Category Archives: culture

Lying and the Loss of Moral Authority

Friends of Padre Steve’s world,

The careless abandon with which the Trump administration, not to mention others of various political or ideological persuasions treat truth is having a corrosive effect on our society. The danger is that the moral corrosion will seep into every institution and every individual before anyone really figures out what is going on, and thereby depriving us of the ability to differentiate between truth and falsehood, right and wrong; in effect to deprive us of the means by which we take our moral bearings. Hannah Arendt described this phenomena well:

“the result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth, and truth be defamed as lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world – and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end – is being destroyed.”

We have to be able to distinguish between truth and falsehood is essential to our humanity and to the functioning of a political system that is based on individuals who act rationally. That is one of the brilliant aspects of the preamble of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, is that the founders, being products of the Enlightenment understood human nature far better than many of us do today. They certainly were not perfect and they were often contradictory in the application of their ideals to the world that they lived in, but they believed that humanity should progress, and that government should be a part of that progress.

Within that was the understanding that the ideal government should be about the virtue of governing truthfully. Thomas Jefferson probably said it best: “The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest.” This is certainly something that has not been practiced much in our history, and the foibles of people in power, be they in government, business, or religion, demonstrate that honesty, to quote Billy Joel, “is such a lonely word.”

However, our founders and many others before us understood the poisonous effects of continual lies on the body politic. They understood that government based on lies cannot survive, nor can societies where people erase the line between truth and falsehood. One only has to study the disastrous history of totalitarian regimes, where truth is suppressed, and lies so rampant that they can are believed. William Shirer wrote of his years reporting in Nazi Germany:

“It was surprising and sometimes consternating to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts and despite one’s inherent distrust of what one learned from Nazi sources, a steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one’s mind and often misled it. No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime’s calculated and incessant propaganda…”  

I am disturbed by the blatant use of lies, half-truths, distortions, “alternative facts” and “alternative truths” by the Trump administration. Likewise I am disturbed by the actions of some Trump opponents who deliberately spread lies to further their opposition. Stooping to the methods of your opponent is never a good means of a movement to achieve its end, for if it does succeed in overcoming or overthrowing the regime that it opposes, it will end the end be no better. Likewise, it will have squandered its integrity, and lost the trust of people, and with it, its moral authority.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Abandon Facts and Abandon Freedom: Contending Against Alternative Truth, Facts, and History

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Marcus Aurelius wrote:

“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.”

I wrote a review of Timothy Snyder’s book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century on Tuesday and today I wanted to follow up on one of the key points made by Dr. Snyder in that work. Snyder wrote: “To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis to do so. If nothing is truth, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.”  I have been worried about that since the election campaign where Snyder noted that seventy-eight percent of the claims and statements made by President Trump on the election trail were demonstrably false.

As Snyder noted the falsehoods came so fast that they were overwhelming. The assertions were presented as if they were the truth, as if they were fact, creating as Kellyanne Conway said, a world of “alternate facts” and “alternative truths.” Of course there are no such thing as “alternative facts” or “alternative truths” when it comes to the reality that we know. There may be arguments about things that we cannot fully observe or understand, such as the ultimate issues of whether there is a God or not, and if so what is true about him, her, or it; likewise there are things that change the way that we see the world such as when scientists make new discoveries.

But in neither case do these examples posit that there are alternative truth, there are things like God that cannot be proven, and there is a universe that we do not fully understand, but those have nothing to do with people who flagrantly lie about things that are commonly known and claim that the lies are the truth. Such claims are cynical and designed to ensure that those in power cannot be challenged, and when deployed by demagogues in a society in which fear has become an overriding factor, can be frighteningly effective. Thus when the President says “I alone can fix it” or “I am your voice” those who have lost the ability to think critically and who have surrendered to the unending mantras of the demagogue do not question them, they are not matters of reason, they are matters of faith.

