Commentary Religion

Fearing God at the End of the World

Vyckie Garrison

But I've come to recognize the value of apprehension - because fear which is not squelched or pacified by the mental hocus pocus of pious devotion can be a great motivation for necessary change. Without the thought-stopping effect of 365 biblical "fear-nots," these days, when I am afraid, I have no other option than to actually figure out: What is so terrifying? Why am I scared? What should be done to prevent my fears from materializing in reality? What do I need to do differently?

“The remarkable thing about God is that when you fear God, you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.” ― Oswald Chambers

Even though I’m 99.9 percent sure that December 21, 2012 is not the Last Day, I’m having an End of the World party at my house.

To tell the truth, I am a little afraid – not that the world will end, but that life goes on and I have relatively little control over whatever the future might hold for me and my family.

As most readers at No Longer Quivering know, I no longer count myself among the God-fearing faithful. When I was a Believer, I honestly thought that I was fearless—not that there was nothing to be afraid of—to the contrary, as a Christian, I had all the usual anxiety of living in an uncertain modern-world-gone-mad compounded by the added terrors particular to Evangelical culture; namely, the World, the Flesh, and the Devil—all of which, I believed, were aligned against God and doggedly determined to steal, kill, and destroy my eternal soul, and my precious children’s souls too!

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BUT … I regularly consoled myself with inspiring and comforting words from scripture such as, “Perfect love casts out fear,” “God has not given us a spirit of fear,” “When I am afraid, I will trust in You,” and my personal favorite from Isaiah 41:10 “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

So every night, I said my prayers, trusted God … and slept peacefully, believing myself and my children were safe and secure in God’s protective love.

And what about now? What consolation is there in unbelief when things go horribly wrong as they did last week in Newtown, Connecticut? When I read about the cold-blooded, execution-style mass murder of the Sandy Hook elementary school children and their teachers and would-be protectors, I confess that I wanted to pray.

I wanted to pray for the victims; I wanted justice and I wanted all those little kids to have their lives back! I wanted innocence and trust restored to the survivors, I wanted all of us to feel safe again. I wanted to pray for Adam Lanza; that he would have another chance and this time, make life-affirming, rather than deadly choices. I wanted to pray for this crazy world we live in; there are way too many wrong-headed, corrupt, and failing societal influences predisposing and even compelling mankind to act against our own best interests. I wanted The Big Guy to break His silence, come down here and put the world back together!

I wanted to pray for my own children; for their safety and their sanity. And I wanted to pray for myself … because as the mother of seven children, I feel vulnerable and afraid.

I mean, as a divorced mom, what can I do, really, to ensure that my kids are protected? How can I be sure that one of my own white male sons won’t one day go off the deep end and inflict unspeakable carnage on family, classmates, or co-workers?

Trust in God? … believe me, it’s tempting. Especially because I have actually experienced that “peace which passeth understanding” and I know how comforting it is to simply trust and obey.

According to Christian apologist, Ray Comfort, America’s gone crazy because as a nation, we’ve lost the fear of God.

The bible tells us that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom … but “we have had British Redcoats invade our nation, and shoot at youth through the heart. Men like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens … have come in with these smooth English accents and have convinced millions of young people that they’re nothing but primates. There’s no ultimate right, there’s no ultimate wrong. And when that happens to a nation, when they make them into God haters, something dies within a nation, and that’s what has happened in America.”

“When a man can go to an elementary school and shoot people, including children to death, and then shoot himself, he doesn’t fear God in the slightest.”

But what if it’s actually the other way around? What if we fear God because America’s gone crazy?

Chris Hedges, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and author of American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on Americasays “those in despair search desperately for a solution, the warm embrace of a community … a sense of purpose and meaning in life, the assurance they are protected, loved and worthwhile.”

For myself, I know this is true. In the past, during those times when I have felt overwhelmed by my lack of control over life’s unpredictability, it was always nice to think that so long as I was in the center of God’s will (“The Hiding Place” according to Corrie ten Boom), my loved ones and I would be safe; shielded and protected by the One Who is all-wise and all-powerful and all-loving.

