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The Rearview Mirror of 2015: Religion, Politics, and Terrorism

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Charles Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” and depending who you are or where you live it could have been one, the other or both. For me it has been one of those, not that there is anything wrong with that, and truthfully as rough as it has been at times, I cannot discount the importance of these events in my life. Back in October I wrote an article that kind of sums up how important each of these threads is in my life, Tapestry: The Importance of Just One Thread.

The year was difficult, but we have made it through, and all of the threads of this year are now part of the tapestry of our lives. I am still dealing with PTSD, chronic insomnia and trimmings, but on the whole doing better than I was a year ago. We lost our wonderful dog Molly, a dog who more than once save my life in the years after Iraq, but that being said, the ghost of Molly is still around and doing some of the same things that she did when I was at my lowest, if you want you can read about that here, Ghost Dog Central. Though we lost Molly we still have Minnie Scule who was joined by Izzy Bella, our now one year old Papillion. They are both great dogs, totally different in personality, and Izzy is a lot like Molly in temperament and personality.

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The same day we lost Molly, my wife Judy found out that she had an abnormal pap-smear and was diagnosed with Endometrial Cancer. She went through surgery and a long post-surgical recovery, but her doctor says she is now cancer free, though she gets regular checkups to make sure that it does not come back.

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On a lighter side we also made our second trip to the real Oktoberfest in Munich, and a side trip to Salzburg, Austria where we discovered that the hills really might be alive, but I digress… I was also able to see some groups as musical artists from my bucket list. I saw a combined Chicago and Earth Wind and Fire concert as well as the legendary Boz Skaggs.

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But 2015 was eventful, in a very dark way….

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Terrorism of a number of varieties seemed to dominate much of the year. In January there were the Charlie Hebdo attacks made by radical Islamists in Paris, Je Suis Charlie: An Attack on Freedom, Do Not Give in to Fear: #Je Suis Charlie. If that attack had been all it would have been enough, but terrorism, mostly committed in the name of God, or racist ideology seemed to be everywhere. Of course there were the continued attacks of Islamist militants in sub-Saharan Africa, in places like Nigeria, Kenya, and Mali. The Horn of Africa, including Somalia and the Sudan; and North Africa, in Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, and Egypt. Those attacks, and incidents are too numerous to be listed, but sadly in the west, or the industrialized areas of Asia, no one seems to take note of them. Truthfully, the only thing the west and countries like China care about in Africa are the natural resources, dead Africans don’t seem matter as long as we get our resources.

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But there were terrorist attacks in the United States as well. There was a murder of three young Muslim UNC students in Chapel Hill North Carolina A Time to Stand Against Hate; a clash between incendiary Muslim and anti-Muslim groups in Garland Texas, Hate vs. Hate: A Clash in Garland. 

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The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is the oldest AME church in the South. Nine people died in a hate crime shooting on June 17, 2015.

 

Of course the massacre of the pastor and other members of the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston South Carolina, by a young White Supremacist named Dylann Storm Roof Call it Terrorism: Massacre at Emmanuel AME, When Ideology Kills Kindness: Dylann Roof at Emmanuel AME.

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Then terror returned, in the space of two weeks a Russian airliner was downed by a bomb most likely planted by sympathizers of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or DAESH Can You Live with It? War, ISIL & a Downed Airliner; an attack by DAESH in Beirut Lebanon which killed 43 people, and then a massacre that stunned the world in Paris, Terror in Paris, The Lamps are Going Out: Paris & the End of the Illusion of Peace. The latter seems to have spurred the west into doing more to fight DAESH and it appears that the war that DAESH has desired with the west is now an accomplished fact.

An SUV with its windows shot out that police suspect was the getaway vehicle from at the scene of a shooting in San Bernardino, California is shown in this aerial photo December 2, 2015. Gunmen opened fire on a holiday party on Wednesday at a social services agency in San Bernardino, California, killing 14 people and wounding 17 others, then fled the scene, triggering an intense manhunt and a shootoutout with police, authorities said. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX1WX2P

But this terror came to the United States not long after when a DAESH inspired couple massacred people gathered for a holiday party in San Bernardino and the chilling thing was that they were the co-workers of the man, True Believers & Terrorism. I ended up reflecting on all of these attacks in a number of articles, including Power Hungry Religionists Will Inherit the Wind, Faith & Terror, and Accessories to Murder: The Propagandists who Inspire Terror.

