Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Dangers of the Reductionist Religion of Fundamentalism

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

It has been a long day, going in to work, then finding out that Judy will not be released from hospital until tomorrow. So after I found that out I went an got groceries for her return, took care and played with our two Papillons and continuing to get the house ready for Judy’s return home. After that, after letting folks know what was up with Judy I went over to our favorite haunt, had some dinner and bier, before coming home to our puppies and to watching one of my favorite movies, Inglourious Basterds. So anyway, until tomorrow. Have a great night.


Padre Steve+

The Inglorius Padre Steve's World


My friends, today will be a busy day so I wanted to share a few thoughts about religious fundamentalism in it’s various forms. Now I want to say up front this is not an attack on God or people that believe it God, or in what God they choose to believe in for either their eternal salvation or just getting through life. Instead it is some observations about fundamentalist, or absolutist belief systems that allow no room for doubt or that any other view of God might have some measure of truth and how some groups use political, police and military power, even terror to impose those views on others.

It occurred to me a few years back that many Christians, among them Evangelicals, certain Reformed types, Fundamentalists, and even some conservative Roman Catholics practice a reductionist form of the Christian faith. It is a form that woefully short changes…

View original post 1,973 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

Christians and Pagans: Glad for You All


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I want to say thank you. In the past couple of months Judy and I have undergone a tremendous amount of stress. She was diagnosed with Endometrial Cancer at the beginning of July that was after we found that she had suspicious granular cells the same day in early May when we had to have our oldest dog, Molly put down. That scared the hell out of me, all I could think was “both of them, no!” Since then all I could think was that I had lost the dog who helped say my life after Iraq and the only woman I have ever loved who coincidentally is probably the only person who could have put up with my long-standing love affair with my other mistresses, the United State Army and Navy.

Judy went through a D & C at the end of June, actually the day of our 32nd wedding anniversary that showed the cancer. Her OBGYN immediately made a referral asking that the case be handled promptly. He did not want to take any chance that the cancer would spread. Sadly, the first surgeon we were referred to kicked the can on surgery to the end of August. That caused us after a fair amount of consternation, especially when we found out that the doctor was going to be on vacation for a good part of July and August, something that neither she or her staff told us.

That led to a lot of anxiety, and when we found that we had been lied to we went back to her OBGYN, a very wonderful doctor who referred us to another OB-Oncologist who saw us two working days from the referral and in surgery a week later. Today we got the results from the pathology that they caught things early enough, the cancer had just barely begun to spread to the muscle lining of the uterus and that with the hysterectomy that there is a 95% plus chance of a complete cure with no further treatment, just periodic monitoring to make sure nothing comes back.

During the past couple of months we have had a lot of encouragement from a lot of people, some who are Christians and other people who are not. In fact many of those who are not Christians would be considered bound for hell by many people who claim the name of Jesus. They are mostly friends from our favorite haunt, the bar at the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Virginia Beach. Most of them we have known for years. They are friends, some Christians of various denominations, but people who don’t wear their faith on their underwear. There are others who are Wiccans, Jews, Moslems, Atheists and Agnostics, straight people, as well as Gays and Lesbians, and people who still have some kind of faith but are no longer a part of any religious denomination. These are people that some pollsters refer to as the “Nones,” or no religious preference.

Some people might be offended at what I say now, but that is okay. We have been members of many churches over our lives, and yes, we still have friends from those churches who are dear friends who would do anything for anyone, showing the love of God through simple human care to anyone. We love and value those people, they are too numerous to name. At the same time as far as churches that we have been members of, that is another matter, I cannot think of a single church, chapel or congregation that has been more compassionate, caring or wonderful in their care than the people at Gordon Biersch, no church we have belonged to has ever been sop caring. Our general manager Eric was the first visitor. Our friend from the bar, Barb brought a card signed by everyone she could get, along with flowers and a gift basket. Others showed up too, including a Catholic priest who through the machinations of a corrupt bishop is currently unassigned, though his heart is all for carrying the love of Christ to people, no-matter who they are or what their faith.

