Category Archives: Political Commentary

Surrender at Appomattox: Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain teach us about Reconciliation

The Authentic History Center

It was the day after General Robert E Lee had requested to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant that his Army of Northern Virginia be allowed to surrender. The once mighty army now a haggard but proud force of about 11,000 soldiers faced hopeless odds against a vastly superior enemy. Since Gettysburg Lee’s army had been on the defensive, Lee’s ill fated offensive into Pennsylvania being one of the two climactic blows that sealed the doom of the Confederacy, the other Grant’s victory at Vicksburg which fell a day after Pickett’s Charge.

On the 9th and 10th of April three men, Ulysses S Grant, Robert E Lee and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain taught succeeding generations the value of mutual respect and reconciliation after a bitter and bloody war.

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With each battle following Gettysburg the Army of Northern Virginia became weaker and finally after the nine month long siege of Petersburg ended with a Union victory there was little else to do. When his artillery chief Porter Alexander recommended that the Army be released, “take to the woods and report to their state governors” Lee replied:

“Already [the country] is demoralized by the four years of war. If I took your advice, the men would be without rations and under no control of their officers. They would be compelled to rob and steal in order to live…. We would bring on a state of affairs it would take the country years to recover from… You young fellows might go bushwhacking, but the only dignified course for me would be to go to General Grant and surrender myself and take the consequences of my acts.”

Abraham Lincoln had already set the tone for the surrender in his Second Inaugural Address given just over a month before the surrender of Lee’s army. Lincoln closed that speech with these words of reconciliation:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

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Grant provided his vanquished foe generous surrender terms. Grant met with Lee and offered the following terms of surrender:

“In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of N. Va. on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate. One copy to be given to an officer designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged, and each company or regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officer appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.”

When Lee left the building Federal troops began cheering but Grant ordered them to stop. He later noted: “The Confederates were now our countrymen, and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”

The surrender itself was accomplished with a recognition that soldiers who have given the full measure of devotion can know when confronting a defeated enemy. Major General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the heroic victor of Little Round Top was directed by Grant to receive the surrender of the defeated Confederates. As they passed, moved with emotion he ordered his soldiers to salute the defeated enemy for whose cause he had no sympathy.

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Chamberlain was not just a soldier, but before the war had been Professor of Natural and Revealed Religions at Bowdoin College, and a student of theology before the war. He could not help to see the significance of the occasion. He understood that he would be criticized by some for offering the salute, however unlike some, the staunch abolitionist and Unionist who had nearly died on more than one occasion fighting the defeated Confederate Army understood that no true peace could transpire unless the enemies became reconciled to one another.

He noted that his chief reason for doing so:

“The momentous meaning of this occasion impressed me deeply. I resolved to mark it by some token of recognition, which could be no other than a salute of arms. Well aware of the responsibility assumed, and of the criticisms that would follow, as the sequel proved, nothing of that kind could move me in the least. The act could be defended, if needful, by the suggestion that such a salute was not to the cause for which the flag of the Confederacy stood, but to its going down before the flag of the Union. My main reason, however, was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;—was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured? Instructions had been given; and when the head of each division column comes opposite our group, our bugle sounds the signal and instantly our whole line from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession, gives the soldier’s salutation, from the “order arms” to the old “carry”—the marching salute. Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,—honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!”

The next day Robert E Lee address his soldiers for the last time. Lee’s final order to his loyal troops was published the day after the surrender. It was a gracious letter of thanks to men that had served their beloved commander well in the course of the three years since he assumed command of them outside Richmond in 1862.

General Order
No. 9



After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.

need not tell the survivors of so many hard fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to the result from no distrust of them.
But feeling that valour and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.

By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection.

With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your Country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous conideration for myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell. — R. E. Lee, General

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The surrender was the beginning of the end. Other Confederate forces continued to resist for several weeks, but with the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia led by the man that nearly all Southerners saw as the embodiment of their nation the war was effectively over.

Lee had fought hard and after the war was still under the charge of treason, but he understood the significance of defeat and the necessity of moving forward as one nation. In August 1865 Lee wrote to the trustees of Washington College of which he was now President:

“I think it is the duty of every citizen, in the present condition of the Country, to do all in his power to aid the restoration of peace and harmony… It is particularly incumbent upon those charged with the instruction of the young to set them an example of submission to authority.

It is a lesson that all of us in our terribly divided land need to learn regardless of or political affiliation or ideology. Lee learned that Grant’s Aide-de-Camp was a Seneca and said after the surrender “It is good to have one real American here.” The officer replied, “Sir, we are all Americans.”

It is time again that we learn that lesson.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Freedom of Living on the Margins of American Christianity

1622612_10152232336042059_727365308_nMe and my Littlest Buddy, Minnie Scule

I have been living on the margins of American Christianity for a bit over six years now. The watershed moment was when I returned from Iraq in February 2008 my faith shattered and my soul wounded suffering from severe PTSD. I was not in good shape then and two years later after faith returned, albeit in a different form I realized that I no longer fit in the mainstream of conservative American Christianity.

When I began to express some of those changes, which mainly had to do in the manner of how I viewed others I got in trouble. At the time I was part of a pretty conservative Episcopal-Catholic denomination with very strong Evangelical and Charismatic leanings. I wrote that I thought that homosexuals could be Christians and not automatically damned to hell. I wrote that not all Moslems were bad. I expressed a great deal of empathy for non-believers, particularly Atheists and Agnostics having recently come out of a period where for all intents I was an Agnostic praying that God really did exist and care. I also asserted that I saw no reason why women could not or should not be ordained to the Priesthood and the Episcopacy and I expressed other views that while not connected with anything to do in the Christian faith was not politically correct in conservative circles.

During that time period I found that I was getting slammed and “unfriended” on Facebook by people I had previously considered friends whenever I had the nerve to disagree with them, or innocently post something that they disagreed with on my Facebook page. I think that was the hardest part for me, I was shocked that people who I had thought were friends, who knew what I was going through were so devoted to their ideology that they condemned me and threw me away. I found that I agreed with Mahatma Gandhi who observed: “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Of course I say that with a fair amount of humility because most of the time I am not a very good Christian, if that means actually trying to emulate Jesus.

Of course that is not uncommon in the annals of Christianity. Ulrich Zwingli, the Reformer of Zurich was so upset when his students and closest associates became Anabaptist that he had them drowned in the Rhine River. In fact any time Church leaders have had significant powers over people through the levers of the State they have quite often used that power to crush anyone that did not believe like them or questioned their authority.

In a sense for two millennia various groups of Christians have been creating God in their own image and inflicting their beliefs on others. Anne Lamott has a pithy little thought that I love: “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

In September of 2010 I was asked to leave that church, even though my actual theological orthodoxy, as to what I believed about God and Christ was unchanged. Thankfully another church, the Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Church, a denomination of the Old Catholic tradition took me in. It is a tiny denomination, much like the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands, but very affirming and I fit well in it.

As far as my old church, it was going through a difficult time and the Bishop who threw me out was a big part of the problem. He was removed a few months later when it was revealed that he was plotting to take all of the military chaplains out of the denomination to another without consulting the other bishops. One friend who is still in that church speculated that I was asked to leave by the bishop because he thought I might reveal his plans, even though he had not told me directly about them.

What was odd about that church was that in 2004 I was censured by the then second ranking archbishop in that church, forbidden from publishing and even having or having any personal contact with his clergy where I was living because I was “too Catholic.” The irony was that this bishop was a big cause of the trouble that the church went through including the massive splits that occurred in 2005-2010. He left that church, became the editor of a conservative Catholic website and now is a Priest in the Anglican Ordinate and effectively a Roman Catholic Priest.  I love irony.