These attacks caused me to write a number of articles about racism, propaganda, ideology, politics, mass movements and genocide. I think this article Dehumanization & Genocide helps to bring a certain historical perspective to these subjects, as does this one, Civilization Is Tissue Thin: Holocaust & Genocide as Warning. I also decided to frame some of the current fear of terrorism and the hateful invective being hurled at many American Muslims through the lens of Star Trek in these articles, Your Fear Will Destroy You and The Belief in a Devil. Another article which brought chills to me as I wrote is was just how easy it seems for some people to rationalize genocide, Just Following Orders: The Rationalization of Genocide and for ordinary people to take part in them Vast and Heinous Crimes: Ordinary Men & War Crimes.

Religion did not only inspire terror in 2015, but it was more closely than ever a part of American politics, and not necessarily for the good. As such I spent a lot of time on the intersection of church and state issues. This was especially true when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in the Obegfell v. Hodges decision and much of the Christian Right including prominent Republican presidential candidates went haywire. There were times that their reaction reminded me of the great film Inherit the Wind.

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Supporters of same-sex marriages gather outside the US Supreme Court waiting for its decision on April 28, 2014 in Washington, DC. The US Supreme Court is hearing arguments on whether gay couples have a constitutional right to wed -- a potentially historic decision that could see same-sex marriage recognized nationwide. AFP PHOTO / MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Since I firmly believe in religious liberty, and the separation of Church and State I wrote a number of articles dealing with that subject, including these, Religious Liberty or Tyranny?, this, Religion & State: The Less Mixed the Better and one about one of my heroes, the Virginia Baptist, John Leland, Exploding the Myth of Christian America. That crossed into some political commentary in this article Strike Down the Sinners: The Politics of the Christian Right.

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Since much of the focus on religious liberty in 2015 revolved around the recalcitrant county clerk of Rowan County Kentucky, Kim Davis, and her political allies to deny legal rights to gay couples to marry I ended up writing a good number of articles during that political circus. If you want to read those just put her name in the search box. But as the dust cleared I wrote an article about a man who though he was a Christian, did not allow religious propaganda and hate to trump his sworn duty. The article about the late Dr. C. Everett Koop should be required reading for those who take an oath to uphold the Constitution, even when it conflicts with their religious beliefs, Separate Ideology & Religion from Sworn Duty: The Legacy of Dr. C. Everett Koop.

Political commentary based on historical analysis has become more important to me, and I try to shy away from the more bombastic and partisan that I see and instead focus on rational comparisons that can help us understand events, and hopefully do better than our ancestors. One of these articles compares the political implosion of the Democratic and Whig Parties in the 1850s and what is currently transpiring in the Republican Party, a party that I belonged to for 36 years before leaving it in 2008. When Political Parties Implode: The Battle over the Lecompton Constitution and its Relevance Today. Unlike some on both sides of the political chasm, I do not see what is happening as good, and I wrote this article to emphasize the importance of reason in political debate, Reason, the Salvation of Freedom. Interestingly enough, well before Donald Trump became the frontrunner in the GOP presidential campaign I wrote this little article, with a great cultural reference to a Bloom County comic strip published over 20 years ago, There Comes a Time… A Bloom County Reality Check.

Finally, a lot of what I wrote on the site was intensely personal and dealt with my battle with PTSD, my struggles with faith and belief, as well as my continued religious, social, and political transformation. These included My Faith: A Journey and Mission, but I think that one of the better articles I did about this process is It Fitted In: A Personal Reflection on Propaganda. I also wrote a number of articles for Memorial Day and Veterans Day which reflected my thoughts regarding my own military service and some social and political commentary related to who we as a nation deal with veterans and go to war, one of those was done just before Veterans Day, They Thanked Us Kindly: Reflections on Veteran’s Day 2015. My journey also brought new insights as I studied iconic Civil War heroes from the battle of Gettysburg, some of those articles included Tragic Heroes of Little Round Top,

I wrote a number of articles dealing with depression, suicide, PTSD and other issues that veterans and others struggle, I think this article sums up how I think we should treat those who struggle, Try to Understand: The Kindest, Noblest, & Best Thing You Will Ever Do. I also tried to bring attention to the continued crisis of veteran suicides in The Uncounted Cost of War: Veteran Suicides. I wrote about PTSD and the things that never seem to go away after war in this article, There Will be Nightmares: PTSD & Memories of War.

