Welcome to the Lean to the Left podcast, where we explore progressive politics and the important social issues of our time.

We’re living in a time today when we might say that ethical behavior, particularly in politics, seems to be sorely lacking. We’re looking at that as well as cultural processes of inequality that too often go undiscussed.

Our guest is Dr. Amanda Udis-Kessler, a sociologist, antiracism trainer, writer, lay preacher, songwriter, and progressive sacred music composer. Her book Abundant Lives: A Progressive Christian Ethic of Flourishing will be published by Pilgrim Press in May 2024, and her book Cultural Processes of Inequality: A Sociological Perspective, will be published by Anthem Press in 2025.

Her writing website is https://amandaudiskessler.com and her free-use sacred music website is https://queersacredmusic.com.

Whether writing books, music, progressive liturgical materials, or antiracism training exercises, Amanda’s goal is the same: to contribute to making a world in which there is a lot more joy and a lot less pain. She is Director of Assessment and Program Review and chair of the Institutional Review Board at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Here are questions we discussed with Amanda:
  1. Tell me about your approach to ethics and how it is connected to a left-leaning political perspective.
  2. How did you come to develop this approach to ethics and why do you think it's helpful?
  3. Tell me about how you see cultural processes of inequality working in the US.
  4. What are some of the important cultural processes of inequality? How are they similar or different across different forms of inequality?
  5. How does your way of thinking about inequality help progressives and left-leaning people work against inequality?
  6. Talk a little about the antiracism training you do. Why did you start doing it and what do you hope to accomplish with it?
  7. You wrote in a blog, “We all struggle to do what is good, especially when doing so is difficult and even more so when we live in a society that rewards hatred, cruelty, greed and power-mongering over love, kindness, generosity and service.” Has that society worsened in recent years when it comes to hatred, cruelty, greed and power-mongering?
  8. Do you believe that the ethics of politics has changed in recent years, and if so, why?
  9. You identify as a queer feminist. How do those identities inform your creative and intellectual projects?
  10. You consider yourself a composer of left-leaning worship music. What do you mean by that?
  11. How do your different identities and projects hang together? What's the relationship between developing a progressive ethic of flourishing, writing social justice worship music, offering antiracism trainings, and writing on the sociology of inequality?
  12. How can we make good choices regularly?

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Show Notes

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Show Transcript

A Progressive's Take on Ethics & Politics

[00:00:00] Bob Gatty: Welcome to the Lean to the Left podcast, where we explore progressive politics and important social issues of our time. We're living in a time today when we might say that ethical behavior, particularly in politics, seems to be sorely lacking. We're looking at that as well as cultural processes of inequality that too often go undiscussed.

[00:00:23] So stay with us. 

[00:00:26] Our guest is Dr. Amanda Udis- Kessler, a sociologist, anti racism trainer, writer, lay preacher. Songwriter and progressive sacred music composer, and I want to know if there's anything else that she does because that doesn't sound like it's very much to me. Anyway, her book, Abundant Lives, The Progressive Christian Ethic of Flourishing will be published by Pilgrim Press in May 2024, and her book, Cultural Processes of Inequality, a Sociological Perspective, will be published by Anthem Press in 2025. Her writing website. Is Amanda UDIs kessler.com and her free use Sacred Music website is queer sacred music.com. Now whether writing books, music, progressive liturgical materials, or anti-racism training exercises, amanda's goal is the same, to contribute to making a world in which there is a lot more joy and a lot less pain. She's Director of Assessment and Program Review and Chair of the Institutional Review Board at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Welcome to the Lead to the Left podcast. Appreciate you coming on with us today. 

[00:01:57] Amanda Udis-Kessler: Thank you so much for having me. 

[00:01:59] Bob Gatty: Hey, tell me about your approach to ethics and how it's connected to left leaning political perspective. 

[00:02:06] Amanda Udis-Kessler: So when I think about progressive or left politics, I think that there are three core assumptions that most of us progressives hold pretty fiercely.

