Monthly Archives: December 2014

New Year 2015: It’s Not 1984 so Long as Our Thoughts are Free

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Thoughts are free, who can guess them?
They fly by like nocturnal shadows.
No man can know them, no hunter can shoot them
with powder and lead: Thoughts are free! 

Die Gedanken Sind Frei (The Thoughts are Free) 

Welcome to 1984 yet again, only now it is thirty-one years later and Orwell’s 1984 almost seems quaint by comparison.

Okay, I know it’s now New Year’s Eve for 2015, but who really cares? so but bear with me.

I figured that the first post of the New Year should be about the reality that has been with us for years but most people didn’t recognize until the past few years. The NSA revelations of 2013, though shocking to many shouldn’t have been so shocking because almost every countries intelligence services are attempting to does similar things. Likewise the private sector both aids and abets the government intelligence and security services and do similar things themselves to their customers.

Technology is a great thing and we love it. We depend on it. Smart phones, internet, text messaging, blogs, electronic banking, finance and commerce, e-books, and even gaming technology has revolutionized the way that we live. Hell, I’ll a technophile I admit it, I love technology and I use it.

While technology itself is neutral, it can be used for good or evil and every point on the morality spectrum in between. Thus it can be used for good, for convenience and holds much promise for most people, even as a minority uses it to commit acts of terrorism as well as all sorts of criminal activity against otherwise honest and law abiding people.

The tension that exists between the good and evil uses of technology, especially after the attacks of September 11th 2001 has prompted different reactions from both civil libertarians and people trusted with security of nations, businesses and infrastructure networks.

The fact is I can understand and argue for a strong civil libertarian response as well as the security response. Honesty I wrestle with the tension between civil liberty, including the right to privacy and the need for security. I want both but the reality is that the world has changed since I grew up.  It is not that people, governments and businesses didn’t seek to impinge on personal freedom or privacy and that others did not seek to kill or disrupt the lives of others in times past. The difference is the vast advances in technology which enable all of them to have ever more influence over our lives.

Technology has made possible what George Orwell only imagined when he wrote 1984. Governments, business, the banking industry, private security firms, internet service providers and search engines, as well as criminals gather information for good and for bad purposes. For our security we use passwords and pins which others seek to crack, while those delicious cookies that are planted on our computers when we visit different websites contribute to our convenience while enabling others to collect incredibly detailed information about us.

It really is amazing and unfortunately I don’t have any answers because I am a realist. I am not a fan of the National Security State, nor am I a fan of the way business and other organizations collect information. That being said I also know that there are those in the world who desire to use the technology that we are so dependent on to kill or harm people or disrupt society.

Back in the day when terrorism was simply a matter of relatively small bombs, assassinations, hijackings, kidnappings and postal or wire fraud it was a nuisance. It was bad if you were in the path of it but for most people it was not a real threat. I lived with it in the 1980s in Germany with the Red Army Faction, the Baader-Meinhoff gang  and Libyan agents blowing up American and West German facilities and kidnapping and killing soldiers. We lived with it, daily searches of our vehicles at the front gate and extra guard duties, my wife and I almost were at the Frankfurt PX when it was bombed in 1985. But that was different…

Today with the advent of technology, even small and seemingly insignificant groups have unprecedented power to kill and destroy. The attacks on the Twin  Towers, the Tokyo subway system, the Madrid commuter trains, London transit system, the Moscow Subway system and theaters, hotels, restaurants and train stations in Mumbai India and the recent attacks on the Russian city of Volgagrad show our vulnerability to groups that use technology, old and new.  The ability of other groups to use chemical weapons, to shoot down large commercial airliners with surface to air missiles and to hack the information systems of banks, businesses and governments threatens the stability of nations. The ability of criminal organizations or individual criminals to use technology to gain access to massive amounts of financial and personal data as was demonstrated in the breaking of Target and several other major retailers show just how vulnerable we are. Just imagine instead of money they decided to hack power systems, the electronic distribution grid or water works?

We want absolute freedom, privacy and security. However absolutes are no longer possible. Absolute freedom has never been possible, though we like to imagine it, yet absolute security can only be achieved by sacrificing all freedom. Now days security usually trumps freedom especially when the potential losses in lives, property and treasure are so great.

My inclination is toward civil liberties and privacy but such in the modern world may be on way to extinction and not all because of technology. Yes the technological part is big, and as a realist I do not think as long as the capabilities that technology provides us exist and advance that we can go back to a point that they cannot be used against individual liberty, life or property. Again, they technology itself is neutral, but how it is used makes all the difference.

The more worrisome issue for me is the way that the freedom of thought is being extinguished not in the name of security or freedom but for efficiency. Various parties including government, political, religious, scientific and business interests all seek to control thought for their own purposes.

Thus even history is twisted, as Orwell wrote: “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” It used to be that conservatives complained about liberals doing revisionist history, but as a historian I find what I see coming out of some conservative circles much more frightening as history is twisted for the most gross political, religious and social ends. We allow half-witted poorly educated loudmouths like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck to think for us, promote fake history and conspiracy theories as they give credibility to fake historians like David Barton. If there is a danger to any real freedom of thought it is because we as a people have allowed ourselves to taken in by such charlatans. Likewise the corporate state uses academics and intellectuals to prop itself up but once it has them it refuses to let them function independently.

