Mike Plaisted is not going to be pleased with me. Neither is Renato Umali. I really wanted to get down to the Bremen Café in Riverwest last night, where both of them were performing. But I've been fighting off a nasty cold for the last few days and wound up snoozing under a blanket for most of the evening. Next time, gentlemen, I promise.
Renato is an easygoing guy, and I'm sure he'll forgive me. He probably won't even take back my 2005 Umali Award (long story). So is Plaisted, I imagine, and so will he, I hope. But maybe not when he finds out what I ended up doing instead of catching his acoustic set at the Bremen: I watched his arch-nemesis, Rick Esenberg, on the teevee.
Esenberg, along with three other local worthies, appeared on Milwaukee Public Television's long-running panel discussion series, 4th Street Forum, to debate religion and politics. Only one problem: they were all religious! And things didn't even start getting close to feisty until there were only about ten minutes left in the one-hour programme.
The Shark's fellow panelists were the Interaith Conference's Marcus White (he of "Coexist controversy" fame), Susan Vergeront, a former State legislator and "Christian Nurturer," and Renee Crawford, associate director of the local ACLU.
Ms. Crawford was pretty cool, although she didn't appear much inclined to mix it up with her fellow panelists. Man, I wish I'd been there, if only to pass Renee a few talking points. As a friend of mine comically described — I believe it was — Duran-Leonard II, "The lack of violence was sickening."
Some of the discussion was directed toward the religiosity of the current and past presidential candidates, and the appropriateness of their advertising their various religious beliefs as some kind of qualification for public office. To her credit, Ms. Crawford mentioned the No Religious Test Clause of the Constitution, but Esenberg the lawyer was quick to point out that this is purely an "institutional" proscription, in that it only prevents actions by the government.
The obvious response to that is two-fold: (1) the language of that clause is among the most forceful in the Constitution, and it's not unreasonable to extend its admonition as a directive, or at least a suggestion, to the populace and (2) the Constitution famously begins with the words, "We the people," not "We the lawyers." See (1).
Esenberg finally did get a chance, however, to enunciate his curious hypothesis that government neutrality toward religion is impossible, and its pretense should be abandoned, because government's influence is nowadays so pervasive that no matter what it does, it's bound to offend someone and possibly even interfere with somebody's "free exercise" of religion, which is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
He gave, as a rather unfortunate example in my view, the idea of public schools informing students that sexual orientation is primarily an objective matter of biological imperative and should be regarded as such may impinge on some students' rights to freely exercise their own religious beliefs that gay people are icky and Hellbound.
Esenberg was challenged by a woman in the audience, who essentially asked — and I'm paraphrasing liberally here, but I believe this was the import of her inquiry — 'Do you mean to tell us, Mr. Esenberg, that secular notions of respect for individual human dignity should be sacrificed in favor of atavistic devotion to ignorance and bigotry?'
Score. You go, lady in the gray sweater.
Other than that, there was little friskiness to be had, and my own favorite religio-political subject, creationism, didn't pop up until nearly the end of the show, when Pastor Vergeront made some sideways appeal to making room in science for irrationality, and lamented the fact that creationists are often not treated respectfully.
Now, I'm no Christian Nurturer myself, but it's my understanding that the man they call Christ had little patience for liars, hypocrites, and deceivers either. At that point, Ms. Crawford suggested that "intelligent design" be taught as a separate course, which begs the question, "What will they do after the three minutes it takes to explain, and enumerate the evidence for, 'intelligent design'?"
They need to have me on that show. I could shake 'em up a bit. Or at least get myself Tasered by security for insolence.