[00:02:15] One of them is that the point of politics is human and planetary well being, and that's the well being of absolutely all people, not just the few wealthiest or the few whitest or whatever. Then there's the idea that people, we are individuals, but we're also all interdependent, so our lives are all bound up with one another.

[00:02:35] And then finally, I think of progressive politics as being committed to ending all forms of systemic inequality. Partly because it's just unfair, but also because it harms people. It harms members of devalued groups, but it really harms everyone at the end of the day. So as I develop this ethic of flourishing, it basically takes off from those three points.

[00:02:57] So ethically good values or ideas or actions or organizations are those that help people have good lives, help people flourish. And ethically problematic ones are those that either prevent flourishing or cause. avoidable suffering. And then, because our lives are bound up together, we have to cultivate compassion and love as virtues that will help us live ethically so that we care about each other's well being as much as we care about our own.

[00:03:27] And then finally, of course, in this perspective, all forms of systematic inequality are unethical, they're immoral, because they cause harm, because they block flourishing, and of course because they are unjust. And the last thing I'll say about the ethics piece is, the idea of flourishing sounds pretty vague, so in this book what I've done is I've tied it to core human attributes, those things that Make us human beings.

[00:03:53] So the fact that we're embodied, the fact that we have emotions that we relate to one another, we need to make meaning those kinds of things. And so we flourish or suffer in and through those attributes. So an action that harms someone's body is immoral because it causes avoidable bodily suffering and it blocks bodily well being.

[00:04:16] So from a left progressive political perspective. This makes poverty, war. Hate violence, police shootings of BIPOC people, homelessness, and rapacious capitalism all immoral because they harm bodies. And it suggests that a truly moral politics will end all of these things or manage them or mitigate them so that our bodies can have more joy and less pain.

[00:04:42] Bob Gatty: You've been doing a lot of thinking about that, haven't you?

[00:04:46] Amanda Udis-Kessler: Yeah, I wrote a book. 

[00:04:47] Bob Gatty: Yeah, I know you wrote a book. But to do that, what was the genesis of this? Where did it come from?

[00:04:53] Amanda Udis-Kessler: So there was a moment that I got this perfect clarity. The the right wing media personality who went by the name of Joe the Plumber, who just passed away recently.

[00:05:03] Back in 2014, after one of the shootings, he wrote this open letter to the parents of the young people who were shot. And one of the lines in it was, As harsh as this sounds, your dead kids don't trump my constitutional gun rights. And I read that and my world changed. I just thought, this is horrific.

[00:05:24] This is just morally horrible. And then I had to think about what made it so horrible to me. And I realized, as I thought about it, that, we put a lot of emphasis on rights in our society. Rights are a good thing. I'm all for rights. But rights can actually be used either for good or ill.

[00:05:41] And this was an example of rights being used in what I thought was a morally bad way. And so that led me over time to try to figure out how do we focus our ethics on people rather than on principles. Because if you can misuse rights or you can misuse freedom, you could misuse the idea of justice, you could even misuse the idea of equality.

[00:06:02] Rather than deciding whether something is a good act because It extends freedom. We have to ask, whose freedom does it extend? Does it interfere with anyone's freedom? What are the effects on the ground of this action or this idea or this organization or whatever? And if it's causing harm, it doesn't matter if it uses language like rights and freedom.

[00:06:25] There's a problem with it. 

[00:06:27] Bob Gatty: Okay. It's really something how an incident, one incident like that can trigger, something as complicated and as detailed and as meaningful as writing a book. I know that in my own case seven years ago, I think it was, and Donald Trump was carrying on about the about the press and calling the, the press, the enemy of the people that resonated with me.

[00:06:58] And the result was my commitment to this blog site that I have called lean to the left dot net and my podcast and I just decided that I was going to call Trump out on every occasion that I could and in my retirement as a journalist that's what I've been doing. So it was that incident that was a trigger for me.

[00:07:20] Now, how did you come to develop this approach to ethics and why do you think it's helpful, Amanda? 

[00:07:26] Amanda Udis-Kessler: So the the genesis of the ideas that sort of preceded Joe the Plumber's public message was, I was doing a lot of lay preaching in Unitarian Universalist churches and I just wound up having audiences or communities that were interested in ethical questions and I had to think of a way to talk about ethics that wasn't going to rely on any particular religious tradition.

