Monthly Archives: July 2019

The Beginning Of the End Of a Beginning Of Another End: The First World War at 105 Years

Friends Of Padre Steve’s World,

it is hard to believe that 105 years ago Germany declared war on Imperial Russia. They did it to support their Austro-Hungarian allies and expected that the war would be short. But within days they would also find themselves at war with Britain and France. Eventually almost all of continental Europe, it’s colonial dominions, and others, including the United States and Japan would be at war.

The American President, Woodrow Wilson who promised to keep the United States out of the war would lead the country into it in April 1917, calling it the War to End War. Wilson was an idealist in international relations and did not understand how deep the hatred of war could run, despite being a son of the South, the first elected President from a former Confederate State since before the Civil War. However, Wilson was a revisionist Of Civil War history and race relations. Despite his knowledge, he lived in a fantasy world, and when the war ended French President Clemenceau, and British Prime Minister David Lloyd George completely outmaneuvered him during the negotiations over the Treaty Of Versailles. Wilson had thought that his allies would support his idealistic 14 Points, which the interim German Government had agreed to in order to gain an armistice. The final treaty blamed the Germans for all war guilt, saddled them with massive reparations, and humiliated them. The treaty would end up dooming the prospects of democracy in Germany and ensuring another war, this on barely than twenty years after the signing of the Treaty Of Versailles.

That war would, the Second World War would be even more costly than the first. More lives lost, most of Europe and much of Asia devastated, and the world divided into the American led alliance, and the Soviet led Warsaw Pact. It would end most European colonies and birth new wars during the Cold War.

When the Cold War ended many idealists expected the Democratic ideal to take hold in former communist countries, and for a moment in time it did that, but many of the same tensions that brought a return to authoritarian governments in the 1920s, especially globalization and migration have led to the election of authoritarian, nationalist, and racist parties with fascist leanings in much of Eastern Europe, and spreading in to Western Europe, even the Republican Party in the United States led by President Trump is moving in a rapidly authoritarian direction.

The First World War ended a period of relative stability, prosperity, and slow movements toward democracy in Europe. It brought forth disaster after disaster. One can only hope that our generation will do better. But, then that is only hope, history shows that we will not do better. God help us.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Prelude to the Final Solution: Hermann Goering’s Order to Reinhard Heydrich, July 31st 1941

Herman Goering 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On July 31st 1941, barely over a month into the Nazi invasion of Russia, which at the time looked to be a sure win in the Nazi column. The Red Army had suffered immense losses. Hitler and the German High Command could sense victory in the offing, and on that day Hermann Goering, Hitler’s deputy sent a message to the head of the Reichs Security Main Office, SS Lieutenant General Reinhard Heydrich giving him express orders to plan for what the Nazis referred to as the Endlösung, or the final/total solution to what they called the Jewish problem. 

Georing wrote:

“Supplementing the task assigned to you by the decree of January 24th 1939, to solve the Jewish problem by means of evacuation and emigration in the best possible way by according to present conditions, I hereby charge you to carry out preparations as regards organizational, financial, and material matters for a total solution (Gesamtlosung) of the Jewish question in all the territories of Europe under German occupation.

Where the competency of other organizations touches on this matter, the organizations are to collaborate. 

I charge you further to submit to me as soon as possible a general plan of the administrative material and financial measures necessary for the carrying out the desired final solution (Endlosung) of the Jewish question.”

It was an order that Heydrich and his successors following his assassination by Czech partisans in 1942 would follow with deadly consequences to the Jews of Europe.

Reinhardt Heydrich 

But the reality was set many years before when Adolf Hitler and other anti-Semites declared the Jews to be vermin, and sub-human. The German word is more sinister sounding, untermenschen. They simply refused to admit the Jews were fully human, and instead believed that the Jews were an alien subspecies, an infestation that had to be eradicated. In fact the very same kind of language that President Trump and many of his followers use to describe racial and religious minorities today: American blacks, Mexican Americans, Asians, Arabs of all religious beliefs, even Jews when they desire. They also use such language to describe political opponents.

