Homophobia, religion, and the collapse of industrial civilization

January 30, 2011

Violeta Serrano takes a break from haggling with a couple from Seattle over the price of a beach towel. Part of the wave of people that’s gradually drifted from Acapulco to other vacation destinations in Mexico, healing Serrano runs a curio shop just off Puerto Vallarta’s popular Los Muertos Beach.

The small business owner has seen better days. “There are no sales, web ” Serrano sighs. Last year, in particular, was a very rough year for Serrano and other people she knows, according to the eight-year resident of Puerto Vallarta. “Everybody has economic problems,” she says.

On the other side of town, in the yacht-jammed Marina Vallarta where tycoon Carlos Slim is known to hang out from time-to-time, Stan Gabruk recounts a similar story.

A former Boeing consultant who moved to Puerto Vallarta ten years ago, Gabruk sells t-shirts and books fishing expeditions for marlin and other big game from his Master Baiter’s Sportfishing and Tackle shop.

Gabruk says his business is down 60 percent from three years ago, and those customers he does greet are much more guarded with their wallets. “If you tell people t-shirts are more than $20, they choke,” Gabruk laments. The years 2009 and 2010 were the worst ones he’s seen in a decade, he adds.

A tour around the port city of more than 300,000 people that stretches along Banderas Bay and creeps into the lush Sierra Madre foothills, reinforces the assessments of Serrano and Gabruk.

For the third year in a row, “For Rent” and “For Sale” signs dangle on empty apartments and condominiums, vacant storefronts and abandoned homes. Many restaurants stand half or completely empty of diners. Anticipated cruise ship arrivals, which were pegged at 276 ships carrying 589,000 passengers in 2008, are down to an expected 190 dockings with 460,000 travelers this year, according to a report in the Tribuna de Bahia newspaper. Businesses have slashed their workforces.

Locals are apt to blame Puerto Vallarta’s misfortunes on bad press stemming from violence and the so-called narco war elsewhere in Mexico. And the January slaying of US missionary Nancy Davis hundreds of miles away in Tamaulipas is likely to reinforce negative impressions of the country.

While Puerto Vallarta has its share of crime and drug-related problems, it is a far cry from Ciudad Juarez, Monterrey, Acapulco or even Guadalajara, which experienced its first “narco-blockade” of a major road this month, according to local media reports.

Until now, the city made famous by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor has arguably experienced less drug-fueled violence than many US cities such as Oakland or Albuquerque.

“Puerto Vallarta is safer than just about 90 percent of the cities in the US,” insists Gabruk, who is quick to urge “responsible” media coverage.

“If there is massacre in Tijuana, it is a massacre all the way to Central America,” says Martin Puebla, vice-president of the Puerto Vallarta branch of the Canaco-Servytur business association. “People look at Mexico and not the specific place.”

How much of Puerto Vallarta’s tourism downturn is due to negative perceptions of Mexico or continued financial difficulties confronting potential US tourists is an open question. Whatever the reason, the the tourism boom that peaked a few years ago is becoming a nostalgic fable of the Golden Age.

In 2006, as the boom crested, Puerto Vallarta raked in about one billion tourist dollars from more than 3.8 million people, according to a book prepared for the 2007-2009 Puerto Vallarta city government.

Nationwide, tourism still represents Mexico’s third largest legal source of foreign exchange, Tourism Secretary Gloria Guevara told a national meeting of Canaco last fall. According to Guevara, tourism-related business activity, which accounts for nine percent of Mexico’s Gross Domestic Product, provides 2.5 million direct and 5.0 million indirect jobs for the nation.

Breaking down the sources of tourism spending, Guevara said 86 percent of the money comes from within the country and 14 percent from abroad. The Calderon administration official added that $50 billion is invested in the Mexican tourism industry.

In her presentation, Guevara urged business leaders to share “the good news” that happens in Mexico and spread it abroad.

Despite high-profile US media coverage of Mexican violence, Guevara’s department reports the number of US visitors arriving to Mexico by air increased to 5,907,528 people in 2010.

The US passenger flow is a 9.7 percent increase (12 percent for Puerto Vallarta) over problem-plagued 2009, a year when the economic melt-down, the so-called swine flu epidemic and publicty surrounding narco-violence all came together in the proverbial perfect storm.