[00:07:51] Because in the Unitarian Universalist world, there are people who are truly secular but like to go to some kind of church. There are UU Christians, UU Buddhists, UU Jews, UU Pagans. And so I wanted to develop something that made sense and was grounded in humanism. But that also had some capacity to engage with religious traditions.

[00:08:13] So that's where it started and then the Joe the Plumber thing really helped it take off. I think it's useful because We struggle to decide and to discern what's good to do in the world. There are so many opportunities for us to harm ourselves, to harm other people. When we think sociologically, there are all these kind of larger scale systems, organizations, culture, and so on that, that reward cruelty or selfishness or violence.

[00:08:44] And that sort of put down what I would think of as ethically good behaviors. And if we have a way of thinking about ethics that kind of refocuses us on What are people like, and what do people need to live good lives? Then that I think is at least a way we can try to think about how to make ethical decisions individually.

[00:09:04] And then, if we find those ideas compelling, we can put them into conversation with other people, and we can decide, alright, so if we all agree that we all have a body, and that our bodies are important, and that we're not alive unless our bodies are alive, what does that mean? For treating each other's bodies.

[00:09:21] What do we need to be embodied people? And so I think it's also in some ways a kind of intuitive approach. It's very hard to argue with the idea that things that harm our bodies are usually bad and things that help our bodies are usually good. 

[00:09:38] Bob Gatty: All right. So tell me about how you see cultural processes of inequality working in the United States.

[00:09:47] Amanda Udis-Kessler: I feel as though a lot of people, because of how individualistic the society is, a lot of people just think we are a whole bunch of individuals walking around, doing our own thing. They don't understand how systemic these processes are, but too often, sociologists and other academics talk about these really large scale forms of inequality that, that are systematic, but they can sound so big and so removed from our individual lives.

[00:10:12] That we don't know what they have to do with us. And so what I've tried to do with that book and with that part of my work is to think about how inequality often actually comes down to just an almost uncountable number of individual interactions. And in these interactions, one person has institutional or cultural or individual power and the other person doesn't have it or they have less of it.

[00:10:38] And the person with the power has the discretion to give the other person the benefit of the doubt in a given circumstance or to withhold the benefit of the doubt from them. Easy example would be in a bank, a loan officer has a power to make a mortgage loan or to deny that loan, and they also have the discretion To decide who gets the loan, who doesn't get the loan, what terms they get the loan under.

[00:11:02] And one thing we know from a ton of research is that white people are more likely to get mortgage loans and to get them on good terms than black people. And so this is an important piece of how racism works, and it comes down to the white applicant getting the benefit of the doubt, and the loan officer withholding the benefit of the doubt from the black applicant.

[00:11:23] And so if you take that one example and you then look at all the different ways that people have institutional power, not just behind a bank, but a police officer, a teacher, a politician, a Supreme court judge, and so on. You start seeing how that plays out. So that is what I would call institutional power.

[00:11:43] So that loan officer has that power because they're Acting on behalf of the bank, they represent the bank and most people are not going to mistrust what they do because they're going to trust that they're working in the interest of the bank. Then we think about cultural power. That is the power to influence how people make sense of the world.

[00:12:03] I noticed that some conservative Christian denominations have thrown out churches that have either welcomed LGBT people or have ordained them as pastors. And if the denomination throws that congregation out, they're sending a cultural message that queer people are not godly or moral enough to be formal religious leaders.

[00:12:23] And that message could go out pretty widely and impact a lot of people. Then the last kind of power that's relevant here is what I'd call individual power. And that usually comes down to credibility. When a woman accuses a man of rape or sexual assault, who is our society more likely to believe, her or him?

[00:12:41] I think we both know the answer to that. Usually him. And then when a vigilante who is not a police officer kills a black or brown person, in most cases they're not really going to pay much of a legal penalty because however they describe what happened, they're going to be believed. And so there's a sense in which that man accused of rape who can Avoid getting held accountable for it or that vigilante who can avoid being held accountable for, shooting a BIPOC person.