The late Christopher Hitchens wrote:

“Die Judenfrage,’ it used to be called, even by Jews. ‘The Jewish Question.’ I find I quite like this interrogative formulation, since the question—as Gertrude Stein once famously if terminally put it—may be more absorbing than the answer. Of course one is flirting with calamity in phrasing things this way, as I learned in school when the Irish question was discussed by some masters as the Irish ‘problem.’ Again, the word ‘solution’ can be as neutral as the words ‘question’ or ‘problem,’ but once one has defined a people or a nation as such, the search for a resolution can become a yearning for the conclusive. Endlösung: the final solution.”

Hitchens, an Atheist was absolutely correct, when so many modern Christians, and other religionists of various types fail to see the danger. In fact, many of Trump’s most devoted religious followers, especially conservative Christians blissfully embrace that ideology. So much for their insistence on being pro-life. 

The fact is that once a people, be they Germans, Americans, English, Russians, Chinese, Japanese, Turks, Persians, or so many others throughout history determine that any racial, religious, or political group, is less than human, that in time words will express their thoughts, and direct their actions. That my friends is a historic, religious, psychological, and sociological truth.

I hate to keep shouting this warning, of Yehuda Bauer who wrote:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.” 

With every, tweet and every statement the American President continues to stoke the fires of race hatred, and his followers seem to feed on it. I will not ever be a perpetrator, or a bystander, but it is possible that for speaking my views, I may someday be a victim, but I will go down fighting.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Inshallah, (إن شاء الله) God willing: Thoughts on Landing in Iraq 12 Years Later it is hard

Friends Of Padre Steve’s World,

it is hard to believe that about this time a dozen years ago that I was landing in Iraq, for a tour of duty with American advisers to Iraqi Army and security forces in Al Anbar Province. To quote Charles Dickens “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” It was a tour of duty that would change me forever, I could have stayed there indefinitely, but my tour was limited to seven months. Nonetheless, I left a lot of me in Iraq, and brought a lot back.

It was an amazing tour of duty, full of danger every day, full of travel from the Syrian border to Fallujah and all places in between. I met many friends there, Americans and Iraqis alike. I returned with a severe case of PTSD as well as moral and spiritual injuries that have afflicted me since. I really understand T. E. Lawrence, better known by most as Lawrence Of Arabia who wrote:

“We were fond together because of the sweep of open places, the taste of wide winds, the sunlight, and the hopes in which we worked. The morning freshness of the world-to-be intoxicated us. We were wrought up with ideas inexpressible and vaporous, but to be fought for. We lived many lives in those whirling campaigns, never sparing ourselves: yet when we achieved and the new world dawned, the old men came out again and took our victory to remake in the likeness of the former world they knew. Youth could win, but had not learned to keep, and was pitiably weak against age. We stammered that we had worked for a new heaven and a new earth, and they thanked us kindly and made their peace.”

You see I went to war as a volunteer. I was eager to go, and as I said I would have remained longer. When I left I felt like I was abandoning my Americans and Iraqis. When I left, the Navy Chaplain who followed the one I served under deferred on having my replacement and in a sense abandoning those Americans and Iraqis that I was the only Chaplain serving. My replacement was sent to an Army team in Mosul.

I left Iraq questioning everything that I had went there believing: about the justness of the war, about my country’s leadership, the political party I had been a part of for three decades, and my faith as a Christian.

I have written much about my experience in Iraq and how even today I have a deep regard for the Iraqi people and their hopes for a better future. However, I wonder if what Lawrence wrote will be true:

“We had been hopelessly labouring to plough waste lands; to make nationality grow in a place full of the certainty of God… Among the tribes our creed could be only like the desert grass – a beautiful swift seeming of spring; which, after a day’s heat, fell dusty.” 

