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The President’s Pathological Need for Revenge: A Disease that is Eating His Mind and Poisoning His Soul

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

One of my favorite television characters is that of Raymond Reddington played by James Spader in The Blacklist. In the episode Monarch Douglas Bank Reddington tells Milos “Berlin” Kirchoff played by Peter Stormare: “Revenge isn’t a passion. It’s a disease. It eats at your mind and poisons your soul.”

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That brings me to my subject today and in all honesty this has been a hard article to write and you’ll see why as I develop it.

As I watched and read in silent horror the extended Twitter and subsequent television meltdown of President Trump on Saturday following the release of Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury I realized that Reddington’s comment perfectly describes the President, his need for revenge is a disease and it has destroyed his soul. That is frightening because by virtue of his position the President has the power to lead the country and world to oblivion, and he may well do it.

The President’s response included  threatening the publisher with legal action, lashing out at the media, his former adviser, Steven Bannon, as well as other opponents; even as he bragged about how smart he was and stated his desire to see restrictions on the First Amendment protections of freedom of speech and the press. This was on the heels of his careless talk about nuclear war and renewed threats against the Clinton’s and the decision of the FBI to reopen investigations of the Clinton Foundation, which the President had publicly demanded that the Justice Department do for months.

I do not know if this is simply his grossly deformed personality with its unbounded  narcissism and sociopathic lack of empathy in overdrive. Others, including psychiatrists of some note have suggested that the President might be suffering some kind of mental illness, he certainly demonstrates notable paranoia, whether that and others the possibility that he may suffering from a neurological condition such as Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia.

But I am concerned because what is going on with this President is not normal, but of all because of his longstanding testimony of how revenge is a key part of how he views the world. His is an adversarial world where there are no real friends, only opponents, enemies, and those who might someday be enemies. This has been shown in his business life, his relationship with the media, political parties, and since his election how he is undoing and remaking seventy years of American leadership in the world.

Trump on many occasions has given interviewers a perspective on how he deals with those who are not absolutely and unconditionally loyal to him. In his book Think Big the future President wrote:

“When people wrong you, go after those people, because it is a good feeling and because other people will see you doing it. I always get even.”

Since coming to office the President has derided, insulted, and even threatened everyone from ordinary citizens, including Gold Star families; journalists, political opponents, former employees and members of his own White House team, and world leaders. His insecurity and inability to withstand criticism or admit error are pathological and are consuming him before our eyes. Sadly, most congressional Republicans and many prominent pastors and clergy don’t don’t seem to see how troubling it is, in fact many of his defenders say nothing so long as their agenda is fulfilled.

I think the support of prominent Christian clergy is the most troubling aspect of this whole sordid Presidency, because they both debase and contradict the Gospel that they claim to preach. I quoted Trump’s most vocal supporter among Evangelicals, Pastor Robert Jeffress last night in terms of this contradiction and it is worth saying again. Jeffress said:

“You know, I was debating an evangelical professor on NPR, and this professor said, ‘Pastor, don’t you want a candidate who embodies the teaching of Jesus and would govern this country according to the principles found in the Sermon on the Mount?’” Jeffress said. “I said, ‘Heck no.’ I would run from that candidate as far as possible, because the Sermon on the Mount was not given as a governing principle for this nation.”

For a Pastor, who like many other Trump supporters claims to want the nation to be governed by Biblical Law above that of the Constitution the blatant disregard of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount is astounding. In many of his statements Jeffress is totally committed to bowing the knee to Caesar so long as it is a Caesar he approves; as well as giving in advance to that Caesar support to start a preemptive nuclear war with North Korea; drive out immigrants regardless of their status; deny Constitutionally protected free speech; and suggest denying rights to those who are not Evangelical Christians.

He stands in opposition not only to Scripture itself, but his own Baptist tradition and men like the Virginia Baptist john Leland who I have often written about on this site.  It seems to me that Jeffress, like Trump is totally committed to an ethic of revenge even though he does not outrightly say it.

In opposition to Jeffress I would quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer who stood against the Nazi German versions of Jeffress when it comes to how Christians should respond, and it is not revenge:

“The will of God, to which the law gives expression, is that men should defeat their enemies by loving them.”