Chris Hedges wrote of the corporate state:

“It is one of the great ironies of corporate control that the corporate state needs the abilities of intellectuals to maintain power, yet outside of this role it refuses to permit intellectuals to think or function independently.”

While Ray Bradbury wrote in Fahrenheit 451:

“Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.”

I believe that in such an age that freedom of thought is the most important thing, even more than freedom of speech. Soren Kierkegaard wrote: “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”

In college I learned the words of the old German song Die Gedanken Sind Frei (The Thoughts are Free). It is an ancient song that during the days of Metternich was popular among student fraternities in Austria and the various German states. After the 1848 revolutions it was banned by many governments in their crackdown against democratic movements. It was a song close to many of the anti-Nazi resistance groups including the White Rose movement led in part by Sophie Scholl. In light of the terrifying possibilities of repression that exist with the technology of today and what will certainly come into being in the coming years it is important to realize that our liberty must always come from within. The third verse of the song goes like this:

And if I am thrown into the darkest dungeon,
all these are futile works,
because my thoughts tear all gates
and walls apart: Thoughts are free!

Bertram Russell wrote of the freedom of thought:

“Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth — more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid … Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.”

It took some time but 1984 is finally really here. That is the new reality, but do not lose hope so long as our thoughts still remain free.

So Happy New Year my friends!

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s Year in Review

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Well it has been a year, well almost a year unless your are like in Australia when you read this.

As Charles Dickens’ wrote, “it was the best of times” and depending who you are or where you live it could have been one, the other or both. For me it has been one of those, not that there is anything wrong with that.

But really, look at the past year, personally it has been a mixed bag for me, in the end the plusses outweigh the minuses but what can I say? Great job, back with my wife, complete PTSD meltdown, being nearly suicidal for a while, but in the end a trip to Oktoberfest, the Orioles win the AL East, the Giants win the World Series and I’m doing better. On the other hand a whole lot of people are not doing better in a lot of places in the world. I’ve written about some of the events of the year as they affected me. Not all of them would be major, but hey, this was my year. If I had a song that described the year it would be Barry Manilow’s Trying to get the Feeling Again”

On January 6th I lost a man who had shown compassion and empathy for me, Captain Tom Sitsch, US Navy retired. Captain Sitsch was a true hero who worked his way up throughout the ranks in the Navy Explosive Ordinance Demolition community, made many combat deployments and suffered untreated PTSD and TBI. He took his own life. It was a sobering time for me, as he was one of the few people who showed much compassion for me when I was falling apart in the summer of 2008. He asked me “where does a chaplain go for help?” The best I can remember was that I told him not to other chaplains or clergy. I had no idea what he was going through and after he left the Navy under a cloud in 2009 I lost contact with him. His death brought me back into contact with men I had served with and who had served with him. I wrote about that a number of times as it was such a shattering event. I wish I had known and could have been there for him. The first article I wrote about that was on January 7th and can be found here: Rest In Peace Captain Tom Sitsch USN

February was a month of reflection on the sixth anniversary of my return from Iraq, the Winter Olympics in Sochi Russia and a time of intense preparation for my first journey to Gettysburg leading the Gettysburg Staff Ride for the Joint Forces Staff College. It also was a month where we began to see the tip of the iceberg of the attempt of some Christians in Kansas to enshrine  religious intolerance in law, that article A Matter of Degree: The Taliban, Kansas, Jim Crow and Nuremberg really pissed some people off.

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I wrote a reflection about the long strange trip back from Iraq in this article The Long Strange Trip: Six Years After Returning from Iraq

In March Russia pulled off its occupation of Ukraine and Malaysian Airlines flight 370 disappeared from the face of the earth. I also led my first trip to Gettysburg and really began to sink my teeth into writing about the battle as well as many other components of the American Civil War, including the politics, ideology, economic and religious aspects of the war. But for the most enduring mystery was the disappearance of MH-370. I ended up writing a “conspiracy theory” about it, which because it hasn’t been proven wrong could possibly be right, if not maybe the basis of a great terrorism novel. That article is here  My Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-370 Conspiracy Theory

April was the beginning of baseball season, the end of Lent, Holy Week and more work on a lot of history. I wrote about civil rights, Jackie Robinson, and a whole series on a Roman Centurion in Jerusalem during the first Holy Week. I also took on former half-term Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin in this article  War Crimes are Us: I Want No Part of Sarah Palin’s Torture Loving Christianity But it was an interesting time because I was asked to do an interview about my struggle with PTSD for the Washington Times. The article about that is here Not the Cover of the Rolling Stone but the Front Page: Padre Steve Featured in Washington Times article on PTSD

In May I took another group of students to Gettysburg and did a lot more writing about that subject as well as the subject of Memorial Day. But an event occurred that caused me to reflect on the way Christians often use the power of religion in attempts to silence or shame others who are in pain. That came after I had an experience trying to get help in the Navy Mental Health system and because of how I was treated began to implode all over again. That article is here: Frightened by Christians. I also did a fair amount of reflecting on the sacrifice of others in articles about Memorial Day, including this one “The Offering We Bring…” Remembering the First Memorial Day