I contrast this with the supposed care of some people and churches, in fact most demining the pastor of the evangelical church which first ordained me in 1991 who told a parishioner who asked how sick he would have to be to get a pastoral visit in hospital “you don’t want to be that sick.” I kid you not, the pastor joked about it in his Sunday sermon. Sadly, that is par for the course. Many of the people that we have known from churches in the area have simply said that “they would pray” even though Judy just wanted a visitor or someone to hang out with during the anxious weeks before the surgery. I value and appreciate prayer, but if someone lives within a few minute drive and can’t be bothered to stop by or even make a phone call I wonder how sincere the promise of prayer is.

I have also been blessed by my fellow faculty and staff at the Joint Forces Staff College who have helped make my life easier over the past few months, people, who like our friends at Biersch represent a wide spectrum of belief, and all want to find a way to help in some practical way. My students too, in my ethics class and Gettysburg Staff ride have been wonderful, checking on me and letting me know that they are thinking about or praying for Judy. This includes both of the Saudi Arabian officers in my ethics class, both who have checked in on me and let me know that they are praying for Judy.

That being said, our “Nones” show a better witness of Jesus than many who call themselves Christians. Maybe that is why according to so many polls and studies that so many people are fleeing the church, or organized religion in general. Many it is because they are cared for more than those who we have so often denigrated as “Pagans” than those who beat their chests about the rightness of the Christian faith and support supposedly “Christian” politicians who tell us why they should rule others who do not believe like them through the power of the government and the courts; but then when people have forgotten the basics of the love of God, all they have left to rely on is force to maintain their rule over others.

Christians and Pagans. I love them all, especially those who demonstrate the love and care of God to others, even those who they may not agree with theologically, politically or philosophically. But then doesn’t that go to the heart of the Gospel?

Anyway, hopefully Judy comes home tomorrow or no later than Sunday and we can get her back to 100% within the next few weeks.

To my readers here on the page, those who follow me on Twitter or Facebook, I am grateful for your kind words, thoughts and prayers. It really does mean a lot to both of us.

Have a great night and thank you so much,


Padre Steve+


Filed under christian life, faith

Once an Eagle: A Classic Novel of Military Life

Dear Friends of Padre Steve’s World

It has been another long day, thankfully my wife Judy is doing better and hopefully will be discharged from the hospital on Friday following her surgery. In her absence I have been at home with our two Papillon pups, Minnie and Izzy. Over the past couple of nights I have been doing some reflecting and in doing so have been watching the mini-series from the 1970s “Once and Eagle” which is based on the novel of the same name by Anton Myrer. The book is considered the American “War and Peace.”

I think what attracts me to the movie and the book is the sacrifice made by military spouses. When I think about all the joys, as well as the hardships, the family separations as well as sometimes my own misplaced priorities, which I see in the character of Sam Damon I again realize just how great Judy’s as well as other military spouses sacrifices are. For Judy, that has meant sharing me with the Army and the Navy for almost 34 years. Thankfully, Lord willing we are looking at retirement in about two years.

Anyway, I have two babies on me and need to close for the night. Maybe tomorrow I will put up an article that has been ruminating for the past couple of days.


Padre Steve+

The Inglorius Padre Steve's World

“This classic novel of soldiers and soldiering ranks with Red Badge of Courage and All Quite on the Western Front as time-tested epics of war and warriors.”— John W. Vessey, Jr., Gen., US Army (Ret.)

Sam Damon (Sam Elliot) cries over a fallen friend

Tonight I started watching the NBC television mini-series adaptation of Anton Myrer’s classic novel of war military life and love Once an Eagle on DVD. I had been hoping to find the series on video or DVD for years and it was released again last year. I was introduced to the book through the series which I saw in High School when it came out in 1976. Back then I never missed an episode. I found the story which weaves the life of a soldier who rises from the ranks named Sam Damon who is played by Sam Elliott and a self-serving careerist named Courtney Massengale…

View original post 1,091 more words

1 Comment

Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

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

Dear Friends of Padre Steve’s World

It has been a long couple of days.My wife is doing well after her surgery and barring any unexpected news from the pathology results we expect that she will be pronounced cancer free either tomorrow or Thursday. Insight of that as well as dealing with work and caring for our Papillon girls, Minnie and Izzy in between I am tired. I do have a couple of new articles in the hopper, but to tired to work on them tonight. So I am re-posting an article from about six months ago.

