How did we get to be accused of society’s most dangerous evil?
To be perfectly honest, the scapegoats of history have always been small minorities in relatively vast societies. Take the witch hysteria of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 and 1693 for example. What was it that ignited that famous fire? Apparently it was when two pre-pubescent girls began to have “fits” that exceeded what the people thought could be accounted for as epilepsy, and they accused three non-conformist women of having bewitched the girls.
Witch hunts are not extinct. One was reported just last week.
Hysteria is a wild fire that breaks out and spreads immediately on winds of rumor. Small evidence, irrelevant circumstances, irrational conclusions, invalid verification and convenient prejudice all can fuel a conflagration that leads to people being hurt. There is always a smoldering ember in human society with regard to those with unwelcome exotic characters. Sometimes societies allocate special status to those persons, but more often they are excoriated and persecuted.
Witches were originally “wise women”; that is the etiology of the word. All it takes is for society to wish those women were otherwise (other than wiser than the ones (such as learned men) who covet the uncontested honor of wisdom and its entitlements), and some insignificant incident, probably not apparently related to such challenges, will set a mob into motion.
Another group that threatens male dominance is us, of course. We are persistent proof that the majority masculinity is not the only one, nor is it necessarily the only valid one, or even the best hub for society. Social conservators hate it when their centrality is challenged. They tend to scream that because they are being undermined all society is liable to collapse.
This is the situation today.
Certain key male figures, one of whom is resigning/retiring in Rome this week, would really like to retain control over the definition of legitimate masculinity. Since an aspect of masculinity is sexual, they try to insist on controlling sex. Since that authority is becoming unviable they look for scapegoats to deflect the suspicion that they, in their conservatism now outside society’s definition of reality, are the reason for the sounds of falling objects all around them.
I am really looking forward to the resumed Sinclair Thompson Lectures at Payap University here in Chiang Mai on February 20-22. These will be the fifteenth lectures in the fifty year history of the lectureship.
The Rev. Sinclair Thompson was a Presbyterian missionary here for 15 years until his death in 1961 in a railroad accident. One of his passions was Buddhist-Christian studies. As a memorial, family and friends established this lectureship to further Buddhist-Christian dialog.
The first Sinclair Thompson lecturer was the esteemed Dr. Pui, one of the most honest and honorable men ever to enter public service in Thailand. The second (without checking the archives) was the Rev. Dr. Malcolm Stewart of Illinois College in 1964. He was my major professor as well as that of Dr. Amnuay Tapingkae. Dr. Amnuay was the reason Dr. Stewart came to Thailand on a sabbatical and delivered the lectures while he was here. Dr. Amnuay became the president of Payap University after that, and the university became care-taker of the lectureship.
The most famous lecturer and most memorable lectures in the series so far were by the Venerable Buddhadasa Bhikkhu in 1967. Those lectures broke through walls of hostility in ways considered impossible at the time. It was scandalous, amazing and thrilling to hear Thai Buddhism’s most revered figure and most esteemed scholar assert there are wide areas of common ground between Buddhism and Christianity. In fact, the relationship between the two religions has not been the same in Thailand since those three nights.
This year there are two women in dialog.
The Rev. Marjorie Thompson is Sinclair Thompson’s daughter. She has written several books and is well known in the United States through her work with Upper Room Ministries. She will speak on “Christian Spiritual Practices”.
Her colleague at the podium will be the Venerable Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, abbot of Wat Songdhammakalyani in Nakhon Pathom. She is the first fully-ordained female Theravada Thai monk in recorded history. She is leading a movement to revive orders of Bhikkhuni (women monks). Her topic is “Buddhist Spiritual Practices.” No one in Thai Buddhism at this time is breaking down gender barriers as effectively as is she.
On the third night both women will speak about the role of women in Buddhism and Christianity.
Anyone in Chiang Mai is welcome to attend these free lectures in the Sirindorn Learning Resource Center on Payap University’s main campus at 7 p.m. each evening.
It is on rare occasions like this that those of us with bi-religious convictions get together.
Blessed are they whose sex is the same as their gender, for their lives shall be content.
Blessed are those whose sex is different from their gender, for they shall grow strong.
Blessed are they who love and respect people of any sex and gender, for they are saints.
Blessed are they who do not hide their variant gender, for they are heroic.
Blessed are they who are loved by one who is right for them, for they shall be happy.
Blessed are they who are still young when they search for their true gender, for they shall find it.
Blessed are they who discover they need to change their gender identity before they devastate the life of another, for they shall be unashamed.
Blessed are they who speak the truth, for they shall be vindicated.
Blessed are they who come to know themselves, for they shall be wise.
Blessed are they who live as they were endowed by their Creator to live, for they are righteous.
Blessed are they who defend the weak against those who would oppress them, for they shall be peace makers.
Blessed are they who despise no one because of their physical appearance, for they shall have honorable friends.
Please suggest additions or corrections before I deliver these as the preamble to a sermon on the mountain near here.
First there was Anita Bryant and now Alex Jones, both homophobes linked to orange juice. We need to thank Sergio Candido for his alert reporting in the South Florida Gay News on January 25, 2013 that we can't let our guard down when it comes to Florida orange juice.
Alex Jones, we are told by Sergio and Wikipedia, is an ultra-conservative radio host who is popular in the USA with his conspiracy theories. His latest is that the US government (that is, President Obama) "is encouraging homosexuality with chemicals so that people don't have children." To prove his point Jones took apart an orange juice box to show the plastic membrane inside "filled with gay chemicals". The chemical was identified on another post by Jones as atrazine. Atrazine is a common weed killer that has been studied for its effects on the sexuality of certain fish and frogs. Jones says on one of his blogs that "little boys drink orange juice ... and they want to put on lipstick", which presumably means that when they become big boys they won't breed.
That rang a bell.
Back in 1977 singer and Florida orange juice spokesperson Anita Bryant launched a campaign to repeal Dade County Florida civil rights laws for gay persons. This, ironically, led to greater momentum by the gay-rights movement as gay groups unified to oppose this oppressive campaign by Bryant and right-wing Christians.
I'm so glad to live in Chiang Mai, Thailand where we get our oranges fresh from Fang, north of the city, where there has never been a hint that they have any impact on human sexual orientation or human rights.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.