Wisdom & Empathy: Undoing the Cycle of Folly


The Author on the Iraq-Syrian Border, December 2007

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been continuing to be a bit reflective and it seems with each day there is something to cause me to reflect on different aspects of life and the human experience. When I am in these reflective times I tend to look back at flawed, yet brilliant men who had unique insights into their times and even the future, but who were often ignored by those who supposedly knew better.

British military historian and theorist B.H. Liddell-Hart wrote:

“A study of history, past and in the making, seems to suggest that most of mankind’s troubles are man-made, and arise from the compound effect of decisions taken without knowledge, ambitions uncontrolled by wisdom and judgments that lack understanding.  Their ceaseless repetition is the grimmest jest that destiny plays on the human race. Men are helped to authority by their knowledge continually make decisions on questions beyond their knowledge. Ambition to maintain their authority forbids them from admitting the limits of their knowledge and calling upon the knowledge that is available in other men. Ambition to extend the bounds of their authority leads them to a frustration of others opportunity and interference with others’ liberty that, with monotonous persistency, injures themselves or their successors on the rebound.  

The fate of mankind in all ages has been the plaything of petty personal ambitions. The blend of wisdom with knowledge would restrain men from contributing to this endless cycle of folly, but understanding can guide them toward progress.” B.H. Liddell-Hart “Lawrence of Arabia” DeCapo Press, Reprint, originally published as “The Man Behind the Legend” Halcyon House 1937 

Over the past few days I have been thinking about the reaction to the near government shutdown, the latest mass murder in this country, and the latest events in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. I have found each of these events troubling in their own way, especially when I see the statements of powerful leaders, political, religious, military, and media about them. With the exception of the response of President Obama to the killings in Roseburg Oregon, I was troubled because it seemed like most commentators had no empathy about any of these events. Power, politics and ideology seem to obscure the pain and suffering of people.

Since I returned from Iraq I have become much more empathic regarding the suffering of others. In some ways this is good, but it also brings about a certain amount of pain as I feel that suffering. Some account that as wisdom and tell me so, though most of the time I feel painfully unwise. Even so I strive to seek wisdom even as I recognize my own limitations, and as such I look to history and the lives of others who seem to have struggled with some of the same issues that trouble me.

The ceaseless repetition of these tragedies and the lack of empathy of so many powerful political, media, and even religious leaders cause me a lot of pain, and sometimes I wish I did not feel so much. That is interesting because until I went to Iraq and came home I was very good at being able to compartmentalize my feelings. But that kind of compartmentalization is now very difficult for me, so I have to try to integrate them with reason and knowledge and act on them, and to do this I turn to books and history for lessons and examples.

The late James Baldwin, a noted African-American author and civil rights activist wrote, “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” I can understands that, because when I find myself experiencing such feelings I turn to history, to books and the lives of people much like me.

One of my favorite flawed heroes is T.E. Lawrence, or as he is better known, Lawrence of Arabia. I think that Lawrence was gifted with profound insights and had a rare sensitivity to humanity, politics, conflict, and even peace than many people before or since. Lawrence wrote, “The rare man who attains wisdom is, by the very clearness of his sight, a better guide in solving practical problems than those, more commonly the leaders of men, whose eyes are misted and minds warped by ambition for success….”

Sadly, all too many of our leaders, and not just American leaders have eyes that are misted and minds warped by ambition for success. But as I mentioned yesterday, nothing that we despise in others is entirely absent from ourselves.

But that is a hallmark of our humanity.


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“Nothing that We Despise”


General Allenby: [leafing through Lawrence’s dossier] “Undisciplined… unpunctual… untidy. Knowledge of music… knowledge of literature… knowledge of… knowledge of… you’re an interesting man there’s no doubt about it.” 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

As I noted yesterday I have been in a more reflective mood thinking about so many things, and some of my own inner conflicts and doubts. When I do that I tend to turn to history and muse about the lives of other people who seem to have shared to some degree my struggles.

Character is a terrible thing to judge. Mostly because those doing the judging also suffer from flaws in their own character and truthfully I don’t think that any of us are exempt from doing this at least sometimes. Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted: “Nothing that we despise in other men is inherently absent from ourselves.” I think is somewhat freeing to realize that.

Yet somehow the temptation is for us to stand as judge, jury and character executioner on those that we find wanting. As a culture we like tearing down those that we at one time built up, in fact we have industries that exist in order to build up and then destroy people.