Have a great night, thank you as always for your kind thoughts, words and prayers,


Padre Steve+

The Inglorius Padre Steve's World


“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…

View original post 1,190 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

The Fever and the Fear


Friends of Padre Steve’s World 

My wife is going through surgery today and I have been in the hospital waiting room for a while. I’m anxious, as the surgery is a total hysterectomy being done because she was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. While statistics tell us that the surgery should be the cure, there are some cases where the cancer has spread. Though I am well trained as a clinician and have worked many years in hospital intensive care units and other critical care areas, I don’t wait well and as much as I try to focus on the positive there is always the “what if” it is worse than expected which is in the back of my mind. Truthfully, Judy is the control rod in my nuclear reactor. She keeps me from really doing stupid things and if she weren’t around I would probably be like William Shatner’s character in Boston Legal, Denny Crane. Thankfully the surgeon came out a little while ago and told me that things look good, that Judy did fine in surgery. The only thing now is to wait for a few days to find out if pathology declares her free and clear of the cancer. 

So I decided to go back and edit an older post about something that does concern me, the climate of fear and hate that seems to me to be driving much of the political minded preachers, pundits and politicians of the Christian Right. Like so many of my articles this may be uncomfortable for people who are unfamiliar with history, or those who simply believe what the politicians, pundits and preachers tell them. 

So with that in mind, I hope that you have a good day and please, if you pray, please pray for Judy and pray for me, your miscreant Padre,


Padre Steve+ 

I have written a number of times about the lack of empathy among conservative American Christians. In those articles I drew some comparisons to the German Christians of the 1920s and 1930s who despite the reservations of a few, supported ultra-right wing nationalist parties and later the Nazi Party.

ADN-ZB/Archiv Kirchenwahl am 23.7.1933 in Berlin. Wahl in der Marien Kirche am Neuen Markt. Nazistische Wahlpropaganda unter Maske des Christentums.

Kirchenwahl am 23.7.1933 in Berlin. Wahl in der Marien Kirche am Neuen Markt. Nazistische Wahlpropaganda unter Maske des Christentums.

Much of the support was brought about by the fear and hate propagated by those who had lost their favored status after the collapse of the Kaiser Reich. There was a lost war, a harsh peace, as well as social and economic chaos. Political radicalism and violence was common in the early years of the Weimar Republic, and many Christians of all denominations became caught up in it. Many Christians were especially fearful of what many believed was the threat of atheistic Socialists and Communists. The brief experiment with democracy was devastated by political battles, the 1919-1920 Weimar Inflation which destroyed the financial security of most Germans, as well as the Stock Market Crash of 1929. The Great Depression made the economic, political and social chaos worse, and this made many people, including many conservative Christians receptive to the “Nazi Gospel.”

I think that conservative American Christians are going the same direction as they get swept up in the climate of fear, hate, distrust and perceived persecution at the hands of liberals, atheists, socialists and their own government. As I have noted in other articles much of this stems not from actual persecution but from the loss of their privileged position as the dominant force in society.

596554178-franz-pfeffer-von-salomon-sa-fuehrer-3 -reichsparteitag-julius-streicher

I love the film Judgment at Nuremberg, because I think that it really does reflect how many prominent Germans who should have known better followed Hitler, and reflects how many conservative Christians see the political right as their standard bearers.. In the film Burt Lancaster plays a prominent German legal scholar and jurist named Ernst Janning.