Throughout the campaign Trump and his campaign surrogates not only twisted truth, but lied so many times that fact checkers could hardly keep up with their untruths. After the election, Trump surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes told Diane Rehm of NRP: “There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, of facts,” she continued, “Mr. Trump’s tweet, amongst a certain crowd, a large — a large part of the population, are truth. When he says that millions of people illegally voted, he has some — in his — amongst him and his supporters, and people believe they have facts to back that up. Those that do not like Mr. Trump, they say that those are lies, and there’s no facts to back it up.” The biggest problem in this interview was that Ms. Hughes lied and twisted what happened to fit the Trump campaign narrative that truth did not matter. The fact was that then candidate Trump’s tweets were devoid of fact and the criticism of them was based on fact.

I have written about how some people and parties present myths as truth, twisting history to meet their craven desire for power and control. This appeal to myth was the genus of the President’s campaign slogan “Make America great again.” Such slogans are the instruments by which demagogues in every place and time have used to not only gain power, but to convince people to do things that in normal times they would never consider doing. They are distortions of history that blind their followers to real truth, even worse, they compel people to never learn history and thus accept the lies as truth with all too often fatal consequences. Snyder calls this “the politics of eternity” which “performs a masquerade of history… It is concerned with the past, but in a self-absorbed way, free of any real concern with facts. Its mood is a longing for past moments that never really happened during epochs that were, in fact, disastrous.” To the politicians who like the President rely on them, the past is “a vast misty courtyard of illegible monuments to national victimhood, all of them equally distant from the present, all of them equally accessible for manipulation. Every reference to the past seems to involve an attack by some mortal enemy upon the purity of the nation.” These are the basis for things like the Myth of the Lost Cause, and the Noble South, and the Stab in the Back.

This is dangerous distortion of history. George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But I think that Howard Zinn said it the best:

“History can come in handy. If you were born yesterday, with no knowledge of the past, you might easily accept whatever the government tells you. But knowing a bit of history–while it would not absolutely prove the government was lying in a given instance–might make you skeptical, lead you to ask questions, make it more likely that you would find out the truth.”

I cannot help but think that the rapidity of the lies, the incessant attacks on the institutions of our country’s democracy, and the rights established in the Constitution by the President, people in his administration, and his supporters, especially those in the Breitbart universe of alternative media, are nothing but an attempt to delegitimize those institutions in order to gain total control and establish some kind of authoritarian and totalitarian state. The deluge of lies and distortions practiced by this administration and so many others who have taken power after being legally elected or appointed is designed to ensure that people no longer believe in truth. Hannah Arendt wrote: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction ( i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false ( i.e ., the standards of thought) no longer exist.”

That is the very danger that we face today because many people, especially the President’s most stalwart and sometime violent defenders, as well as his enablers in Congress do not care, and others are so confused and distracted by the tactics of denial and deflection coming from the administration that they are growing weary. Polls show that many people are quite alright with limiting freedom of the press, freedom of speech, the role of the courts and other institutions designed to check executive power, and have no problem with limiting the rights of groups that they have identified as their enemy, and even limitations placed on their own freedom if it serves to absolve them of responsibility for things that they are too uncomfortable to deal with. The British military historian and theorist B.H. Liddell-Hart observed:

“We learn from history that in every age and every clime the majority of people have resented what seems in retrospect to have been purely matter-of-fact comment on their institutions. We learn too that nothing has aided the persistence of falsehood, and the evils resulting from it, more than the unwillingness of good people to admit the truth when it was disturbing to their comfortable assurance. Always the tendency continues to be shocked by natural comment and to hold certain things too “sacred” to think about.”

Believe me I desperately want to be wrong about this, but my study of history tells me that I am not. Thus I believe that every claim of the President and the administration must be questioned and its veracity determined, before it is accepted as truth. The time has come when we cannot simply wait to see what happens and give this administration the benefit of the doubt. Immediately after the election I was prepared to do that, but the actions of the President and his advisors have demonstrated to me that this is no longer an option. I will of course remain true to my oath under the Constitution, I will still respect the office of the Presidency, but I will always stand for the Constitution and defend those rights, and the institutions that are established by it.