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In 2003 the United States invaded Iraq and made short work of that country’s military. Many Iraqis of all creeds looked upon the US and coalition forces as liberators but within a few months the illusion was over. Within weeks of the overthrow of Saddam, the US military personnel and leaders who were working with Iraqi officials, both military and civilian to get the country back on its feet were replaced by the Bush administration.

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In their place a new entity, the Coalition Provisional Authority was created and staffed. The first administrator of the entity was retired Army Lieutenant General Jay Garner. He had much experience in Iraq but was sacked quickly by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for not conducting an immediate purge of members of the Baathist Party from key positions in the civil service or security forces, or implementing the agenda of the administration.

After Garner’s dismissal the CPA was led by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, a man who had no experience in the Arab world, much less in Iraq. Bremer and his staff, most of who had little experience or knowledge of the country created conditions that directly led the the Iraq insurgency, the sacrifice of thousands of American and allied lives and the loss of friendship of the Iraqi people. They also gave a a bloodless strategic victory to Iraq’s traditional enemy and oppressor Iran, which became a dominant regional power without having to worry about their traditional Arab nemesis.

It was as if Bremer, the leaders of the Bush administration and their neoconservative allies knew nothing of history. If they did they decided to ignore it. Whether it was ignorance of history, or a wanton disregard for it, and the country we invaded it was immoral, unethical and probably criminal.

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T.E. Lawrence wrote of the British incursion into Turkish Mesopotamia in 1915, managed by the British Indian Office:

“By brute force it marched then into Basra. The enemy troops in Irak were nearly all Arabs in the unenviable predicament of having to fight on behalf of their secular oppressors against a people long envisaged as liberators, but who obstinately refused to play the part.”

The actions of the CPA destroyed the plans pragmatists in the Pentagon and State Department to incorporate the existing civil service, police and military forces in the newly free Iraq.  Instead Bremer dissolved the Iraqi military, police and civil service within days of his arrival. Since the military invasion had been accomplished with minimal forces most Iraqi weapon sites, arsenals and bases were looted once their Iraqi guardians were banished and left their posts. The embryonic insurgency was thus provided by Bremer a full arsenal of weapons to use against American forces; many of whom were now mobilized Reservists and National Guardsmen that were neither trained or equipped to fight an insurgency or in urban areas.

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The reaction of the Iraqi Arabs to US occupation should have been anticipated. Lawrence wrote in 1920 a letter that could have easily been written in 2004:

“It is not astonishing that their patience has broken down after two years. The Government we have set up is English in fashion, and is conducted in the English language. So it has 450 British executive officers running it, and not a single responsible Mesopotamian. In Turkish days 70 per cent of the executive civil service was local. Our 80,000 troops there are occupied in police duties, not in guarding the frontiers. They are holding down the people.”

The actions of Bremer’s incompetent leadership team led to a tragic insurgency that need not have taken place. The now unnumbered US forces had to fight an insurgency while attempting to re-create an army, security forces and civil service from the wreckage created by Bremer’s mistakes; as well as its own often heavy handed tactics in the months following the invasion.

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Nearly 4500 US troops would die and over 30,000 more wounded in the campaign. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed, wounded or died of disease during the war.  Lawrence wrote about the British administration of Iraq words that could well have been written about Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority:

“Meanwhile, our unfortunate troops, Indian and British, under hard conditions of climate and supply, are policing an immense area, paying dearly every day in lives for the willfully wrong policy of the civil administration in Bagdad.”

It took dramatic efforts in blood and treasure to restore the some modicum of security in Iraq, something that was only accomplished when the Sunni tribes of Anbar Province turned against the Al Qaeda backed foreign fighters. The surge under the command of General David Petreus achieved the desired result. It gave the Iraqis a chance to stabilize their government and increase their own security forces.