“There was a fever over the land. A fever of disgrace, of indignity, of hunger. We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within. Above all, there was fear. Fear of today, fear of tomorrow, fear of our neighbors, and fear of ourselves. Only when you understand that – can you understand what Hitler meant to us. Because he said to us: ‘Lift your heads! Be proud to be German! There are devils among us. Communists, Liberals, Jews, Gypsies! Once these devils will be destroyed, your misery will be destroyed.’ It was the old, old story of the sacrificial lamb. What about those of us who knew better? We who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country! What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later. Hitler himself will be discarded… sooner or later. The country is in danger. We will march out of the shadows. We will go forward. Forward is the great password. And history tells how well we succeeded, your honor. We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. The very elements of hate and power about Hitler that mesmerized Germany, mesmerized the world! We found ourselves with sudden powerful allies. Things that had been denied to us as a democracy were open to us now. The world said ‘go ahead, take it, take it! Take Sudetenland, take the Rhineland – remilitarize it – take all of Austria, take it! And then one day we looked around and found that we were in an even more terrible danger. The ritual began in this courtoom swept over the land like a raging, roaring disease. What was going to be a passing phase had become the way of life. Your honor, I was content to sit silent during this trial. I was content to tend my roses. I was even content to let counsel try to save my name, until I realized that in order to save it, he would have to raise the specter again. You have seen him do it – he has done it here in this courtroom. He has suggested that the Third Reich worked for the benefit of people. He has suggested that we sterilized men for the welfare of the country. He has suggested that perhaps the old Jew did sleep with the sixteen year old girl, after all. Once more it is being done for love of country. It is not easy to tell the truth; but if there is to be any salvation for Germany, we who know our guilt must admit it… whatever the pain and humiliation.”

Hannah Arendt talked about this in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, her treatment of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the mid-level Nazi officers who sent millions of people to their deaths. In describing Eichmann and other ordinary people Arendt said:

“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.”

At the end of the movie Judgment at Nuremberg Spencer Tracy as Presiding Judge Dan Haywood concluded his sentencing remarks with this statement. It is perhaps one of the most powerful statement and something to remember as the Unholy Trinity of Politicians, Pundits and Preachers urge us to hate one another and those different than us. It is something that is especially needed in times of great societal stress as well as real and perceived dangers from without and within.


“Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe.

But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen. There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” – of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient – to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”

einsatzgruppen executions

Einsatzgruppen Members finishing off Jewish Women

This is an unsettling subject and people on the political right and left in this country are apt to compare their opponents to those that were tried at Nuremberg and those that led them. This has been an increasingly disturbing trend in the case of hyper-partisan Right Wing and so called Conservative Christians who blatantly demonize those who they hate and urge the use of the police powers of the state to enforce their political-religious agenda. For all intents and purposes they no longer care about “Justice, truth, or the value of a single human being” especially if those human beings are not Christians. That may seem harsh, but sadly it is all too often the truth.

The terrible truth is that it is possible that any parties in any society, including ours, when divided by fear, hate and the desire for power can behave exactly as the industrialists, financiers, doctors, soldiers, jurists, civil servants, pastors and educators who oversaw the heinous crimes committed by the Third Reich.

Again, I am not calling anyone, even the people that I am criticizing today Nazis. I am only trying to show the logical end of the thinking that permeates much of the political right, particularly conservative Christians who are following a path that is destructive to the church and for the world. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “if you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” By selling their birthright to right wing radical politicians and special interest groups who only seek to exploit them for their own power, conservative Christians, like those in the Weimar Republic have boarded the wrong train, and unless they get off that train they will find that they have no redemptive value in society.

Sadly, I doubt that Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Michelle Bachmann, Tony Perkins or any of the myriad of pundits, politicians and preachers driving conservative Christians off the rails will ever understand this. Thinking themselves wise, they became fools. Fools who in their quest for temporal power destroyed more lives and souls than they ever could have imagined.


Executing Quakers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony 

Unlike Janning, I doubt if any of them have the capacity to reflect upon their words and actions and realize what they did and are doing are morally, ethically and by every measure of humanity are wrong, and are evil masquerading as righteousness, and thus doubly worthy of condemnation, for if they are Christians they should know better. I only hope that the vast number of conservative Christians who have not completely fallen for their hateful propaganda; men and women who have doubts about the message of such leaders are able to discern the truth will pause for just a moment, and like Bonhoeffer and others like him stand for justice, truth, or the value of a single human being.

Those who stood trial at Nuremberg were all people that should have known better, as should we, especially those who claim the name of Christ and presume to be bearing his good news.


Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under ethics, faith, film, History, movies, nazi germany, Political Commentary, Religion

Revolutionary Truth Telling & the Discomfort of Thought


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Most of my readers know that in addition to being a Priest and Navy Chaplain that I am a historian and teach both ethics and about Gettysburg as a faculty member at a Staff College. Many of the men and women that I teach will lead our military as commanders, planners and staff officers. As such as I mentioned at beginning of the year my first duty, whether it is in teaching, writing or in ministry is to the truth. In fact I quoted Captain Jean Luc Picard, played by Sir Patrick Stewart in Star Trek the Next Generation: “the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, historical truth or personnel truth…” I am not a Starfleet Officer but as an officer nonetheless I have always believed that the truth matters, but sadly I, like so many of us have turned the other way and not spoken out. But the older I get the more I realize that I cannot be silent about subjects that at one time I turned a blind eye to because they were uncomfortable, unpopular or might hurt my career either in the church or in the military.

I have been writing a lot over the past few months about subjects that many people are controversial and as such many people are uncomfortable with those topics. Whether the issue is civil rights, racism, Gay rights and marriage equality, voting rights, religious freedom and religious intolerance, and even xenophobia, or the connection of symbols such as the Confederate Battle Flag to a heritage that goes to a hatred that extends far beyond the battlefields of the Civil War; I am speaking out. Now I am fully aware of that many of these subjects are controversial. I have been asked in comments on this site and on my various social media accounts, particularly Facebook, why I keep bringing up the uncomfortable past. But I have to, I have a duty to the truth and as Oscar Wilde noted “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

The late Howard Zinn, a brilliant historian whose work at one time I discounted, said: “But I suppose the most revolutionary act one can engage in is… to tell the truth.” Who would think that telling the truth could or would be a revolutionary act? However, when one lives in a society where the truth is bent, run over and shredded by politicians, preachers and pundits, what I call the Trinity of Evil; when state school boards whitewash history and force their religious views on children in public schools; where corporations and advertisers use the most crass means to deceive customers; and where established science is not met with denial under the guise of “skepticism;” telling the truth is a revolutionary affair.

The honest truth is that I never expected to be a revolutionary in terms of what so much of society, especially the conservative Christian movement that I spent much of my life in expects. Truthfully, upholding tradition, and for that matter defending myth, is much easier when backed by the certitude of an unbending theology and political is much easier than asking the hard questions. Barbara Tuchman once wrote: “The reality of a question is inevitably more complicated than we would like to suppose.” I guess that is why so many people would rather be content with myth than to ask the really hard questions; be they about history, religion, and science or for that matter anything. One of the must uncomfortable things to admit is that truth is always evolving as we learn more, it is dynamic, not static and to attempt to force people to live by the “truth” of our ancestors is disingenuous, dishonest and denies the reality of the universe that we live. Thomas Jefferson recognized this and wrote:

“I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” 

So why do I write? I write so that we never forget or push aside the great evils that human beings are capable of committing: The Holocaust, slavery and Jim Crow, the extermination of Native Americans by the millions in the name of God and Manifest Destiny, the enslavement, exploitation, and sometimes the extermination of whole peoples by colonialism; the witch trials, the religious wars of the Reformation, the Inquisition, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Stalin’s purges, the Tuskegee experiments, the Japanese barbarity in the Rape of Nanking and other places in Asia, the Srebrenica genocide and the Rwandan genocide, just to name a few.

All too often the perpetrators of those events and their descendants as all too willing to last the past lie dormant. But at what cost do we do so? Do we sacrifice justice on the altar of prosperity and peace; do we sacrifice uncomfortable truth in order to remain undisturbed and comforted by myth? Do we condemn our descendants to live under the myths of our ancestors? Would we sacrifice the truth and justice in order to ensure obedience? Howard Zinn correctly observed, “Historically, the most terrible things – war, genocide, and slavery – have resulted not from disobedience, but from obedience.”

President John F Kennedy spoke these words at Yale in 1962: “The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

Personally I would rather ask the questions and confront the past so we might have a better future, because though I am a realist, I also believe in my heart that humanity is capable of overcoming hatred, prejudice and ignorance. The problem is that times get difficult those attitudes can overcome our better nature. As Spencer Tracy’s character in the movie Judgment at Nuremberg said:

“But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen. There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” – of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient – to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”

That my friends, is why I write: for justice, truth, and the value of a single human life.