As for the President I find the vast majority of his policies abhorrent from the perspective of the Gospel, as well as the Constitution, and simple human rights. I cannot support those programs, policies, nor his behavior which threatens civil liberties and increase the possibility of world war, with the likelihood that the responsibility for that war would make him and the United States a rogue and criminal nation.

I wish no physical harm upon the President or his family though I do believe that his actions need to be scrutinized and investigated with the full force of the law. Even so as much as I dislike the man and oppose his policies he is still in need of the love of God as well as mine, and I do struggle with this. It is not easy to have any kind of compassion for a man who is consumed with hatred, and absent of empathy which is nothing but evil. It is probable that any real love for the President will be met with rejection, but the command of Christ is to love others seeking nothing in return, that is part of the paradox and tension that I am living in today. He may be mentally ill or have a neurological disease, or he may just be evil. I find nothing to love, respect, or admire in the man: but if I and others like me don’t follow the command of Jesus, is there any hope? Of course that is a rhetorical question, we will all answer it differently.

Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Love asks nothing in return, but seeks those who need it. And who needs our love more than those who are consumed with hatred and are utterly devoid of love.”

Even so all of this being said, I fear for the worst  for the country and the world as long as President Trump remains in office and men like Robert Jeffress continue to support him and in the end I probably have more compassion for Trump than Jeffress because Jeffress who has preached hate in the name of Jesus for decades should know better. I don’t think that Trump does.

So until the next time,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is a good day. I have spent the last couple of days talking about life kinds of things and continue that trend by sharing a few thoughts about friendship, politics, and religion.

I have read a number of articles recently that addressed the growing political divide in the country and one of the commonly cited factors are that a growing number of Americans now pick their friends based on politics, religion, and ideology. That reminded me of Thomas Jefferson who once noted, “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”

Sadly, I have lost friends for these very reasons and every one of them saddened me. In most cases I was not the one that broke off the friendship. Now there have been a couple of times where the relationship had grown so toxic that I had to break it off to in order not end up in the position of hating the person, and to protect myself. But those cases have been few and far between. I think that I can count them on one hand.

I have friends that span the political, ideological, religious, ethnic and racial, and even sexual orientation spectrum. Hell, I even count Los Angeles Dodger’s and New York Yankee’s fans among my friends, and that coming from a diehard San Francisco Giant and Baltimore Orioles fan is truly exceptional.

I guess that most of why I am like this is because I loved the diversity that I experienced at Edison High School in Stockton, California, which I went to because of court-ordered desegregation, and close to thirty-five years of military service. In both cases I got to experience the friendship, in many cases lifelong friendships with people whose experience, culture, and backgrounds were very different from mine. This has enriched me as a human being. 

Today, my closest friends are those that I hang out at my local Gordon Biersch Brewery bar, and the local ballpark. They span the spectrum from the most liberal and progressive Bernie supporters to most devoted supporters of Donald Trump, not to mention mainline liberals and conservatives, Libertarians, Greens, as well as Social Conservatives and members of the Christian Right.

The same is true of my social media, both Facebook and Twitter. I do not have to agree with someone to respect them, care about them, and be a friend. I personally don’t understand how anyone can only hang out with people that are like them, frankly that to me sounds boring. I don’t mind exchanging ideas with friends, but I do get put off by ideologues of all beliefs who care nothing for anything but their agenda. I am not adverse to people having strong beliefs, but to impose them as a condition of friendship is beyond me.

My friends know my beliefs. They know that I am liberal, and a proponent of expanding civil rights, and against any law that is written expressly to deny the rights of others purely for the sake of religion. But that being said I don’t need to impose them as a condition of friendship. I gain so much by the multitude of people that are my friends, their real diversity in all things. I cannot imagine doing anything to intentionally lose any of their friendship this political season.

It’s just my opinion, but I think that we would all be better off to try to do the same this year and build bridges. I think instead of condemning people we don’t know just because they are different that we should take the time to get to know them and become friends that we could actually work together, solve our problems, and heal our wounds. 

But then maybe I am too much of a relic of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Maybe, to use the immortal words of John Lennon “I’m just a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope one day you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.” 

So anyway, have a great weekend.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Politics! Politics! Politics! The Genius of Mel Brooks

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Next Tuesday is the South Carolina primary, and after all the hoopla in Iowa and New Hampshire I don’t know if I can stand the incessant political bombardment on the airwaves and the internet. As such I take a bit to get my fill so I know what is happening, and then retreat into my private world.