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Of course there was more, police shootings, the Syrian refugee crisis, and too much more to cover today. But be assured I will continue to write and do my best to present all of these events the best I can in the light of history. I may end up sounding like Spencer Tracy’s characters in Inherit the Wind and Judgement at Nuremberg, but what I can I say?

I am continuing to learn through all of the evil being perpetrated by so many, is that  the perpetrators have no ability to empathize with people. It is the one defining characteristic that they all share. Captain Gustave Gilbert, In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trails 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.” I find that more true every day.

Well, just one more day until we usher in 2016, and I do hope it will be better for everyone. By the way, a friend was able to get me a site over that the Daily Kos where I do some writing, and also post modified versions of what I write here as the mood hits me. The link to my blog there is, http://www.dailykos.com/blog/Padresteve

Have a great day and hopefully a Happy New Year.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under News and current events, Political Commentary, terrorism

Bitter Feelings I wish Never to Experience Again: Tuesday Musings

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

It is funny how a single event, or a number of seemingly unrelated events can change all the plans for a week of writing. Tonight I am struggling with my own feelings as I try to make sense out of my own experiences as well as the events of the day. I am still awake and writing because of how upset I am about a number of things that really  on the surface shouldn’t be so upsetting but wound me deeply. 

This weekend I will be leading a group of my students to Gettysburg and I have been working on my Gettysburg text as well as revisions to that text. My plan is to place a number of the short biographic articles on a number of leaders in that battle who I find particularly interesting and not just for what they did in the battle. I find complex and contradictory people fascinating. Likewise I will be posting an article about the classic action of the first day of the battle between the Union cavalry under Brigadier General John Buford, a fascinating man in his own right and Confederate general Harry Heth who led the Confederate army into the a battle that would help turn the tide of the war.

Of course I am cognizant of the the fact that events can change my plans as far as what I intend to write and tend to plan accordingly. But sometimes such events actually give me a chance to reflect and actually cause me to think about the significance of those events. Since I do a lot of that the attack in Garland that I wrote about yesterday has triggered some more of those thoughts.

When I wrote yesterday’s article I began thinking about some of the things that I wrote in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris as well as other terrorist attacks, those of Moslems as well as those who attack and hate Moslems. Some critics might think I am being “politically correct” but truth is truth and terrorism no matter what the ideology or religion of those who kill innocents is evil. So I think I will probably re-package one or more of those articles because of the attack in Garland because when I went back and re-read the series I saw that so much of what I wrote then was still pertinent today, and because of the seriousness of what is going on probably need more attention.

I will also be writing something about the Battle of Dien Bien Phu which sealed the fate of French colonialism in Indochina. That battle was concluded sixty-one years ago this week. Having been a participant in the Iraq war, a war which like Indochina was a disaster for the colonial power and a war in which the soldiers who sacrificed so much were so rapidly forgotten by the nation even as they were thrown into other hopeless wars.

I have been reading a book on the experiences of the Union soldiers when they returned home from the Civil War and that book has stirred up a lot of my emotions concerning my return from Iraq and what I have experienced over the past six years.

Sadly I have a hard time containing my bitterness about my sacrifices and the insults I have endured even from the incredibly irrational and insensitive military bureaucracy and even my own Chaplain Corps. Some of that I was reminded of today in dealing with a bureaucracy that ensures that you are caught in a permanent state of “catch-twenty-two” when simply trying to get the appropriate credit for what you have done. I ran into that today in regard to an administrative catch-twenty-two regarding my Joint Qualification credit and I am so angry that I can scarcely contain myself. Sadly, that is just one more reason that I will be glad to retire in 2017. 

The past week I have had terrible nightmares, some dealing with those issues and I can fully understand the words of Union General Gouverneur Warren who wrote his wife after the war:

“I wish I did not dream so much. They make me sometimes to dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish never to experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”

I fully understand how Warren felt, because he was not only a victim of the war but of Army bureaucracy. In Warren I have found someone that I can completely understand and relate to in what he had to deal with during and after the war.