Padre Steve+


Filed under ethics, faith, film, History, News and current events, philosophy

The Klan, the Courts & White Rule: The End of Freedom

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Today I am completing, for now anyway, my series on what happened after the Civil War which is taken from my Gettysburg Staff Ride and Civil War text. Of course this included the passage of three incredibly revolutionary Constitutional amendments, an attempt to equalize the playing field for African Americans and a conservative backlash against these attempts. It was a time when the freedom for all was trumped by racism, social Darwinism as well as ruthless and corrupt capitalism which caused some of the greatest economic depressions in United States history.

This article deals with that time and why it matters today. Sadly, this period is again being deliberately written out of our history books by conservative pseudo-historians as well as state boards of education, like that of Texas which has written this out of our history. That my friends will be disastrous, as historian George Santayana wrote “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” That is a reason, even in spite of some criticism that I write.  

Tomorrow I plan on writing an article about why I write. 

Have a great weekend and a very reflective day.


Padre Steve+


The legislation enacted by Congress to declare African Americans free and end slavery, the Thirteenth Amendment; to recognize them as citizens, the Fourteenth Amendment; and to give African American men the right to vote, the Fifteenth Amendment were revolutionary documents. Taken together the three constitutional amendments promised equality to African Americans, but that equality under the Constitution was soon erased.

After Reconstruction officially ended in 1877 Democratic politicians in every state in the South worked to roll back these rights. They did so with the active support of conservative Northern businessmen and politicians and through the quiet apathy of most Northerners who simply wanted to move along and forget the Civil War and Reconstruction in the name of reconciliation and Manifest Destiny which now included join ing ranks with European colonial powers. The political and business leaders of South and North worked to roll back the new rights which had been granted to African Americans, and this ensured that the “resurrected South would look a great deal like the Old South, a restored regime of white supremacy, patriarchy, and states’ rights. This political and cultural principles became holy tenants, dissent from which threatened redemption.” [1] The means used to regain this in included state legislation against blacks, violence committed by people associated with racist terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, and the actions of Federal Courts including the Supreme Court to regulate those rights out of existence.


Reconstruction was officially ended in 1877 by newly elected President Rutherford B. Hayes and all Federal troops assigned to enforce it were withdrawn. Despite this, some people in the South attempted to fight for the rights of African Americans, including men like former Confederate Generals James Longstreet, William Mahone and Wade Hampton. Their motives varied and all were vilified by political opponents and in the press, the attacks on Longstreet were particularly vicious and in the Myth of the Lost Cause he is painted as a man worse than Judas Iscariot. Hampton was elected as the first post-Reconstruction governor of South Carolina in and campaigned against the black codes, and during his term in office even appointed African Americans to political offices in the state and maintained a regiment of African American state militia in Charleston against strident opposition.

While Hampton remained a white supremacist and used the Red Shirt militia to help in his election as Governor of South Carolina, he disappointed many of his white supremacist supporters.  Hampton, despite his past, was also was committed to the upholding the law and “promoting the political rights to which freedmen were entitled to under law, and he consistently strove to protect those rights.” [2] This made Hampton anathema for many South Carolina politicians, including Benjamine Tillman who as governor during the 1890s dismantled policies that Hampton had introduced to allow blacks to political patronage appointments. Once he did that Tillman set out to deprive South Carolina’s blacks of almost every basic civil right, and in 1895 he led “a successful effort to rewrite the South Carolina constitution in such a way as to virtually disenfranchise every black resident of the state.” [3] Longstreet, who had become a Republican was wounded while leading Louisiana militia in an unsuccessful fight against White Leaguers in New Orleans on September 14th 1873.


The legislation which helped provide blacks with some measure of freedom was rolled back after Reconstruction ended. In 1883 “the Civil Rights Act of 1875, outlawing discrimination against Negroes using public facilities, was nullified by the Supreme Court, which said: “individual invasion of individual rights is not the subject-matter of the amendment.” The Fourteenth Amendment, it said, was aimed at state action only. No state shall…” [4]

The actions of the court and alliances between Northern corporations and Southern landowners led to even more discrimination and disenfranchisement for blacks, “From the 1880s onward, the post-Reconstruction white governments grew unwilling to rely just on intimidation at the ballot box and themselves in power, and turned instead to systematic legal disenfranchisement” [5] which furthered the black codes into what we now call the era of Jim Crow.