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Unfortunately many of those that remained in power of the Shia sect refused to share power in meaningful ways with Iraq’s Sunni and Kurds leading to a political crisis. The US military mission ended in December 2011 and since then Iraq security forces and civil authorities, often divided by tribal or sectarian loyalties have struggled to maintain order. The result is that by 2013 that Iraq was again heading toward the abyss of civil war. Sunni protestors in Anbar and other provinces conducted frequent protests, sectarian violence spread, and an Al Qaeda affiliated group gained control of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi. It took years for the Iraqis aided by the Kurds, and a renewed U.S. military presence to restore a precarious stability in Iraq, something that it seems the Trump administration is trying to destroy in its economic and political war against Iran. To me that seems like the President is pissing on the graves of every American and Iraqi who died supporting that operation, and I hate him for that. I am still loyal to my oath and the Constitution but I loathe him and have no respect for a man who used every opportunity he could to not serve in Vietnam and consistently has disrespected Vietnam veterans and other military personnel. He loves military technology, but he shows no respect for the soldier.

Syria

To the west in Syria a brutal civil war has been going on for  years. Like Iraq it pits Sunni against Shia, as well as Kurd and foreign fighters from a score of nations, some fighting as part of a Free Syria movement, others as part of the Al Qaeda coalition and others beside Syria’s government.

In 1920 Lawrence wrote of the British intervention and occupation of Iraq:

“The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Bagdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are to-day not far from a disaster.”

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His words have a sadly familiar tone. The US invasion of Iraq did have a different outcome than we imagined. The Arab Spring erupted and the consequences of it will be far reaching and effect much of the Middle East and the world. The internal conflicts in Iraq and Syria threaten every country that borders them, and the instability has the potential of bringing on an regional war.

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That being said, many if not most Arabs in all of these lands simply desire to live in peace and enjoy some amount of freedom for themselves and future for their children. One has to remember that the freedom for which many are striving, and dying is for them, not for the United States or any other power.

Lawrence’s words and wisdom concerning the Arabs who rebelled against the Turkish Ottoman Empire are as true today as when he wrote them after the war:

“The Arabs rebelled against the Turks during the war not because the Turk Government was notably bad, but because they wanted independence. They did not risk their lives in battle to change masters, to become British subjects or French citizens, but to win a show of their own.”

That is the case in many Arab countries today. One can only hope that in those countries as well as in Afghanistan where our troops are embroiled in a war that cannot end well, that somehow peace will come. I do hope that we will do better than we have over the past dozen years of conflict, or than the British or French did almost 100 years ago, but under the present administration I doubt it.

I have recovered much since my tour, but there are days when I feel as Lawrence did not long before his death, when he wrote a friend:

“You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That’s the feeling.”

 

I fully understand, and in the final year of my active service, I must speak the truth, even when it is uncomfortable for me and others.

As for my Iraqi friends who still remain in danger, I say Inshallah, (إن شاء الله) God willing.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under ethics, faith, History, iraq, iraq,afghanistan, leadership, life, mental health, Military, News and current events, Political Commentary, PTSD, Tour in Iraq

Trump Tweets About a Domestic Nacht und Nebel Decree

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today President Trump tweeted something against the ANTFA which could be used against any domestic opponents if he tried to implement it. The tweet read:

”Conisteration is being given to declaring ANTIFA, the gutless Radical Left Wack Jobs who go around hitting (only non-fighters) people over the heads with baseball bats, a major Organization of Terror (along with MS-13 & others). Would make it easier for police to do their job!”

Please note, I support the ANTIFA as much as I do White Supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and the KKK. That means I don’t. That being said ANTIFA efforts are always directed at events where the White Supremacy groups are gathered, and usually threading racial or religious, and LGBTQ supporters.