[00:13:12] That's a, that credibility is a kind of individual power. And so I think about those three kinds of powers intersecting in the world. And then so a lot of inequality, even though it happens very widely, is very often about one on one interactions or kind of small scale interactions. Millions of them every day, hour by hour, day by day, across the country, across the planet.

[00:13:38] Bob Gatty: Okay, I was going to ask you what are some of the important cultural processes of inequality? Did you, do you have anything to add? 

[00:13:47] Amanda Udis-Kessler: Sure. Yeah, I'll add a couple of things. There's this phrase that comes from sociology called moral alchemy. So something that's good when a valued group does it is bad when a devalued group does it.

[00:13:59] A male boss is assertive, but a woman boss is aggressive, or maybe someone would use the B word to describe her. During Katrina there was What would the B word be? Oh bitch? You mean bitch? Oh, okay. I did mean bitch, yes. Or during Katrina, there was a famous some famous journalism. You probably remember this, actually, where some white people are taking food out of a flooded supermarket, and they were referred to as finding the food.

[00:14:27] And when some black people went and took food out of a supermarket, it was almost an identical video shot. They were referred to as looting. So moral alchemy is pretty common. Then there's the idea of self fulfilling prophecies. And if a teacher thinks that white students are smarter than black students in a classroom, they're going to give the white students more attention, and they're going to give them more patience, and they're going to engage with them more.

[00:14:53] And so those students who are engaged with more and who are trusted more are probably going to do better in the class. And if the students of color in that class are ignored or treated suspiciously or they get the message that the teacher thinks they're not intelligent, they're going to check out.

[00:15:09] And so at the end of the day, the teacher's assumption led to the teacher acting differentially to the two groups and then confirming their own assumptions. But the problem was never the kids. The problem was The teacher blaming the victims, a really common cultural process of inequality, who gets blamed for rape?

[00:15:30] Generally women, why did you dress that way? Why were you drinking? It's not like she actually did the rape and yet she gets blamed for putting herself in the circumstance or over and over again. Again when police shoot people of color the people who got shot are overwhelmingly blamed.

[00:15:47] One last really quick cultural process. I haven't seen this very much, but I think it's interesting. It's the idea that some people are thought of as having problems, and other people are thought of as being problems. So if you remember, as I do, the crack cocaine epidemic, there was this whole idea that people on crack were You know, we're evil.

[00:16:08] They were super predators is some of the language that actually Hillary Clinton used. You they're the problem. But if you look at how the press and the government and medical establishment has been treating people with opioid addiction in recent years there's still some victim blaming, but there's much more of an attempt to be sympathetic and understand their perspective.

[00:16:28] These are people who are seen as having a problem, not being a problem. 

[00:16:32] Bob Gatty: Okay. How does your way of thinking about inequality help progressives and left leaning people work against inequality? 

[00:16:42] Amanda Udis-Kessler: So I think there are two important things. One of them is that this approach does let us see large scale patterns, but it also helps us see the many mundane individual actions that reproduce inequality, and that means that when we ourselves have institutional or cultural or individual power, we can choose to use it on behalf of devalued groups.

[00:17:04] So I can make sure that, if I am getting to make a decision about something in an institutional capacity, I can make sure that I am treating students of color, for example, at my job, as well as I would treat white students and that I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt. And then the other kind of main thing about this is the literature on the concept of privilege I think has gone awry and it's helpful if we're gonna use words like privilege to think of it as a way of understanding what is the outcome of receiving the benefit of the doubt systematically and regularly.

[00:17:35] I have privilege if I am given the benefit of the doubt over and over again. And so if someone calls me on, say, my white privilege, which happens pretty regularly, if I know that privilege is really about me receiving the benefit that because I'm white, I'm going to get a little bit less defensive and I'm going to become able over time to figure out how do I use my privilege for justice work to work against racism.

[00:18:00] So if I get the benefit of the doubt, then then I can talk about racism. In ways that, ironically, people of color cannot always, because they are not always judged as credible by other white people, that is how I started doing my anti racism training when I realized, hey, I have this credibility as a white sociologist, I should put it to some use and help other white people think about this stuff.