It is a rather perverse proclivity that we have as human beings, especially if we can find some kind of religious justification for it.

I think that is part of the complexity of the human condition. As a historian I find that the most exalted heroes, men and women of often great courage both moral and physical, intellect, creativity, humanity and even compassion have feet of clay.

I find that I am attracted to those characters who find themselves off the beaten track. Visionaries often at odds with their superiors, institutions, and sometimes their faith and traditions. Men and women who discovered in themselves visions for what might be and pursued those visions, sometimes at the costs of their families, friends, and in quite a few cases their lives.

Throughout my studies I have been attracted to men as diverse as Peter the Apostle, Martin Luther, Thomas Aquinas, T.E. Lawrence, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Erwin Rommel, Admiral Horatio Nelson, Abraham Lincoln, John F Kennedy, Dwight D Eisenhower, Franklin Roosevelt, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Jackie Robinson, Teresa of Avila, Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel and Emir Feisal Hussein of the Arab Revolt. All had flaws and the list could go on and on and on.

Some of these men and women, saints and sinners alike had fits of temper and violence, others sexual escapades, mistresses, affairs, greed, avarice, and a host of other unseemly characteristics.  Some of them stretched law and morality in their quest to achieve their goals. But all are considered great men and women.

Feet of clay. Who doesn’t have them? But then I think that I would rather have feet of clay than a heart of stone, unchallenged mind, or a lack of courage to do the right thing even when it does not directly benefit me.

I love the cinema classic Lawrence of Arabia. Peter O’Toole plays Lawrence in a most remarkable manner, showing his brilliance, courage, diplomatic ability and understanding of the Arabs with whom he served.

There are many people, leaders and others that we encounter in life or that we study. Even the best of the best are flawed and there is no such thing as a Saint who never sinned. But we love destroying them and their memory when to our “surprise” when we find that their hagiographers built them into an idol.

I am a great believer in redemption and the weight of the whole of a person’s life. Thus I try to put the flaws as they are called in perspective and their impact both positive and negative in history. Studying in this way gives me a greater perspective on what it is to be human and to place my own clay feet in appropriate perspective.

As Lawrence said: “Immorality, I know. Immortality, I cannot judge.”


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Ideas and Dreams


“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.” T E Lawrence

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am in a reflective mood this weekend and just wanted to share a few thoughts for those who might be new followers of my blog; maybe just something for people to understand me a little bit and to understand some of my perspective on life.lao

I an out of the box thinker and when I am allowed to pursue my ideas I do my best. When I feel constrained or force myself to “stay between” the lines in order to fit in I get frustrated. When I was younger this lead to instances where I got in trouble for too aggressively pushing my ideas.

However as I have matured I have become more patient. When my ideas are shunned or pushed aside I will stay within the lines of the system but work through back channels, finding people who will listen and hope that they will take up the ideas, even if I do not get credit. This is often frustrating in its own right but it allows me to continue to develop the ideas and to propagate them among people who will listen and possibly will in their own way help see those dreams to fruition.

Many times I have been order to stand down and stay in my lane and been taken to task on more than one occasion for pushing too hard. This has actually happened a number of times in my military career dating back to my time as an Army Lieutenant serving in Germany, even to the point of having that noted as a point of criticism in an Officer Evaluation Report.

So over the years I have learned that the direct approach to trying to propagate ideas that are considered out of the mainstream, or even dare I say radical when compared with conventional doctrines is not always the best case. The truth is that many people consider dreamers and outside the box thinkers to be arrogant and dangerous. It took me many years to discover this fact.

Thus I have taken to being more patient and using indirect approaches to get ideas across. Part of this is in taking the time to get to know myself. Lao Tzu said “He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” When I was younger I often acted on impulse thinking that my ideas needed to be implemented and fought for right then and there. Now I am willing to take more time, allow them to germinate and take form and if necessary allow other people to take credit as long as the ideas find a home.

I am a dreamer, one who dreams with my eyes open. Admiral James Stavridis said: “overall, I think that’s an obligation to share your ideas. It’s how we move forward with innovation.”