Maybe I can’t get a grip on life, but if I can somehow convince The Almighty to take control on my behalf …

Of course, the reality of my circumstances never actually changed – it’s only a very clever mind game and I have lost the ability to play this trick on myself.

So now I’m just scared.

But I’ve come to recognize the value of apprehension—because fear which is not squelched or pacified by the mental hocus pocus of pious devotion can be a great motivation for necessary change. Without the thought-stopping effect of 365 biblical “fear-nots,” these days, when I am afraid, I have no other option than to actually figure out: What is so terrifying? Why am I scared? What should be done to prevent my fears from materializing in reality? What do I need to do differently?

I readily admit that not having chapter and verse and the prompting of the Holy Spirit to tell me how to raise all these kids is a challenge.  When I first realized that I no longer believe in God or the authority of His Word, I fully expected to wake up one morning and feel so completely lost and overwhelmed by the responsibility of parenting a quiver full of children “in my own strength,” that I would just give up. And I’m sure that I would have, except I didn’t know how to “give up” when I had little ones who needed me and who simply expected me to keep doing the mom thing.

So I did the mom thing.

At first, I literally had to force myself to think. I was so accustomed to having a ready response, a sure-fire formula, a one-size fits all solution … and if all else failed, I could always pray about the problem and turn it over to God. What would Nancy Campbell do?  Naturally, she would smile and do the next thing … (✿◠‿◠)

Thinking requires a lot of effort – ugh! And it’s especially bothersome when the lid is lifted off the box of my “biblical worldview” into which I’d confined my range of thinking and suddenly all possible options are open for consideration.  If the kid’s problem isn’t necessarily a matter of sin or demonic oppression, maybe there’s something physical (too tired, poor nutrition, chronic pain?) or psychological such as depression, ADHD, or a learning disability (what?!! label my kid?) …heck – it could just be that my children are immature and need to be given the freedom and space to live and learn.

Sans my former fundamentalist mindset, the only thing I definitely know for absolute certain is that there are no guarantees. Yes, I must “train up” my children, but ultimately, there’s no way I can control what they will choose to do with their lives, and I’m not counting on God to keep them in line either.

It’s a scary prospect, but that’s the reality of raising kids these days. Ironically, there is a sense of peace that comes from facing our parental fears and even embracing the iffiness of life. There’s a lot of speculation going on across the Internet about where we went wrong, who’s to blame, how could we have prevented the monstrous atrocity of the Sandy Hook massacre?  The introspection is good and necessary, but obviously, there is no single solution, no one problem that we can readily pinpoint and correct.  The truth is, we just don’t know what really happened or why.

While Mary Pride disparaged today’s “no-fault child rearing,” I am beginning to appreciate the axiom, “All I can do is all I can do.”

Maybe my adventure in parenting a whole passel of kids will end in a crash-and-burn disaster and I’ll go down in history as the mother of the next Adam Lanza.  Odds are, it won’t happen – just as it’s unlikely that tomorrow will actually be the End of the World.  But faced with such terrifying scenarios, however remotely possible, why not “eat, drink, and be merry”?  Not because tomorrow we die, but rather, tomorrow we’re likely to live … and like it or not, there’s really no predicting how that’s going to work out for us.

Commentary Economic Justice

The Gender Wage Gap Is Not Women’s Fault, and Here’s the Report That Proves It

Kathleen Geier

The fact is, in every occupation and at every level, women earn less than men doing exactly the same work.

A new report confirms what millions of women already know: that women’s choices are not to blame for the gender wage gap. Instead, researchers at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the progressive think tank that issued the report, say that women’s unequal pay is driven by “discrimination, social norms, and other factors beyond women’s control.”

This finding—that the gender pay gap is caused by structural factors rather than women’s occupational choices—is surprisingly controversial. Indeed, in my years as a journalist covering women’s economic issues, the subject that has been most frustrating for me to write about has been the gender gap. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked as a consultant for EPI, though not on this particular report.) No other economic topic I’ve covered has been more widely misunderstood, or has been so outrageously distorted by misrepresentations, half-truths, and lies.