Sometimes that private world has some fascinating intersections with politics.  I love the movies of Mel Brooks and find them hysterically funny. Call me crude, uncultured or anyhting else you want to call me I find Brooks to be one of the most brilliant writers to ever grace film.  Despite some of the course language and frequent use of the double entendre employed I find that Brook’s films speak our current political climate in strikingly biting ways. Brooks had an amazing way of confronting ingrained prejudice, discrimination, racism, religious intolerance, and the massive economic, social, and political privileges enjoyed by the wealthy. What is amazing to me is that his movies have become classics and that four decades later they still are relevant to the political, social, economic issues that we face as well as the continued curse of racism.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDxzIuhTROU

Both Blazing Saddles and History of the World Part I came out in times of political and economic turmoil. Like now when these films came out people were disillusioned and cynical about their political leaders.  The country was badly divided, racism was rampant while divisive social issues, a problem riddled military and economic malaise ruled the day.  The Soviet Union seemed to be on the ascendant while some were writing the obituary of the United States and Western Europe. There are a lot of similarities.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYqF_BtIwAU

In such difficult times most political leaders and their partisan followers are absolutely devoid of humor, as are most pundits and politically minded preachers.  As a result everything becomes personal, and anyone that deviates from the party line is “the enemy.”  This goes for partisans on both sides of the political chasm.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dk47saogI8o

Unfortunately our problems are multifaceted in scope, and deeper than the Marianas Trench.  Scandals have long been part and parcel of both the Legislative and Executive branches of our government.  As a people we seem to hate the sinner involved but love the scandal itself. The scandals titillate us and satiate our most wanton desires for reality entertainment.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ryvljjccqL8

Our corporate 24 hour news cycle thrives on them and even the slightest odor of a potential scandal sends the media into a frenzy. But many of the scandals while troubling seldom amount to a hill of beans. Meanwhile implicated office holder or official is incessantly beaten by the opposing media and sometimes even “friendly” media long after grounds for the scandal are shown to be false.  That being said there is a double standard because it is quite often that a truly guilt party gets off with no punishment, few are forced to resign from office, while even fewer ever end up in court for offenses that most of us would get jail time for doing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=boO4RowROiw

More troubling from my point of view is the manner in which politicians at almost every level prostitute themselves in order to rake in political donations from big donors.  This is a bi-partisan problem.  Business, political action committees, and special interest groups of all varieties participate in getting in bed with those in power. I think one of the most egregious examples are the Koch brothers, but they are not alone. In the midst of the money driven depravity for power the actual needs of constituents or the greater good of the country are seldom address. God forbid a constituent show up at a town hall meeting and ask hard questions or state opposition to their representative’s position.  Sometimes those who have the courage to do so are physically assaulted by the supporters of the politician, forcibly removed and sometimes arrested.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZegQYgygdw

The average congressman spends a third or more his or her time in office raising money for the next election, some spend more than 50% of their time raiding campaign contributions.  The thing is that money talks and if you look at any major legislation who will see a direct correlation of money to the votes of congress. Again, both parties are guilty of this and they do it every day. Is it a wonder that Congress has single digit approval ratings?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XfqlbFvGN8

Is it any wonder that the President barely polls 40% approval?  Is it any wonder that grass roots Tea Party members and the progressives that by and large make up the Occupy Wall Street movement are in the streets?  True partisans on both sides deride the opposing movement but the fact that so many people are upset shows that our political system as we know it is broken and may not last.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDxzIuhTROU

Now I admit that was an awfully serious interlude. However, it sets the stage for the humor of Mel Brooks.  Like I said in the beginning I love the humor of Mel Brooks. He is a comic genius and understands that humor is often more effective in making political and social commentary than almost any other means. Both Blazing Saddles and The History of the World Part One had wonderful if crude satire about politics and speak volumes about our political condition and how many people feel about their government.  I am putting a few clips from both films here and let them do the talking with no commentary from me.  Have fun and enjoy even as you cringe at how accurate Brooks’ commentary is today.  You would think that he is a prophet.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The More Things Change…

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If the print on the strip is too spall on your phone or tablet the link is here: http://www.gocomics.com/bloomcounty/2015/02/17 Likewise if you click on the picture it should be larger and more readable

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Right now there a lot of things that really matter, that far too many people remain silent about, and since Donald Trump is no longer considered a political joke, it is time to do some reflection. Frankly I think some of that reflection can be found in old comic strips, some of them never get old.