For years after the Supreme Court’s Cruikshank decision blacks throughout the South attempted to vote despite intense opposition from Southern whites and armed bands of thugs. But with White Democrats now in charge of local government and “in control of the state and local vote-counting apparatus, resistance to black voting increasingly took the form of fraud as well as overt violence and intimidation. Men of color who cast Republican votes often found later that they had been counted for the party of white supremacy.” [6]

In 1896 the black codes were upheld by the Supreme Court in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson. That ruling established the “separate but equal” doctrine and ushered in an era of de jure segregation in almost all arenas of life including education, transportation, entertainment and health care. The limited social equity and privileges enjoyed by blacks, not only in the South, but in the entire nation were erased by the stroke of the judicial pen. The justices ruled on the concept that only people’s political rights were protected by the Constitution and that in the social arena that African-Americans could not interact with whites and assumed their racial inferiority.


Not all on the Court agreed with these rulings. One of them was Associate Justice John Harlan, who was a former slaveholder. Harlan dissented in Court’s decision to overturn the Civil Rights Act of 1875 and also in Plessy v. Ferguson. In the case of the Civil Rights Act ruling Harlan insisted that “our Constitution is color blind” [7] and wrote a strongly worded opinion:

“The destinies of two races, in this country are indissolubly linked together, and the interests of both require that the common government of all should not permit the seeds of race hate to be planted under the sanction of law. What can more certainly arouse race hate, what more certainly create and perpetuate a feeling of distrust between these races, than state enactments, which, in fact, proceed on the ground that colored citizens are so inferior and degraded that they cannot be allowed to sit in public coaches occupied by white citizens? That, as all will admit, is the real meaning of such legislation as was enacted in Louisiana.” [8]

The “separate but equal” measures of the Jim Crow era took nearly a century to reverse, and “only began to disappear with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 and the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965.” [9]

These court decisions and legislation strengthened racism and discrimination against blacks, “effectively excluding blacks from public places, from the right to votes, from good public education, and so forth.” [10] The Plessy ruling was a watershed. Southern legislators, now unencumbered by Federal interference passed “state laws mandating racial segregation in every aspect of life, from schools to hospitals, waiting rooms to toilets, drinking fountains to cemeteries…segregation was part of a complex system of white domination, in which each component – disenfranchisement, unequal economic status, inferior education – reinforced the others.” [11] For decades future courts would cite Plessy and Cruikshank as well as other decisions as precedent in deny rights to blacks. It would not be until 1954 when the Supreme Court overturned Plessy and the “Separate but Equal” Jim Crow laws in Brown v. Board of Education. Brown was a watershed for it deemed that separate schools were “inherently unequal.” The reaction across the South, especially Mississippi was stunned shock, disbelief and anger. “A Mississippi judge bemoaned “black Monday” and across the South “Citizen’s Councils” sprung up to fight the ruling. [12]

Mississippi led the way in disenfranchising black voters through the use of voter qualifications that would eliminate most blacks from the rolls of voters. In 1895 the state legislature passed a measure that would “technically apply to everybody but actually eliminate the Negro without touching the white.” [13] The move was in open defiance of the Fifteenth Amendment and resulted in tens of thousands of black voters being dropped from the rolls, in most cases under 5% of black voters who had been eligible to vote in 1885 remained eligible in 1896. Mississippi was rewarded in 1898 when the Supreme Court in Williams v. Mississippi that “there was no reason to suppose that the state’s new voting qualification were aimed specifically at Negroes.” [14] “In 1900 blacks comprised 62 percent of Mississippi, the highest percentage in the nation. Yet the state had not one black elected official.” [15]