People ask me sometimes why I will remove my name from consideration for promotion to Captain in the Navy Chaplain Corps and retire instead of remaining on active duty and possibly make Captain. This my friends something that many men and women would consider the pinnacle of accomplishment, and which a number of senior chaplains tell me I would be very competitive. In fact even two years ago I would have almost sold my soul to be promoted to that rank. But I know that don’t need to sacrifice any more of my life for a promotion that I no longer want. 

Maybe I’m a bit bitter, not terribly, but enough to make me realize that I don’t want to deal with the bullshit that I would have to deal with at a higher rank as I now realize that I am rank enough in my own right. Frankly, somehow I need to let go of the bitterness and disappointment that I have, but I realize that I may never fully let it go. Not because I do not want to, but because whenever I turn around there is yet another reminder which twists the knife in my belly that the bureaucrats in the service do not give a damn about me, or for that matter anyone else. 

But I am now rambling and I should stop writing for the night before I get myself in trouble by being too honest by naming names. 

Until the next time, pray for me a sinner.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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Filed under History, iraq, leadership, Military

Do Not Give in to Fear: #Je Suis Charlie

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In his First Inaugural Address Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke these immortal words:

“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

The threat today is different than Roosevelt faced in 1932 when he was addressing widespread economic, social and political chaos that was striking fear at the heart of America and radicalizing some segments of the population. It is more closely related to the threat that he would later face in 1941 when he recognized Nazi threat and signed the Atlantic Charter and then responded to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. But even then there are differences, between that and the threat today.

That being said, in this address Roosevelt was absolutely correct in several things which are timeless and that we as Americans and others in the West, as well as those who aspire to our values in other parts of the world, include Moslem nations must address.

What happened in Paris, the brazen attack of Al Qaeda linked terror striking at cartoonists and other satirists who they claimed to be committing blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed. That attack has raised legitimate security concerns that other radicalized Moslems will commit similar attacks, not just in France but in other Western democracies. In fact as a career military officer, historian and theologian I can say that this threat is not overblown. We are probably just seeing the tip of the iceberg.

However, the problem is during such times that people, including government leaders, religious leaders, academics and journalists give in to fear by responding in one of two counterproductive ways. Some, give in to the fear by remaining silent, playing it safe and hoping the threat just goes away and even condemning those that they believe brought on the crisis, rather than those actually committing the violent acts. Others go to the opposite extreme and create a climate of fear, suspicion and encourage the creation of a police state, the surrender of civil liberties and the persecution of anyone remotely resembling the perpetrators of the attacks.

In fact the Roosevelt administration itself was guilty of the latter when in 1941 and early 1942 it rounded up Japanese Americans on the West Coast and sent them to internment camps, simply for the crime of being Japanese. But they didn’t do that to Americans of German or Italian descent. Why? Well it was easy, the Japanese were easy to identify, they were not white. It gave into the climate of fear, and imprisoned patriotic American citizens because of their race, while ignoring those of German descent who in the late 1930s and even in 1941 were members of the a group called the Bund, which was made of of ethic Germans who supported the Nazis.

But Roosevelt’s words are applicable today. The attacks in Paris were an attack on Western Civilization and democracy, done in the name of Islam. They were aimed at the heart of being able to speak freely, even insensitively and offensively about people in power, using satire to do so. While satirist were the target this time, there have been those who have been threatened, attacked or killed for writing truthful history, political commentary or even fictional works which some Moslems cannot abide, including author Salman Rushdie.

The vast majority of these types of attacks over the past several decades have been done in the name of Islam. However, Christians, Jews, Hindus and others cannot claim that leaders of their religions have not engaged in similar behaviors, dating to antiquity. All have committed similar acts throughout history in the name of their Gods, acts that have encompassed everything from harassment and persecution, programs, banishment from society, forced conversions, military conquest and even genocide.

Now is the time for leaders to boldly speak the truth, with honesty and candor. They cannot mince words in the hopes of not offending those who strike at our freedoms, even freedoms which some find offensive.