Truth: historical, scientific, and verifiable is not our enemy. However, lies, and distortions, and the trampling of truth under the guise of “alternative truth,” “alternative fact,” and “alternative history” is the moral enemy of our republic and its democratic institutions. Thus truth must be upheld and fought for at all costs, because once you have sacrificed truth on the altar of political expediency you pave the way for freedom to be sacrificed.

So until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Seven Days Until Pitchers and Catchers Report: Patriots Win Super Bowl

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

My friends there are only seven days until pitchers and catchers report and life really begins again, for this my friends is the true harbinger of spring. If you like me need to keep track a link is provided below, but I digress…

http://whendopitchersandcatchersreport.com/

But anyway, in a world of so much uncertainty and woe, baseball is what helps keep me sane, or at least some semblance of sane. As Sharon Olds said back in 1987 “Baseball is reassuring. It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.” Since Donald Trump now has access to our nation’s nuclear weapons, this is a very important thing to me.

But truthfully I am thanking whatever deity may be out there baseball is coming back, even though it is just spring training. You see for me, that is comforting because baseball is more than a game to me. I agree with George Will, the vociferous conservative critic of President Trump, “Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.”

By the way speaking of games I watched one last night, the New England Patriots beat the Atlanta Falcons in overtime at a magnificent and inspiring concert starring Lady Gaga.

Have a great night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Neither Safe, nor Politic, nor Popular: The Call of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

On a weekend where we honor the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. we saw our President-Elect stoop to a Twitter tirade against Representative John Lewis, a true hero of the Civil Rights movement because Lewis dared to question his legitimacy. A true statesman would have either ignored it or simply making the comment that Lewis is entitled to his opinion. But our President-Elect has incapable of such behavior. When he was at Liberty University last year on Martin Luther King Day, he only mentioned Dr. King in regard to the fact that he had set a record for attendance at Liberty.

Even longstanding conservatives bastions in Congress who have worked with Mr. Lewis, and conservative media titans were  shocked by President-Trump’s action and many rightly commented that the only person that Donald Trump has not attacked is Vladimir Putin.

Like a lot of people it seems it seems that our soon to be President seeks to marginalize Dr. King’s life and work by simply relegating him to the pages of history. The attitude of such people seems to be that maybe Dr. King may important in his day, but that we have advanced to the point that we don’t need to see beyond the King of history, but the President-Elect seems not even to care about that. It is a sad spectacle where the man who was elected to be all of our President dismisses such an important man in our history.

So now more than ever it is important for all Americans remember and act upon the legacy of Dr. King.

Dr. King was a man of tremendous personal courage. Nearly every day of his public ministry and advocacy for the rights of African Americans and the poor his life was in danger. Of course he, like so many other men who throughout history understood that those that champion the cause of justice and peace must ask hard questions. They must engage in hard thinking. They must challenge their own beliefs as well as those that they come in contact, and they must do so from the least safe place to do so, the place of conscience which commands us to do what is right.

In 1968 Dr. King said something that should make us all look in the mirror and ask who we really are and what we represent. He noted how cowardice, expediency and vanity all vie with conscience. He said:

“On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” And Vanity comes along and asks the question, “Is it popular?” But Conscience asks the question “Is it right?” And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.” 

If you look closely at what Dr. King said one can almost see every political, business or religious leader make decisions about things which matter to people, but without facing the demands of conscience.

It would be easy just to say this of many of our leaders, especially the President-Elect, however, it is also true of most of us as well. I hate to admit it is regardless of our protestations most of us follow the demands of cowardice, expediency or vanity rather than conscience. We do it not because we are bad people, but because we fear the potential negative consequences of doing the right thing, we count the cost and decide we cannot pay it.

Every time we make these decisions not to do the right thing, but to shrink in cowardice, and appeal to the cold calculations of being politic, or choosing to go with what is popular, something in us dies.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and martyr wrote about the results of such equivocation from prison:

“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds: we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretense; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use?”