Violence was used with great effect and between 1880 and 1968 approximately 3,500 people were murdered or lynched throughout the South. This had become a far easier task and far less dangerous for the perpetrators of violence against blacks as Supreme Court “interpreted black people’s other constitutional rights almost out of existence.” [16] Since the court had “limited the federal government’s role in punishing violations of Negro rights” this duty fell to the states, which seldom occurred, and when “those officials refused to act, blacks were left unprotected.” [17]

One of these was the case of United States v. Harris where the federal prosecutors had indicted “twenty members of a Tennessee lynch mob for violating section two of the enforcement Act, which outlawed conspiracies to deprive anyone of “equal protection of the laws.” However the Court struck down section 2 because the “lynching was not a federal matter, the Court said, because the mob consisted only of private individuals.” [18]

This remained the case until the 1960s when during the Freedom Rides when Mississippi again became a battleground in the Civil Rights movement. As students and educators came to the state to help register blacks to vote in 1964. This brought generations of barely concealed hatred to the surface. Bruce Watson in his book Freedom Summer wrote:

“In Mississippi’s most remote hamlets, small “klaverns” of ruthless men met in secret to discuss the “nigger-communist invasion of Mississippi.” They stockpiled kerosene, shotguns, and dynamite, then singled out targets – niggers, Jews, “nigger-lovers.” One warm April night, their secret burst into flames. In some sixty counties, blazing crosses lit up courthouse lawns, town squares, and open fields. The Klan was rising again in Mississippi. Like “White Knights” as their splinter group was named, the Klan planned a holy war against the “dedicated agents of Satan…determined to destroy Christian civilization.” The Klan would take care of your business, a recruiting poster said. “Get you Bible out and PRAY! You will hear from us.” [19]


Eventual the violence of these people led to the killings of three of the organizers, Michael Schwerner, James Cheney and Andrew Goldman were killed by a group of Klansmen led by members of the Neshoba County Sheriff’s Department on June 21st 1964. The resultant search for their bodies and the subsequent investigation transfixed the nation and led to the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in 1964 and 1965.

The example of Reconstruction’s failure shows that in order to secure peace that military victory must be accompanied by the political will to ensure that the avowed goals of that victory are secured after the war in ensuring a just peace. Southerners may have lost the shooting war, but they did not accept the peace. Southerners resorted to all means to reverse their military defeat through political, social, economic and judicial means and “justice was sacrificed for the unjust peace ushered in by “redemption” of the South, a peace marred by Jim Crow, poverty and lynching.” [20] Most Northern leaders failed to appreciate this until it was far too late, and hindered by President Johnson’s opposition failed to win the peace in the South when they had the best chance. They failed to appreciate that even after the shooting is often that “there is a need for further threats, and indeed action, because postwar disorder and even chaos will have to be address, and victorious allies are always likely to squabble over the spoils of victory” [21] as certain was the case in the divided Republican Party of the Reconstruction era.


[1] Ibid. Goldfield American Aflame p.403

[2] Longacre, Edward G. Gentleman and Soldier: The Extraordinary Life of General Wade Hampton Rutledge Hill Press, Nashville TN 2003 p.265

[3] Ibid. Longacre Gentleman and Soldier p.274

[4] Ibid. Zinn The Other Civil War p.57

[5] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.526

[6] Ibid. Lane The day Freedom Died p.251

[7] Ibid. Zinn The Other Civil War p.58

[8] LaMorte, Michael W. School Law: Cases and Concepts 9th Edition 2008 Allyn and Bacon Inc. 2008 p.300

[9] Ibid. Huntington Who are We? p.54

[10] Gonzalez, Justo L. The History of Christianity Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day Harper and Row Publishers San Francisco 1985 p.252

[11] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.208

[12] Ibid. Watson Freedom Summer p.46

[13] Ibid. Lord The Past that Wouldn’t Die p.22

[14] Ibid. Lord The Past that Wouldn’t Die p.23

[15] Ibid. Watson Freedom Summer p.41

[16] Ibid. Lane The day Freedom Died p.253

[17] Ibid. Langguth After Lincoln p.338

[18] Ibid. Lane The day Freedom Died p.253

[19] Ibid. Watson Freedom Summer p.12

[20] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 191

[21] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.14

1 Comment

Filed under civil rights, civil war, History, Political Commentary