According to many locals, however, the tourist stream is nowhere near pre-crisis levels. While Mexico has attracted more Canadian and South American tourists within the past year, Puerto Vallarta and other resorts long have been dependent on the free-spending gringo, a species which might become a candidate for the endangered list if the US economy continues to lag and 10 percent unemployment becomes the “new normal” as suggested by some economists.

Though in less numbers and with modified spending habits since the cash frenzy of the boom years, US tourists still come in noticeable quantities.

Readily visible in all sizes, shapes and colors, tourists stroll about a waterfront dotted with quaint statues, elaborate sand sculptures of sphinxes and pyramids, obligatory palm trees and a bar that blasts Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart and other bards of the Baby Boom Generation so important for Mexican tourism.

It is even surprising to see younger US couples, school-aged children in tow, moving around the waterfront and slurping down ice cream well outside the normal holiday season and during an era when everyone up north is supposedly getting serious about education.

Flanking the rolling parade of tatooed flesh and wiggly waist lines are the never-ending legions of street vendors hawking silver jewelry, Indian dolls, fruit, gum, personal portraits and more. Their numbers have gone up during the Great Recession, Martin Puebla says.

Carolyn Burnett and Michael Stachowiak are two US visitors from Seattle enamored with Puerto Vallarta. “I love how there is a lot of culture here. It is thriving,” says Burnett, a second-time visitor.

Plopped down in a spectacular environment, visitors to Puerto Vallarta readily encounter other charms. Humpback whales, sometimes breeching from the water, frequently approach the waterfront. Along the Rio Cuale, slithering iguanas wow camera-snapping visitors, while squirrels gnaw away at coconuts. Not far away, a bold grackle lands on a cafe table and zooms off with packet of sugar.

A tall, husky insurance man, Stachowiak says he’s been to Puerto Vallarta five times and is so confident of the town’s safety he brought along a large contingent of his work colleagues. Stachowiak says he once forgot his wallet in a taxi-cab but actually got it back intact and with no money missing after inquiring with the operator.

“They appreciate the tourists. They know how they spend money.. ” Stachowiak says. “I’ve never had a problem. We’ll always be coming to Puerto Vallarta.”

Any mention of Puerto Vallarta’s downside would have to include reckless bus and taxi drivers, pesky street drunks, downtown traffic pile-ups and bouts of beach pollution. During the past three municipal administrations, garbage collection and disposal have been a serious problem; early this year the city government annnounced it was sub-contracting trash removal to a new private company.

Local cops have been known to shake down both locals and tourists when the money gets tight. Although an animal rights group recently posted a public statement denouncing society for allowing so many street dogs, at least one of the canines, a brawny mutt known as “Scooby,” is a local legend that lives high off the hog. Like clockwork, the dog drops in on several different businesses that supply food, massages and fame and glory. And there are examples of tourist gouging.

Some banks, especially Citigroup’s Banamex and HSBC, have adopted the practice of money exchange houses that pay less pesos for dollars than reasonable. Contrary to standard rates of peso to dollar exchanges in which the difference is measured in centavos, some establishments now make one peso or more per transaction, bringing in fast profits of ten percent or better.

The practice means more money for corporate headquarters outside town, and less of a cash flow for businesses inside town.

In early 2011, US dollars fetch about 20 percent less in pesos than they did two years ago. Regulations enacted by the Mexican government last year put another cramp on the money flow. Ostensibly aimed at curbing money-laundering, the new rules limit the amount of dollars that can be exchanged at any one institution where customers do not have accounts to $300 per day and $1,500 per month. Prior to a transaction, US visitors are required to show their passports, which are then copied and the personal data archived for possible review by Mexican authorities.

Even amid crisis, entreprenuers are attempting to make a go of it. In the city’s Old Town neighborhood, new enterprises include a gourmet deli and wine shop, a French bistro and a home-style Italian eatery. Over in the Marina, a couple from Kingman, Arizona, recently opened the Puerto Vallarta version of their D’z Rock N Roll Route 66 Diner.