But to follow the demands of conscience requires us to think, and think critically. Too often we simply do things or support causes because we are comfortable with the ideas, and because we do not want to face inconvenient or uncomfortable ideas. We do not like to be challenged. I think that is why there is such a great appeal to often ignorant loud mouthed politicians, pundits and preachers, the Unholy Trinity, to do our thinking for us. The pundits, preachers and politicians often appeal to the must base human instincts to turn citizens against each other, or to drive up support for their ideology. Such ideas are made more destructive when they appear as “memes” on social media, attached to pictures which are designed to invoke an emotional response of anger, hatred and resentment at person or group being demonized. In following them we can become unthinking fanatics, convinced of our rightness without ever examining what we believe to see if it really true.

This is not thinking when we follow the lead of such people, regardless of their ideology. In doing so we give up our right and responsibility to think for ourselves and ask the hard questions. Eric Hoffer noted how ideology blinds us:

“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.”

Dr. King’s words spoken in 1963 are equally true today:

“Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”

I hope that in 2017 we may we find in Dr. King’s words inspiration to be people of character and conscience. But to do so we must start doing the hard thinking that allows us to follow the demands of conscience and not cowardice. We must do the hard thinking that places justice over popularity and the hard thinking which exposes the emptiness of brazen political calculation embodied in the easy answers and half-baked solutions of the Unholy Trinity.

Sadly, I don’t think that most people want to do this type of thinking, our materialistic culture does not value it. As a result I fully expect we give up our rights as a people to a few oligarchs who throw a few small breaks our way while they expand their control, power and wealth. It’s a bad formula and we all suffer for it.

In spite of that it is time to stop asking if things are safe, politic, popular, or expedient and do the hard work and thinking that conscience demands. If we don’t we deserve what we get. I’m sure that Dr. King would agree.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Dan Sickles Part Four: The Pariah

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am taking a break over this Thanksgiving weekend and am re-posting some articles from my Gettysburg text dealing with a man that I consider one of the most fascinating , salacious, scandalous, heroic, and incredible figures ever to grace and disgrace American history, Congressman, and Civil War General Daniel E. Sickles.

I hope that you enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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After a brief absence, Sickles returned to Congress and to Teresa, who was now even a worse social pariah than her husband. After the murder and for the duration of the trial, Teresa remained at one of the family homes in the New York countryside under the care of her parents. She followed the trial and occasionally wrote to Dan in jail, and over time he began to write back. Teresa was thrilled with the verdict and she honestly believed that the marriage and her reputation could be rehabilitated, and that she could be restored to a normal wife. The normal family values system of the time would have now involved Sickles divorcing his tarnished wife. That would have been “the predictable and conservative course.” [1] But despite his own continuing excursions into infidelity and his rage over hers, Sickles still loved her, and could not fathom divorcing her. His father George and Teresa’s father Antonio “were stricken with the same delusion as Teresa – that reconciliation would be tolerated by society.” [2]

Had the recently celebrated Congressman done divorced Teresa, his political career, while crippled, might have resumed its previous upward trajectory. But the ever unpredictable Dan Sickles “shocked everyone by forgiving Teresa and resuming their former relationship.” [3]

It was a characteristic of the time, and in some place even today in that maintained the belief that an adulterous wife knew no forgiveness, and Sickles “put himself beyond the pale by the simple act of forgiving his wife and restoring her to his bosom.” [4] Murder could be forgiven, a man’s indiscretions as well, but forgiving an adulterous women, especially a wife and mother was unforgivable. All the better people had already assigned the appropriate scarlet letter to the fallen woman, and they were shocked into paroxysms of moral outrage when Sickles apparently forgave her transgression.” [5] Sickles action was totally “out of kilter with an age that neatly divided women into “saintly mothers,” “pure virgins,” and “fallen women.” [6] Frankly the action was shocking to New York and Washington society, and both Dan and Teresa paid the price, but the price paid by Teresa would be greater, and ultimately contribute to her death, a death that occurred far too early.