I think both Lawrence and Admiral Stavridis are right. Innovation and dreams are the key to the future. Those trapped in outdated orthodoxies be they military, scientific, philosophical or religious will find that they will be left behind in history. One once said that the seven last words of the church were “We’ve never done it that way before.” That being said, those words are the last words of any organization or culture that refuses to dream or think outside the box. Eric Hoffer wrote “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”

In an age of decreasing resources, rapid social and technological change and ever increasing challenges we must heed the words of Admiral Stavridis who said: “Because we’re in an era of declining resources, and I think we need to be unafraid of and embrace change. That means listening to more junior people, who often have the best ideas, trying new things…”

It also means listening to people from different disciplines or even cultures than our own, military from civilian, civilian from military, science from religion, religion from science and so on. It may be necessary to look to times than our own, delving into history to find answers to current challenges. Likewise it may prove wise to look to the dreamers who write science fiction for answers. It is important for the dreamers as well allow themselves and ideas to be questioned or challenged and to keep an open mind. Ideas developed in the vacuum of self seldom hold up over the course of time and stubbornness and intolerance of contradiction of one’s ideas and dreams come from a type of ego that is often as destructive to the self as it is to others.

Military historian and theorist B. H. Liddell-Hart wrote about using the indirect approach in the realm of though and ideas and not just military strategy or tactics:

“Opposition to the truth is inevitable, especially if it takes the form of a new idea, but the degree of resistance can be diminished- by giving thought not only to the aim but to the method of approach. Avoid a frontal attack on a long established position; instead, seek to turn it by flank movement, so that a more penetrable side is exposed to the thrust of truth. But, in any such indirect approach, take care not to diverge from the truth- for nothing is more fatal to its real advancement than to lapse into untruth.”

But like Lawrence said, the dreamers must be the ones who dream with their eyes open in order to make those dreams possible. However, the dreamers need to know that their ideas may not be welcome and that patience the use of the indirect approach and willingness to let others receive credit in order to see those dreams fulfilled is essential. Truth matters over individual success or recognition and in a sense it alone is eternal while our lives on this earth are fleeting.


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England Expects: Nelson at Trafalgar


Admiral Horatio Nelson

“Duty is the great business of a sea officer; all private considerations must give way to it, however painful it may be.” Horatio Nelson

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have always been fascinated by the life of Admiral Horatio Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar. In fact I still have a biography of Nelson written for young people and published by American Heritage Publishers that I bought when I was in 5th Grade.

Those who follow my writings know that I am fascinated by people who are often courageous, brilliant, and masters of their field of expertise, yet flawed. I think that is one reason that I like history, because if we really study it, we find that even the greatest men and women who have ever lived and inhabited the pages of books, are often little different than us. Horatio Nelson is one of those individuals.

Since I read little biography of Nelson a lot of water has passed under my keel. But even today, about 45 years later I still am fascinated about the very heroic and flawed man who commanded the British Fleet at Trafalgar and was mortally wounded at the moment of his greatest victory.


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HMS Victory

In 1805 Britain was facing the threat of invasion by Napoleon’s French Empire which was allied with Spain. All Napoleon had to do was have he combined French and Spanish naval might to defeat the Royal Navy and a least for a time control the English channel to allow the French invasion force to land.

It was a daunting challenge to the British but the force the Royal Navy send to hunt down the combined fleet of France and Spain was commanded by the diminutive one eyed, one armed victor of the Battle of the Nile and Battle of Copenhagen Admiral Horatio Nelson.

When the French Fleet under the command of Charles Villeneuve escaped into the Atlantic aided by storms which forced Nelson’s Fleet off station in early 1805. Nelson assumed it was heading to Egypt and sailed into the Mediterranean in pursuit. He found out that he was wrong and that Villeneuve had sailed to the Caribbean he went after him. Barely missing contact with the combined French and Spanish Fleet Nelson followed it to Cadiz where the Combined Fleet took refuge.

Villeneuve’s task was difficult. Though he outnumbered the British force his crews were inexperienced and  because the ships had been blockaded for many years not trained to the standard of French forces in earlier times. Likewise many French naval leaders had not survived the bloodletting of the Revolution or been killed in action at the Battle of the Nile. In order to execute Napoleon’s strategy he would have to take his Combined Fleet out of Cadiz, rendezvous with another French Squadron from Brest, defeat the Royal Navy and gain control over the channel.


However Napoleon changed the plan and on September 16th 1805 ordered the Fleet to break out of Cadiz and sail to Naples, however Villeneuve had misgivings and deliberating with his Captains and Spanish Allies remained in Cadiz. That changed on October 18th when Villeneuve gave the order to sail despite light winds. His decision was based less on strategy or tactics but the fact that he had discovered that he was to be relieved of command and that his relief was on the way to Cadiz.

