Speaking of religious apocalypticists steering our politics, South Dakota's leading theocracy advocates (Perry Groten calls them a "social advocacy nonprofit"—come on, Perry!) are calling on Christians to keep keno, craps, and roulette from wrecking the Redeemer's return:

A social advocacy nonprofit will lobby against a measure in the upcoming legislative session to authorize three new voter-approved games in Deadwood and at tribal casinos.

Family Heritage Alliance Action executive director Dale Bartscher says the group's board unanimously agreed this month to oppose the legislation.

He says the organization will be urging lawmakers in January not to authorize the new games, which 57 percent of voters supported as part of Amendment Q on Nov. 4 [Perry, Groten, "Non-Profit to Lobby Against New Deadwood Gaming," KELOLand.com, 2014.12.13].

Good grief! What part of "The voters have spoken" do you Republicans not understand? We pass an initiative to raise the minimum wage, and you Republicans rumble about overturning it in the Legislature. We approve diversifying the games with which people can entertain themselves in Deadwood, and you Republicans (show of hands: how many Democrats belong to the political arm of Family Heritage Alliance? how many FHAA folks were lobbying their churchmates to vote for Democrats?) decide you'll sabotage the necessary enacting legislation.

I do appreciate FHAA's willingness to buck the free-market fundamentalism which they erroneously conflate with Christianity and get back to basics on this issue. Here's their pre-election statement against the constitutional amendment that was on the 2014 ballot:

Whereas in most cases, free market should be the primary regulator of business, in the case of an industry that generates so much addiction, societal ills, and even suicide, this should not be the case regarding the gambling industry. For instance, The National Council on Problem Gaming (NCPG) estimates that among South Dakotans, there are 18,000 adult gambling addictions which inflicts on the citizens of the state a whopping annual cost of almost $16 million. The NCPG also estimates that one in five problem gamblers will attempt suicide, putting this statistic at about twice the suicide rate of other addictions [Family Heritage Alliance Action, statement on Amendment Q, 2014.08.26].

I voted against craps, keno, and roulette myself. But the voters have spoken, and 56.69% of them said let Deadwood's casino industry do its thing. If the Legislature won't respect the voters' decision, it will respect the Deadwood casino lobby.

On the upside, we will get to witness the amusing spectacle of the Family Heritage Alliance casting its gentle Jesus against the state's true god, Mammon.

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I've wondered why believers in the Rapture, the Anti-Christ, and the Second Coming would get so wrapped up in right-wing politics. If the Apocalypse is coming within our lifetime (41% of Americans and 58% of white evangelical Christians believe Jesus is coming back by 2050), isn't it pointless to try to stop all the devilry that must take place to bring him back? Why fight all of the Anti-Christ's groundwork for centralized authority and global dominion—Medicaid expansion, regulations on coal and fishing tackle, Keystone XL (oh ho! you fundies have missed that one, haven't you?)—if the End Times must happen to fulfill cosmic destiny? (And the age-old question: why again must an omnipotent, loving God let all this unpleasant drama play out?)

History professor Matthew Avery Sutton offers an explanation for faithful political activity in the run-up to Armageddon. Believers in the Rapture, Tribulation, and Armageddon don't withdraw; they invest their talents:

Traditionally, people have believed that this expectation that Jesus is coming back would lead to indifference, that people would focus on the next world, they would invest very little in this world. In fact, they’ve done just the opposite....

It’s clear from D.L. Moody to Billy Sunday to Aimee Semple McPherson to Billy Graham to Jerry Falwell, that to believe that Jesus is coming at any moment does not make you less active or less involved in your culture. They say over and over and over again that this is not the case. We just haven’t heard them. Every generation of evangelicals and fundamentalists says it. Their apocalyptic theology makes them more active not less.

There is a biblical argument for this that they use. It’s the parable of the talents. In this story a ruler invests in his servants, giving each of them a number of talents, or money. He then goes away to another kingdom. When he comes back he wants to know what they’ve done with their talents. Some had buried their talents, afraid of losing it. Some had lost the money, wasting their talents. But some had invested wisely and made more money. So the returning ruler rewarded those who had invested wisely and maximized their talents and used them for greater good. For fundamentalists and evangelicals, the point here is that God has given them talents. He’s gone away, he’s coming back, he’s coming back soon, and he’s going to ask what you’ve done with your talents. Jesus ended the parable by instructing the disciples to “occupy” until I come. And that’s what fundamentalists and evangelicals have done.