Sickles was flailed in the papers, the New York Dispatch noted “His warmest personal and political friends bitterly denounce his course.” While the Sunday Courier wrote, “His political aspirations, his career in life, once so full of encouraging brightness, and his business prospects, have all been blasted by this act.” [7]

The Sunday Mercury put their condemnation published a biting bit of poetry lampooning both Dan and Teresa:

Hail matchless pair! United once again, In newborn bliss forget your bygone pain…

What the world may say, “with hands all red Yon bridegroom steals to a dishonored bed”

And friends, estranged, exclaim on every side: “Behold! Adultery couched with Homicide! [8]

Even long time friends were like James Topham Brady who had defended him at his trial were livid. Interestingly enough it was Sickles old foe Horace Greeley who “flew in the face of convention by commending Sickles for his forgiveness.” [9] But Greeley was an exception, and in the face of the critics sent a letter to the New York Herald in which he fired a broadside:

“Referring to the forgiveness which my sense of duty and my feelings impelled me to extend to an earring and repentant wife… I am prepared to defend what I have done before the only tribunal I recognize as having the slightest claim to jurisdiction over the subject – my own conscience and the bar of Heaven. I am not aware of any statute or code of morals which makes it infamous to forgive a woman… And I cannot allow even all the world combined to dictate to me the repudiation of my wife, when I think it right to forgive her and restore her to my confidence and protection. If I have ever failed to comprehend the utterly desolate position of an offending though penitent woman – the hopeless future, with its dark possibilities of danger, to which she is proscribed as an outcast – I can now see plainly in the in the almost universal howl of denunciation with which she is followed to my threshold…” [10]

Dan Sickles the sinner had struck back at his Pharisaical accusers with the aplomb of Christ himself, who had forgiven the adulteress woman, but it did little to change public perception. Teresa would always be the adulteress, abandoned by friends and scorned by society at large. Dan, who even with the scandal of the Key murder behind him and who would have been forgiven had he denounced and divorced his wife, was now a pariah, even among his peers and colleagues. Mary Boykin Chesnut, wife of a renowned senator, and prolific diarist from South Carolina “sat in the House gallery one day and saw Sickles deliberately, and totally ostracized. He was sitting all alone, like Catiline, every other member careful not to come near him – “left to himself as if he had the smallpox.” [11] When Chesnut asked a friend why he was shunned, the friend noted that the murder of Key “was all right… It was because he condoned his wife’s profligacy and took her back… Unsavory subject.” [12]

But for Teresa it was worse. She was “socially exiled, shunned even by humble neighbors, compelled to keep the house by day or face the sneers and hoots of such street trash as recognized her, cut off from her cherished riding and walking, coped up with a loving but over emotional mother, a penurious, egocentric father, Teresa, torn between grief for the dead, contrition for the living, began to fail…” [13] Despite his defense of her and officially taking her back, he spent little time with her and she never again accompanied him in any of his assignments, in the military, or after the war. But his policy of leaving her behind was not due to cruelty or neglect, as Dan and Teresa were “merely accepting an accomplished social fact, knowing Teresa would forever be an outcast and forever be an outcast and would be exposed to endless snubs and torment were she be so rash as to essay a new entrance into society.” [14] In his own way Dan loved her, but neither could change the attitude of a society where Puritanical morality still reigned, and the granddaughter of Giacomo Casanova’s friend could never be forgiven, and whose relationship with her husband would always be haunted by the ghost of Barton Key. Nothing could change that, and soon Teresa lost the will to live though she was not even twenty-five years old. “Sleepless, she took refuge in opiates….She sank slowly from frailty to invalidism.” [15] She contracted tuberculosis, and though she attempted to maintain her household she suffered from severe depression, and again took up her family’s Catholic faith. Catholic rosaries, missals, holy cards, and other items filled her bedroom. Eventually, she died unexpectedly in January of 1867, with most people thinking that she would yet recover. She was only thirty-one years old. Dan, now serving as military governor in South Carolina was stunned. Her pallbearers include James Topham Brady, and four U.S. Army generals including Sickles former comrade Alfred Pleasanton and his Gettysburg aide Henry Tremain. In death she finally found a measure of public sympathy, the funeral Mass was attended by many mourners, and as Sickles and his now teenage daughter Laura followed Teresa’s casket out of the church, “His feelings now broke forth and he wept, and the large congregation rushed tumultuously from the building after him, testifying to the hold he held on their hearts, and the extent to which they shared his affliction.” [16] In light of the prevailing morality of the day can wonder if most of the mourners had more sympathy for Sickles than his now dead wife. Unlike the adulteress of the Gospels, Teresa Sickles had no one to