[00:18:25] Bob Gatty: Yeah, I wanted you to talk a little bit about your anti racism training and what you do and why you do it. 

[00:18:32] Amanda Udis-Kessler: Sure. So right now, I have three regular trainings. One of them, it's actually a session called The Benefit of the Doubt, and it's the stuff you and I have just been talking about. It's a way of helping white people think about racial inequality in this way.

[00:18:47] The two other ones I do are probably even more interesting. One of them is about white discomfort and what white discomfort has to do with racism and how white people really need to learn how to cope with and be comfortable with our discomfort around racial issues so that we can more effectively work against racism.

[00:19:04] And the third one that I do pretty regularly is sort of concrete actions for white people who want to work against racism. So concretely, what kind of self education do we need to do? What are some organizations that can use our money? What is it like if we actually go join a local, racial advocacy group, racial justice group and participate in a support role.

[00:19:26] So those are the kinds of training I do. And I started doing them partly because, and I want to be really careful to stay in my lane here in terms of not, not assuming that I know things that I don't know, but I also think that I used to be a sexuality educator, so a community educator around homophobia.

[00:19:47] And I got really tired of how the only people in the room with me doing the educating were other queer people. And I thought, I would like some straight allies to be in the room for this. And that kind of led me to start doing some of this work. And again, it goes back to this idea of credibility.

[00:20:02] If white people think of me as credible, I might as well take advantage of that and use it to help them think more productively about how to work against racism. 

[00:20:13] Bob Gatty: There's all this stuff that the MAGA people are doing about critical race theory driving you nuts. 

[00:20:20] Amanda Udis-Kessler: Yeah, and actually that has a lot to do with why I started doing the white discomfort work in particular.

[00:20:27] Okay. Because when I look at the language of laws in places like Florida, or there was a Midwestern state, I don't remember which one, and they didn't actually pass the law, but it almost got passed. And this language always comes down to, you can't teach anything about racism that makes white people uncomfortable.

[00:20:48] Why not? Racism is terrible. It's evil. It kills people. It robs the entire society of the gifts of people of color and members of BIPOC communities. Why shouldn't white people have to be uncomfortable about racism? Yeah. So I think we're probably in agreement about that. 

[00:21:04] Bob Gatty: You know what? I live in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Amanda.

[00:21:09] Yeah, and they are just they're just now catching up with the whole business of banning books in the school libraries. This Moms for Liberty group is here they have some guy who is, Not a mom, he's a dad. He's running Moms for Liberty in this area and going to the school board and they're, they've already banned a dozen books and they're looking to ban nine more and they either talk about racism or LGBTQ plus stuff.

[00:21:42] Amanda Udis-Kessler: Yep. So I want to point out that this is a beautiful, if sad example of how words like liberty and freedom. aren't necessarily being used for good. Basically they shouldn't call themselves moms for liberty. They really should call themselves moms against liberty because they are against people having the liberty to read whatever books they want to read.

[00:22:06] And so what they've done is they have taken the concept of liberty and said certain people deserve the liberty. To not have to deal with books that make them uncomfortable. Everyone else, all the, LGBTQ plus people, and all the girls about, there are some books being banned about girls experiences.

[00:22:25] And then, all of the members of BIPOC communities with all the racist book banning, racial book banning. Their freedom, our freedom, isn't being taken into account. Our liberty to read what we want is not being taken into account. The whole idea that they call themselves Moms for Liberty or that some of these these laws about critical race theory have words like freedom in them.

[00:22:46] It's laughable, but what it really tells you that is so fascinating to me is it says, There are two types of people in these people's minds. There are people who deserve liberty and people who don't deserve liberty, people who deserve rights, and people who don't deserve rights. And so that too is where I think my approach to ethics is helpful if we get too fixated on the word rights and we don't ask whose rights and which rights we're gonna miss really important stuff going on around us. 