Nelson was a controversial and often contradictory man. He was the son of an Anglican Priest, a man of faith who struggled in marriage and had an affair with Lady Emma Hamilton which bore him a daughter and eclipsed his marriage. He was a man of valor who lost an arm and eye in battle and led his sailors to victory time and time again. He was loved by the men who served under him but the target of the jealousy of officers who disapproved of him.


When Villeneuve attempted to break out on October 18th Nelson was alerted by the screen of frigates conducting the close blockade of Cadiz. Nelson began to pursue and when Villeneuve discovered this he attempted to return to Cadiz. On the morning of the 21st the fleets drew closer, Nelson with 27 Ships of the line mounting 2148 guns against the Combined Fleet of 33 Ships of the Line mounting 2568 guns. It was a battle that many a British Tar believed held the fate of the nation.

Nelson was less than orthodox in is conduct of battle. Instead of laying alongside the French line he opted to split his force into two columns and break the French and Spanish line with the intent of the total destruction of the enemy force in close combat where the individual superiority of his ships and sailors . It was a risky strategy of the approach meant that the Combined Fleet would if properly handled could possibly use its superior firepower against a few British ships at a time.

As his Fleet approached the Combined Fleet Nelson penned a prayer:

“May the great God, whom I worship, grant to my country and for the benefit of Europe in general, a great and glorious victory: and may no misconduct, in any one, tarnish it: and may humanity after victory be the predominant feature in the British fleet.

For myself individually, I commit my life to Him who made me and may His blessing light upon my endeavours for serving my country faithfully.

To Him I resign myself and the just cause which is entrusted to me to defend.

Amen. Amen. Amen.” 

At 1145 Nelson had his signalmen hoist the signal that would go down in history. ENGLAND EXPECTS THAT EVERY MAN WILL DO HIS DUTY. The signal as composed by Nelson said that ENGLAND CONFIDES THAT EVERY MAN WILL DO HIS DUTY. However that signal was more complicated and the Signal’s Officer LT Pasco informed Nelson that “Expects” was in the signals vocabulary where “confides” would have to be spelt requiring extra lifts. Nelson concurred.

In the slow run up to the Combined Fleet the British took a beating, but when the British broke the French line and opened fire the battle took a different turn. Following Nelson’s orders his captains and his second in command Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood took the fight to the enemy.

Nelson’s flagship, the HMS Victory delivered he opening broadsides into the stern of Villeneuve’s flagship the Bucentaure with devastating results. After passing Bucentaure the Victory was engaged in close combat by the 74-gun Redoutable and the ships became locked together. Redoutable was commanded by one of the finest Captain’s in French Fleet, Captain Lucas who had trained his crew well including in close combat. His marksmen took a deadly toll of Victory’s crew exposed on the upper decks and one of his marksmen mortally wounded Nelson as the British Admiral walked his flagship’s quarterdeck.


Nelson is Mortally Wounded

Nelson was carried to the sick bay of Victory where as he lay dying he continued to receive updates on the battle. Knowing a storm was coming he gave orders for his ships to anchor. Upon being informed of the number of French and Spanish ships taken he whispered “Thank God I have done my duty” and Nelson’s Chaplain noted Nelson’s last words as “God and my country.

By the end of the battle the British had captured or sunk 22 of the 33 French and Spanish Ships of the Line including Villeneuve’s flagship Bucentaure and the largest warship of time the 130 gun Spanish behemoth Santisima Trinidad. On the night of the battle and the days following the British Fleet and the survivors of the Combined Fleet were battered by a massive storm causing much more suffering, misery and loss of life as badly damaged ships succumbed and sank or ran aground on the shores of Cape Trafalgar.

The battle broke the naval strength of the French and Spanish and removed the threat of invasion from Britain. Napoleon hid the defeat from his people and calling it a victory, but throughout England it was celebrated even as Nelson was mourned.

The Battle of Trafalgar epitomized the courage of Nelson and the Royal Navy. As an officer of the United States Navy I tip my hat and drink a toast to Admiral Nelson.


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How Many More? The Umpqua Community College Massacre


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight just a short thought about the latest mass shooting in the United States, this one at Umpqua Community College, in Roseburg, Oregon.