It is funny how timeless the social commentary of Berkeley Breathed’s classic comic strip Bloom County is even today. The strip shown above is from 1987. It is part of a series of strips where Donald Trump’s brain is transplanted into Bill the Cat’s body leading to some interesting encounters with the citizens of Bloom County.

In this strip, a little Black girl named “Ronald Ann,” named such by her dad after Ronald Reagan meets Mr Trump. The Donald, like all of us has a dream, but his is a bit different, and in the strip he is symbolic of the worst part of our humanity, that which has everything, while denying others of even the chance to achieve. A class of people who have no empathy, and for whom nothing matters but their bottom line, and they have an army of politicians to enshrine their policies into law, pundits who shamelessly defend them, media empires that promote them and their lifestyles as good, and preachers who give the blessing of something that they call “God” to their most ungodly world view.

The amazing thing is that those who promote this vast imbalance don’t even recognize what they are doing to civilization. Barbara Tuchman wrote in her book A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century that “When the gap between ideal and real becomes too wide, the system breaks down.”

We are watching this unfold before our very eyes and those leading the charge, the politicians, bankers, moguls, media empires, pundits and preachers are blind to what they are sowing. Sadly they don’t seem to care so long as they have power and their profit margins increase.

What they are sowing is the seed of violent revolution, and not just in the United States, but around the world. They are sowing the seeds of war, they have helped create the growing threat of the Islamic State and Boko Haram, and their short sighted policies will bring down nations and economic systems.

Bu then such people and those who allow them to do what they do do not study history, except for the sanitized kind of myth that makes them feel good and justifies their actions. The same is true of how they view philosophy and religion. That is why they love the pseudo-history of people like David Barton, the philosophy of Ayn Rand, and the theology of Christian Dominionism and the Prosperity Gospel. Sadly, those who call themselves “Christians” and promote this seem oblivious to the fact that it is all based on Social Darwinism, the survival of the fittest. But then to the preachers who support those who benefit by such thought believe that a lie told for the glory of God is justified.

As such they seem to have little capacity for empathy or compassion, the death and suffering of people from disease, poverty and war makes no impact on them. Tuchman wrote “[T]he obverse of facile emotion in the 14th century was a general insensitivity to the spectacle of pain and death.” 

The same is true with technology. We have the most wonderful technological capabilities but instead of harnessing them for good, we turn them into instruments of destruction, instruments that may one day destroy all of us. Tuchman wrote: “For belligerent purposes, the 14th century, like the 20th, commanded a technology more sophisticated than the mental and moral capacity that guided its use.” Sadly, that gap between technology and mental and moral capacity to use it has only grown exponentially in this new century 21st century.

Sadly, that bit of satire about Donald Trump and Ronald Ann in this 1987 Bloom County comic strip is even more true today than when Berkeley Breathed drew it and penned the words. The power of the pen can be seen even today as people who speak out, write or pen satire become targets of those that they critique.

But I can no longer be silent when I see such institutionalized evil that is blessed by the politicians, pundits and preachers, who I call the Trinity of Evil. I would rather be called every epitaph that the promoters and supporters of such a hateful, tyrannical and perverse system can muster, than not to speak the truth. It’s funny how the words to the The Logical Song by Supertramp ring true for me:

“Now watch what you say or they’ll be calling you a radical, liberal, fanatical, criminal.”

I’ll have to write about that song sometime soon, as it seems to speak volumes about my own journey, but I digress…

I said at the beginning of last year that I would seek truth and speak truth. Until I came back from Iraq in 2008, having seen and experienced the horror of war, the lies of my government in launching that war in Iraq that has latterly sowed the wind and is reaping the whirlwind with the Islamic State’s advance, I said nothing, and at times even defended the system. But since then I cannot. I have already paid a price, men who I thought were friends abandoned me, a church that I had faithfully served, threw me out and I have been threatened, harassed and trolled by white supremacists; religious fanatics of various denominations, and political ideologues.