As the name suggests, the hamburger and shake joint is a throwback to Americana, featuring a mural of James Dean, Marlon Brando, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. Gusty renditions of “Suspcious Minds” and other hits from the God of Graceland entertain several tables of older tourists. “It’s going well. People recognize (the concept),” says manager Luis Alberto Barrales. “Tourism is coming along. We hope for more.”

Canaco’s Martin Puebla says there is reason for optimism. Endorsing President Felipe Calderon’s outlook on economic recovery, he points to the strength of the peso, record-high foreign reserves and an ample line of credit from the International Monetary Fund.

Locally, the Disney Wonder cruise ship has resumed weekly port calls, while a Mexican-owned line, Ocean Star Cruises, has announced service to Mexican Pacific ports including Puerto Vallarta beginning in April. Based in Acapulco, the Ocean Star will have a 1,500-passenger carrying capacity.

“Not everything is so bad,” Puebla ventures.

The business sector, Puebla says, is warily eyeing 2012, when in addition to electing a new president and federal congress, voters in Puerto Vallarta and the state of Jalisco will cast ballots for new state and municipal authorities. The three-way contest could produce a political outcome in which rival political parties control separate branches of government. “This gives us uncertainty about what political party will stay in which position,” the business leader affirms.

Jalisco’s current governor, possible 2012 presidential contender Emilio Gonzalez, represents President Calderon’s PAN party, while Puerto Vallarta and the state’s bigger cities are governed by the PRI. The main challenge in the near term, Puebla adds, is for Mexico to maintain political stability and avoid “bad perceptions in the exterior.”

-Kent Paterson

Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S. -Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico

For a free electronic subscription email:fnsnews@nmsu.edu
By Carolyn Baker

His face was everywhere—on the internet, Gastritis
on TV, skincare
and throughout print media—that gentle, timid, barely-smiling young man with red hair, glasses, and a prodigious talent for playing the classical violin. I’m talking about Tyler Clementi <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/8038794/Tyler-Clementi-empty-seat-at-suicide-students-orchestra-debut.html> , the freshman student at Rutgers who suicided this past autumn after his roommate video taped him having sex with another man, then uploaded the video to You Tube for all the world to see. Four other young people killed themselves in the weeks preceding Tyler’s death because of wrenching internal conflicts regarding their sexual orientation. Their faces were not as widely seen as Tyler’s, but they remain casualties of a culture in which meanness – whether related to homophobia, bullying, or demented religiosity – is epidemic.

The subject comes close to home for me. Four decades ago, I could have been Tyler or any of these sweet kids who decided that life was not worth living if they must choose between death and an existence in which they would be forced to murder their souls and be someone they were not. Fortunately, I survived, and at a time when there was virtually no sanity, support, or substantial research on the topic – and during a time when many more suicides were committed over sexual orientation than today and with the real reasons undisclosed.

Yes, I know, in some countries, such as Iran and Uganda, gay and lesbian people are routinely imprisoned, put to death or assassinated. Bullying, rather than happening randomly among the citizenry, has been institutionalized in the legal systems of those nations. And in some ways, that might be easier to deal with, might it not? One realizes one lives in a culture that maintains a barbaric attitude toward sexual orientation, where in order to be who one really is, one must leave the country. The opposition to homosexuality is ubiquitous and daunting, rather than irregular, unpredictable, and in Tyler’s case, uber-hypocritical. It was not Fred Phelps of “God Hates Fags <http://www.godhatesfags.com/> ” who videotaped him and You-Tubed his sexual activity, but rather a roommate who proclaimed tolerance and neutrality on the topic of sexual orientation.

Mainstream media myopically attempts to analyze this carnage in the limited context of bullying without connecting dots to the larger picture of a planet that appears to be increasingly marinated in anger. Last year, author and spiritual teacher, Caroline Myss, wrote in a Huffington Post article entitled “An Epidemic of Global Anger <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/caroline-myss/an-epidemic-of-global-ang_b_310209.html> ”:

“We are a community of nations on fire with anger. And we are getting angrier by the day. Whether we look at the increase in uprisings occurring around the world or at the escalating tension brewing in America, what is becoming more apparent is that we are witnessing a rapidly increasing rate of global anger, so much so that it qualifies as an epidemic.”