Thankfully I still have many friends in my old church, and thankfully there are good people there doing their best to live the Gospel. I can’t say that I would fit in there anymore, but I have no residual animosity to the current leadership of that denomination and pray that they continue to recover from the tumult and division that marked their struggle from 2005-2011. I admit that it was a painful time and for a while I was quite bitter about how I had been treated, but it has been easier to live by forgiving. C. S. Lewis noted: “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” Since I have been forgiven for so much how can I not at least try to live in a forgiving manner?

Last night I wrote about my frustrations with American Christianity in particular the conservative Christian subculture. Looking at what I wrote I can see that I definitely exist on the margins of that world. But that is not a bad thing, there is a certain amount of freedom as well as intellectual honesty and integrity that I have now that I could not have being for all intents closeted in my former denomination.

Living on the margins allows me to echo Galileo who wrote: “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” It allows me to be at the intersection of faith and unbelief and allows me entry into both worlds, both of which I believe to be sacred and both need to be heard, as well as protected.

Thus when I champion religious liberty, it is not the liberty to use religion to bludgeon others or to use the police power of the State to enforce their religious views on others. Unfortunately that is what I see going on in this country as conservative American Christians especially Evangelicals, Charismatics and conservative Roman Catholics wage a Kulturkampf against modernism and secularism. It as if many of the leaders of that movement desire to set up a Christian theocracy. Gary North, a longtime adviser to Ron Paul and many in the Tea Party movement wrote:

“We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”

Personally, and with no invective intended I have to imagine that if a Moslem leader in this country said somethings similar that the Religious Right would be screaming bloody murder and that Bill O’Reilly and Fox News would be leading the charge.

Thus we see a reprise of the Scopes Monkey Trial in efforts to diminish the teaching of real science in schools and replace it with various religious theories of origins such as Young Earth Creationism. It doesn’t seem to matter what the issue is: equality for women, minorities, gays, teaching science, caring for the poor, the sick and the weak, acknowledging the value of other cultural traditions and religions it seems that many politically charged conservative Christians have no tolerance for anyone outside their often quite narrow belief system. North wrote:

“The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.”

I’m sorry but again this sounds not too dissimilar to the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, without the sheep and the comfortable clothes, or the Moslem Brotherhood types, Hezbollah or the Iranian Imams. The religion of North might be different from the Taliban but the goals are eerily similar, and only a fool would not see that. But then we Christians are quite good at ignoring the hate being preached by those that claim to be defending us from those “evil” Moslems.

This is no empty threat, throughout the country Christian Conservatives and their political front men are ramming through laws that have but one intent, the establishment of a Christian theocracy and the persecution of those who do not agree. Allegedly all of these laws are designed to “protect religious liberty” but in fact are nothing more than a legislative attempt to disenfranchise non-believers or others that the majority does not approve. Unfortunately the people pushing these laws do not understand that once the become law they can be used against them if another group comes into power. They set precedent and under such precedent even Sharia Law could could be enacted in Moslem dominated areas of the country, such as Dearborn Michigan, or polygamy in separatist Mormon communities in Utah and Idaho.

I am sorry but that is antithetical to the thoughts of our founders and the real defenders of religious liberty in the early days of our republic. John Leland, head of the Virginia Baptists and a key player in the drafting of the First Amendment and religious liberty protections in Virginia wrote:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever…Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

Leland understood what he was talking about, because in Virginia Baptists and others were being persecuted by Anglicans who before the Revolution had been the State Church of Virginia and wanted to be again in the new republic. James Madison wrote of the danger:  “Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

I will defend the right of religious conservative to believe what they want, including the right to teach it in their churches, church schools and homes and to express those views in the public square as part of real dialogue. I may not agree with them, but if I want my views to be protected I should grant others what I would want. What I cannot support is the attempt of some politically active Christian conservatives to force those views on others through the power of the State, the public schools or any other place where the citizens of our very diverse and pluralistic society have to co-exist.

I love the movie Inherit the Wind. I especially love the scene where Spencer Tracy playing the fictionalized version of Clarence Darrow gives a logical yet passionate defense of religious, civil and intellectual liberty.

“Can’t you understand? That if you take a law like evolution and you make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools? And tomorrow you may make it a crime to read about it. And soon you may ban books and newspapers. And then you may turn Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the mind of man. If you can do one, you can do the other. Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums beating we’ll be marching backward, BACKWARD, through the glorious ages of that Sixteenth Century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind!”

Since I don’t want to go back to the 16th Century I will be content to live in the freedom that I have on the margins of contemporary American Christianity. Personally I would rather be there than in the 16th century.

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Back in 2010 when I was getting kicked out of my old church and suffering the rejection of friends it wasn’t something that I enjoyed. However, I am grateful to be where I am now and to have the freedom that I enjoy. I certainly didn’t plan it this way, but I am definitely okay with the way things have turned out.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, civil rights, faith, laws and legislation, Political Commentary, Religion

The American Ideological War: The American Civil War…The Continuation of Politics by Other Means

Gettysburg Address

Note to my friends at Padre Steve’s World. I am again preparing materials for my next teaching trip to Gettysburg. While some will deal with purely military and leadership aspects, the political and social context of the war has to be examined. The false assertions that the war was not about slavery have to be met head on since there has been a cottage industry which has denied that slavery was the matter of “States Rights” that the Confederacy went to war not only to preserve but to expand.

One can never separate war and the means by which it is fought from its political ends. War according to Clausewitz is an extension or continuation of politics. The American Civil War was not only the first modern war based on the advancement of technology and the changing nature of war, but also in terms of it being the first modern war caused by the clash of radically different ideologies, ideologies which championed two very different views of civilization. British theorist and military historian J.F.C. Fuller wrote of it:

“At length on 12th April, the tension could no longer bear the strain. Contrary to instructions, in the morning twilight, and when none could see clearly what the historic day portended, the Confederates in Charleston bombarded Fort Sumter, and the thunder of their guns announced that the argument of a generation should be decided by the ordeal of war. A war, not between two antagonistic political parties, but a struggle to the death between two societies, each championing a different civilization…”1

That is why it impossible to simply examine the military campaigns and battles of the Civil War in isolation from the politics, polices and even the philosophy and theology which brought it about.

The world was changed when Edmund Ruffin a 67 year old farm paper editor, plantation owner and ardent old line secessionist from Virginia pulled the lanyard which fired the first shot at Fort Sumter. Ruffin was a radical ideologue. He was a type of man who understood reality far better than some of the more moderate oligarchs that populated the Southern political and social elite. While in the years leading up to the war these men attempted to secure the continued existence and spread of slavery within the Union. Ruffin was not such a man. He and other radical secessionists believed that there could be no compromise with the north. He believed that in order to maintain the institution of slavery the slave holding states that those states had to be independent from the North.

ruffinEdmund Ruffin

Ruffin’s views were not unique to him, the formed the basis of how most slave owners and supporters felt about slavery’s economic benefits, Ruffin wrote:

“Still, even this worst and least profitable kind of slavery (the subjection of equals and men of the same race with their masters) served as the foundation and the essential first cause of all the civilization and refinement, and improvement of arts and learning, that distinguished the oldest nations. Except where the special Providence and care of God may have interposed to guard a particular family and its descendants, there was nothing but the existence of slavery to prevent any race or society in a state of nature from sinking into the rudest barbarism. And no people could ever have been raised from that low condition without the aid and operation of slavery, either by some individuals of the community being enslaved, by conquest and subjugation, in some form, to a foreign and more enlightened people.”2

The South of the time was an agrarian society which depended on the free labor provided by slaves. The Northern states had abolished slavery in the years since the United States had gained independence and over the intervening years the North had embraced the Industrial Revolution leading to advances which gave it a marked economic advantage over the South. The population of the North also expanded at a clip that far outpaced the South as European immigrants swelled the population.