But truth is truth and I cannot be silent. As Dr. King so well put it: “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Pursuing the Truth: New Year 2016

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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.”

Before I say anything else I just want to thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to read, comment and even share what I write. That matters to me and a good number of you have followed my writings for years. So I truly thank you from the bottom of my heart, and if you like what you see please comment and share with others.

As I get older I realize how valuable time is. There are few commodities that truly cannot be replaced or conserved, time is one that is always fleeting. As Dr. Suess said:

“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”

That being said I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, in fact I generally don’t make any because frankly I think that most are a waste of time. However, I do not think that the pursuit of truth is a waste, and as Benjamin Disraeli noted so wisely; “Time is precious, but truth is more precious than time.”

To that end, as I did last year I am going to endeavor this year to commit myself to continue to seek truth and to speak truth, wherever that takes me. Truth matters to me. In my life I have seen so many lies, especially by political and religious leaders that I trusted that I now devote myself to the pursuit of truth. As Captain Jean Luc Picard told the young Cadet Wesley Crusher in Star Trek the Next Generation episode The First Duty: “the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, historical truth or personnel truth…” 

So, I will continue to write, especially about historical subjects that have an impact today: civil rights and social justice, faith, military issues, PTSD and military health issues, the Middle East conflicts and a number of other topics. Of course I will write about baseball, which is often my refuge when things are too much for me and music. I may do more regarding music as I was asked to do an article for a journal about liturgical music, stress and resiliency.

I will continue to be as transparent as I can about my own struggles with PTSD and faith in the hopes that my journey will help others who struggle like me. In fact this was a major reason that I started this site back in February of 2009.

Expect more writing about the Battle of Gettysburg and the Civil War. I have a feeling that that is going to become a life work, even after I retire from the Navy. The American Civil War is so pertinent to who and what we are as a nation and the more I study it, the people, the issues and the ideologies involved I see many parallels with today; some of which are positively frightening. So expect a lot more about these subjects. In fact the Civil War is one in which debunked myths still hold sway over many, especially among the defenders of the Lost Cause who predominate the Christian Right.

In addition to that I expect to be going back to some of my older research and writing about the social, religious, political, and ideological dynamics of Weimar and Nazi Germany and how similar that are to some things going on now in our own country.

While lies are dangerous the myths can be more so, and the proliferation of lies, half-truths and myth have shriveled the brain cells of those who enjoy the comfort of opinion without the benefit of thought. President John F. Kennedy spoke of this in 1962, and his words are timely, especially when hordes of preachers, pundits and politicians, the Trinity of Evil, do this with abandon:

“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 clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” 

To do this I have to constantly challenge my own thoughts, beliefs, and opinions. So with that resolution I wish you a good day and a Happy New Year. Thank you for reading, sharing, commenting, and encouraging me. Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Winner Takes it All: American Christian Greed

Do you remember that there was a time when Conservative Christian Politicians and preachers actually supported working people and the poor? There was a period where this was true, but with the economic affluence and the political influence that we have enjoyed since the end of the Second World War we have left those days far behind.

I mean really, there was a time when preachers were not just lobbying for tax cuts for the rich in the name of the “Prosperity Gospel” or and extolling the wealthy “job creators” over the people who actually produce or serve products. Late last night I had an interaction on Facebook that was discouraging, wealthy preachers defended the most opulent and extravagant excesses of mega-church pastors. It was disheartening, especially one attacked a man who I went to war with, and who since has endured more trying medical issues than most of us will experience in our lives when he challenged the Episcopal Priest. What I read broke my heart.

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My Church History professor at Southwestern Baptist seminary back in 1988 and 1989 Christian attitudes then that is even more appropriate today. He noted that a:

“reason that many Christians are not servants is more honest: it is that we just don’t want to be servants. We live today in a “winner” society. We value the winners, whether it be in sports, business, or wars….The American Dream is success, climbing to the top of the ladder, making it, winning…. In most metro areas, on most weekends, you can go to a conference in some church where a person (for a fee) will tell you how God wants you rich….This obsession with success, money, and power is the American dream carried to its logical conclusion. It is middle-class Americanism, pure and simple. It is more motivated by greed, selfishness, and pride than by Christ. And in the churches, we have bought it. We want to be “at the top”,” not “at the bottom.”…..We coat our Americanism with a thin veneer of Christianity in an attempt to make it more palatable, but God will not have it. Let’s call this version of the American Dream what it is: selfishness, self-righteousness, and sin.” (Young, Doyle L New Life for Your Church Baker Book House, Grand Rapids Michigan 1989 pp.55-56)