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In June my struggle continued and was intensified by the collapse of Iraqi forces as ISIL swept into Iraq, overrunning many of the places I had served in Al Anbar province. Looking back at all that I wrote about other subjects that month I am amazed. I wrote about the assassination of Franz Ferdinand which triggered the events leading to the outbreak of World War I in this article A Wrong Turn, a Holy Cause and Two Bullets: The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand But here is the first article that I wrote about the collapse of the Iraqi forces and reflected on all the history that we should have paid attention to in 2003 The Results of Ignoring History: The Implosion of Iraq as well as my own reflection of my time there and hope for better Inshallah Iraq (إن شاء الله) Maybe Someday things will be Better

In July I did a lot more work on Gettysburg as I got ready to take another group there in August. I reflected on Iraq, PTSD, the Declaration of Independence and in my work on Gettysburg and Civil War issues I wrote this article about some of the similarities that I see in some Tea Party ideology and that of the ante-bellum South, the Confederacy and Jim Crow. That article is here Parallels between Tea Party Ideology and the Ante-Bellum South I took another stab at the situation in Iraq in this article Iraq, ISIS and Al Qaeda: Sowing the Wind…  and this about the moral responsibility of a nation at war to those that it sends to fight its wars  “You Broke it, You Bought It” The Responsibility of a Nation at War and Broken and Unlikely to Get Better: Military Mental Health Care

In August I led another trip to Gettysburg, and I reflected on a number of subjects, but as I was struggling so much after my collapse in May I decided to write a number of new articles about PTSD, Suicide and the military mental health care system. Here are two of them No Shutting Up Until it is Fixed: Veteran and Military Mental Health Care and  Moral Injury: Betrayal, Isolation, Suicidality, & Meaninglessness; the War after the War But I also ventured into the initial police reaction in Ferguson Missouri in the article The Misuse of Force: Shock and Awe Backfires in Ferguson But one of my favorite articles to write was this one on the Gettysburg Address, something that I always find important to reflect upon Reembracing the New Birth of Freedom

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In September I made pilgrimage to Oktoberfest. However I ventured into the discussion of the new, old kind of war that we are facing again, that of religious ideology and war without mercy. That article is here Wars Without Mercy: The New Old Way of War and The Islamic State and the New, Old Nature of War

In October, of course I continued to write about Gettysburg and the Civil War, baseball and the World Series, and was inducted into my High School’s Hall of Fame, which was a great honor. But I decided to tackle some of the religious ideologues who are actively engaged in the political process and did an article about Senator Ted Cruz’s father Rafael Cruz. That is here: Rafael Cruz and the Dangerous Heresy of the Self-Annointed

In November I made my final trip for the last academic year to Gettysburg and had the honor of meeting a real hero, retired Army Colonel Walter Marm, who won the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Ia Drang, a battle made famous by the movie We Were Soldiers that reflection is here: Return from Gettysburg: Table Talk and Meeting a Hero

December was another big month, the Senate Report on the CIA torture program was released much to the chagrin of the program’s most ardent supporters including a host of “Christian” leaders. I decided to take them on in this article Conservative Christians and Torture: Wedded at the Hip

Those are just some of the highlights. I wrote about so many other things as well, and I invite you to browse the site. Like I said, all things considered I am surprised I have been so productive this year. So anyway, thank you so much for reading what I put out, for sharing it and for your wonderful comments and encouragement. So I’ll wish you well and if I don’t get anything else done later today I wish you all a happy and blessed New Year.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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And the Winners Are: My Blog Awards for 2014!

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is a link to another blogger who is quite good, Sean Munger an author and professor at the University of Oregon. Sean was good enough to list my site as one of his Blog Award winners for 2014. But besides my site I do recommend Sean’s site as well of the others that he has listed. Many I had never seen before but they as a group are both eclectic and awesome. I hope you take a look at them.

Peace and Blessings

Padre Steve+

SeanMunger.com

blog awards 2014

It’s hard to believe, but 2014 is almost over. This year has gone very fast and a lot has happened in it, both personally and in terms of national and world events. But as the seconds tick down toward 2015 I can’t let the New Year strike without honoring some of the blogs I read this year, and the wonderful, interesting, informative, funny and thought-provoking things they brought to me.

This is the second year in what I hope will be an annual tradition on this site. There are a lot of folks out there doing blog awards, especially this week, but mine are not the usual “nominate 5 other bloggers…” type of thing where the recipient has to do anything to “claim” the award. There are no strings attached here. If you’ve received an award, there’s nothing you have to do. It’s just my way of saying hey, I…

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An Exercise in Exceptions: “Absolute” Truth, Faith and Justice

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“Religion carries two sorts of people in two entirely opposite directions: the mild and gentle people it carries towards mercy and justice; the persecuting people it carries into fiendish sadistic cruelty…” Alfred North Whitehead 

Those who follow my writings know how much I struggle with faith and doubt on a daily basis. I believe, but as the man told Jesus when he asked Jesus to heal his child “I believe, help my unbelief.” I no longer believe in the “absolute truths” that I once believed. Of course to some this makes me a heretic or worse. That being said, I have faith in a God I cannot see. I have faith in a God who clothes himself in human weakness and allows himself to be killed as a state criminal.