Notes

[1] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.200

[2] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.202

[3] Ibid. Wilson and Clair They Also Served p.100

[4] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.152

[5] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.200

[6] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.136

[7] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.72

[8] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.203

[9] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.73

[10] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.74

[11] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p. 152 Catiline was a counsel of Ancient Rome is best known for two attempts to overthrow the Roman Republic in 62 BC. His plot was exposed before the Senate by Cicero and he is famously depicted in Cesare Macari’s painting sitting alone in with his head down as Cicero denounces him before the Senate.

[12] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.20

[13] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.136

[14] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.282

[15] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.137

[16] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.329

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Happy Thanksgiving!

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Good morning and Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. I see that some of you are already in the kitchen working hard and let me tell you everything smells delicious. If I wasn’t already spending time at a friends house today I’d ask if I could come over, please save me some pie, and if you have any sweet potatoes left, save some for me. God how I love sweet potatoes.

Today is the one day a year that we set aside to be thankful, not that we shouldn’t at least try to be thankful the other 364 days of the year, but one out of 365 isn’t bad, well actually it is. we’d have to be thankful at least 73 days in order to be at the Mendoza Line, but  I digress…

Many of us will pray and ask a a blessing on our gatherings, and like Milo Bloom I have taken literally the command to “pray for our food,” which is why despite being a Priest I am seldom asked to say grace at any gatherings. I never will forget the first time that I prayed for the Turkey and it’s surviving family members, it was a hoot. If looks could kill the daggers emanating from Judy’s eyes would have killed me dead. Since then I have continued my antics at the Thanksgiving table and I still love the look she gives me, and it makes my heart glad because in thirty-three years of marriage she hasn’t had me killed. That my friends is something to be thankful for.

Mark Twain I think correctly provided us with a short history of the holiday with these words:

“Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for — annually, not oftener — if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors, the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man’s side, consequently on the Lord’s side; hence it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments.”

So, with that in mind and the reality of what we may face in the coming years, I do want to thank you my loyal readers for staying with me over the past year. Likewise I wish you the all best today and in the coming year.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Why Can’t We All Get Along: Reflections on Violence and Race


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Back in the 1990s, a black man by the name of Rodney King who had been brutally beaten by police appealed for calm after his attackers were acquitted. As riots broke out in Los Angeles, King called out “why can’t we all get along?” It is still a valid question. 

I have been thinking a lot about the events that have shaken our country over the past week and my thoughts today will meander between reactions to those events and memories of people and events that shaped my life that impact how I see what is happening today. I think that it important to realize that our past experience and the attitudes that we were brought up with shape how we view current events.

First there were men doing nothing violent, no resisting police requests, being gunned down by police, an event that has become all too common. Then there were the five police officers in Dallas protecting a Black Lives Matter March being ambushed and assassinated by an African American former soldier who stated his contempt for the BLM movement even as he claimed he wanted to kill whites, especially police officers. Then there have been the protests against the killings which have become a fixture in some cities that have been plagued by the brutality of some rogue police officers, as well as the very real and uncomfortable fact that police often handle situations involving white men, even armed white men acting in threatening manners, with far more restraint than they do black men. There is such a thing as White privilege, whether most of us want to admit it or not, and it has existed for the entire history of our country, and even the great victories of the Civil Rights movement never completely riddled us of it. 

I was a kid during the great protests of the Civil Rights movement. I remember watching the evening news and seeing police brutally beat peaceful and unarmed protestors senselessly in living black and white since we didn’t get a color television until about 1972. But those images have remained burned into my memory. I went to a desegregated high school which was that way due to court-ordered desegregation which involved bussing kids across town. A lot of parents objected to it, but interestingly enough, most of the kids who attended junior high school together didn’t try to avoid it, we wanted to continue school with the kids that we knew, and to meet new friends. It was an adventure, but initially there were fear of the unknown for all of us. No one knew how this experiment would work. But for our school, Edison High School in Stockton California, it was a defining moment in time; a magical time, where a mixed race student body made up of about a quarter each of Asians, African Americans,Whites,and Mexicans bonded in a remarkable manner, and today some forty years later, many of us remain close, we are the Soul Vikes to this day. That bonding for me has extended to the men and women who went there before and after me. 