I heard Dr. Young speak about this in class. I was a young Army officer, who had just left active duty to go to seminary. We were in the process of a financial meltdown brought about by the Texas oil bust of the late 1980s and my wife’s illness. We were learning what it was like to be poor. We lost almost everything but ourselves and our dogs during that time. We went to churches where the opulence was over the top, where the pastor drove a Porsche, and not a bottom end or used one. We struggled through seminary and made it, with me working two jobs and being in the National Guard. Most of the time we wondered where the money to get the next meal, tank of gas, prescription medicine, tuition payment or books. When I called the TBN prayer line just for prayer during the darkest days I was told be a “prayer warrior” that “it was obvious that I was not in God’s will because otherwise God would be blessing me.” That angered me and hardened my resolve to get through seminary. There were a good number of people who helped us, some because they felt that god wanted them to help us, others just because they  were compassionate souls. This made me very sensitive to social justice and wary of those who get rich off of God’s people.

It wasn’t always this way.

William Jennings Bryan was one of the most influential politicians of his era. He served as Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson, he was a Senator and three time Presidential Candidate. He was also a very conservative Fundamentalist Christian perhaps most famous, or perhaps infamous now as one of the prosecuting attorneys at the Scopes “Monkey” Trial of 1925. In fact I can find that Bryan’s handling of that case played to the basest religious and social hatred of his day and though “defending” “Biblical” ideas ended up making Christians look but small minded, intolerant and hateful. The movie Inherit the Wind, though a fictional account of that trial show how decent Christians can become consumed with hatred in the name of righteousness, little different than other “sincere believers” that are willing to kill in the name of God.

Whether one agrees on certain points of religious doctrine regarding the creation of the earth or the manner of how God created the earth that he espoused one has to admit that of pre-Great Depression politicians he was quite amazing. This was especially true in how he saw through the Godlessness of unbridled Capitalism.  He saw how workers by were devalued by those who saw them as nothing more than a way to increase their wealth. As an American and a Christian look at the body of work and life of a man. Though I find much fault in Bryan and his supporters in the Scopes Trial, I do not throw out the good things that he did and got right.

I think the apex of Bryan’s political thought is encapsulated in his speech at the Democratic National Convention of 1896, what is now called the Cross of Gold Speech.

When one looks at it now it really is timeless. Bryan saw through the charade that was being played out by politicians and the big money Wall Street types that they represented with great verve. It was a speech that one might have heard come from a prophet in the Old Testament.

I am just going to quote a couple of pertinent sections from the speech to trigger your thoughts, for you will not hear this in the vast majority of conservative Christian churches of all denominations which have been infected with the so called “Prosperity Gospel.”  These churches have thrown their support behind ideas that are nothing more than unvarnished, crude materialism of the worst kind. In fact I believe that it is nothing more than the “baptism” of such thought by Christians are among the biggest reasons for the exodus of people from the churches and the rise of the “Nones,” or those with no religious preference.

Bryan said:

“We say to you that you have made the definition of a business man too limited in its application. The man who is employed for wages is as much a business man as his employer; the attorney in a country town is as much a business man as the corporation counsel in a great metropolis; the merchant at the cross-roads store is as much a business man as the merchant of New York; the farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day, who begins in spring and toils all summer, and who by the application of brain and muscle to the natural resources of the country creates wealth, is as much a business man as the man who goes upon the Board of Trade and bets upon the price of grain; the miners who go down a thousand feet into the earth, or climb two thousand feet upon the cliffs, and bring forth from their hiding places the precious metals to be poured into the channels of trade are as much business men as the few financial magnates who, in a back room, corner the money of the world. We come to speak of this broader class of business men.” 

His words are striking in their directness and honesty. They are not only Christian but they are deeply American. He called his Party, which had been as bad as the Republicans during the age of the unregulated Robber Barons who used the Gold Standard to manipulate the markets and eliminate silver as currency to their benefit to be different:

“Upon which side will the Democratic Party fight; upon the side of “the idle holders of idle capital” or upon the side of “the struggling masses”? That is the question which the party must answer first, and then it must be answered by each individual hereafter. The sympathies of the Democratic Party, as shown by the platform, are on the side of the struggling masses, who have ever been the foundation of the Democratic Party.”