That means that, far more than many other Christians, they believe they have a responsibility to act as vehemently, as radically, as urgently as possible [Matthew Avery Sutton, interviewed by Daniel Silliman, "It’s The Apocalypse, Stupid: Understanding Christian Opposition to Obamacare, Civil Rights, New Deal and More," Religion Dispatches, 2014.12.02].

Invest your efforts in earthly action that the Antichrist will overwhelm and that the Lord will have to set right anyway—my head spins at the thought that that's the real motivation behind the voting habits of a possible majority of South Dakota voters.. and at the thought of trying to find a way to reason people away from the destructive policies to which that thinking leads.

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Last Saturday was the 13th anniversary of my wife and I's engagement. We got married five months later, but from the moment I took the knee, we viewed our engagement as the point of no return. And we haven't returned. We married later, wiser, and forged a pretty stable relationship...

...just like lots of other people our age and younger who are getting married and staying that way. The New York Times reports that midst all the Sodom and Gomorrah, divorce rates have been declining since the early 1980s. Lots of stable marriages like ours throw spokes in the wheel of fundie arguments that delayed marriage is a problem, that folks waiting until their late twenties or early thirties are most likely to divorce, and even that religious commitment wards off divorce.

Conservative Christian culture correlates with a higher rate of failed marriages. But I'm not circulating petitions to ban marriages between eighteen-year-old fundamentalists in order to protect the institution of marriage. My marriage hasn't been shaken one micron by all those fundies breaking up any more than it has by all those homosexuals getting hitched. Experience tells me the key to driving that divorce rate further down is minding your own marriage.

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Let's be clear from the start, I'm just making a sandwich, not exercising reproductive choice.

I contributed to the oppression of the proletariat yesterday by shopping for groceries at Walmart. I picked up some salami, another moral offense.

In the checkout line, my cashier, a black woman in hijab, scanned the salami where it lay on the conveyor. She then said something to me that did not register. I thought maybe she was puzzled as to how to proceed with my reusable shopping bag (that's me, trying to win back anti-consumerist karma) and was asking if she could place my remaining ten items in twelve plastic bags. I gestured toward my French loaf and my fabric bag. She returned my befuddled look and clarified:

"My religion does not allow me to touch pork. Will you put the pork in your bag?"

Islam! Pork! Of course! I once invited a Muslim to let me make him lunch, but all I had in the fridge was a frozen pepperoni pizza. He declined and went home hungry.

I was in buy mode, not blog mode, so I cheerfully grabbed the salami and put it in my grocery bag. My cashier scanned and bagged the rest of my items... which, interestingly, included a frozen pepperoni pizza that didn't set off her haraam alarm.

When I got home, I got to thinking. The Muslim pork taboo isn't just about touching swine flesh. My salami was packaged in plastic and cardboard. The taboo can logically extend to refusing to be complicit in the sin of others who would eat such foul meat. My cashier didn't refuse to complete the transaction, as some Muslim cashiers have done with customers elsewhere buying pork or alcohol. But my cashier did decline to provide me with a basic service that her customers and her boss expect her to provide.

Remember, it's just salami. One package of salami.

But how many cashiers are Muslim? (At my nearest Walmart, many.) How many customers have pork products in their baskets? Multiply those numbers by stores, and you start exerting a noticeable downward pressure on customer experience and check-lane efficiency. And suppose on a certain slow shift, every member of the minimal checking crew is Muslim. At that hour, does Walmart have to hang a sign directing all ham buyers to the self-service checkout? Or for the sake of its business model, does Walmart have to ensure that every cashier on every shift can handle every transaction that a customer may bring to the till?

Whether we're talking salami or birth control, I could see any retailer saying that if you have moral principles against certain products, you shouldn't work in stores that sell those products.

But can we say that? Can we tell Muslims (and Jews, and fundamentalist Christians who take Leviticus 11:7–8 at face value) that they don't get to work as grocery cashiers? Or do faithful cashiers get a conscience clause that means I take my meat to the self-service counter?

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I am alarmed that John Shaw of Mitchell finds it acceptable to spew lies and hatred. I am more alarmed that the Mitchell Daily Republic abdicates its journalistic responsibility and prints Shaw's bigoted fabrications.

