Counterpunch, 1-15 March 2012

In the latest issue of Counterpunch, JoAnn Wypijewski tells the story of Keith Jennings, a resident of Stony Ridge, Ohio.  Mr Jennings couldn’t keep up with his house payments, so the bank owns it now.  He has responded to this by enlisting a group of local youths to seal the house off, covering it in tar and cement.  Ms Wypijewski is at pains to portray Mr Jennings and his cohorts as a thoroughly unheroic bunch.  Their lack of heroism is precisely what makes their odd little story seem urgent to her.  They stand for all the forgotten eccentrics who have, over the centuries, done odd, apparently pointless things that have made life a little bit more complicated for people in power, and have thereby helped to prepare the way for the great figures whose names we do remember.

Harry Browne asks “How Toxic is the Fog of Benevolence in Foundation Journalism”?  Mr Browne points out that, while many people express concerns about possible conflicts of interest when journalistic enterprises are parts of big businesses, very few express such concerns about journalism that is funded by philanthropic institutions.  Considering that philanthropic institutions are usually endowed and overseen by the very people who have the greatest influence over big businesses, this certainly is a strange state of affairs.  It is all the stranger in view of the fact that for-profit journalism must appeal to a broad public, while charity projects need only satisfy their funders.

Self-described “adventurer, chef, yogi, and army wife” Rachel Ortiz contributes “Faith: An Atheist Perspective.”  As a Jewish teenager in Texas, Ms Ortiz fell in with a group of very outgoing Southern Baptists.  Converting to their faith, she spent three years being happy at church and miserable at home before she started asking questions that the Southern Baptists couldn’t answer.  After a period away from church, the 16 year old Ms Ortiz went back as an observer.   She was appalled to see everyone moving at the same times and speaking in the same ways during the service.  This seemed to her a sign of “brainwashing.” She writes:

I began to notice that when children “spoke in tongues,” it sounded remarkably similar to the way their parents sounded when they spoke in tongues.  I noticed that everyone simultaneously knew when to bow their heads, when to stand, when to sit, when to clap, when to say Amen!  It was in that moment that I knew to the very core of my being that I had been, and all of them were, brainwashed.

My reaction to this was a bit complicated.  Mrs Acilius and I pay regular visits to a couple of nearby Anglican and Lutheran churches.  There, everyone simultaneously knows when to bow their heads, when to stand, when to sit, when to kneel, when to say amen.  If that’s the result of brainwashing, it’s the least subtle brainwashing imaginable. They give you a paper when you go in the door on which a full set of instructions are printed.  It isn’t subliminal recruiting, but superliminal recruiting.  So the picture Ms Ortiz painted did not immediately strike me as sinister.

On the other hand, most Sundays we can be found in a Quaker meetinghouse.  Mrs Acilius is a member of the meeting, and I am also active in it.  In traditional Quaker meetings, shared silence is communion and an explicit agenda is a sign of the secular.  The one we attend isn’t like that.  They have a bulletin with a list of Sunday morning Protestant stuff, including hymns, a sermon from the pastor, etc etc etc.  There are some moments which are not stuffed full of planned events, what Quakers call “Open Worship.”  In these moments we usually sit silently together, but occasionally someone feels compelled to speak.  These moments are usually too brief to be a meditative experience that quiets the mind.  Frankly, that’s part of the reason why we keep going back to the neighboring liturgical churches; a well-executed service there is a single experience, and has a clarifying effect similar to that which an hour of meditation in communal silence can provide.  By contrast, the brief interludes of silence in our very churchy Quaker meeting often represent interruptions in a little series of tasks that all concerned are busily keeping up with.  Even so, the meeting fits into what is often called the “Free Church” tradition of Protestantism, in which congregations value spontaneity and individualism.  Because of these values, Mrs Acilius’ fellow members grow uneasy when we remark on the amount of busy-ness that is packed into that hour.  Thinking of their reactions when we talk about how little spontaneity there is in the meeting, it is easy to understand how a Free Church Protestant could be shocked to see a group of worshipers behaving in the highly coordinated manner Ms Ortiz describes.

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