For nearly a decade I have been writing and speaking incessantly about the convergence of the Three E’s: energy, economy, and environment, and the unprecedented suffering the earth community is experiencing as a result of the deepening crises created by this convergence. The human race is angry, and perhaps the planet itself, but it is within the belly of industrial civilization that young men and women are killing themselves because of whom they love.

This is also the civilization that has distorted the core teachings of Christianity beyond recognition, particularly in the area of love and sexuality. To a large extent, this is one of the tragic legacies of early Colonial Puritanism in the United States. More recently in the 19th century, one school of mainstream Protestantism dramatically diverged in a more conservative direction and gave birth to what we now know as fundamentalist Christianity. Irish minister, John Nelson Darby <http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=John_Nelson_Darby> , began preaching a strain of apocalyptic theology that emphasized the imminent return of Christ and proclaimed that when evil is seen in a society, Christians should rejoice because it is evidence of the second coming. Since then, the growth of fundamentalist Christianity in the United States has exploded, but it was not until the George W. Bush administration of the previous decade that this historically new strain of the Christian faith in America blatantly sought to eliminate the separation of church and state and establish theocratic governance based on the principles of Christian fundamentalism.

Intellectually immersed in a literal interpretation of the bible and, in my opinion, emotionally terrified of the notion of same gender attraction, American fundamentalist Christianity has pronounced it as an abomination in the eyes of God. Yet the research I gathered for my 2007 book, Coming Out of Fundamentalist Christianity <http://www.amazon.com/Coming-out-Fundamentalist-Christianity-Autobiography/dp/0595441467> , suggests that significant numbers of individuals who identify as homosexual in the United States have been influenced by fundamentalist Christianity at some point in their lives. In the 1980s a number of fundamentalist movements claiming to “cure” individuals of homosexual attraction began to proliferate in this country and are still drawing in men and women from fundamentalist backgrounds who hope to be liberated from same-gender attraction. In countless cases, the “cure” has been psychologically devastating to individuals who have chosen it, and in fact, author Wayne Besen <http://www.waynebesen.com/>  who has researched the “Ex-Gay” movement extensively writes that Ex-Gay therapy is nothing less than scandalous <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wayne-besen/ex-gay-therapy-is-scandal_b_656255.html> .

Nevertheless, the extent to which fundamentalist Christianity has influenced the American political system is painfully obvious. Without exception, Tea Party candidates are vehemently opposed to homosexual orientation and gay marriage. And although Tea Party candidates vary slightly in their opposition to abortion, illegal immigration, Social Security, unemployment benefits, and Medicare, their intellectually impaired agenda is conspicuously informed by a fundamentalist Christian perspective based on a literal interpretation of the bible and a predominantly Anglo-American perspective of privilege and xenophobia.

Moreover, as we learned last week, atheists and agnostics know more about religion than people who profess to be religious. One finding in the Pew Religious Survey <http://pewforum.org/Other-Beliefs-and-Practices/U-S-Religious-Knowledge-Survey.aspx>  revealed that many of the religious are devoted readers of the bible but, “More than a third (37%) say they read the Bible or other Holy Scriptures at least once a week, not counting worship services. But Americans as a whole are much less inclined to read other books about religion. Nearly half of Americans who are affiliated with a religion (48%) say they ‘seldom’ or ‘never’ read books (other than Scripture) or visit websites about their own religion, and 70% say they seldom or never read books or visit websites about other religions.”

Intellectual integrity demands that anyone who embraces any belief system investigates its origin and history. All religions and belief systems have their light and dark sides, but fundamentalist Christians overall tend either to be unaware of the dark side of Christianity or to minimize it. In her stunning 1995 book The Dark Side of Christian History <http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Side-Christian-History/dp/0964487349>, Helen Ellerbe notes the principal danger in doing so:

“Ignoring the dark side of Christian history allows the beliefs which have motivated cruelty to go unexamined. The belief in a singular face of God who reigns at the pinnacle of a hierarchy sustained by fear has devastating consequences. People must constantly determine who is superior to whom. Every aspect which differentiates people whether it be gender, race, belief, sexual preference, or socio-economic status, becomes a criterion by which to rank an individual as either better than or less than another. And it is the ranking and subordination of a person’s humanity and value that comprises sexism, racism, and the intolerance of difference.” (186-187)

The key word in Ellerbe’s assessment is, I believe, cruelty. Any altruism provided to the suffering masses by any belief system is unequivocally mitigated by theological underpinnings that promote racism, sexism, homophobia – and I would add, disregard for the ecosystems. Don’t tell me how much good you’re doing in the world when you justify your profligate lifestyle by distorting the Old Testament declaration that humans have “dominion” over the earth, when you pathologize people for whom they love, when you attempt to rid your country of the “scourge” of illegal immigrants, and when you demand the end of abortion for any reason, including rape and incest, because those are “part of God’s plan.”