I excerpt with disgust and reluctance (because the comment section will turn ugly quickly, and because Shaw's blatant disregard for fact and decency demonstrate he is seeking to provoke a fight and stroke his own paranoia, not engage in neighborly discourse) comments made by John Shaw in a letter to the editor, published Saturday, November 29, 2014:

Currently 7.4 percent (23 million) of the United States population (315 million) controls the remaining 92.6 percent (292.5 million) of the U.S. population. There are two cultures of the 7.4 percent representing 3.7 percent each that have been and are currently transforming America, and they are the Muslim Islamic and sodomite cultures [John Shaw, letter to the editor, Mitchell Daily Republic, 2014.11.29].

Good grief—we're only two sentences in, and I already have seven responses:

  1. Golden rule: I defy anyone to establish that the small percentage of Americans practicing Islam and the small percentage of Americans practicing homosexuality have more control over this country than the 5% who control more than half of the nation's wealth.
  2. Shaw tries to give his warmed-over Hitlerian screed a gloss of authority with bogus decimals.
  3. Muslims make up 0.6% or maybe 2.2% of the U.S. population. The only source I find saying "3.7%" is this 2012 article listing the Muslim populations of Chicago and Detroit at 3.7%,  the largest Muslim populations listed for any U.S. metro area.
  4. "Muslim Islamic" is a redundant term bred of pretentious ignorance.
  5. Gays, lesbians, and bisexuals make up 2.3% of the U.S. population.
  6. "Sodomite culture" is an insult cloaked in piety, not a real sociological category.
  7. If there were such a thing as a "sodomite culture," I can only assume from Shaw's word choice that it would include the 4% of men and 20% of women who say they've had anal sex in the past year.

The Mitchell Daily Republic should have shelved this letter right there. But no. Their editorial board, which will retract an eyewitness observation just because a grouchy Republican lawyer disagrees, lets Shaw carry on:

Most of the Muslims in the U.S. have immigrated here from the Middle East. Some Americans and other nationalities here have converted to the hellish, terroristic, Islamic ideology that barbs itself as a peaceful religion that destroyed the New York Twin Towers and 3,500 lives, plus killing U.S. servicemen at Fort Hood, Texas, and a U.S. recruitment center, decapitating a U.S. employee and performing honor killings in the U.S. to Muslim wives and daughters and our U.S. delusional leadership calls it PC — workplace violence? [Shaw, 2014.11.29]

And the Jews killed Jesus, so Judaism must be a hellish, terroristic ideology, and I must just be some PC wuss for saying the Holocaust was a bad idea, right? (Crying "political correctness" is just the whining of privileged bigots who don't like their linguistic tools of oppression taken away.)

Then Shaw really piles on the lies:

The Washington, D.C., federal government is loaded with Muslim brotherhood jihadist operatives at every high-level branch, with the consent of our current Muslim Oval Office occupier. The Muslim-Islamic literature cancer is in all of our learning institutions, (including first grade) brainwashing our current and future generations of leadership and citizenry [Shaw, 2014.11.29].

My goodness—people actually say these things... and a supposedly reputable newspaper publishes them. A baseless general assertion about government officials, a persistent and pernicious lie about the President, and a wild accusation about the content of the curriculum in every school in America. Please, make the stupid stop!

The second controlling 3.7 percent consists of sodomites, lesbians, transgenders and man-boy love cultures that promote and destroy the civil and little remaining biblical fabric of our nation in the education centers, corporation sponsorships, liberal churches and secular society in general, with Hollywood, the mainstream news media and the Democratic Party supporting this cauldron of wickedness. Obama announced that June was proclaimed sodomy month (LGBT Pride Month), and he continued to advance the sodomite culture. Obama and his administration influenced liberal activist judges to overturn states' one man, one woman marriage amendments to accommodate wicked, non-existent sodomite marriage [Shaw, 2014.11.29].

Got that, Nancy, Jennie, Greg, Mark? You are wicked, your loving commitments don't exist, and you're not having sex the way John Shaw says you should. That'll fix you.

Shaw closes by co-opting his God's righteous wrath...

"And for this cause, God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness." (2 Thessalonians 2:11,12)

Judgment is here and what is coming you will not enjoy [Shaw, 2014.11.29].

...but how can I trust his apparent claim to be Christian any more than he trusts the copious evidence that Barack Hussein Obama is Christian? One little Bible quote from Shaw? Pshaw. John Shaw is no Christian. He's just some malcontent, a feckless and frustrated man who a generation ago would have been Archie Bunkering about Negroes and Jews running everything. Unable to resort to such slurs in 2014, Shaw scapes other goats.