That being said I see many of my fellow Christians, not to mention those of other faiths who attempt to use their interpretation of what they believe are absolute truths and attempt to impose them on others. Using their houses of worship they indoctrinate believers into believing the “truth” including the judgment on non-believers.

I remember going through classes in my previous denomination which were entitled “The Government of God” and utilized Robert Bork’s book Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline as its primary text. Obviously the class had little to do with faith, but was a tool by which we were indoctrinated to believe the political-religious ideology of our church leaders. There were several more texts, which basically echoed Bork’s thought, but they were taught in a manner is if they were as important as the often contradictory Biblical tests or the writings of the church Fathers, the great saints, scholastics or Protestant Reformers. It was an exercise in political indoctrination based on religious ideology. At the time I had no idea that what the church leaders were appealing to was nothing more than a variation on Christian Dominionism. 

Such ideology is incredibly dangerous because when people in power take it to heart and act upon it, all pretense of fairness, justice and integrity is lost. Those who are simply different are persecuted, those who do not tow a particular party or religious line are suspect, and the innocent are presumed guilty. It has happened throughout human history in every corner of the world, and it still goes on today.

I ended up rejecting that view of faith and life after coming home from Iraq, and for voicing my disagreement on a number of issues was asked to leave that denomination in 2010.

I believe again, but my doubts are real. But even more I have a belief in justice, and I believe that that justice itself cannot be built on absolutes. As Captain Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) noted in the Star Trek the Next Generation episode Justice: 

“I don’t know how to communicate this, or even if it is possible. But the question of justice has concerned me greatly of late. And I say to any creature who may be listening, there can be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions.”

I have found that as Picard said, “that life itself is an exercise in exceptions.”  We all make them, and the Bible and the history of the church is full of them. So I have a hard time with those who claim an absolute certitude in beliefs that are built on faith and treat them as fact, despite the fact that they are not provable. Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted the problem well when he talked of this problem and described the dilemma of so many believers:

“Man no longer lives in the beginning–he has lost the beginning. Now he finds he is in the middle, knowing neither the end nor the beginning, and yet knowing that he is in the middle, coming from the beginning and going towards the end. He sees that his life is determined by these two facets, of which he knows only that he does not know them”

Even so believers of all faiths wrap themselves in the certitude of their faith. They espouse doctrines that at best are humanity’s best attempts to describe a God that is infinitely bigger and more complex than they believe. The contest then becomes not about God himself, but the manner that the human being who interprets God espouses as incontrovertible doctrine. Eric Hoffer wrote:

“A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”

That certitude and the belief that we absolutely know the mind of a God who claims that we cannot know is the height of arrogance and it ensures that when we speak in terms of absolutes that we do not understand God, nor do we believe in justice, because as Captain Picard so wisely noted “life itself is an exercise in exceptions.” Even the most devout of believers make exceptions, simply because they are human and can’t avoid it, unless they are sociopaths.

Henri Nouwen wrote something very profound that all who claim to know God’s absolute will or truth need to consider. Nouwen wrote: “Theological formation is the gradual and often painful discovery of God’s incomprehensibility. You can be competent in many things, but you cannot be competent in God.”

The fact is that no one can be competent in God, and that those who claim to are either hopelessly deluded b their ignorance, or worse, are evil men masquerading as good. Those who pro port to know absolutes and want to use the Bible or any other religious text as some sort of rule book that they alone can interpret need to ask themselves this question, posed by Commander Riker to Captain Picard when he talked about absolutes and life: “When has justice ever been as simple as a rulebook?” 

Sadly too many people, Christians, Moslems, Jews, Hindus, and others apply their own misconceptions and prejudices to their scriptures and use them as a weapon of temporal and divine judgement on all who they oppose. However, as history, life and even our scriptures testify, that none of us can absolutely claim to know the absolutes of God. As Captain Picard noted “life itself is an exercise in exceptions.” 

Thus our human justice, as feeble as it often is must take this into account: It takes true wisdom to know when and how to make these exceptions, wisdom based on reason, grace and mercy. Justice, is to apply the law in fairness and equity, knowing that even our best attempts can be misguided and if based on emotion, hatred, racism or vengeance all clothed in the language of righteousness can be more evil than any evil it is supposed to correct.

Does it matter if we are doing it the sake of law and order, or for love of country, or to defend the faith; if at the heart of it what we call justice, or moral absolutes is nothing more than the implementation of an agenda to crush the powerless under our heel and promote even more injustice? If we lean toward the view that we are implementing the absolute law and will of God then we had better be sure, as Nouwen so well noted we can be competent in many things, but we cannot, as much as we deceive ourselves, be competent in God.