I won’t say much, except that I have a hard time imagining that a society such as ours would continue to tolerate events like this on such a regular basis. Maybe I feel this way because I have been held up at gunpoint in my hometown in 1979. Maybe it is because I have been to war and been shot at by enemy forces. Maybe it is because I remember when the elementary school that I attended when I was a child, Grover Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton California became the scene of a massacre in 1989, some 17 years after I had gone there. Maybe it is because I know too many people who have be affected by gun violence.

Whatever the reason I find it troubling. For the first time in a long time I turned on the television news, and listened to President Obama speak about this. I had to agree with everything that he said; the fact is that such massacres have become routine to us, almost as routine as is the violence of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or the “Troubles” of Northern Ireland. The fact is that after every one of these events; Stockton, Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newtown, Tucson, Aurora, the Washington Naval Yard, San Ysidro, Fort Hood, Charleston and so many others; many of which never hit anything but local media really do not move us to do anything. We have accepted them as part of life, and despite our protestations, our “prayers” and our outward sympathy for the victims we seem unwilling to do anything about them.

Guns are certainly a part of the problem; but there is something far deeper that we should be concerned about in all of this, it is who we are as a people. These events are not new, they have been occurring for well over a century in our country; lynching, bombing, gangland shootings, some committed by individuals, some by criminal organizations. But in addition to the true murderous sociopaths, many more seriously disturbed and even mentally ill individuals, who should have no access to weapons, commit many of these shootings.


As yet we do not know much about the shooter, his motivations or his victims. We do know that his name is Chris Harper Mercer, a twenty-six year old student at the college. According to a dating profile said that he was a “conservative Republican” who “doesn’t like organized religion.” But most of us only care about those details to either titillate our need for information, or to back whatever our political position is regarding laws about gun ownership. The fact is that we don’t know why Mercer did this; evidently during the attack he was asking people to state their religion as he shot them. We will find out more as the investigation unfolds, but again to most of us the details won’t matter as our minds are made up, and we accept this as a way of life.

Some say we should take drastic measures to control guns; others that we should have more training and screening of potential guy buyers; others say ban certain types of weapons; still others say to eliminate all restrictions on gun ownership; while others say to increase the mental health screenings to keep mentally ill or potentially disturbed people from purchasing guns. Sadly, those who most loudly proclaim eliminating restrictions on any kind of gun ownership, even for the most lethal weapons are the same people who support politicians who constantly vote down funding for mental health care and restrictions on law enforcement in dealing with guns.

The fact is that no matter which side is argued people continue to die in gun violence everyday, and not just mass shootings like the one we saw today. I think the President is right, Americans and our legislators at local, state and federal levels need to find solutions that protect constitutional liberties for responsible gun owners with the safety of the public. Honestly, I don’t know how that happens; far too many lobbyists, special interest groups with conflicting interests, and the gun industry are involved.

But I have to say, with unfettered honesty, I really don’t think that we care, we have become used to the routine of this; we are no longer shocked, we are no longer offended, and we lack the political will, the compassion, or the courage to do anything substantive about the problem. But most of all I think that we, as a people have lost any sense of empathy for those who are killed and those who are affected by such senseless violence. In the words of the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials Psychologist, Gustave Gilbert, is the absence of empathy.

President Obama was right; we have accepted these killings as a routine part of life. We say “how terrible, someone should do something” and then turn our backs until the next time. We should politicize the issue and through our political process try to find ways to deal with this with the appropriate checks and balances; because it affects every one of us. Every year over 10,000 people in this country die of gun violence committed by others. That number does not include the 20,000- 30,000 people who use guns to kill themselves every year.

How many more people need to die for us to recover any sense of empathy? How many more people need to die?


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For Us or Against Us: The Politics of the Christian Right & the Shutdown


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Once again the United States stands on the verge of another potentially dangerous, and costly government shutdown led by the fanatical religious leaders of a political party. While it appears that a short –term stopgap bill will pass both houses, it will leave the country hanging for the next couple of months with another showdown in December.

Senator Mitch McConnell who the day President Obama took office in 2009 colluded with other GOP leaders to set a policies  to ensure Obama failed as president blamed Democrats for not passing various spending bills offered to by the GOP.  But he failed to note that the authors of the GOP bills, mainly from the Christian Right planted poisoned pills in each of them that ensured Democrat opposition. Truthfully those bills were not offered in good faith and gave Democrats no reason to vote for them. 