The divided was not helped by the various compromises worked out between northern and souther legislators. After the Missouri Compromise Thomas Jefferson wrote:

“but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment, but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.”3

The trigger for the increase in tensions was the war with Mexico in which the United States annexed nearly half of Mexico. The new territories were viewed by those who advocated the expansion of slavery as fresh and fertile ground for its spread. Ulysses S Grant noted the effects of the war with Mexico in his memoirs:

“In taking military possession of Texas after annexation, the army of occupation, under General [Zachary] Taylor, was directed to occupy the disputed territory.  The army did not stop at the Nueces and offer to negotiate for a settlement of the boundary question, but went beyond, apparently in order to force Mexico to initiate war….To us it was an empire and of incalculable value; but it might have been obtained by other means.  The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war.”4

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In the North a strident abolitionist movement took root. This movement aimed to not only stop the spread of slavery but to abolish it. Given a boost by the huge popularity of Harriett Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabinthe abolitionist movement gained steam and power. The leaders fought against acts like the Fugitive Slave Act and the Dred Scott decision and with the formation of the Republican Party found a formidable political voice.

As the 1850s wore on the divisions over slavery became deeper and voices of moderation retreated. The trigger for the for the worsening of the division was the political battle regarding the expansion of slavery, even the status of free blacks in the north who were previously slaves, over whom their owners asserted their ownership. In 1856 the Supreme Court, dominated by southern Democrats ruled in favor of southern views in the Dred Scott decision one pillar of which gave slavery the right to expand by denying to Congress the power to prohibit slavery in Federal territories.

This ignited a firestorm in the north where Republicans now led by Abraham Lincoln decried the decision and southerners basked in their judicial victory. Northerners quite rightly feared that an activist court would rule to deny their states the right to forbid slavery. As early as 1854 Lincoln posed the idea that the Declaration of Independence was “the standard maxim of free society …constantly spreading and deepening its influence,” ultimately applicable “to peoples of all colors everywhere.”5

But after the Dred Scott decision Lincoln warned that the Declaration was being cheapened and diluted “to aid in making the bondage of the Negro universal and eternal….All the powers of the earth seem rapidly combining against him. Mammon is after him; ambition follows, and philosophy follows, and the theology of the day is fast joining the cry. They have him in his prison house;…One after another they have closed the heavy doors upon him…and they stand musing as to what invention, in all the dominions of mind and matter, can be produced the impossibility of his escape more complete than it is.” 6

jeffdavisJefferson Davis

In response to the decision the advocates of the expansion of slavery not only insisted on its westward expansion in Federal territories but to Panama, Nicaragua and Cuba as well. In 1857 Jefferson Davis further provoked northern ire when he insisted that “African Slavery as it exists in the United States is a moral, a social, and a political blessing.”7 Taking advantage of the judicial ruling Davis and his supporters in Congress began to bring about legislation not just to ensure that Congress could not “exclude slavery” but to protect it in all places and all times. They sought a statute that would explicitly guarantee “that slave owners and their property would be unmolested in all Federal territories.” This was commonly known in the south as the doctrine of positive protection, designed to “prevent a free-soil majority in a territory from taking hostile action against a slave holding minority in their midst.”8

Previously a man of moderation Lincoln laid out his views in the starkest terms in his House Divided speech given on June 16th 1858. Lincoln understood, possibly with more clarity than others of his time that the divide over slavery was deep and that the country could not continue to exists while two separate systems contended with one another. He was to the point and laid our in clear terms what few had ever said before and which even some in his own Republican Party did not want to say because they felt it was too divisive:

“If we could first know where we are and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do and how to do it. We are now far into the fifth year since a policy was initiated with the avowed object and confident promise of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only not ceased but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved; I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction, or its advocates will push it forward till it shall become alike lawful in all the states, old as well as new, North as well as South.”9

The crisis continued to fester and when Lincoln was elected to the Presidency in November 1860 with no southern states voting Republican the long festering volcano erupted. It did not take long before southern states began to secede from the Union. South Carolina was first, followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. Many of the declarations of causes for secession made it clear that slavery was the root cause. The declaration of South Carolina is typical of these and is instructive of the basic root cause of the war:

“all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.”10

Throughout the war slavery loomed large. In his First Inaugural Address Lincoln noted: “One section of our country believes slavery is right and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute.”11 Of course he was right, and his southern opponents agreed.

Alexander-StephensAlexander Stephens

Alexander Stephens the Vice President of the Confederacy noted in his Cornerstone Speech of March 21st 1861 that: “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”12

After the bloody battle of Antietam Lincoln published the emancipation proclamation in which he proclaimed the emancipation of slaves located in the rebel states. Likewise in his Second Inaugural Address he discussed slavery as being the cause of the war:

“One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”13

CW-GettysburgDeadDied for an Ideal Confederate Dead at Gettysburg

When Edmund Ruffin pulled the lanyard of the cannon that fired the first shot at Fort Sumter it marked the end of an era and despite Ruffin, Stephens and Davis’ plans gave birth to what Lincoln would describe as “a new birth of freedom.”
When the war ended with the Confederacy defeated and the south in ruins Ruffin still could not abide the result. In a careful crafted suicide note he sent to his son the bitter and hate filled old man wrote on June 14th 1865: “… And now with my latest writing and utterance, and with what will be near my last breath, I here repeat and would willingly proclaim my unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule — to all political, social and business connections with Yankees, and the perfidious, malignant and vile Yankee race.”

Ruffin outlived Lincoln who was killed by the assassin John Wilkes Boothe on April 14th 1864. However the difference between the two men was marked. In his Second Inaugural Address Lincoln spoke in a different manner. He concluded that address with these thoughts:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”14

With that I wish you peace,

Padre Steve+

1 Fuller, J.F.C. The Conduct of War 1789-1961 Da Capo Press, New York 1992. Originally published by Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick N.J. 1961 p.98

2 Ruffin, Edmund The Political Economy of Slavery in McKitrick, Eric L.. ed. Slavery Defended: The Views of the Old South. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall/Spectrum Books, 1963.Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/primary-resources/lincolns-political-economy/ 24 March 2014 

3 Jefferson, Thomas Letter to John Holmes dated April 22nd 1824 retrieved from www.loc.gov/exhibits/jefferson/159.html

4 U.S. Grant, Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant New York 1885 pp.23-245

5 Catton, William and Bruce, Two Roads to Sumter: Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis and the March to Civil War McGraw Hill Book Company New York 1963, Phoenix Press edition London p.139

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid. p.142

8 Ibid.

9 Lincoln, Abraham A House Divided given at the Illinois Republican Convention, June 16th 1858, retrieved from www.pbs.org/wgbh/ala/part4/4h2934.html

10 Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union. Retrieved from The Avalon Project, Yale School of Law http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/csa_scarsec.asp

11 Lincoln, Abraham First Inaugural Address March 4th 1861 retrieved from www.bartleby.com/124/pres31.html

12 Cleveland, Henry Alexander H. Stevens, in Public and Private: With Letters and Speeches, before, during and since the War, Philadelphia 1886 pp.717-729 retrieved from http://civilwarcauses.org/corner.htm

13 Lincoln, Abraham Second Inaugural Address March 4th 1865 retrieved from www.bartleby.com/124/pres32.html

14 Ibid.

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Miscellaneous Musings on a Wednesday Night

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Well my friends it is another Wednesday night in the season of Lent and all is well at our little household. Since my return from Gettysburg Sunday night I have been in recovery mode. It is amazing how much work went into that trip and when I count in the fact that I had to spring forward over the weekend I have to admit that I was totally exhausted when I got home. I was in bed early last night and for once I got a relatively decent night of sleep in.