Since then I have lived in many parts of the country, and sadly the experience that I had in high school seems like the exception rather than the rule. Many of the cities and towns that we have lived in have stark racial divides. Thankfully, we have been fortunate during my career in the Navy, we have lived in middle class, mixed race neighborhoods, even today, and we not only feel safe, but we know our neighbors, and we look out for each other. 

In my thirty-five years in the military I have served alongside men and women of every race, ethnicity, religion, and social class that found in our country. These are my brothers and sisters. 

That being said, Judy and I have been the victims of violent crime. In 1979 while out with her parents were were held up at gunpoint by two black men. I had a pistol pointed at my head and Judy had her glasses ripped off her face and ground into the parking lot when the robbers fled. But that one incident has not made us fearful of African Americans, even young African American men, and we find that walls can be broken down by simple kindness and respect. 

When I was in the reserves I worked for a social service agency in the slums and barrios of San Antonio, a homeless shelter in Arlington, Texas, and in the trauma and surgery department of Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, where some of the police officers shot last week were taken. I have seen the effects of poverty and seen the effects of violence, and I have stood by the grieving families and friends of African American men, women, and children who died senseless deaths at the hand of violent people. I have also seen the community activists, teachers, medical personnel, pastors, and dare I say police, who work against huge odds in those neighborhoods  who do all they can to promote a culture of life, respect, and dare I say, hope. So when I see and hear people of great privilege like former New York Mayor Rudi Guilinani did this weekend, I can only shake my head in disgust. Likewise I am disgusted by media coverage, and the often incredibly ignorant and hate-filled posts that I see on social media and blogs, from people who support violence against the protestors, or the police. Frankly, neither is acceptable.

While I can understand anger of people tired of seeing rogue police officers go unpunished for crimes against people of color in their custody, and I fully support protests, I cannot place all of the blame on police. We live in a heavily armed and increasingly violent society, where the gun rules. As such police officers live in a world where they are in fear of their lives, even in routine traffic stops, and the number of people “packing heat”, legally or not, creates an environment where some officers will either overreact or abuse their authority. But there is another thing to add, with the exception of what occured in Dallas and a few other incidents, most police officers are killed by white men, but those stories seldom make the news. 

The thing is that none of this will be solved unless we all start working together as Americans, we cannot allow ourselves to be lulled into the belief that nothing can be done. Our problems will not be solved by picking sides or blaming people as there is plenty of that to go around. 

Anyway, at some point I will return to this subject, but I am tired of seeing people die. I have stood over the bodies of far too many men and women killed by gun violence, grieving with their families, as well as those wounded or maimed by bullets. Sadly, most of those were in this country, not in Iraq where I also witnessed violent death. I am tired of seeing our flag at half-mast due to the mass killings of our fellow citizens: Black people in church killed by a White-Supremacist, police killed by a ruthless former soldier, children in an elementary school killed by a seriously disturbed young man whose mother allowed him access and training to use assault weapons, a man killing people in a movie theater, and so many other incidents that I have about lost count of them. 

These events occur so frequently that they seem to almost blend together, but dare say the word that if these killers did not have access to semi-automatic assault style weapons which are designed for one thing and one thing only, for use in combat, to kill as many people as possible in the most effective manner, that we would have fewer mass killings is tantamount to violating the Constitution. I am not against the right of people to own weapons at all, for self-defense, for hunting and recreation, for sport. But why we don’t curtail the sale of the killing machines designed for war complete with high volume magazines which allow a fusillade of bullets to be fired in any action is beyond me. In fact were it not for the massive numbers of these weapons on the street, legally owned and illegally procured, there would be little need for the militarization of our police forces. I have been trained and qualified on how to use these weapons, and yes, they are fun to shoot, but they have only one purpose, killing lots of people. But I digress, and I’m sure that some people that read this will call me all sorts of names. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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