[00:23:16] Bob Gatty: Okay, now you wrote in a blog that I saw, we all struggle to do what is good, especially when doing so is difficult, and even more so when we live in a society that rewards hatred, cruelty, greed, and power mongering over love, kindness, generosity, and service. Do you believe that society's worsened in recent years when it comes to hatred, cruelty, greed, and power mongering?

[00:23:46] Amanda Udis-Kessler: That is a really complicated question and I'm gonna try to see if I can come up with a fairly fast answer. I think in certain ways, yes, in certain ways, no. And when I say no, our society has been full of those things since day one. If you look at the early republic, the country in its earliest days, there was a ton of greed, there was a ton of power mongering, there was a ton of inequality.

[00:24:09] But what I think has changed and makes it feel so stressful and poignant now, there are a couple of things. For one, starting with various justice movements that maybe reached a boiling point in the 60s and have been Going on and off since then we have this idea that society should get better and better that things should get more and more equal, less and less cruel, more and more kind, more and more loving.

[00:24:34] And if we think that is this trajectory that should just be happening, we're going to be really dismayed by the fact that every time any progressive change is made the conservative side comes back and fights it and tries to get rid of it. So what we're seeing these days and really the rise of Trump is about this.

[00:24:53] The rise of Maga is about this. It's all an attempt to turn back the clock on values that you and I hold as important and dear and moral because these are values that those folks find really problematic and don't agree with. So that's one sense in which things are worse than they have been at some points in our lives, but I think the other thing that has really changed that you cannot overestimate is the power of social media to magnify messages and spread words and bring new people into the conversation.

[00:25:26] And so much of social media, because it is not about people interacting face to face, you can say something that could be taken entirely out of context or you could say something anonymously for which you will never be held accountable that could cause harm. So I do think one thing that has made these immoral facets of our society worse and genuinely worse in recent years is the way that social media has been Right into the equation and used to explode and magnify are some of our worst impulses.

[00:25:59] Bob Gatty: No, I think that's a really good point about social media. And I think it plays into the political situation today too. So my question here is, do you believe that the ethics of politics. Has changed in recent years, and if so, why is that happened? 

[00:26:15] Amanda Udis-Kessler: So even though most of what I've talked about today in terms of inequality has not has been about things like, race, gender and sexuality, and I haven't said all that much about class or economics.

[00:26:27] I do think it's really important how much money you now need in most cases to engage in politics formally to try to run for office and so on. And so the fact and I'm not a political scientist. I don't know the details of how that has changed over time. But if you have to raise a ton of money to be an electable person, that means that either you have to somehow get massive grassroots support, or you have to, to some extent, sell your soul to people who have a lot of money and will give some of it to you if you do what they want, or if you say what they want, or if you ignore the things that they would rather have ignored.

[00:27:08] So I think that the role of money in politics is a massive concern. Citizens United is a massive concern. The idea that money is equivalent to speech. Aside from being, conceptually crap, what that does is basically empower the wealthiest and disempower the poorest, which is exactly what it was intended to do.

[00:27:29] So in that sense, I definitely think morality and ethics and politics have become more problematic in the neoliberal era of capitalism. But I also think social media has a role to play here as well, because if getting attention is an important part of being a political public figure, then the crazier the things you say in public.

[00:27:52] I live in a state where Lauren Boebert's an elected politician, people say some really crazy things. 

[00:28:00] Bob Gatty: You live in her state, Colorado. Oh man, I feel sorry for you. Of course I live in South Carolina, which is just as bad. Sure. Sure. Yeah. You know what? You were talking a minute ago about hatred, cruelty, greed, and power mongering.

[00:28:17] And I think that goes into this question of of the ethics of politics and how it's changed. Because to me, that is exactly what we're seeing out of the Republican Party these days. And their leader, Mr. Donald, twice impeached, four times indicted, and hopefully jailed soon Donald Trump. Anyway, what do you got to say about that?

[00:28:44] Amanda Udis-Kessler: So I think something that has become really important in understanding not just the lack of morality of Republican politicians, which we could have a different conversation about, But what feels like the lack of morality among many rank and file Republicans in certain ways is that there has definitely been this cultural change where people are now so identified with their political party that they will defend it and defend the things it does because their political party is a part of their identity in ways that 80 years ago religion was a part of their identity. So just as in the 1950s, it would have been almost unthinkable to criticize Christian leaders for doing things if you were a Christian, for example.