At work today I spent time with people, read, and did some reflecting on other Civil War and Gettysburg subjects. I also did some musing on Ethics and the state of it in our military, especially in the senior leadership over the past 15 to 20 years or so.

Both history and ethics matter a great deal to me. I think in our quest to become more efficient that we have forgotten both, and that many of the troubles that we face in this country are because we lack any real appreciation for history, philosophy or ethics. The fact is that they are not disciplines that lead to “job creation,” which is the mantra of so many Politicians, Pundits and Preachers, that Unholy Trinity, that it makes me want to vomit. Last year after he became Governor of North Carolina, the new governor and former “successful businessman” Pat McCrory promised to cut off financial aid for students taking courses not directly related to a “job.”

Of course to him this meant the humanities, history, philosophy, the social sciences and the arts. Not STEM or classes that teach people how to turn widgets, those  are immune because they produce a truly subservient class of people who do not ask questions.

Of course the study and teaching of the subject that McCrory and others want to cut are distinctly related to the preservation of our culture and society so I can see why a businessman like McCrory would so deftly attempt to sweep them aside. They are inconvenient if you are intent on creating a society to create a society of mindless drones who can do jobs but are incapable of any critical thought. So we wonder why at every level of government, private industry and even the church that people behave in ways which defy the norms of a civilized society.

Despite how loud many religious conservatives decry how far we have fallen, they are often complicit in the very things that they decry and condemn. The reason for this? Because they exalt in thought and action the very philosophies that they supposedly stand against. But then they have bought into the hateful philosophy of Ayn Rand and her violent Social Darwinism and are too poorly educated to realize it.

Wow, I think I just chased that rabbit and I have to admit that I digress… sorry.

So anyway, where was I?

Okay I remember, I was writing about what I was doing after the Gettysburg Staff Ride. It has been an interesting few days. I love the fact that there are baseball games on television again. It is a pleasant sensation to look up from a couch, bed or bar to see a baseball game. It will be even better when I am back at Harbor Park in section 102 watching the Norfolk Tides of the International League. Baseball you see is one of the few things that brings peace to my soul. No matter where or what level the sight of that diamond and smell of the freshly cut grass brings peace to my often troubled soul.

Tonight I am watching the Ken Burns Baseball series. I was struck by the comment that men who fail seven out of ten times are heroes. I think that is the case in real life. Most of us are lucky if we hit .250 in the game of life, much less .300. As for me I tend to operate by the grace of God at the Mendoza Line, or .200, just enough to stay in the game.

I have a number of writing projects planned, I am completing an application for a Ph.D. program in Organizational Leadership in which I will be able to combine my academic and professional interests into a multidisciplinary degree program. Unlike a lot of people pursuing a Ph.D. I already am pretty sure about the subject I will pursue for my dissertation. For those that haven’t guessed by what I have written the past few weeks it might have something to do with the Civil War.

So tomorrow at work I will start working on my Ethics class, the Gettysburg Staff Ride and preparations for teaching some other classes.

It is a good life. Have a great night and blessed tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Remembering Gettysburg and the New Birth of Freedom

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I am always humbled when I travel to Gettysburg as I did this weekend.  It is hard to believe in that now peaceful pastoral setting that over 157,000 Americans, almost 82,000 Union and 75,000 Confederate met in a three day battle. In those three days over 28,000 Confederates and 23,000 Union soldiers were killed, wounded, missing or captured. It was the greatest number of casualties inflicted in one battle on American soil in history.

I left on Friday with students from our Staff College and returned home this evening. It was my first time leading a Staff Ride like this though I have participated in them at other battlefields and led less extensive visits to Gettysburg when I was stationed at Fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania in 1997-1998. I have a good group of students, Army, Navy and Air Force Officers of much experience. In addition to simply examining the battlefield and telling the story of the battle, I have been working over the past two months to build a foundation that enables them to learn the enduring and timeless lessons of leadership, command, control, communication, the linkage between national strategy objectives, the operational art, operational objectives and tactical objectives.  Unlike other visits I added a final stop at the Gettysburg Soldiers’ Cemetery where President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.

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The places that the battle was fought have become legendary, for they are “hallowed ground” as Lincoln so eloquently put it. The places, McPherson’s and Herr’s Ridge, Seminary Ridge, the Railroad Cut, Barlow’s Knoll, Cemetery Hill, Culp’s Hill, The Wheat Field, Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard, Little Round Top, Cemetery Ridge, the Apse of Trees, the Angle and the High Water Mark are in a sense holy, or hallowed. They were consecrated by those who struggled there, those who lived and those who gave the last full measure of devotion to their country.

I think about those men of both sides and how they came to serve. In 1863 the majority of those who fought were volunteers. Some were motivated by their convictions, fully convinced of the rightness of their cause. Other went to war with mixed feelings. Some fought for family, or their homes, or because they felt that they could do no otherwise, and some even fought against the cause that their families or states believed in.

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But no matter what their reason for going to war they  That being said when I go there though my family predominantly fought for the Confederacy my heart is drawn to those men who remained loyal to the Union and those who answered the call of Abraham Lincoln to serve in a cause greater than their own interests, the great and the small alike.

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Lincoln was a masterful orator who managed to rally the Union and bring hundreds of thousands of men volunteer before Gettysburg. They came for an ideal an ideal which Lincoln’s oratory was probably the most effective at articulating in a way that men would volunteer to suffer hardship, fight and die to bring about. It was well put in the movie Gettysburg where Colonel Joshua Chamberlain said:

“This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you’ll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we’re here for something new. This has not happened much, in the history of the world: We are an army out to set other men free. America should be free ground, all of it, from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow, no man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something. Here is the place to build a home. But it’s not the land. There’s always more land. It’s the idea that we all have value, you and me. What we’re fighting for, in the end… we’re fighting for each other…”

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On November 19th 1863 Lincoln delivered a “few words” at Gettysburg which were in all practical aspects a benediction at the dedication of the battlefield cemetery. Lincoln was the second speaker at the ceremony following former Pennsylvania Congressman Edward Everett who spoke for more than two hours, a typical speech from the period. The 270 words of Lincoln’s address are perhaps the most important of any speech or document in American history save the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

The speech was so powerful that Everett wrote Lincoln the next day:

“Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

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The speech is short, but it’s eloquence is unmatched. Lincoln wrapped ideas, concepts and ideals that men have written volumes about into a speech so powerful that many have memorized it.

But few realize the context that it must be placed. Though the Union had defeated Lee’s Army at Gettysburg and Grant had taken Vicksburg to cut the Confederacy in half the North was growing war weary. There were those in the North, the Copperheads who were willing even after Gettysburg and Vicksburg to end the war on terms favorable to the Confederacy, even granting Confederate independence and the continuation of slavery. Likewise Lincoln was sick when he delivered the address having what was mostly likely a mild form of Smallpox when he gave the address. Thus the tenor, simplicity and depth are even more remarkable. It is a speech given in the manner of Winston Churchill’s “Blood sweat toil and tears” address to Parliament upon being appoint Prime Minister in 1940.

In a time where many are wearied by the foibles and follies of our politicians, even wondering about our form of government can survive Lincoln’s words matter. Dr Allen Guelzo, Professor of Civil War Studies at Gettysburg College wrote in the New York Times on the 150th anniversary of the Address:

“The genius of the address thus lay not in its language or in its brevity (virtues though these were), but in the new birth it gave to those who had become discouraged and wearied by democracy’s follies, and in the reminder that democracy’s survival rested ultimately in the hands of citizens who saw something in democracy worth dying for. We could use that reminder again today.”