He talked about two ideas of government and economics:

“There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that, if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.”

He concluded his speech with this statement.

“Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

When I hear the Unholy Trinity of Politicians, Pundits and Preachers who extol the virtue of Capital over labor and the worship of wealth as the highest good I wish that there would be some that would remember that the people who actually make things, grow things, fix things and maintain things are not just human capital, but people.

That’s enough for today. Expect some more on this and similar topics soon.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, economics and financial policy, faith, History, Political Commentary, Religion

Living in the Chronically Offended World

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I was skimming through my Twitter and Facebook feeds this evening after spending the day on the road. After listening to Mel Brooks being interviewed on Sirius Radio while driving home I was relaxing watching Star Trek Deep Space Nine once again confronted with the absolute fact that there are a lot of people in this country have gone totally stupid crazy in their paranoid hatred of fellow citizens who may not happen to look like or believe like them.

Now people who read this site regularly as well as people that really know me know I am a pretty moderate kind of guy. Now I am moderate but will admit that I fall to the left of the political, social and religious spectrum on many issues and to the right a bit on others. That being said I have so many friends that span the spectrum who represent about every point on the compass of belief in this country I try to be both respectful of them. That doesn’t mean that I agree with them or they with me, but the people that really know me and I them agree to disagree and be friends. We find common things that bind us together and can even laugh at each other even when we don’t agree.

Personally that is what I think our country is about, or at least what it used to be about.

Too be fair I have to say that this situation has been building for years and spans the political and religious spectrum of the country. I hate to say it but I wonder where this is going to end, especially when I see violent attitudes and words in so many of the posts that I read today.

It just seems to me that we now live in a country that has transformed itself into one of the thinnest skinned, easily offended societies in the world.  It doesn’t seem to matter what political affiliation, religion, race, gender, socio-economic group a person belongs, they are bound to be offended at something and rather than reason things out as friends do take things personally and want somehow to exact revenge on their adversaries. It almost seems to me that we are getting as bad as the countries that have regularly scheduled Holy Days of Rage.

I could be wrong but it seems to me that almost everyone is offended at something or someone.  Hell I even offend myself sometimes usually muttering to myself “asshole” when I do this.  There are some people who almost seem to live with a chip on their shoulder. I call them the chronically offended who are quite often the most easily offensively offended.

Most of the time I try not to give offense. However, I have been known to offend the chronically offended and even the merely offendable with twisted or sarcastic comments and oddball humor which Judy tells me is not always as funny as I think it is.  Nonetheless there are many people who are both patently chronically offended and very, yea verily very angry. So as Mel Brooks says, “when you go to the bell, ring it.” 

I am assured by the Deity Herself that raging anger combined with a sense of being easily offended is not a good or virtuous combination. Even history tells of this, countries have been ripped apart and millions of people murdered in cold blood when this putrid and venomous kettle boils over.

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Now I know from experience that this is true.  I am one of the guilty parties questioning the parentage and Oedipal tendencies of the idiots who move across four lanes of traffic without signaling on I-264 or who insist on driving 10 miles an hour under the speed limit on rural Eastern North Carolina highways.  Sometimes I find that I wish that this was Iraq so my turret gunner could shoot them.  Thankfully my newly honed skills using the force that I developed in Iraq, which I am told is actually hyper vigilance, does allow me to sense Kamikazes and tortoises well before I even see them.

I remember once about 17 years ago or so when I was a civilian hospital chaplain and stopped by a grocery store to pick up some food to take to work.  An older gentleman was going toward the sliding automated door and out of simple politeness I said “Sir, please, after you.”  Hell, the way I walk, which is as those who see me rapidly racing down the long halls of our medical center without breaking into a jog can testify is pretty fast, it was a safety thing too.  I could have run the gentleman down had I not stopped to let him through first.  In retrospect I think that I should have run him over but would not have been cool.  I could have seen the newspaper headline in that town:

LOCAL HOSPITAL AND ARMY RESERVE CHAPLAIN SLAMS ELDERLY MAN TO GROUND TRYING TO BEAT HIM THROUGH KROGER DOOR.