When empires collapse, there are rarely enough scapegoats to go around, and the collapse of industrial civilization is no an exception. The global anger epidemic is real, and rage on the political right in the United States is palpable. Fundamentalist Christians, some of whom are Tea Party candidates, insist that the empire is not collapsing, but instead point to world events and behavior that defies their dogma as proof that the second coming of Christ is imminent and will rescue them from an apocalypse. Thus, their objective is to save as many souls as possible and acquire as much political power as quickly as possible in order to restrain and punish the evildoers. During the process of collapse, previous empires in human history have frequently been replete with acrimonious religious and political sects, escalating violence, scapegoating, and myriad schemes for rescuing a society in tatters from the “bad guys.”

So they welcome an apocalypse, but sadly, fundamentalist Christians do not understand that the original meaning of “apocalypse” was “unveiling <http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=apocalypse&amp;searchmode=none> .” Let’s see, what exactly is being unveiled? A way of life based on power and control sanctioned by abusive religious dogma; the scapegoating of all who live on the fringes of the despicable paradigm on which industrial civilization is based; the delusional assumption that economic growth is endless or even desirable; the infantile loathing of placing limits on humans in relation to climate chaos, the ecosystems, and all other species that occupy this planet; the implacable determination to rape, plunder, and pillage every centimeter of earth in search of resources and profit? Yes, the bankruptcy of civilization’s paradigm is being revealed in its demise, portending the possibility that as humanity stands on the threshold of annihilation, it will forsake the old paradigm and embrace not only a new paradigm but become a new human species.

At the same time that I call out fundamentalist Christianity in order to expose it for what it is, I call out my LGBT sisters and brothers who have been myopically focused on gay marriage and the right to bear or adopt children legally within marriage to question the kind of future your children will have as crises converge. As we champion our rights, we must ask what our responsibilities are. In response to fundamentalism’s literal interpretation of the biblical assertion that humans have “dominion” over the earth, we must illumine and counter this distortion of an Old Testament directive to be conscientious stewards of the earth by living accordingly.

As the severity of the convergence of crises exacerbates, we can expect to see more fundamentalist Christians in power and their voices becoming ever more cacophonous and cruel.

So what can be done?
•    We can research and prepare for the escalating consequences of the Three E’s. A number of resources may be found at my website <http://www.carolynbaker.net/> .
•    We can disengage from global and national politics and direct our energy toward local solutions, which the Three E’s will increasingly force us to address in our neighborhoods and communities.
•    We can expose the politics of fundamentalism in all religions, and in the United States, the ghastly misinterpretation <http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/10/02-2>  of American history by Christian fundamentalists and their doctrine of scapegoating all who do not imbibe the Kool-Aid with them.
•    As economic collapse intensifies and services and educational programs evaporate, we can reach out as individuals and in our neighborhoods and communities to those targeted by scapegoating – our LGBT brothers and sisters, immigrants, at-risk youth, the unemployed, the homeless, and all who are different from us in every way.
Indeed homophobia and oppressive belief systems are not new, but at this historical juncture, they are escalating in the context of the disintegration of industrial civilization and the paradigm that has fostered it for nearly 5,000 years. This means that their influence is almost guaranteed to intensify and therefore, so too must our response.

Carolyn Baker, Ph.D., is the author of Coming Out of Fundamentalist Christianity: An Autobiography Affirming Sensuality, Social Justice and The Sacred (2007) and Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse (2009). She manages the Speaking Truth to Power website at www.carolynbaker.net <http://www.carolynbaker.net/> . Her forthcoming (February) book is Navigating The Coming Chaos: A Handbook For Inner Transition.

« Previous PageNext Page »

Social Widgets powered by AB-WebLog.com.