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Dr Guelzo is quite correct. Many people in this country and around the world are having grave doubts about our democracy. I wonder myself, but I am an optimist. I do believe that we will recover because for the life of me I see no nation anywhere else with our resiliency and ability to overcome the stupidity of politicians, pundits and preachers.
The amazing thing was that in spite of everything the Union survived. Lincoln was a big part of that but it was the men who left lives of comfort and security like Joshua Chamberlain and so many others who brought about that victory.

Gettysburg Address

Throughout the war, even to the end Southern political leaders failed to understand that Union men would fight and die for an ideal, something greater than themselves, the preservation of the Union and the freedom of an enslaved race. For those that volunteered it was not about personal gain, loot or land,it was about something greater. It was about freedom.
Now I for one do not think that we are currently living up to the ideals enunciated by Lincoln that day at Gettysburg. I can understand the cynicism disillusionment of Americans as well as those who have for over 200 years looked to us and our system as a “city set on a hill.” That being said, when I read these words and walk that hallowed  ground I am again a believer that we can realize the ideal.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

In the hope that we again realize those ideals and help bring about “a new birth of freedom,” I wish you a good night.
Peace

Padre Steve+

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Putin’s Mistake: Creating an Afghanistan in the Ukraine

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It appears that  it is 1980 all over again. From  all accounts Vladimir Putin will succeed in chopping off the heavily Russian region of Crimea from the Ukraine. His troops accomplished the task in short order. The weak and isolated Ukrainian border guard and military units stood no chance against an invasion which had obviously been planned for month. This was not a knee-jerk response by Putin. Though events moved rapidly,  the alacrity with which the Russian troops moved in, aided by ethnic Russians, and the rubber stamp action of the upper house of the Russian legislature to approve it demonstrates that it was not simply a move to “protect Russian citizens.”

The response of the new provisional government in Ukraine is that the invasion, and it is an invasion no-matter what Putin and his allies claim, is an act of war. The Ukrainian President has mobilized all reserves, however conventional Ukrainian military force is insignificant compared to what Russia can deploy against it. That being said if Putin elects to continue his aggressive and short sighted overreach by moving troops into other parts of the Ukraine it will trigger a massive insurgency against his forces and it may cause other now independent regions of the old Soviet empire to offer support to Ukraine. The President of Chechnya has already made the offer and its hardy and brutal soldiers are quite good at conducting insurgency and terrorist campaigns.

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The West’s response is limited by geography. Any U.N. response against it will be vetoed in the Security Council by Russia. The United States, the European Union and NATO will protest. They will probably enact sanctions on Russia’s financial oligarchs on which Putin’s power rests and will possibly move troops to the western areas of the Ukraine and maybe limited naval forces into the Black Sea.

For those like Representative Mike Rogers of the House Intelligence Committee and others who said the Obama “missed the opportunity to deploy military forces to Ukraine,” I have to ask what forces and for what purpose?  U.S. military options are quite limited after 13 years of fighting costly wars, including the preemptive invasion of Iraq. Those wars, fought on borrowed money because the Bush administration refused to raise any taxes of any kind to support them harmed the country. Our forces, both the troops and equipment are worn out by war. The ability of the nation to rebuild and sustain them has been compromised by the economic costs of the 2008 banking and real estate crisis.  Likewise the Republican actions to force sequestration and other cuts on the military in order to get President Obama to cave to their domestic agenda has been detrimental to our overall national security.

russia-ukraine-protestPolice in Moscow arrest anti-Invasion Protesters

Those efforts themselves will not immediately accomplish much. However, when combined with an insurgency that has the ability to strike Moscow and St. Petersburg, the costs of maintain an occupying army in hostile territory are factored in they become more important. Likewise the ambivalence of the Russian people, who despite the imperialistic Russian media blitz has not risen to support war will eventually bring Putin problems at home.

The invasion of Crimea is not good for anyone. Ukraine needs time to sort out what it will become and a war is not in the interests of anyone.

The situation is intense and fraught with danger. Passions in many parts of the Ukraine are riding high and Putin’s move is more risky than he may realize. This is not the Republic of Georgia which Putin successfully invaded in 2008, abetted by the incompetence of that country’s leaders. If Putin continues down this course he will open the door to a real life Pandora’s Box, one that may take him and his government down just as Afghanistan helped end the Soviet empire.

Of course it is too early to say what will happen. The geopolitics, and economic realities, the internal politics of Russia, the Ukraine and the West will all influence what happens. In the past Putin has conducted a skillful game of realpolitik, however this time he may have overplayed what was a strong diplomatic, economic and political hand by launching this invasion. Those that think that simply because the EU depends on Russia for much of its natural gas and oil forget that Russia cannot cut off the supply without financial repercussions that directly affect Putin’s allies in the Russian financial oligarchy.

So now we watch as all the actors make their moves. It is a dangerous game that Putin has embarked upon.

We can only pray that it does not turn into disaster for all concerned.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Never Ending Struggle Against Racism and Its Terrible Effects

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On the 149th Anniversary of Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg washed up rocker and right wing political activist Ted Nugent wrote in the Washington Times: “I’m beginning to wonder if it would have been best had the South won the Civil War.”  I found his remark appalling and disgraceful but I have come to expect such comments from him and and others who voice similar sentiments. If Nugent’s rant was a one time slip of the tongue there might be some grace, but even last week he called President Obama a “subhuman mongrel” a term so load with Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow and Nazi imagery it defies imagination to hear it used today. When I hear such words spoken towards anyone I can only believe that the man that utters them is an unrepentant racist bent on the reestablishment of White Supremacy.

When I hear such sentiments, I think of men like Joshua Chamberlain. Chamberlain was a college professor who served in the Union Army and won fame and the Medal of Honor for the defense of Little Round Top at Gettysburg. There is a quote from the film Gods and Generals which I think about when I hear anyone suggesting that it would have been better for the Confederacy to have won the war:

“Now, somewhere out there is the Confederate army. They claim they are fighting for their independence, for their freedom. Now, I can not question their integrity. I believe they are wrong but I can not question it. But I do question a system that defends its own freedom while it denies it to an entire race of men. I will admit it, Tom. War is a scourge, but so is slavery. It is the systematic coercion of one group of men over another. It has been around since the book of Genesis. It exists in every corner of the world, but that is no excuse for us to tolerate it here when we find it right in front of our very eyes in our own country. As God as my witness, there is no one I hold in my heart dearer than you. But if your life, or mine, is part of the price to end this curse and free the Negro, then let God’s work be done.”

There is a spot near the Copse of Trees along Cemetery Ridge which is referred to as the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy.” It is close to where Confederate Brigadier General Lewis Armistead fell mortally wounded as the decimated remains of his command were overwhelmed by Union forces shortly after they breached the Union line. It is a place immortalized in history, literature and film. It is the place that marked the beginning of the end for the great evil of slavery in America.

My ancestors lived in Cabell County which in 1861 was part of Virginia. They were slave holders along the Mud River, a tributary of the Ohio River just to the north of what is now Huntington West Virginia. When war came to the country the family patriarch James Dundas joined the 8th Virginia Cavalry Regiment in which he served the bulk of the war as a Lieutenant.  When the war ended he refused to sign the loyalty oath to the Union. As a penalty his lands, which are now some of the most valuable in that part of West Virginia were confiscated and sold by the Federal Government. James Dundas was a true believer in the romantic and confused myth of the “Lost Cause.”

Because he served I am eligible for membership in the Sons of the Confederacy. But that is something that I will not do. While some join that organization to honor their ancestors, others that take that devotion to places that I cannot go.  As much as I admire the valor and personal integrity of many military men who served the Confederacy I cannot for a moment think that their “cause” was just.