But we see it all too often, religious people and others misusing faith to condemn those they do not understand or with whom they disagree. As Patrick Stewart playing Captain Jean Luc Picard noted in the Start Trek Next Generation episode The Drumhead:

“We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Election 2016: The Coming Christian Holy War

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My friends, there is a Holy War that is about to overwhelm us, and it is not an Islamic Jihad. No it is a very American and allegedly Christian version of jihad, without the beheadings, at least for now. Pat Buchanan announced it in 1992 during the Republican National Convention:

“There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself.”

For those that do not know me well and just think that I am a run-of-the-mill liberal type, they need to understand that I was at one time a solid Republican who had strong ties to the religious right and though moderate almost always followed the party line on the issues supported by the political preachers of the religious right.

Frank Schaefer, the son of the late Dr. Francis Schaefer was one of the leaders of that movement. Eventually, he left it and has become a stalwart critic of the rabidly political nature of conservative Christianity in the United States, Evangelical and Roman Catholic alike. Schaefer has written and talked about how he and other leaders of the religious right in the 1970s and 1980s worked to build an alliance with the then, relatively secular Republican party. Though conservative, may Republicans, including men like Barry Goldwater, a conservative icon were suspicious of and opposed the goals of religious conservatives. In 1994, Goldwater who was the leader of the conservative takeover of the GOP told John Dean something that made Christian conservatives profoundly different from secular conservatives:

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

The problem is unlike 1994 when the preachers were on the outside attempting to force the GOP into their ideological mold, they now are the leadership of the GOP. There is not one of the leading potential candidates that the GOP will field for the 2016 Presidential campaign who are not either wholly or in part either a leader, an ally or completely controlled by the religious faction of the GOP. Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, Jeb Bush, Rick Perry and probably Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin as well. Some like Huckabee rate not only political leaders, but former pastors and religious leaders as well.

If Barry Goldwater was alive today he would oppose them all. He understood, even as an unabashed conservative that they were a dangerous crowd.

He contrasted them with old line conservatives:

“Well, I’ve spent quite a number of years carrying the flag of the ‘Old Conservatism.’  And I can say with conviction that the religious issues of these groups have little or nothing to do with conservative or liberal politics.  The uncompromising position of these groups is a divisive element that could tear apart the very spirit of our representative system, if they gain sufficient strength.” 

I came to realize that in 2008 when I returned from Iraq after having believed the lies for decades. When I finally began to speak out about what I saw I was kicked out of the very conservative and evangelical Anglo-catholic denomination that I had served as a priest for 14 years. Why? Because I openly stated that I believed that Gays could be Christians, that women should be allowed to be priests and that not all Moslems were bad. Since that time I have been castigated by many in my former denomination, including people who I thought were friends, not to mention of host of other Christian fanatics.

The fact is that to them, anyone who they think deviates from their interoperation of God’s law is the enemy. In fact if the religious conservatives now running the GOP every took all their reigns of government, after quashing all secular or religious dissent that they opposed would turn on each other. The alliance would split along ancient and unresolved theological lines, Catholics against Evangelicals in a struggle to establish the true government of God.

Most Democrats, progressives, secular conservatives or Libertarians cannot understand how such people think and what motivates them, simply because they are much more pragmatic and less motivated by religious ideology. President Obama is a good example. He like many others are willing to defy his liberal base to compromise, even if he does not get all that they want. This was a fatal flaw of what is now know as Obamacare. Instead of simply expanding Medicare for all, Obama used the plan of the Heritage Foundation which Mitt Romney used in Massachusetts. Obamacare is not socialized medicine. Far from it, it is a hand out to insurance companies who now feed at the government tax money feed stalls that they never had access to before.

But you have to understand the mindset, the theology, the history and the sense of destiny motivated by faith that these people bring to the table, even the most cynical and openly hypocritical of them.

Religious conservatives cannot do this, because for them it is not merely about temporal politics, it is about establishing “God’s law ” (as they interpret it) as the norm and are willing to use every means, constitutional or not, fair or unfair, kind or evil to accomplish their goals. Why can’t they compromise? Simply put, because to do so would be to deny God.

Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who oversaw the prosecution of the major war criminals at Nuremberg noted:

“[I]n our country are evangelists and zealots of many different political, economic and religious persuasions whose fanatical conviction is that all thought is divinely classified into two kinds — that which is their own and that which is false and dangerous.” 

Goldwater stated on the Senate floor in 1981 about the danger of the religious conservatives, of which I was an early convert thanks to the Dominionist theology promoted by the Presbyterian Church that attended in college: Goldwater said:

“There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D.’ Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of ‘conservatism….

Being a conservative in America traditionally has meant that one holds a deep, abiding respect for the Constitution.  We conservatives believe sincerely in the integrity of the Constitution.  We treasure the freedoms that document protects. . .  “By maintaining the separation of church and state,” he explained, “the United States has avoided the intolerance which has so divided the rest of the world with religious wars . . .  Can any of us refute the wisdom of Madison and the other framers?  Can anyone look at the carnage in Iran, the bloodshed in Northern Ireland, or the bombs bursting in Lebanon and yet question the dangers of injecting religious issues into the affairs of state?’ ”

Well my friends, those religious leaders now own the Republican Party. Those religious leaders are one in the same as the politicians they are influencing, and dare any stray from the reservation, as did Eric Cantor, they will be cast aside and replaced with a Christian religious extremist.Such is only possible where people adopt the theocratic presuppositions of the Christian Dominisionists, as so many have. Gary North, one of the prominent leaders of this movement whose reach goes to the heart of the “Conservative Christian” political movement and who has served as an advisor to both Ron and Rand Paul 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.”