Most of their protests are peaceful, and unlike their opponents on the Right they are not a unified body and have no national organization. The political Right, especially the President tend to lump any opponent as ANTIFA. Likewise, unlike White Supremacist groups, which the FBI have labeled as extremist groups, the ANTIFA, which began as an Anti-Fascist and Anti-Nazi movement in the 1920s and 1930s, has not been labeled as such and despite my best efforts to find recent deaths attributed to them I cannot. On the other hand White Nationalist and Supremacist groups have killed far more Americans than any domestic terror organization. Thousands, dating back from Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights movement to Charlottesville have been systematical murdered by them.

But seriously, Senator Ted Cruz and GOP Representative Bill Cassidy Of Louisiana introduced legislation to label the ANTIFA as a Domestic Terror Organization. In fact they are nothing of the such, they are a disparate group of individuals with no national or statewide organization, unlike their opponents on the right. To be sure the last sentence of the Cruz-Cassidy legislation mentioned White Supremacist groups, but when the President and high administration officials defend those group daily it is hard to believe that such a law would be uniformly enforced.

I am sorry, unless one is willing to label the violent racist groups of the Right as domestic terror groups, and implement harsh policies against their violence and intimidation then this smacks of a Hitlerian Decree. It is a Reichstag Fire Decree and Night and Fog Decree wrapped into one unwholesome package, with dire impact for any person who writes or protests against the policies and actions of the Trump Administration.

Trump’s tweets and the legislation of Cruz and Cassidy are dangerous. They are going to lead to far worse. Do I think that the Cruz-Cassidy legislation ever being signed, but the President can do a lot with previously issued legislation and executive orders should he make the decision.

In Hitler’s Germany the Reichstag Fire Decree allowed his government under the Weimar Constitution to rule by decree and jail political opponents.   On March 10th 1933 the Malicious Practices Act made even the slightest dissent, including joking about or criticizing members of the Nazi government a crime, punishable by being sent to a Concentration Camp. On July 14th 1933 the Hitler government declared the Nazi Party to be the only legal political party. The previous Conservative and Center parties had either already dissolved themselves while the Communists and Socialists were outlawed. Formation of any new political parties was outlawed.

The Nuremberg Laws Of 1935 stripped the Jews of citizenship rights. The Nacht and Nebel Decree of December 7th 1941 was used as a way to eliminate resistance members and dissenters in occupied countries by either murdering them or shipping them to Concentration Camps.

Heinrich Himmler wrote on that day:

“After lengthy consideration, it is the will of the Führer that the measures taken against those who are guilty of offenses against the Reich or against the occupation forces in occupied areas should be altered. The Führer is of the opinion that in such cases penal servitude or even a hard labor sentence for life will be regarded as a sign of weakness. An effective and lasting deterrent can be achieved only by the death penalty or by taking measures which will leave the family and the population uncertain as to the fate of the offender. Deportation to Germany serves this purpose.”

Less than a week later Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel ordered the German military:

“Efficient and enduring intimidation can only be achieved either by capital punishment or by measures by which the relatives of the criminals do not know the fate of the criminal.” 

The President’s continued ill-regard for the Constitution, our laws, our system of government and the long established guardrails to prevent tyranny are increasing. The danger is real.

It is true that this is not Germany of 1933, and that Trump, despite some of his similarities is not Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin, but he is getting more dangerous with every passing day. The frightening thing is that he may find an already existing law or executive order to outlaw any opposition to him, and willing accomplices to enable him to do it.

After the Liberation, a Nacht und Nebel Prisoner’s Uniform 

Historian Timothy Snyder noted:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.” 

That is something we must ask ourselves today.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under civil rights, ethics, History, holocaust, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

Remembering My Dad on What Would Have Been his 84th Birthday

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight, just a short article to remember my dad. He would have been 84 years old today had not he been stricken with Alzheimer’s Disease and died in 2010.

I miss him. Although I was the oldest child he was closer to my brother. He was deployed or assigned to posts with much travel and family separations during much of my time in grade school and junior high school I developed a very independent streak. When he retired in 1974 my brother was just turning 8 years old, while I was turning 14. It was a time of a lot of change for the family, and I had grown quite an independent streak that I maintain to this day. But my dad loved me, and even as I grew away from he he continued to love me. From him I learned integrity, honor, courage, and the respect for others.