That’s because, for decades, conservatives have energetically promoted the myth that the gender pay gap does not exist. They’ve done such a bang-up job of it that denying the reality of the gap, like denying the reality of global warming, has become an article of faith on the right. Conservative think tanks like the Independent Women’s Forum and the American Enterprise Institute and right-wing writers at outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Breitbart, and the Daily Caller have denounced the gender pay gap as “a lie,” “not the real story,” “a fairy tale,” “a statistical delusion,” and “the myth that won’t die.” Sadly, it is not only right-wing propagandists who are gender wage gap denialists. Far more moderate types like Slate’s Hanna Rosin and the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson have also claimed that the gender wage gap statistic is misleading and exaggerates disparities in earnings.

According to the most recent figures available from the Census Bureau, for every dollar a man makes, a woman makes only 79 cents, a statistic that has barely budged in a decade. And that’s just the gap for women overall; for most women of color, it’s considerably larger. Black women earn only 61 percent of what non-Hispanic white men make, and Latinas earn only 55 percent as much. In a recent survey, U.S. women identified the pay gap as their biggest workplace concern. Yet gender wage gap denialists of a variety of political stripes contend that gender gap statistic—which measures the difference in median annual earnings between men and women who work full-time, year-round—is inaccurate because it does not compare the pay of men and women doing the same work. They argue that when researchers control for traits like experience, type of work, education, and the like, the gender gap evaporates like breath on a window. In short, the denialists frame the gender pay gap as the product not of sexist discrimination, but of women’s freely made choices.

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The EPI study’s co-author, economist Elise Gould, said in an interview with Rewire that she and her colleagues realized the need for the new report when an earlier paper generated controversy on social media. That study had uncovered an “unadjusted”—meaning that it did not control for differences in workplace and personal characteristics—$4 an hour gender wage gap among recent college graduates. Gould said she found this pay disparity “astounding”: “You’re looking at two groups of people, men and women, with virtually the same amount of experience, and yet their wages are so different.” But critics on Twitter, she said, claimed that the wage gap simply reflected the fact that women were choosing lower-paid jobs. “So we wanted to take out this one idea of occupational choice and look at that,” Gould said.

Gould and her co-author Jessica Schieder highlight two important findings in their EPI report. One is that, even within occupations, and even after controlling for observable factors such as education and work experience, the gender wage gap remains stubbornly persistent. As Gould told me, “If you take a man and a woman sitting side by side in a cubicle, doing the same exact job with the same amount of experience and the same amount of education, on average, the man is still going to be paid more than the woman.”

The EPI report cites the work of Harvard economist Claudia Goldin, who looked at the relative weight in the overall wage gap of gender-based pay differences within occupations versus those between occupations. She found that while gender pay disparities between different occupations explain 32 percent of the gap, pay differences within the same occupation account for far more—68 percent, or more than twice as much. In other words, even if we saw equal numbers of men and women in every profession, two-thirds of the gender wage gap would still remain.

And yes, female-dominated professions pay less, but the reasons why are difficult to untangle. It’s a chicken-and-egg phenomenon, the EPI report explains, raising the question: Are women disproportionately nudged into low-status, low-wage occupations, or do these occupations pay low wages simply because it is women who are doing the work?

Historically, “women’s work” has always paid poorly. As scholars such as Paula England have shown, occupations that involve care work, for example, are associated with a wage penalty, even after controlling for other factors. But it’s not only care work that is systematically devalued. So, too, is work in other fields where women workers are a majority—even professions that were not initially dominated by women. The EPI study notes that when more women became park rangers, for example, overall pay in that occupation declined. Conversely, as computer programming became increasingly male-dominated, wages in that sector began to soar.

The second major point that Gould and Schieder emphasize is that a woman’s occupational choice does not occur in a vacuum. It is powerfully shaped by forces like discrimination and social norms. “By the time a woman earns her first dollar, her occupational choice is the culmination of years of education, guidance by mentors, parental expectations, hiring practices, and widespread norms and expectations about work/family balance,” Gould told Rewire. One study cited by Gould and Schieder found that in states where traditional attitudes about gender are more prevalent, girls tend to score higher in reading and lower in math, relative to boys. It’s one of many findings demonstrating that cultural attitudes wield a potent influence on women’s achievement. (Unfortunately, the EPI study does not address racism, xenophobia, or other types of bias that, like sexism, shape individuals’ work choices.)