I wish I could ignore Shaw's screed and let it fade away. Ignorance and hatred will always curse our fallible race... and that is all the more reason to whack it every time it rears its head, to keep it from building and doing more harm. Mitchell editors, if you feel compelled to print such ignorance and hatred, you should at least feel compelled to debunk his lies.

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"18, 19, 20-plus percent interest,  do I think that's a healthy thing  for human beings? The answer is no,  I don't think that's healthy at all." —Bill Janklow, 2004.08.24The conservatariat is bracing for battle with the unholy alliance of liberal barista Steve Hildebrand and vengeful Reverend Republican Rep. Steve Hickey, who plan to launch an initiated measure to cap interest rates at 36%. (People love coffee, and people love Jesus; payday lenders, you're toast.)

P&R Miscellany and Troy Jones both lay out the business justification for high rates and fees for short-term lending. Both say that the Hildebrand-Hickey initiative will put payday lenders out of business. P&R, to his credit, does not deny that payday lending "is a defective instrument or that it is sold to the ignorant and unsophisticated."

Rep. Hickey acknowledges his initiative would kill the exploitative payday lending industry. He says they asked for it:

A 36% cap puts payday, title and signature loans shops out of business in SD. Last year they had the opportunity to cooperate with our coalition and implement reasonable regulation that would have curtailed their biz by 20% but would have kept their doors open and profitable. The voters will have an opportunity to decide their fate [Rep. Rev. Steve Hickey, comment, P&R Miscellany, 2014.11.28].

Jones runs deeper numbers than P&R, then peers up through his green eyeshade and posits an argument he's shared with us before: payday lending serves a market need, and putting them out of business will make borrowers lose their jobs and their kids go hungry:

It is easy to assert that 36% APR is usurious.  But, deep in my heart, I believe this industry serves a need that is important to those who utilize this source of credit.  Rather than resorting to emotional bromides of who cares more about the poor, if we are going to appeal to this emotion in a ballot, let’s make sure we are also acknowledging the consequences [Troy Jones, "'We Must Not Resort to the Flame Where Only Light Is Required' (Les Miserables)," Dakota War College, 2014.11.28].

I could reëngage Jones in a discussion of the comparable consequences of outlawing usury and prostitution. Instead, let's talk literature.

The translated quote Jones misappropriates for his title comes from Volume 2, Book 7 of Les Misérables, a lengthy parenthesis (really, Hugo titled this section Parenthèse) in which Hugo dismisses monastic life as an anachronistic sore whose "superstitions, bigotries, hypocrisies, [and] prejudices" we ought to purge from modern life. (Careful, Troy: headlines like that could get you nuked by your blog host for anti-Catholic bigotry.)

To invoke Hugo in an excuse for payday usury is to miss a main theme of Hugo's masterwork: society's downtrodden are poor and hungry because society's institutions are stacked against them and force them to submit to exploitation. Hugo's hero is not a banker who profits from fleecing desperate borrowers; Hugo's hero, Jean Valjean, is a felon who becomes a philanthropist dedicated to overturning a system that exploits the poor.

In other words, Victor Hugo would probably shine a light on the payday lenders and vote for the Hildebrand-Hickey initiative to put Dollar Loan Center out of business. (Jean Valjean would likely help the revolutionary Enjolras burn Dollar Loan Center down, but let's leave the fictional flaming to the Republicans, shall we?)

O.K., so we have the coffee crowd, the Jesus crowd, and the French lit crowd on the side of an interest-cap initiative that would give every citizen a legal protection that federal law already gives to soldiers and their families. You'd better polish up that business case, Troy; you're running out of constituencies!