I am sure that my brother Jeff, absorbed and learned much more from him from the fact that despite being almost six years younger than me, he has always been more mature. My parents used to say that he was 8 going on 40. He is serious, dedicated to work and family, and practical. He has not moved from the city that my dad retired in, and still lives under a mile from my mom. His oldest son just graduated from Marine Corps Basic Training. His middle son is starting college while working for the school district that we both attended and in which he now serves as a principle. His youngest daughter is a junior and from all I know about her is academically brilliant and athletic.

On the other hand, I am a dreamer, afflicted with wanderlust and military glory. It wasn’t the intentional product of how my parents raised me, it was just how I absorbed the life and culture that I grew up.

Within months of my dad’s retirement I was about ready to go to high school, then college. When I got my commission as an Army Second Lieutenant in June of 1983, my dad and brother, as well as my soon to be wife Judy were there. My dad got to see me make the transition from the Army to the Navy in 1999, something he was very proud of, and in 2006, before I went to Iraq and while visiting injured Marines at a burn unit in Fresno, dad and mom met me. I was a Navy Chaplain in a Marine Corps uniform, but my dad was proud. I didn’t know it at the time but he was already to be suffering from the initial effects of Alzheimer’s. By the time I returned from Iraq in 2008, he was struggling. By 2009, he hardly know me. I got word of his death the morning after I had been selected for promotion to Commander, June 23rd 2010.

He received a full military funeral with honors. His funeral was officiated by a Navy Chaplain and friend. He had an honor guard of officers and Chief Petty Officers, and an Air Force honor guard fired a 21 gun salute as a Navy Bugler played taps. My mother was given the flag by a Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer.

My dad didn’t take shit from anyone and didn’t stand aside when others were ill treated by the Navy. He demonstrated the current Navy ethos of Courage, honor, and commitment well before it became our motto, but he taught me about it in real life. We had a rocky relationship at many points in our lives, but I miss him and I am proud of him. In his latter days he also showed a tremendous love and appreciation for Judy.

I miss him terribly and wish that he would have been alive to see me retire from the Navy next Spring. At the same time I know that he will be with me in spirit.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under faith, life, Military, Pastoral Care, philosophy, US Navy

Freedom of Religion and the Yuck Factor: American Religious Theocrats

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The distinguished British Mathematician and Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote:

“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…” 

I fully agree with him based on my knowledge of human history and behavior. I strongly support religious freedom, so long as it is not abused by people to harm others. I get sick of religious liberty hyperbole when it is used by theocrats of all religious stripes. I am kind of like James Spader’s character, Alan Shore in Boston Legal; but then, maybe there is a valid reason that my seminary classmates at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary asked me why I wasn’t in law school. They did not mean it as a compliment.

During one episode dealing with a case regarding religious liberties Spader’s character (Whose God is it Anyway, Season Three Episode 5) said:

“I don’t know about you but I’m getting a little tired of the religious freedom thing. When did religion get such a good name anyway. Be it the Crusades, the reformation genocides, the troubles in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, mass slaughters in the name of Allah, the obligatory reciprocal retributions. Hundreds of millions have died in religious conflicts. Hitler did his business in the name of his creator. Religious extremism, it’s our greatest threat today, a holy jihad. If we’re not ready to strip religion of its sacred cow status, how about we at least scale back on the Constitutional dogma exalting it as all get out….

Everyone should get to believe in his God, pray to his God, worship his God of course. But to impose him on others, to victimize others in his name?  The founding fathers set out to prevent persecution, not license it…

At a certain point we have to say “enough with this freedom of religion crap. Yuck, yuck, yuck. I know, I’ll get letters….” 