[00:29:30] If you are a certain kind of Democrat or a certain kind of Republican, You're, you're not going to change your mind about supporting your party pretty much no matter what it does. And I think I do think Republicans have been guiltier of many of these kind of immoral forms of behavior and so on.

[00:29:49] I don't think Democrats are entirely innocent of them either. But the thing that really concerns me is, as Trump said when he was a candidate, I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and they'd still elect me. And the fact that he could say that in 2015, 16, and be right, basically, it's not that he has shot someone, but things he's done, as we know, are astonishing, and these people are 100 percent behind him, to the extent that, there are people questioning whether jailing him would actually make his movement stronger.

[00:30:23] Whatever you think about that strategically, that is a moral abomination. That is horrifying. And what that says to me is these people's identities, their sense of self, is so bound up with their Republican identity and with today's Republican Party that they're not asking questions about ethics.

[00:30:41] One book I would love to write and probably won't ever is, Is Republicanism immoral? And I don't want to write that book because I don't want to have to say at least what we're seeing today from Republican leadership is pretty immoral, but I'm afraid I think it is. 

[00:30:59] Bob Gatty: I've been wanting to write a book for years called The Washington Ego.

[00:31:04] And because there's so many things that have happened over the years, politically, that have all been, you could trace it all. The origin of those things to the ego of the politicians that are involved. And Trump is the latest example, probably the latest and greatest example of how the ego of these politicians has gotten in the way of of what should be done in this country.

[00:31:34] Anyway, 

[00:31:35] Amanda Udis-Kessler: that's just my thought. No, I think that's exactly right. And ego and power mongering go together, unfortunately really well. And it's almost laughable to say out loud that I believe that what politicians should do is serve people. I say that you probably agree with it, but plenty of politicians out there, if they heard that they would just have a good howl at it.

[00:31:58] Because. That's not really what I mean. There are politicians who serve people, especially at more local venues or at state level venues. Politics is clearly has a massive ego problem going on. And and I think something about that may not be as obvious is. A lot of people who really like Trump are people who feel really devalued by who they consider to be the Democratic elite.

[00:32:25] So they see Democrats as coastal elite, rich snobs who look down on them and who use phrases like fly over country and so on. And if one is devalued by the people one thinks are the people in power, that doesn't feel good. And of course, You're going to resonate with a politician who says you are the cream of the crop.

[00:32:49] You are the salt of the earth. You are the good people. All those people are the bad people. So as much as I don't support anything about the Republican Party or Virtually any of the decisions made by people who vote Republican. I understand that a lot of them are feeling pretty ignored and stressed out and devalued.

[00:33:09] And there's a whole other conversation to have about that, but I do see the appeal of someone like Trump for them. And so one thing that a politics of flourishing has to do is it has to figure out how to help those people have good lives. Yes as a queer feminist, I want my life as a woman and my life as a queer person to be good and I don't want there to be homophobia and I don't want there to be sexism and so on.

[00:33:35] But, I also have to want a society where the people who vote against me and the people who, try to take my rights away, I actually want them to be happy. I want them to be so happy that they don't care about my rights and they aren't trying to take my rights away. I want them to feel valued and loved and respected.

[00:33:52] And I want us to have politicians that somehow value and love and respect everyone and can bring us all along toward a vision of interdependence and respecting each other. And I think that relates to the question of the Washington ego because politicians who are too caught up in their own ego, they are not going to have the capacity to understand how to help even their own constituents really have good lives.

[00:34:20] Bob Gatty: True. Now, you mentioned that you identify as a queer feminist. How do those identities inform your creative and intellectual projects, of which you have many? 

[00:34:31] Amanda Udis-Kessler: On The ethics front it really is experiences I've had myself with sexism and homophobia that that sort of led me to get impatient with focusing on principles because I recognize that, I've seen my own rights constricted and overruled based on principles and values that sort of sound good in the abstract, but turned out to harm, actually to harm me and people I love, and so based on those kinds of experiences of harm, that's what got me to thinking, I want to live in a world where people aren't harming each other and where our identities are not targets for other people to attack.