That would not have been good.  The man, instead of smiling and thanking me or even ignoring me stopped in front of the door, turned around and said “Why are you calling me sir? Why are you disrespecting me?” He said it very loud, very sharply and I was wondering what the hell was going on.  There was hatred in his eyes and I realized that I had to defuse the situation in some way.

Not wanting him to pull out a concealed handgun I defused the situation by using humor.  I said, “Sir, I call everybody sir, even ma’ams.”  The man cocked his head; the fiery glint in his eyes gave way to a stunned look of confusion. He then shook his head, muttered something under his breath and went through the door. I didn’t know that being polite and respectful could be taken as offensive and disrespectful.  Maybe when some young guy does that to me someday and I whack him with my tazer from my motorized scooter because I think he is being disrespectful I might understand. Of course I will probably one of those old guys that takes a perverse pleasure in tazing the offender and enjoying his writhing in pain and twitching all over the place.  But then maybe not as I do have some sense of decorum, I would simply taze the twerp and keep going.

I knew a young Chaplain who was spouting off in a public forum once in a manner that did not offend me, but which I thought if certain other people read it could affect him and his career in a negative manner. This is no one that I have ever worked with, just someone that I know in passing. I was concerned for the young man, so I contacted him just to let him know to be careful and I got an earful, the little twerp blasted me with both barrels.  I was really surprised at the venom with which he reacted to my comment which was only meant to help keep him out of potential trouble but no good deed goes unpunished.  Maybe he will go to a self-help course, but then again, selves are very difficult to help.

Now I think everyone at some time has been offended by something or someone.  Crap we are human; we can’t help but be, though I do find the Romulan that resides in me very appealing. However, to live my life is a perpetual state of offendedness is something that I refuse to do, even though I both give and take offense probably every day, especially during the morning or afternoon commute.  Hell, judging by the number of people I have lost as friends on Facebook after I have written articles on this site I know I give offense, even when I don’t mean to do it.

I really don’t want to offend anyone but when I look at the political extremes of our country and observe the words and actions of these people I am truly frightened for the country. People are talking about war against their political opponents and even revolution.

The situation is not helped by the litigious nature of our society. Lawsuits are as common as business suits. Someone gets offended and someone sues it’s almost a cause and effect principle. Someone else gets offended and pretty soon offensensitivity reigns and it is like half the country are Frank and Estelle Costanza on steroids.  Serenity now!

Now our electorate is so spun up by the loudest and most shrill accusatory voices in the media and politics that it is frightening. Politics especially has become venom filled and hatred driven. A lot of our electorate is now so polarized and offended by anything anyone else says that there is almost a civil war going on. Albeit a war without weapons marching armies and crashing cannon, but instead being waged with great energy on the airwaves and on the internet with occasional talk of secession or armed revolt by one side or the other depending on who’s in power.

Politicians and political parties are no longer opponents, they are mortal enemies. Sometimes interest groups within the various parties opt for a no-quarter approach to how they do business pushing their parties further to the extreme. The Pelosi type Democrats did everything that they could to push conservative’s buttons and now conservatives led by the Tea Party are taking no quarter even in the Republican Party.  The attitude of both sides is “if you aren’t totally with us on everything you are against us.”

Caricatures and sound bites suffice for truth for many people regardless of them being on the left or right wing of the body politic. This is especially true on Facebook where people blast the rudest, most cynical and often simply ignorant posts imaginable. For a while I was kind of into that but I have really tried to pull back from that type of discourse. I made a decision a while back after getting pulled into a number of very nasty debates not even to comment and simply move along. In light of some of the things I have seen I believe that the extremists in in our society, regardless of their actual ideology have more in common with each other than they do the middle where traditionally most Americans live.

I think that as highly divided, hypersensitive and easily offended we have become that we are heading for big trouble.  That is unless people stop taking themselves so seriously and get about with finding a way to cooperate and make things work.  I know that is important to remain principled, but there is also a duty to be civil and respectful even when there are real differences in ideology, politics, faith or whatever.

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Sometimes I have to tell myself that restraint, respect and civility is a virtue, even when I convinced I am right.  That being the case there are times that I will just go up and as Brooks says “ring the bell.” If when I do that it offends someone I’m sorry. So until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under philosophy, Political Commentary