At this time though I am doing my best to fight budget cuts that could harm the rights of Navy and Marine Corps personnel of their rights to practice their religion in base chapels, cuts that will harm the religious rights of the most vulnerable service members and their families. I don’t have to agree with their religion, politics or theology, but I follow the Constitution, and legal precedent, not my own opinions on faith.

Let me explain.

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. I will not mention it’s name because most of those who taught this are not alive to defend themselves, and one, though I disagreed with his theology, I knew that he really did love people.

However, such ideology is incredibly dangerous, even when it is taught by well meaning people, 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.”

Believe me, American religious theocrats, who have the ear of President Trump are using those rights to persecute and restrict the liberties of fellow citizens. That I cannot abide, because last year I was on the receiving end of it. I try not to go there because it brings up so many unpleasant memories, but I was reminded of them as I wrote this post. I will not revisit them as I wrote about them last July after I had been exonerated of the false charges.

But I will not stop fighting for the religious liberties of all, including the rights of non-believers. I admire the work of Mikey Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Despite how they are characterized by many Christian theocrats, they supported me when I was under attack and well over 90% of their clients are Christians.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Give Every Human Being the Right You Claim For Yourself


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Another day goes by and I finally hit a wall yesterday. It was physically, spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually draining. This morning my left leg was  completely locked up, though later in the day it loosened up.

By the end of Wednesday I had dealt with legal, constitutional, and ministerial issues in the Chaplain Corps, cared for the emotional and physical needs of several sailors, and helped a friend going through I difficult time. I was out from 5:30 AM until 8:30 PM. Likewise between walking and swimming I had done 9.6 miles., the most I have done since the fall that injured both of my knees last August.

I was so tired that I couldn’t out of bed. But, tomorrow is another day. I will be getting up early, doing a lot of walking, going to the Physical Therapy Doctor and then swimming before going back to work to see what has shat in my email inbox and taking care of administrative duties.

Theodore Roosevelt, the Republican that modern Republicans love to hate said: “I am an American; free born and free bred, where I acknowledge no man as my superior, except for his own worth, or as my inferior, except for his own demerit.” 

After Trump’s announcement in which he said that he was going to bar transgender men and women from military service, including combat vets, I am fighting back in every legal way that I can as an active duty officer. Thankfully I am senior enough that I don’t have to deal with the threats that a number of junior Army chaplain friends are dealing with from their fundamentalist Christian supervisory chaplains.

I cannot believe who quickly these people will throw fellow servicemen and women under the bus for a President who despises them and what they believe all because he hates LGBTQ people more than them.

Likewise, I have been fighting against potential budget cuts that could affect the religious liberties of thousands of Navy personnel and their families.

I am getting ready to retire next spring. It is a mandatory retired based on my age and rank. I will have served 38 years and seven months of service in peace and war so I don’t have to serve under what if left unchecked will become a fascist dictatorship, in large part due to fundamentalist Christians, so I guess that it the right time, even though I will always protect the religious liberties of people that I might have significant disagreement.  That being said, I will never surrender my honor to willingly prostitute myself to a regime that rejects the rule of law, the Constitution, and the principles of the Declaration of Independence that so many people have fought to preserve. Nor will I stop fighting for the religious rights of others which are threatened by budget cuts in the age of a exponentially growing defense budget, even the rights of people who I profoundly oppose.

This is about the Constitution, and a Supreme Court Decision (Katkoff v. Marsh 1985) that matter far more than me or my religious opinion, which happen to mirror those of the great Virginia Baptist, John Leland who wrote:

“Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear–maintain the principles that he believes–worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death, let him be encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more? A liberal man asks for nothing more of government.”

This will have to suffice for now. But for me the issue is liberty for all. As Robert Ingersoll, a Civil War hero and prominent atheist said: “This is my doctrine: Give every other human being every right you claim for yourself.”  If you can’t do then don’t claim to support the Constitution or revere the Declaration of Independence, because you are simply a liar. Enough said.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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