It has been said that the North won the war but that the South won the history.  I think this is true. Many people reduce the reasons for the war to the South protecting its rights.  Sometimes the argument for the South is “states rights” or “economic freedom.” Those that make these arguments frequently romanticize the valor shown by Confederate soldiers on the battlefield. But sadly they often ignore or obscure the racism and evil of the Southern economic system.

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The “rights” and the “economic freedom” espoused by those that led the secession and that are lamented by those like Nugent were categorically evil. Those rights and freedoms were built upon the rotten edifice of slavery. The South fought to maintain their rights to enslave and exploit Blacks to maintain an archaic economy based on agriculture, particularly the export of King Cotton. Thus I have no desire to become part of an organization enshrines the myth of the “Lost Cause” no matter what my family connections.

Some attempt to place the blame on the North, to turn the Northern States into economic predators’ intent on suppressing the economic rights of Southerners. These arguments serve to show the bankruptcy of the idea itself. The fact that the “economic and political freedom” of Southerners was founded on the enslavement of a whole race of people matters not because to such people the “cause” is greater.

The fact was that the longer the Southern economy relied on agriculture supported slavery it deprived itself of the means of economic progress. The same progress that propelled the North to prosperity. Because it cast its lot with King Cotton and slavery the South lagged in all industrial areas to include transportation infrastructure. Most non-slave owning whites lived at the poverty line. They were disrespected by the wealthy Plantation owners only enjoyed some elevated social status because the slaves ranked beneath them in the sociological and economic hierarchy.

To support its slave economy the South depended on cheap imports from England, which then was still considered an enemy of the United States. When tariffs to protect newly establish American industries were enacted in 1828 South Carolina attempted to nullify the Federal law and even raised troops and threatened to revolt in 1832.

The Southern economic system was immoral and antiquated. It enslaved blacks and it impoverished most rural Southerners.  The only exception to this were those that owned the land and the slaves, and small numbers of entrepreneurs. It was a hateful, backward and loathsome system which even Southern churches attempted to justify from Scripture.  Southern Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians all broke away from their parent denominations in the 1840s over the issue of slavery.

So many died and so much of the South was destroyed in the defense of  the “cause” that one has to wonder just why Southern political and religious were willing to defend such an inadequate and evil economic system. Perhaps it was an innate sense of racial superiority that ran deep in the South, perhaps it was a misplaced sense of political pride and honor. Regardless of the reason, the war that they brought about devastated their homeland. The radicals that ran “Reconstruction” after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln ensured that Southerners suffered terrible degradation and impeded any real efforts to promote reconciliation between the races and between the regions.  Their misguided and often brutal rule ensured that Southern blacks would have even more obstacles raised against them by the now very angry and revengeful whites.  It would take another 80-100 years to end segregation and secure voting rights for blacks.

I was raised on the West Coast but have lived in the South much of my adult life due to military assignments. I served in National Guard units that trace their lineage to Confederate regiments in Texas and Virginia. Despite my Confederate connections both familial and by service I can find little of the romance and idealism that some find in the Confederacy and the “Lost Cause.” I see the Civil War for what it was, a tragedy of the highest order brought about by the need of some to enslave others to maintain their economic system.

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Today there are many that use the flags of the Confederacy outside of their historic context. They are most often used as a symbol of continued racial hatred or of defiance to the Federal Government by White Supremacist or anti-government organizations.  Many that use them openly advocate for the overthrow of the Federal Government.  The calls for such “revolt” can be found all over the country even in the halls of Congress much as they were in the 1830s, 40s and 50s.

Some of this is based on libertarian economic philosophy which labels the government as the enemy of business. Some is religious opposition to some social policies, while some is based in xenophobic racial hatred, not just of Blacks, but also Latin Americans, Asians and Middle Eastern immigrants. The divisions in the country are probably as great as or greater than they were in the 1850s as the country lurched inexorably to Civil War.

I often see the symbols of the Confederacy, particularly the Battle Flag displayed in manners that can only be seen as symbols of defiance.  Somehow I find the display of that flag outside of its historic context revolting.

For such people the Federal Government is the enemy. I know that our system of government has its flaws. Likewise I cannot agree more about the corruption of many in political office, regardless of their political allegiance or ideology.

Today quite a few people on the political right call for revolt or secession. Some moderate politicians have attempted to compromise with such radicals, but those efforts only make things worse. Radicals are never satisfied and view compromise as weakness. Thus Thomas Jefferson said of the Missouri Compromise of 1824: “but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment, but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.”

We have allowed the issues of our time to become a fire of unbridled angry passion. We have allowed those with almost no historical understanding and who promote myth stake claims and promote ideas that are destructive to our union. Unfortunately I do not think that we have reached the high water mark of this movement. I fear like Jefferson that the hatred and division will only grow worse as some prepare for conflict.

A few months after the Battle of Gettysburg Abraham Lincoln made a few remarks at Gettysburg war cemetery.  Lincoln is reviled by men like Nugent and others that romanticize the Lost Cause. He is often demonized by many “conservative” politicians and pundits today, but his remarks are still remarkably pertinent:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Today with so many radicals doing all that they can to plunge us into yet another civil war we should remember Lincoln’s words. We need to rededicate ourselves to this Union.  Tony Blair the former Prime Minster of Great Britain remarked in 2011:

“It may be strange for a former British Prime Minister to offer thoughts on America when the country will be celebrating its independence from Britain. But the circumstances of independence are part of what makes America the great and proud nation it is today. And what gives nobility to the American character.

That nobility isn’t about being nicer, better or more successful than anyone else. It is a feeling about the country. It is a devotion to the American ideal that at a certain point transcends class, race, religion or upbringing. That ideal is about values, freedom, the rule of law, democracy. It is also about the way you achieve: on merit, by your own efforts and hard work.

But it is most of all that in striving for and protecting that ideal, you as an individual take second place to the interests of the nation as a whole. This is what makes the country determined to overcome its challenges. It is what makes its soldiers give their lives in sacrifice. It is what brings every variety of American, from the lowest to the highest, to their feet when “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played.

Of course the ideal is not always met – that is obvious. But it is always striven for.

The next years will test the American character. The world is changing. New powers are emerging. But America should have confidence. This changing world does not diminish the need for that American ideal. It only reaffirms it.”

I think that the Prime Minister got it right and that Ted Nugent and those like him or defend his hateful ideology are ignorant racist fools. But hatred, ignorance and the belief in myth are often quite powerful in the hands of those who desire to maintain their power at any cost. History proves this, thus we must always confront them and not back down until we truly know that “new birth of freedom.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Matter of Degree: The Taliban, Kansas, Jim Crow and Nuremberg

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“The segregation laws in your country and the anti-semitic laws in mine, are they not just a difference of degree? Herman Goering (Brian Cox) to Captain Gustav Gilbert (Matt Craven) in the film Nuremberg)

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Over the weekend I posted a link to an article about the attempt by the Kansas State of Representatives to pass a law entitled the “Religious Liberties Protection Act.” The Bill, which seems innocuous was actually a law written to enshrine the discrimination against Gays in the public and private sectors by anyone claiming that serving them would infringe upon their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

The law was held up in the State Senate, and today the Bill was shelved, but it’s author Representative Charles Macheers, insisted that in order to protect Christians and other religious people that anyone claiming that their religious beliefs were infringed upon should be legally able to discriminate against others.  Though specifically directed against Gays it would have set a terrible legal precedent.

I posted a link to an article about the Bill on my Facebook page. Most people, even many of my more conservative Evangelical Christian friends, who are not big fans of Gay rights or Marriage Equity, to their credit were appalled by the law and by the attitude of my former colleague.