My God, in what country could a disgraced, pathological liar, who had been court-martialed and cashiered by the Navy be elected to any office? But Gordon “Dr. Chaps” Klingenschmitt, was elected to the Colorado State Senate by a sizable margin and still keeps his extreme radio program. How can that be unless Goldwater was right?

Such people, even supposed faithful Roman Catholics  even condemn Pope Francis when he disagrees with their political ideology. Their hatred and need for control knows no bounds.

I came to realize too late the dangers of these people. I scoffed at Goldwater in the 1980s, and hesitated to believe him in the 1990s. Sadly it took me a tour in Iraq, visits to the Balkans, a lot more study, and getting thrown out of a church that I had faithfully served, to realize that I had been deceived. Sadly, I don’t think that most of my Christian brothers, smothered in the hateful dualistic “us versus them” ideology of the religious right will understand this.

Martin Niemoller, a German War hero of the First World War who became a pastor and hated the secular Weimer Republic. Out of that hate, Niemoller initially supported Hitler realized too late the evil that he had helped put into power. He ended up being jailed and put in a concentration camp for the duration of the war. He wrote:

“I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”

Niemoller’s fate will be the fate of the people who elect any of these religious extremists to the Presidency. My advice to any is neither to fall for their promises nor disbelieve their most hateful and incendiary proposals. Those lay at the heart of the movement, and millions of otherwise faithful Christians have already been decided by them. In fact, look around around you. You probably know a few.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Prisoners of Hate

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“Prejudice makes prisoners of both the hated and the hater.”

I read something this week that struck me. A couple of nights ago I was continuing to read Randy Shilts’ book about the beginning of the AIDS crisis. And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic. As I did so I was struck by a single sentence “Prejudice makes prisoners of both the hated and the hater.”

In the book, Shilts, a journalist and author, discussed the impact of hatred on people. The part of the book I was reading  was about the release from prison of Dan White, the San Francisco city councilman who murdered the legendary Gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone on January 7th 1984.

Shilts reflected on how that reciprocal hatred between White, his supporters, and the Gay community harmed all. Back then Gays were angry about how a man who murdered two other men in cold blood and got off on a ludicrous defense based on White’s consumption of Hostess Twinkies.  That anger was compounded by how many Gays felt about the AIDS epidemic, which at the time the cause was still unknown.  When White was released, angry Gays protested, some even calling for White’s death. White was out of prison but he was a prisoner of his actions, he killed himself a number of months later. Shilts noted in his book that: “Prejudice makes prisoners of both the hated and the hater.” At the time neither the Gay community, nor its detractors could get around the hate.

When I read the quote I was struck with just how timeless it was. The fact is that though Shilts was discussing something the Gay community was experiencing in 1984, it can be applied in almost every instance where there is anger about real or perceived injustice.

In the past couple of months we have seen the anger of the African American community towards law enforcement in the case of Michael Brown and other instances where police killed unarmed blacks and suffered no legal repercussions. While most protestors were peaceful, some were not.

Last week black man traveled from Baltimore to New York boosting on instagram that he was going to put wings on police. Baltimore police attempted to warn New York, but by the time the message arrived the man had brutally murdered two New York City Police Officers as sat in their patrol car. Before he left Baltimore he shot his girlfriend. The man had a long history of criminal behavior, belonged to a prison gang that advocated killing police and had a long history of severe mental illness. However, because he was black and because he had publicized why he was going to kill the officers, the protestors and other critics of police who abuse their authority were blamed for causing the action.

Since then the invective has only increased, despite the efforts of people, mainly those who support the protestors to scale back the rhetoric and seek reconciliation. Sadly, it only seems to get worse, especially from those who seek to only see one side of the problem and blame one group. I have a military physician friend who wrote something on her social media page that I agree very much with:

“I support police officers and first responders. I also support equal rights and believe discrimination based upon race, creed gender, sexuality, etc. is wrong. Am I allowed to support both these now-a-day?”

A week or so ago I asked a similar question. I have been in the military the bulk of my life and I have a strong affinity to those who put themselves in harms way be they in the military, law enforcement, fire, rescue, EMS or other first responders. At the same time I also know that not everyone in those organizations are law-abiding, and some harbor terrible prejudice against people whose race, religion, social or economic status, or lifestyle they oppose. Sadly some of them use the power they have been entrusted with to persecute or harm others and in many cases are never held accountable.

That being said I know that people who face very real prejudice, discrimination, inequity and persecution, including that of some in the law enforcement community grow angry and frustrated. Most remain peaceful, even in the use of civil disobedience, but even then they are often attacked or set upon by the very law enforcement agencies who are also supposed to serve and protect their rights as citizens. And some do lash out and cause harm to people and property.