Parental expectations also play a key role in shaping women’s occupational choices. Research reflected in the EPI study shows that parents are more likely to expect their sons to enter male-dominated science, technology, engineering, and math (often called STEM) fields, as opposed to their daughters. This expectation holds even when their daughters score just as well in math.

Another factor is the culture in male-dominated industries, which can be a huge turn-off to women, especially women of color. In one study of women working in science and technology, Latinas and Black women reported that they were often mistaken for janitors—something that none of the white women in the study had experienced. Another found that 52 percent of highly qualified women working in science and technology ended up leaving those fields, driven out by “hostile work environments and extreme job pressures.”

Among those pressures are excessively long hours, which make it difficult to balance careers with unpaid care work, for which women are disproportionately responsible. Goldin’s research, Gould said, shows that “in jobs that have more temporal flexibility instead of inflexibility and long hours, you do see a smaller gender wage gap.” Women pharmacists, for example, enjoy relatively high pay and a narrow wage gap, which Goldin has linked to flexible work schedules and a professional culture that enables work/life balance. By contrast, the gender pay gap is widest in highest-paying fields such as finance, which disproportionately reward those able to work brutally long hours and be on call 24/7.

Fortunately, remedies for the gender wage gap are at hand. Gould said that strong enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, greater wage transparency (which can be achieved through unions and collective bargaining), and more flexible workplace policies would all help to alleviate gender-based pay inequities. Additional solutions include raising the minimum wage, which would significantly boost the pay of the millions of women disproportionately concentrated in the low-wage sector, and enacting paid family leave, a policy that would be a boon for women struggling to combine work and family. All of these issues are looming increasingly large in our national politics.

But in order to advance these policies, it’s vital to debunk the right’s shameless, decades-long disinformation campaign about the gender gap. The fact is, in every occupation and at every level, women earn less than men doing exactly the same work. The right alleges that the official gender pay gap figure exaggerates the role of discrimination. But even statistics that adjust for occupation and other factors can, in the words of the EPI study, “radically understate the potential for gender discrimination to suppress women’s earnings.”

Contrary to conservatives’ claims, women did not choose to be paid consistently less than men for work that is every bit as valuable to society. But with the right set of policies, we can reverse the tide and bring about some measure of economic justice to the hard-working women of the United States.

News Politics

Tim Kaine Changes Position on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back the Hyde Amendment's ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate, has promised to stand with nominee Hillary Clinton in opposing the Hyde Amendment, a ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, told CNN’s State of the Union Sunday that Kaine “has said that he will stand with Secretary Clinton to defend a woman’s right to choose, to repeal the Hyde amendment,” according to the network’s transcript.

“Voters can be 100 percent confident that Tim Kaine is going to fight to protect a woman’s right to choose,” Mook said.

The commitment to opposing Hyde was “made privately,” Clinton spokesperson Jesse Ferguson later clarified to CNN’s Edward Mejia Davis.

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Kaine’s stated support for ending the federal ban on abortion funding is a reversal on the issue for the Virginia senator. Kaine this month told the Weekly Standard  that he had not “been informed” that this year’s Democratic Party platform included a call for repealing the Hyde Amendment. He said he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

Repealing the Hyde Amendment has been an issue for Democrats on the campaign trail this election cycle. Speaking at a campaign rally in New Hampshire in January, Clinton denounced Hyde, noting that it made it “harder for low-income women to exercise their full rights.”

Clinton called the federal ban on abortion funding “hard to justify” when asked about it later that month at the Brown and Black Presidential Forum, adding that “the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.”

Clinton’s campaign told Rewire during her 2008 run for president that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

The Democratic Party on Monday codified its commitment to opposing Hyde, as well as the Helms Amendment’s ban on foreign assistance funds being used for abortion care. 

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back Hyde’s ban on federal funding for abortion care.

When asked about whether the president supported the repeal of Hyde during the White House press briefing Tuesday, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said he did not “believe we have changed our position on the Hyde Amendment.”

When pushed by a reporter to address if the administration is “not necessarily on board” with the Democratic platform’s call to repeal Hyde, Schultz said that the administration has “a longstanding view on this and I don’t have any changes in our position to announce today.”