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When someone asked me about it on my page, I made a comment that the law was a product of “the Kansas Taliban.” The comment was deliberately designed to be provocative. It was loaded and it did what I intended.

I honestly believe that there is little difference between the religious zealots of the Taliban and those that introduce such religiously based laws here. Such laws enshrine discrimination and differ from the Sharia of the Taliban only in a matter of degree. The attitude exhibited by such zealots, be they Christian, Moslem or any other religion is so strikingly similar it is frightening.

My comment elucidated a response from a man who I had worked with years ago at a Evangelical Christian television ministry. The head of that ministry has become one of the leading figures in the politically active Christian Right and is quite active politically, especially in Texas. The man who jumped in on my conversation has been working for that ministry for over 20 years.

His comments were so hateful, disrespectful and ignorant that my friends, who range from very conservative Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians to devoted secularists, Gays and Lesbians and even an Atheist jumped in to defend me and what I said. The fact that my friends really know me and understand me, and even if they disagree with me they are willing to defend me. That is remarkable tribute to American values. It was a testament to the good nature of most Americans, as well as Brits who commented on the post. The fact is I would do the same for them.

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My comment about the “Kansas Taliban” was not about religious people who despite their strongly held beliefs are respectful of others and hold the rights of people who believe differently than them to matter. It was directed at those who use fear and hate to promote an agenda that vilifies and demonizes others based on their religious or ideological beliefs. The fact that the people promoting the Kansas law were conservative Christians is only important as it demonstrates that some Christians can be just as brutal and thoughtless as the Taliban.

That is a nuance that people driven totally by ideology miss. Some might think I am attacking Christians. That is not the case. The attack is on any group that would attempt to enforce their religious beliefs on others through the police power of the state.

The real fact of the matter is that the Mullahs of the Taliban have much in common with Christians and others who desire to impose their beliefs by the law of the state on those that do not agree with them, be it in religious beliefs, political ideology or racial, ethnic, cultural or linguistic differences.

My former colleague called me many things before he dropped me as a Facebook friend. He made himself look foolish. It was his loss. I would have been willing to listen, care for and respect his views had he not resorted to name calling and character assassination in his attempt to shame and silence me. Anyone who really knows me knows that for me life is more about caring for and having relationships with people, even if we differ in our beliefs than attempting to argue them into my position or abandon a relationship with them because they do not agree with me.

Sadly for him my former colleague did not understand that. It was a loss that he brought about, and in that sense it is his loss, because I actually do care for him and remember him fondly from when I knew him 20 years ago; but in the end of the day it is probably a loss for both of us.

Unfortunately that is the cost of those more committed to their ideology than they are to people. It matters not if they are Christians, Moslems, Jews, Hindus, secularists, or others that hold the purity of their political, social, ideological, racial or economic theories as more important than people.

My comment about the Kansas Taliban was fitting, and like Hermann Goering’s comments at Nuremberg to Gustav Gilbert the difference between the ideology and actions of the Taliban as opposed to militant Christians who attempt to use the power of the State to suppress, control and persecute those that they find offensive is only a matter of degree.

That may not seem important to some. But it is the difference between a divided society that can agree to disagree respecting the differences within it, and one for which factions attempt to use the police power of the State and the law of the land to persecute those that are different.

Goering in his critique of America in the 1930s and 1940s was correct; what we as a society enshrined in law and in our culture to discriminate against others differed little from what the Nazis did, only in the matter of degree.

It is something for us all to think about.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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God With Us? The Misuse of God’s Promise by Political Partisans

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It is one of the most amazing stories of salvation history. The Incarnation of God in Jesus the Christ. Matthew’s Gospel (Ch 1 v.24), referring back to the words of Isaiah delivers the message in words which find their way into our culture every Christmas through Georg Friedrich Handel’s Messiah: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, ‘God with us.’”

That message, which lays at the heart of the Christian Gospel is really amazing.  It is a message that points to a Gospel meant for all people and not any particular nation, nor any political, racial, or ethnic group that wishes to appropriate it for themselves alone.

It is the message of the humility and grace of God.  It is the message God humbling himself to become incarnate and not only live among his creation, but to suffer and die for the salvation of it. All of it. As Paul wrote so well in his epistle to the Philippians:

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:5-7)

Unfortunately that message is all too often appropriated and twisted into something unrecognizable by those who seek to use it to bolster their particular ideology, nationalism or even racism. In practice, human beings are much more likely to claim this message to bolster their own hatred and intolerance or justify their nation’s desire for conquest. It matters not if the a Christian in any sense of the word or not. One sees the same idea floated by zealots of almost every major religion. The appeal to being on the same side of God trumps all other arguments.

As a historian I have studied this often. In the United States it is encompassed in the idea of Manifest Destiny; but can be seen in the life and history of many nations who in their belief that God was on their side have slaughtered hundreds of millions of people. One does not have to look far to see leaders of nations, political factions, ideologues or other fanatics appropriate God as the trump card of their message. However, it is not just a matter for history. It happens every day, and it is not pretty. Many use it to justify the most reprehensible crimes, persecution, ethnic cleansing and even genocide. They do so all in the name of God, preaching that God is with them, and not those who they despise.

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Today I saw a blog on a service that I use to promote my website. The author of the blog promotes an extremely conservative political ideology with most of his posts being directed with some vehemence, often colored by blatant racism at President Obama and others that he does not agree with. Usually his posts are filled with such hyperbole and nonsense that I simply ignore them. However, today he posted something that as a Christian really bothered me. His post was titled Do Not Fear, God is With Us, and it featured the picture shown above. When I saw it, I felt a chill run down my spine. It was as if I was envisioning the virulent hatred of other races, creeds and nations exhibited by those who have claimed that mantle before. I can see it now, a belt-buckle with a Swastika, ringed in the words “Gott Mit Uns.” 

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The sad thing is that the Christians who claim this mantle misuse scripture and twist it to justify their hatred of all that they disagree with, have lost sight of the Gospel. Instead they have allowed their passionate hatred and prejudice to hijack the message of the Gospel to promote political partisanship, hyper nationalism and xenophobia. This can hardly be called Christian. If such ideas were was limited to the fringe of society it would not be so concerning. However, this blogger represents a significant portion of the American electorate; and his comments are echoed by the very powerful, and allegedly Christian leaders of partisan political organizations, as well as pundits, politicians and preachers. If you do not agree with them you are not a real American.

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Cartoon from the Nazi Der Sturmer linking the Nazi Movement to Christ, with the Jew being the villain 

Instead of seeing the message of God’s grace, love and mercy for all people, we see triumphalist Christians that claim that God is with them. In their zeal they ride roughshod over others, and despise all who disagree with or oppose them. Their opponents are painted as being in league with the Devil, modern Judas Iscariots. In their lives and ideology many Christians follow leaders who espouse brutal doctrines of Social Darwinism and sell their birthright for a pittance. They attempt to use of the police power of government at every level against those that they disapprove, in matters of faith, lifestyle or politics. Likewise they have no compunction about using the military and economic power of the nation to crush weaker nations, all because they believe that they and their country have God on their side.

But do such sentiments have any place in the message of Christians? I think not. As Paul the Apostle notes: if in Christ “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28) Or as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (2 Cor 5: 19)

The Gospel is not about God being on the side of any nation or political ideology. Such ideas always end in disaster for those that believe them, and who use God to justify their actions.

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McNoughton’s “One Nation under God”

The picture on the website that triggered this little article is one by a Mormon artist, John McNoughton. McNoughton has frequently blended the image of Jesus with the most banal appeal to American “patriotism” and crude attacks on President Obama. In this picture as well as others the artist has Jesus holding a copy of the Constitution of the United States in his right hand, with his friends on that side, and his foes, including judges, others viewed as liberals and women. In his more crass attacks on the President in other paintings he shows Obama trampling the Constitution while white people are bound in chains. All of these show up with startling frequency on supposedly Christian websites.