Honestly I do not know what can be done at this point to change the direction that our society is heading. I wonder like my friend if it is possible to support law enforcement and at the same time ensure that they too obey the laws they are sworn to enforce, and the people they are sworn to serve. It was then that I remembered the words of Nelson Mandela. He said, reflecting on the 25 years that he was wrongly imprisoned by the Apartheid government of South Africa:  “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”  

Maybe that is too idealistic for most of us today. Maybe we have become so embittered by what we see that we simple decide whoever disagrees with us must be at fault for everything. Today I noticed a comment on a post I had written about a military subject. The writer of the comment was definitely parroting everything that he listens to on the right wing media circuit, Fox News, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and so many others, not to mention the allegedly “Christian” religious extremists who parrot them. The man wrote:

“Love the page. BTW there is nothing progressive about socialism. The “Progressives” in the USA are in fact socialists. It is regressive. There is nothing democratic about it either, it is top down dictatorial. There is no life liberty and pursuit of happiness when the people belong to the state. The Soviet Union, China, Cuba, North Korea, East Germany, Fascist Italy, Venezuela and even Nazi Germany (socialist workers party) are all good examples of where socialism leads. Lets not bring this kind of progressive to the USA.”

Of course this is complete hogwash and I politely but bluntly told him so.

However, his words came out of the same echo chamber that blamed peaceful protestors and their supporters for the deaths of the two New York police officers. Since on occasion I have gotten death threats and other lesser forms harassment from the most extreme elements of this right wing movement I am a bit sensitive to crap like this.

That being said I commit myself anew to the message Nelson Mandela because no matter what happens to me I do not want to be bound in the dungeons created by my the hate of others, or what hatred that on occasion that I might feel toward them. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

How do we get to where President Mandela or Dr. King believed was the true path to freedom? I think like both both of these men realized that it is about forgiveness, forgiveness even in the midst of injustice. As Dr. King said: “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” Such an attitude however requires genuine empathy, and sadly many people cannot feel empathy for others and as Captain Gustave Gilbert noted about what made the leaders of the Third Reich evil, wrote: “Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.” 

Sadly, that lack of empathy makes everyone a prisoner of hate.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Death in the Arctic: Scharnhorst at North Cape

Schlachtschiff "Scharnhorst"

Christmastide is a joyous time for many, but in the course of history there have been times that military men have fought and died in hopeless battles far from their families. Thus it is often a time of sorry, especially for those that die alone. Among those who died alone in the Arctic darkness of December 26th 1943 were the officers and crew of the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst.

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Scharnhorst in port

The Scharnhorst along with her sister ship Gneisenau were the product of the naval architects of Germany who in the early 1930s designed some of the most beautiful as well as deadly warships of the Second World War.  Following Germany’s rejection of the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles the Kreigsmarine enacted a building program to enlarge and modernize the German Navy which then was composed of obsolete pre-Dreadnaught battleships and a few modern light cruisers and destroyers.   The first major units constructed were actually begun by the predecessor to the Kreigsmarine, the Reichsmarine of the Weimar Republic.  These were the Deutschland class Armored Ships, sometimes called “Pocket Battleships” and later reclassified as Heavy Cruisers. These ships were designed to replace the old pre-Dreadnaught battleships and incorporated electric welds to reduce displacement, diesel engines for extended cruise range to enable them to serve as commerce raiders and a battery of six 11” guns.  While an advance over anything in the German inventory they were outclassed by the British battle cruisers Hood, Renown and Repulse.

However, the first truly capital ships built by the Kriegsmarine were the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau Rated as battleships, in reality they were battle cruisers because of their light main battery of 11” guns as opposed to the 14”, 15” or 16” batteries of other nations battleships.  Despite this in displacement and armor protection of the ships was comparable to other battleships of the era and their designed speed of 31.5 knots was superior to almost all other battleships of the era including the British King George V Class and the US Navy’s  North Carolina class.  Only the massive battlecruiser HMS Hood was their superior in speed and firepower.

As built Scharnhorst and Gneisenau displaced 31,000 toms, however at full combat load they both weighed in at nearly 38,000 tons and were 772 feet long.  They had an armor belt that was nearly 14 inches thick.  Armed with a main battery of nine 11” guns and a secondary armament of twelve 5.9 inch guns they also mounted a powerful for the time anti- aircraft battery of fourteen 4.1 inch guns, 16 37mm and 16 20mm anti-aircraft cannons.  Additionally they mounted six 21” torpedo tubes and carried three Arado 196 A3 scout planes.  The main battery was eventually to be replaced by six 15” guns but this never occurred although Gneisenau was taken in hand to mount the new weapons but the conversion was never completed.

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Scharnhorst firing at HMS Glorious 

Laid down on 15 June 1935 and launched 3 October 1936 Scharnhorst was commissioned 7 January 1939.  Her sister Gneisenau was laid down 6 May 1935, launched 8 December 1936 and commissioned 21 May 1938.  Upon the commencement of the Second World War the two sisters began a reign of destruction on British shipping. In November they sank the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Rawalpindi During Operation Weserübung the pair surprised sank the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and her two escorting destroyers, the only time a Fleet carrier was caught and sunk by battleships during the war.   From January to March 1941 they conducted Operation Berlin against British merchant shipping in the North Atlantic sinking 22 ships before returning to base.

