Personal Jesus and Other Fantasies

  • How Russia is cracking down on the Gay Rights Movement, just as American evangelicals would like to do;
  • A laughable debate about whether the Earth is flat or round, based on Biblical theology;
  • A take on the economy that suggests that people forget what ‘normal’ looks like;
  • How George Santos got away with it: voters care more about politicians’ demeanor than what they say;
  • What to tell kids about Santa Claus, from two developmental psychologists, who don’t extend their ideas into adulthood;
  • Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus”.

NY Times, news article, 30 Nov 2023 (printed in yesterday’s paper, 1 Dec): Russia Declares Gay Rights Movement as ‘Extremist’, subtitled “Activists said the designation could put L.G.B.T.Q. people and their organizations under threat of criminal prosecution for something as simple as displaying the rainbow flag.”


ABC News, 2 Dec 2023: Police raid Moscow gay bars after Supreme Court LGBTQ+ ruling, subtitled “Russian security forces have raided gay clubs and bars across Moscow less than 48 hours after the country’s top court banned what it called the ‘global LGBTQ+ movement’ as an extremist organization”

Human rights, in the American sense, amount to dangerous extremists, in the Russian sense. Of course, I note this especially because American conservatives, especially the evangelicals, would do the same, if they could. Including the Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, apparently. This is why American conservatives, including Trump, so greatly admire Putin and leaders of other authoritarian societies.


Joe.My.God, 2 Dec 2023: Hate Pastors To Debate: “Is The Earth Flat Or Round?” (linking Charisma News)

Two pastors will argue whether the Earth is round or flat, using Biblical passages as “evidence”!

This reminds me of the charges against mainstream media that they try too hard to cover “both sides.” For example, the media will report that one faction claims it’s raining outside, and the other claims it’s not. And leave it at that, rather than looking outside the window to see whether it’s actually raining or not, and reporting *that*. The media reports are true to a point, but leave aside what actual evidence tells about actual reality.

At the same time, this supports my provisional conclusion that many people simply don’t understand the relationship between evidence and conclusions, preferring instead claims and assertions.


Another take on the issue of why people think the economy is bad, while the stats say it’s doing just fine; that it has in fact, avoided the worst, remarkably, with reference to that “soft landing.”

Washington Post, Editorial Board, 2 Dec 2023: The U.S. economy’s big problem? People forgot what ‘normal’ looks like.

It has been a miracle year for the U.S. economy. Inflation has plummeted without triggering a recession. Many experts said that could not happen without widespread layoffs and a downturn. The economy has gained 2.4 million jobs so far this year, and growth has accelerated, with an annualized rate topping 5 percent in the third quarter. The good news has also fueled a stock market rally. In polls, people are downbeat about this economy, but their actions don’t match their words. There has been a consumption boom this year. Americans continued to spend heavily on apparel, concerts and vacations. In many ways, this is the year the economy finally returned to something close to normal. But many people seem to have forgotten what normal looks like after a traumatic few years.

It seems inevitable that growth will slow from here. Many American consumers have been spending more than they earn lately, enabled by all the extra savings people built up during the covid-19 pandemic (and an alarming rise in credit card balances). At some point, consumers have to scale back. Americans have also been buoyed by unprecedented growth in their wealth in recent years, largely because of surging home and stock market prices. It wasn’t just the rich getting richer. Net worth rose for Americans of all income levels, ages and races from 2019 to 2022, according to Federal Reserve data. Still, there are signs consumers are getting choosier. As retailer Nordstrom warned in its recent earnings call, “We continue to see a cautious consumer.” It’s still possible the United States will see a “soft landing” that avoids a painful recession, but growth is likely to be lackluster in 2024 as consumption cools.

What alarms me in cases like this is how voters will make decisions based on impressions that are not true. Has this always happened, throughout American history? Or has the problem been exacerbated in recent decades by social media, that so quickly spreads disinformation?


One more about George Santos, examining how he did it. Because voters are very superficial in their examination of candidates.

AlterNet, via The Conversation, 2 Dec 2023: Santos, now booted from the House, got elected as a master of duplicity – here’s how it worked

U.S. Rep. George Santos, a Republican from New York, was expelled on Dec. 1, 2023 from Congress for doing what most people think all politicians do all the time: lying.

Santos lied about his religion, marital status, business background, grandparents, college, high school, sports-playing, income and campaign donation expenditures.

The writer’s key point:

I am a scholar of political deception. Experiments I conducted have revealed how the trustworthiness of politicians is judged almost entirely from perceptions of their demeanor, not the words they utter.

And he goes on to discuss demeanor, speaking with certitude, dressing well, and so on, with examples. And ends with a “fool me once…” admonition. (Which won’t work. Most people do not pay attention.)


NY Times, Opinion, Candice Mills and Thalia R. Goldstein, 24 Nov 2023: There Are Better Ways to Talk With Your Kids About Santa

About what you’d expect. It doesn’t go far enough.

As the holiday season approaches, many parents find themselves facing a tricky problem: how to talk about Santa Claus with their young children, especially as those children begin to develop doubts about Santa’s existence. When does a fun, fanciful tradition risk becoming harmful deception? How can parents — who typically play a large and active role in fostering a belief in Santa Claus — ease the transition to disbelief?

The writers are developmental psychologists, who’ve concluded in recent research that “learning the truth about Santa Claus does not have to be a distressing experience and can even be a positive one”. They describe their studies and report their conclusions. And end:

There are lessons here beyond Santa Claus. These same principles apply when parents are trying to figure out how to navigate the wide array of magical thinking prevalent during the early childhood years. Yes, your child may have imaginary friends and believe in the Tooth Fairy — that’s OK. Blurring the line between fantasy and reality is a normal part of being a young kid. But with Santa as with so much else, following your children’s lead, using their questions as the starting point for discussion and being aware of their individual sensitivities can all help to propel a creative and joyful exploration of the world.

It doesn’t go far enough because the obvious follow-up would be to wonder about magical thinking among adults. That is, religion. It’s fascinating psychologically to see how this dichotomy occurs. Children need to understand the non-reality of their fantasy figures, but adults are given passes on theirs. (All those other adults, I mean, who don’t follow the one religion that’s actually *true*, right?) I don’t have any clean explanation for this, except to imagine that children, and teenagers, at least those inculcated into religious belief, figure at some point that, you’ve taken away the Tooth Fairy, you’ve taken away Santa Claus, but you’re not taking away my Personal Jesus!


Which brings this to mind, a song by Depeche Mode from 1989. It’s hard to tell in some of their songs to what extent they’re being ironic, or not.

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