Un couvent en France, en plein midi du dix-neuvième siècle, c'est un collège de hiboux faisant face au jour. Un cloître, en flagrant délit d'ascétisme au beau milieu de la cité de 89, de 1830 et de 1848, Rome s'épanouissant dans Paris, c'est un anachronisme. En temps ordinaire, pour dissoudre un anachronisme et le faire évanouir, on n'a qu'à lui faire épeler le millésime. Mais nous ne sommes point en temps ordinaire. A monastery in France, in the full noon of the nineteenth century, is a school of owls confronting the day. A cloister, in caught in the blatant act of asceticism in the very heart of the city of '89, 1830, and 1848, Rome blossoming in Paris, is an anachronism. In ordinary times, to dissolve an anachronism and make it vanish, one would only have to make it spell out the date. But we are in no ordinary time.
Combattons. Let us fight.
Combattons, mais distinguons. Le propre de la vérité, c'est de n'être jamais excessive. Quel besoin a-t-elle d'exagérer? Il y a ce qu'il faut détruire, et il y a ce qu'il faut simplement éclairer et regarder. L'examen bienveillant et grave, quelle force! N'apportons point la flamme là où la lumière suffit. Let us fight, but let us distinguish. The particular property of the truth is to never be excessive. What need has the truth of exaggerating? There is that which must be destroyed, and there is that which needs simply to be lit up and looked at. A kindly and serious investigation—what power! Let's bring no flame where light will suffice.
—Victor Hugo, Les misérables, tome 2 (Cosette), livre 7 (Parenthèse), chapitre 3 ("À quelle condition on peut respecter le passé"), 1862 translation, Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, volume 2 (Cosette), book 7 (Parenthesis), chapter 3 ("Under What Condition Can One Respect the Past"), 1862)
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While the next executive director of the South Dakota Democratic Party tells me that Democrats need to embrace God and guns, pollster Paul Nielson tells Todd Epp that we Democrats lost the Catholic vote this time out:

“If you’re evangelical Christian, you’ll almost certainly vote Republican,” Nielson said. “A mainline Protestant, probably a little more Republican than Democrat. Roman Catholic has tended to be more Democratic, but actually in this election, they went more Republican, according to our polling, toward the end, which was a really bad sign for Democrat[s]” [Todd Epp, "In South Dakota, Is Religion Electoral Destiny?" Northern Plains News, 2014.11.16].

Who's left for us Dems?

For Democrats, according to Nielson, about the only clear constituencies they won in this month’s election were reservation-based Native Americans and non-religiously affiliated voters [Epp, 2014.11.16].

Atheists and Indians—I think we're still outnumbered, Sundance!

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Mike Huether has waded into the snowplows-for-Jesus debate; I guess I have to, too.

The City of Sioux Falls let some school kids paint their snowplows. Naturally, some Lutheran kids painted happy Jesus messages (along with one improperly cited Bible verse). The Siouxland Freethinkers suggested religious messages on public equipment is inappropriate. The city lawyers said, "Ah, you may have a point" and asked the kids to repaint the plows.

Then Mayor Mike Huether comes barreling in for some wrongheaded grandstanding:

"I don't want to repaint over those snowplows," Huether said. "To me, we should repaint over all of them at the same time and that's at the end of the snow season."

Huether told me that he hoped to bring together the schools, the Siouxland Freethinkers and city officials to find a compromise.

But Huether seemed adamant that the plow blades wouldn't be removed.

"We are not going to be painting over those plow blades. We will not be painting over them unless I get some Supreme Court case that says that I have to," Huether said.

Heuther is also reluctant to suggest changes to the "Paint the Plows" program for fear of trampling on the First Amendment rights of participating schools.

"That's one of the things we're struggling with," said Huether. "How do we move forward and still allow people to have freedom of expression?" [Greg Belfrage, "Huether: 'We Are Not Painting Over Plow Blades'," KELO-AM Radio, 2014.10.28]

Mayor Huether, we are not talking about First Amendment rights of participating schools. No one has a right to paint messages on public equipment... although if that's what you're positing, don't let Ryan Gaddy and Annette Bosworth near City Hall. The city invites schools to decorate snowplows. The city has complete control of the forum and the content participants post, just as it asserts control over what people can say and when they can say it at City Council meetings. The city has an obligation (which it failed to fulfill in this case) to establish and explain clear criteria for the use of the privilege of decorating snowplows.

Imagine if some smart kids had painted "Vote for Rick Weiland" or "Hillary 2016" on the plows. The city would have shut that noise down right away. We have laws restricting the use of public resources for such politicking.

Better yet, imagine if some Muslim kids painted "Allahu Akbar!" on a plow. Let Greg Belfrage see that holy cry bearing down on him in his rearview mirror, and he'll get why some of us would prefer the city not be toting giant Jesus messages around on its equipment.

Mayor Huether, the city messed up. Instead of acting like Mike Rounds, how about 'fessing up to your error, owning the problem, and saying you'll do better at teaching kids about the First Amendment in full next time around?

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