[00:35:10] So that's the ethics piece. I am an old fashioned leftist. I'm, the third or fourth generation, I'm not sure which, of Jews in the country who come from communist and socialist backgrounds. And so for me, a politics of flourishing is just a left politics. And the queer feminism just says when we're talking about that, let's make sure that we're including gender and sexuality and race along with class. And then the last thing I'd say specifically about that question is, as you said before, my Progressive Sacred Music website. It's literally called queer sacred music. That is its URL. So obviously I did that on purpose.

[00:35:53] I want people to use my free use music as long as they're comfortable going to a website called queer sacred music. If that's going to bother them. Maybe they shouldn't be using my music. 

[00:36:06] Bob Gatty: tAlk to me a little bit about that music. Why, why are you doing it? And yeah, 

[00:36:11] Amanda Udis-Kessler: tell me about it.

[00:36:12] So my dad was a songwriter, including professionally for a little while. He taught me to write songs when I was young. And I, at some point when I realized that the idea of sacred pop music was really appealing to me. I wound up music directing a production of Godspell when I was 15 or 16, and that's what got me interested in this.

[00:36:33] But I realized at some point that so much sacred music out there, it's really conservative, it's really traditional, it's really doctrinal. It is about shoring up traditions, some of which I really can't support, or ideas in which I don't believe. But there is but all traditions, all religious traditions have progressive strands that take issues of justice very seriously, and even though I work mostly within a Christian and a Unitarian Universalist setting, there are justice strands in Buddhism and in Judaism and in Hinduism and in all these traditions. For me I actually think of it as left leaning worship music because It centers these three things that I talked about before.

[00:37:12] The idea of justice, ending inequality, human interdependence, the idea of planetary and human well being, and so on. So I try to write music for congregations that highly value those things and that need new music because the old music isn't talking about those things in ways that have resonance these days.

[00:37:32] I write in a wide range of musical styles. I write a wide range of kinds of texts. But I love doing it because, it does have a justice piece, but one of the other things it does is, It brings joy and music is joyful for most of us. It lets us access our emotions and it's cathartic and so on.

[00:37:50] And so I love bringing more joy into the world through writing music. 

[00:37:54] Bob Gatty: Okay. How do your different identities and projects all hang together? What's the relationship between developing a progressive ethic of flourishing, writing social justice worship music, offering anti racism training, writing about sociology of inequality?

[00:38:17] How does that all fit together? 

[00:38:20] Amanda Udis-Kessler: For me, it comes down to two words that start with the same letter. justice and joy. So my goal in the world is to expand human flourishing and diminish avoidable human suffering in any way that I can. And so some of that is helping us think about how to be better people, which is where some of the ethics comes in.

[00:38:42] Some of it is helping us understand how inequality works so that we can more effectively work against inequality. Some of it is trying to provide meaningful, beautiful worship music. And then some of it is inviting us to lovingly confront those of us who are white, lovingly inviting us to confront our own racism and the ways we benefit from racism and the assumptions we hold so that we can struggle against those again, all of that in the service of making us less fearful.

[00:39:14] more joyful, less hateful, and more grateful. 

[00:39:18] Bob Gatty: All right. There's no way that I can end it in a better way than that. That was awesome. Amanda, do you have anything else you'd like to add? 

[00:39:28] Amanda Udis-Kessler: I just want to thank you for the work that you're doing with this, particularly with this podcast. I've looked at a few of them and they're, what an incredible valuable treasure trove of ideas and people and personalities and communication with the world.

[00:39:45] So just thank you for what you do. 

[00:39:47] Bob Gatty: Oh my, thank you so much. I appreciate it. One of the problems that I have with my podcast is that it is wide ranging. We talk about a lot of different things. And so it's hard to get it into a niche. But those who listen and those who watch I've had great response from and I thoroughly enjoy doing it.

[00:40:10] So I thank you so much for your comment. AManda, thank you so much. Absolutely. 

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