When I see this behavior I am reminded of the words of Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who prosecuted the major Nazi War Criminals at Nuremberg; “[I]n our country are evangelists and zealots of many different political, economic and religious persuasions whose fanatical conviction is that all thought is divinely classified into two kinds — that which is their own and that which is false and dangerous.”

The leaders of this unabashedly shameless movement have no problem lying to, or deceiving their followers in order to accomplish their political goals. Sadly, almost all of them come from the supposedly Christian Right, and are determined to destroy the country in order to save it. They use the same kind of tactics used by extremists in other countries throughout history to destroy the political center and turn the government itself into an enemy, until they can take it over and use it for their purposes. Sadly, much of this is coming from a relatively small, but incredibly vocal and politically influential coalition of politically charged conservative Christians. The leaders of this movement have openly stated that their desire is to impose a Christian theocracy on the country, a theocracy where non-Christians, or non-believers of any kind would not have rights as citizens. The have taken up the mantle of the Emperor Constantine, who united the Roman Empire with the Church. George Truett, a great Southern Baptist champion of religious liberty noted:

“Constantine, the Emperor, saw something in the religion of Christ’s people which awakened his interest, and now we see him uniting religion to the state and marching up the marble steps of the Emperor’s palace, with the church robed in purple. Thus and there was begun the most baneful misalliance that ever fettered and cursed a suffering world…. When … Constantine crowned the union of church and state, the church was stamped with the spirit of the Caesars…. The long blighting record of the medieval ages is simply the working out of that idea.”

The late Senator Mark Hatfield, a strong evangelical Christian wrote “As a Christian, there is no other part of the New Right ideology that concerns me more than its self-serving misuse of religious faith. What is at stake here is the very integrity of biblical truth. The New Right, in many cases, is doing nothing less than placing a heretical claim on Christian faith that distorts, confuses, and destroys the opportunity for a biblical understanding of Jesus Christ and of his gospel for millions of people.” 

Since I have written about these supposedly Christian leaders numerous times and quoted them at length I am not going to go back into that; however, I will note the warning of colonial Baptist leader Roger Williams, who founded the Rhode Island Colony after fleeing the Massachusetts Bay Colony over the religious oppression of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which included killing heretics, conducting witch hunts and trials, and exterminating local Native Americans, especially those who had become Christians.

Williams wanted nothing of this and fled, swimming the Narraganset to reach Rhode Island. He wrote, “An enforced uniformity of religion throughout a nation or civil state, confounds the civil and religious, denies the principles of Christianity and civility, and that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.”

Another early colonial New England Baptist leader, Isaac Backus wrote, “God has appointed two kinds of government in the world, which are distinct in their nature, and ought never to be confounded together; one of which is called civil, the other ecclesiastical government.”

Both of these men, and those who followed them in the tradition of religious liberty realized the importance of the absolute separation of church and state. Well, the Christian Right now has control of the Republican Party. In their zeal to destroy their political and religious enemies they will also destroy that party. Likewise they will cause great harm to the church and the Christian faith in this country. From Williams and Backus, to John Leland, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, to George Truett, Robert Jackson, Mark Hatfield and Barry Goldwater; true champions of religious liberty have recognized the danger of what is happening today and fought against it.

But will American Christians be willing to stand against this before liberty is lost, and the Christian faith in this country, destroyed by the fanatics who are leading the charge to shut down the government once again? Sadly, I doubt it. We may yet avoid the shutdown, but until Christians police themselves and the political leaders that they have elected, this will continue until freedom is lost, the country damaged, and the church discredited and destroyed.

The leaders of this movement undermined and destroyed Speaker of the House John Boehner, a conservative pro-life Catholic because he was not extreme enough for them. They are currently working to destroy other conservative Christian leaders in the Republican Party, including Senator McConnell and other conservative Christians who do not completely submit to them. These supposedly Christian leaders who are bringing this about are not conservatives, they are revolutionaries who believe that they are on a mission from God which trumps all else. Barry Goldwater was right about them when he said, the late Senator Barry Goldwater said in 1994, “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

But the leaders of this movement don’t care. In their apocalyptic worldview, it does not matter because they speak for God.  If they cannot win it all then they will leave scorched earth behind. The shutdown of 2013 and their actions this year show us that they would if need be, destroy the country in order to save it. That my friends is a scary thought.