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US Political Cartoon from 1896

The sad truth is that McNoughton is not the first to practice this crude form of xenophobic patriotism, which appeals to God in order to vilify the opponents of their ideology. It has been used in this country before, as well as in Europe to vilify Jews, racial minorities and political opponents.

Yes, I do believe that God is with us, however, that is not confused with appeals to my patriotism, which is real and has led me to serve this nation for over 30 years in the military including two combat tours in the Middle East. Nor does it add or detract from my support of our Constitution, why does not mention God once, despite its guarantee of religious freedom for all, not just Christians. It is an amazing document, one that I will die to defend, but it is not handed down by God, and Jesus never referred to it.

Instead, my belief that God is with us flows from the mystery of the Incarnation, that miracle of salvation history.  I believe in the message wonderfully referred to in the liturgy as the “mystery of faith,” that Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again. My belief flows from the simple message that for God so loved the world… and not that God so established this or any other nation or political ideology as his own.

I understand the fear that drives men like the blogger who posted the article I saw, as well as men like McNoughton. Their fear of the other allows them to use these images to promote their hopelessly confused faith and ideology. Dietrich Bonhoeffer who saw the same fear and hatred present among his fellow Germans, especially German Christians wrote:

“The Christian must treat his enemy as a brother, and requite his hostility with love. His behavior must be determined not by the way others treat him, but by the treatment he himself receives from Jesus; it has only one source, and that is the will of Jesus.”

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What I see from the present political ideologues has nothing to do with love of God or our neighbor, but their efforts to protect their status in society, their political power and subject all others to their will.

God is with us indeed, in the humility of a borrowed manger, on the gibbet of a Roman cross, and in shame of a borrowed tomb. God is really present with us in the the bread and wine, in the word, and in the lives of his people; especially the least, the lost and the lonely. To attempt to crudely use God to buttress any earthy power is heresy. Those that use it in such a manner, though proclaiming their fealty to Christ, or any other God, willingly trample the message of the God who humbled himself, even to death on a cross.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Dehumanization of America: Tom Perkins, Peter Schiff, The Wall Street Journal and the Absence of Empathy

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“Our merchants and masters complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price and lessening the sale of goods. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.” Adam Smith The Wealth of the Nations: An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations

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Let me start this essay by categorically that I do not oppose people making money, becoming rich through their genius, their hard work, and being successful. In fact I applaud people who can do that. Adam Smith who developed what we know as Capitalism understood this. Unfortunately what now is described as Capitalism bears little resemblance to the understanding of Smith, and thereby his name is often dragged through the mud by people who seeing the bastard seed of the “new capitalists” reject the truly remarkable aspects of what Smith wrote about.

These men, and the society that they desire were described by Smith:

“As soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed, and demand a rent even for its natural produce.”

Smith understood the value of free markets, but he also understood that the value of a human being was greater than a means to a profitable end. He had a sense of social responsibility, something that those who profess to be his disciples today lack. Smith noted:

“The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities.” 

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In the past week we have been witnesses of the banal attitudes of some men and the institutions that they represent toward those who they make their riches from. Tom Perkins, a now retired venture capitalist wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal which complained that the rich were the targets of a new Kristallnacht against the rich. Later when defending his ideas, though lamenting his use of the term Kristallnacht, he boasted of his wealth including a James Bond like car which could “fly” underwater and a nearly 400,000 watch. It was a crass vulgar display or his wealth. It was almost as if Smith had wrote about Perkins in 1776:

“With the greater part of rich people, the chief enjoyment of riches consists in the parade of riches, which in their eye is never so complete as when they appear to possess those decisive marks of opulence which nobody can possess but themselves.”

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Peter Schiff equated the value of a worker to what they are and not what they produce, especially in regard to the mentally retarded but an argument that can equally apply to those of lower education, those with physical disabilities or even mental illness. Of course the Wall Street Journal then had to rise to the defense of such sentiments.

I mention these men because they were crass enough to voice what so many like them actually think, thus the criticism is not of these two men, but of the lifestyle, culture and attitude that they represent, which pervades almost every part of modern American economic life. We live in a society which our news media, entertainment industry and often even religion exalt the wealthy and in which our political, social and economic elites see wealth as their divine right. Smith noted:

“This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and powerful, and to despise or, at least, neglect persons of poor and mean conditions, though necessary both to establish and to maintain the distinction of ranks and the order of society, is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.”

Smith makes a direct connection between the attitudes toward wealth and the near worship of the rich and powerful to the corruption of the moral sentiments of a society. One only needs to look at the great banking, savings and loan and real estate meltdowns of the past 20 or so years to see the effects of this unquestioned worship of the rich and powerful has on the society at large. Even so those who have brought our economy to near ruin on numerous occasions do not see the connection. They are so insulated by their riches and success that they feel nothing of the suffering of others.

Theirs is a condition of intense narcissism and insecurity. They boldly assert their superiority over the majority of humanity, but are so insecure that they need to ensure that the government safeguards their position in society. Smith wrote:

“Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.”

Men like Perkins and Schiff and the shills at the Wall Street Journal have a profound lack of empathy, something that is common in narcissistic personalities. In fact the criteria listed for the psychiatric condition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder are present in many highly successful and powerful people, in politics, business, government, entertainment and even religion. Thus the  criteria serve well to illuminate the attitudes of such people, even if they themselves do not match enough of the criteria meet the clinical diagnosis.

*Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

*Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

*Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

*Requires excessive admiration

*Has a very strong sense of entitlement, e.g., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

*Is exploitative of others, e.g., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

*Lacks empathy, e.g., is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

*Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her

*Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

Now it is possible for people to demonstrate some of these symptoms without being diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, in fact at least five have to be present for a clinical diagnosis. That being said, the words and actions Perkins, Schiff and others demonstrate some characteristics of a a narcissistic personality, especially the lack or absence of empathy, which I think is the most dangerous narcissistic trait of all.

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When men no longer can empathize with other human beings, and only see others, especially the weak, the poor, those different than them and the disabled as a means to their own riches, power or success; the stage is set for great human tragedy. It does not matter in what type of political or economic system that it takes place, it can be Capitalist, Fascist, Communist, Nationalist, Tribal or even Theocratic; the issue is not the system, but the underlying lack of empathy for others in those who rise to power in it.

The terrible result of such a lack of empathy is the dehumanization of a society.

Gustave Gilbert, who served as a U. S. Army Psychologist at Nuremberg noted something about them men that he observed and worked with during the Nuremberg Trials. The men included bankers, industrialists, propagandists, technocrats, police, party and military personnel who served the Nazi regime. Gilbert wrote:

“In my work with the defendants I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.” 

Now before someone jumps the shark and says that I am calling either Perkins or Schiff “Nazis” or Nazi sympathizers, be aware I am not. I just feel that Gilbert’s assessment of the definition of evil, is a lack of empathy is a universal statement. Though Gilbert worked among Nazi War Criminals, I believe that the statement is true in any society where a minority of the people live in such a manner that they control the society and are incapable of having empathy for others.

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There is an antidote to this, and it is not in trying to protect one’s position, but rather to be generous to others regardless of our estate and to avoid vanity. Smith wrote that “Bounty and hospitality very seldom lead to extravagance; though vanity almost always does.”  Likewise he noted something that all of us should take note of before in our attempt to climb to the top crush all beneath us:  “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.”

So though my criticism falls on Perkins, Schiff and the Wall Street Journal it is something that all of us have to be aware of and guard against, regardless of our political, ideological, religious or economic philosophy of life; lest we sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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