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Scharnhorst and Gneisenau during Operation Cerebus

While in the port of Brest Gneisenau was bombed and torpedoed requiring extensive repairs.  Due to the exposed location of the port the German high command decided to return the ships to Germany along with the Heavy Cruiser Prinz Eugen.  The operation was called Operation Cerberus and it took place from 11-13 February 1942. The ships made a dash up the English Channel which was unsuccessfully contested by the British Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. However, both Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were damaged by mines and needed subsequent repairs.  While undergoing repairs in Kiel Gneisenau was further damaged by the Royal Air Force requiring repairs in or to steam to the port of Gotenhafen for repair and conversion.  Although some work was completed she was decommissioned and sunk as a blockship on 23 March 1945.  Following the war she was raised by the Poles and scrapped.

Scharnhorst was repaired following Operation Cerberes and in March 1943 was transferred to Norway where along with Tirpitz, Admiral Scheer, Lutzow (the former Deutschland), Admiral Hipper and Prinz Eugen she became part of a “fleet in being” poised to strike the Allied convoys bound for Russia.

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Admiral Bruce Fraser

The German surface ships were a potent force that if the circumstances allowed could devastate the Russia bound convoys and the Commander of the British Home Fleet, Admiral Bruce Fraser was determined to entrap and destroy any of these ships that threatened any convoy. As such in December 1943 Fraser formed a task group built around the HMS Duke of York to be ready to pounce on any German raider that threatened the convoys. His intent was to catch any of these ships, especially Scharnhorst and trap them between the convoys and their base, in conduction with a second task group centered around the cruisers HMS Belfast, HMS Norfolk, and HMS Sheffield, Known as Force One, and destroy the German battleship.

The key to British the British operation was Enigma the German code machine and cipher system which they had acquired from captured U-Boats, and which British code-breakers had mastered. The Germans decided to send Scharnhorst and five destroyers to locate and destroy convoy JW-55B which had been spotted by Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft. Because of Enigma Fraser knew that Scharnhorst would attempt to intercept the convoy and put his plan in motion.

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Scharnhorst and her escorts set sail on Christmas Day 1943 under the command of Rear Admiral Erich Bey to conduct Operation Ostfront. Since Fraser knew that the Germans were coming he had the convoy to temporarily reverse course which caused the Germans to miss the convoy. When he did not find the convoy in the expected location Bey detached his destroyers to expand the search area, leaving Scharnhorst alone to face the enemy.

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Rear Admiral Erich Bey

At about 0900 on December 26th 1943 the cruisers of Force One discovered Scharnhorst and the  Battle of North Cape was on. Though little damage was suffered in the first engagement, the radar of Scharnhorst was knocked out, leaving her not only without air support or escort, but blind.

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HMS Duke of York firing at Scharnhorst

Scharnhorst attempted to flee but Fraser’s Duke of York  and her four escorting destroyers destroyers intercepted her. Without radar in the blinding snow squalls Scharnhorst was surprised. Duke of York’s first radar direct salvos knocked out her forward main battery but the German ship appeared to be making a getaway when a shell from Duke of York hit her number one boiler room and reduced her speed to barely ten knots. Although the German engineers and damage control teams made some repairs and were able to bring her speed back up to 22 knots, the British ships rapidly made up the distance enabling the British destroyers to launch torpedo attacks.

Knowing the ship was doomed Admiral Bey dispatched a message to the high command of the Kriegsmarine: “We will fight on until the last shell is fired.”

While she still attempted to fight off her attackers and escape she was struck by torpedoes from several destroyers as well as was pummeled by the at at distance of under 10,000 yards by Duke of York’s 14″ shells, as well as the 6″ shells of HMS Belfast and HMS Jamaica. Savaged by hits and incapable of further resistance the German ship capsized and sank at 1945 hours with the loss of all but 36 of her 1968 man crew.  Her wreck was discovered 3 October 2000 some 70 miles north of North Cape Norway.

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Survivors of Scharnhorst 

Admiral Fraser praised the gallantry of the German ship to his officers later that night saying: “Gentlemen, the battle against Scharnhorst has ended in victory for us. I hope that if any of you are ever called upon to lead a ship into action against an opponent many times superior, you will command your ship as gallantly as Scharnhorst was commanded today”

After the battle Grand Admiral Erich Raeder who had authorized the sortie was relieved as commander in chief of the navy and was replaced by Grand Admiral Karl Donitz who commanded the U-Boat forces. Hitler was furious and ended most surface naval operations.

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Memorial to Scharnhorst and her crew at Kiel

I have written many times about the tragedy of war, on land and at sea. Having served in combat zones on land and having been shot at by the enemy, as well as having served at sea on a cruiser I have a sense of what these men must have gone through on that final day of their lives. Though I am a realist and know that such tragedies will likely occur again, I do pray for the day that war will be no more and that those who serve in harm’s way will never have to again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships, nazi germany, world war two in europe