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Who but Tyrants? The Danger of State Religion


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

James Madison wrote something about certain Christians of his day that could have been written today. The topic, one of Madison’s favorite topics actually, was the subject of the relationship between church and state. Madison wrote:

“[T]here remains [in some parts of the country] a strong bias towards the old error, that without some sort of alliance or coalition between Govt. & Religion neither can be duly supported. Such indeed is the tendency to such a coalition, and such its corrupting influence on both parties, that the danger cannot be too carefully guarded against.”

I have lost count of the number of preachers, pundits, and politicians, who have been making public statements and doing their best to pass legislation to make Christianity the official state religion of the United States. To a person all represent the politically militant wing of the conservative, or maybe better named Right Wing Christianity. I wrote about this some yesterday and have written numerous pieces on the subject so I am not going to say much more here; except to say that the historical ignorance of those that want to impose Christianity as the law of the land is mind-numbing in large part because of how fiercely the concept was resisted by those who founded the United States.

The great Virginia Baptist leader John Leland, a friend of both Jefferson and Madison was scathing in his condemnation of those who wanted to impose a Christian state religion and place it in the Constitution:

“How undeniable the fact, that civil government is not founded on Christianity …. How improper, how unjust, how anti-Christian it must be, for one man or one party of men to get that kind of religion interwoven into the civil constitution, which they believe is best, under the pretence that their consciences are wounded if others do not believe like themselves. The plea of conscience, in such cases, is the art of ill design, or the effect of imposition, which none but tyrants or bigoted enthusiasts will make …. Government is the formation of an association of individuals, by mutual agreement, for mutual defence and advantage; to be governed by specific rules. And, when rightly formed, it embraces Pagans, Jews, Mahometans and Christians, within its fostering arms–prescribes no creed of faith for either of them–proscribes none of them for being heretics, promotes the man of talents and integrity, without inquiring after his religion–impartially protects all of them–punishes the man who works ill to his neighbor, let his faith and motives be what they may. Who, but tyrants, knaves and devils, can object to such government …. It is the glory of the United States, that, after Christian tyranny had raged with savage fury for fifteen hundred years, its progress should be arrested in this land of liberty.”

The fact is, in every place and clime where a religion, be it a Christian Church, or any non-Christian religion holds the franchise of power with the state that no person is safe. Robert Ingersoll stated it very well, “The liberty of man is not safe in the hands of any church. Wherever the Bible and sword are in partnership, man is a slave. All laws for the purpose of making man worship God, are born of the same spirit that kindled the fires of the auto da fe, and lovingly built the dungeons of the Inquisition….”

Today, a very vocal minority that has seized control of a major political party wish to reverse the very liberty promoted by our founders and men like Leland who fought for it by legislating at every turn laws which give special privilege to Christians, often under the name “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts,” which exempt people from obeying laws applicable to all citizens, merely based on their “sincere religious beliefs.” Some of these laws even permit discrimination against others based on an individual’s sincere religious beliefs. One of that party’s leading candidates for the Presidential nomination, Ben Carson, said that a Moslem should not be able to be President, defying the Constitution itself. I do not have to wonder what Jefferson, Madison, Leland or so many other pioneers of real religious liberty would say to Mr. Carson or others like him. Their replies to the people of their day more than suffice to reply to such ignorant buffoons.

Leland was right. This country was miraculous because to again quote Leland; It is the glory of the United States, that, after Christian tyranny had raged with savage fury for fifteen hundred years, its progress should be arrested in this land of liberty.” And as he so succinctly put it, who but tyrants, knaves, and devils, could resist a government which “embraces Pagans, Jews, Mahometans and Christians, within its fostering arms–prescribes no creed of faith for either of them–proscribes none of them for being heretics, promotes the man of talents and integrity, without inquiring after his religion–impartially protects all of them–punishes the man who works ill to his neighbor, let his faith and motives be what they may.”

For me it gets old to continue to have to write about this, but then someone has to, otherwise the truth about religious freedom will be trampled under the jack-boots of Christian tyrants who have the fact is we deceived sincere Christians into following a creed that will enslave them. History matters, and have not advanced so far that we cannot return to the barbarism of our ancestors. If the political manifestation of the Christian Right was ever to establish themselves and their Dominionist theology as the law of the land, we would all be in trouble.


Padre Steve+

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