. No sane agnostic need say that they cannot say how Mount Rushmore got there because of their agnosticism; it only applies to the supernatural. The supernatural is not manifest; Mount Rushmore is manifest. We can go to it. Test it. Examine it. Look at the documents of its creation—if we really want to verify them we can look at the stones themselves and find evidence of tool usage, wear, and repair. All of these things are evidence that will corroborate documentation and other provenance about Mount Rushmore.

Sean has been misinformed by someone about the agnostic position and is promoting a baldly stupid argument against it.