Likewise, all of us, not just leaders have to honestly face the conditions in our countries, and we cannot give in to fear. We should not be silent, or even self-censor when it comes to difficult and controversial ideas simply because we fear a backlash of some kind. That being said, when we do so we have to ensure that our words do not add to that climate of fear, intolerance and loathsome behavior that characterizes a nation seeking scapegoats, as did the Germans to the Jews after the First World War and during the Nazi regime.

Fear is the driving factor in both of these reactions, and both are counter-productive because they encourage more extremism. As Roosevelt said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” 

Sadly there will be those, especially some politicians, pundits and political preachers who seek to convert that fear to their advantage. Already in response to these heinous attacks we are seeing it. Calls for the full militarization of police forces, placing police spies in houses of worship, and treating all Moslems if they were guilty for the acts of some of their brothers and suggest imprisoning, expelling or killing Moslems  because of their religion.

While I would agree that Islam has much reforming to do, persecuting Moslems is no way to bring it about. However, after the Charlie Hebdo massacre there are signs that some Moslems, journalists, some religious leaders and even the President of Egypt are calling for a Reformation of Islam.  That will take time, that Reformation in Christianity needed to be helped along by the more secular Enlightenment before Christians began to abandon some of the same kind of punitive beliefs and measures against heretics, critics and unbelievers so common in Islam today.

Likewise there are some religious leaders, particularly conservative Christian leaders in this country who are blaming the victims of the massacre for committing blasphemy. Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association even called it God’s judgment on them for blasphemy, not of Islam, but of Christianity. Randall Terry, a founder of Operation Rescue urged Christians in 1993:

“Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…. If a Christian voted for Clinton, he sinned against God. It’s that simple…. Our goal is a Christian Nation… we have a biblical duty, we are called by God to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want Pluralism. We want theocracy. Theocracy means God rules. I’ve got a hot flash. God rules.” 

Honestly, is that any different from the Islamic preachers of hate today?

 

But then what is blasphemy? Every religion has beliefs which if contradicted or criticized could be considered blasphemy, which in some cases throughout history has merited death. Protestants who abandoned Catholicism during the Reformation were marked as heretics and unless they had a Prince of King powerful enough to protect them were tried and executed. Anabaptists killed under under Calvin and Zwingli because they were re-baptized. Catholics in England became criminals after the Anglican Church became the state church. Sunni and Shia Moslems kill each other because of where they believe legitimate religious authority lies, the bloodline of the Prophet or learned teachers.

Since the list of blasphemous acts goes on and on depending on what religion, or sect within a religion decides, who is to judge in a pluralistic society? The church? The state? Even better the theocratic state that many “conservative Christians” want to re-establish and use fear of progressives, non-believers, homosexuals, outsiders, and non-Christian religious groups, especially Moslems.

Thus we cannot give in to fear, be it fear of all Moslems, or those who make satire of what others hold dear. We do have nothing to fear, but fear itself, and those who stoke that fear to attain their goal of holding power over others. As Captain Lean Luc Picard, played by Patrick Stewart said in the Star Trek the Next Generation episode The Drumhead:“We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, faith, History, News and current events, Political Commentary

Power Hungry Religionists Will Inherit the Wind

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“An idea is a greater monument than a cathedral. And the advance of man’s knowledge is a greater miracle than all the sticks turned to snakes or the parting of the waters.” Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) in Inherit the Wind

Evil is evil is evil, especially when it is done in the name of God, no-matter what one’s name is for God is. Since the attacks of 9-11-2001 most of the attention for terrorist attacks and murder in the name of God have been focused on radical militant Moslems, a I dare say with good reason. Whether it was the 9-11 attack, the 3-11-2004 attacks in Madrid which killed 191 people and wounded another 1800, 7-7-2005  attacks on in London which killed 52 people and wounded over 700 more, the 26-11-2008 attacks in Mumbai, India which killed 164 people and wounded another 308, and the most recent attacks in Paris are the wave tips of radical Islamic terror. 

Done in the name of Allah and his Prophet, allegedly for the misdeeds and foreign policy of the West and Israel, the attacks are meant as revenge and retaliation for the deaths of Moslems in various places, or in the case of the Paris massacre of the Charlie Hebdo staff, blasphemy.

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These attacks are rightful condemned, as are thousands of others committed by Islamic extremists, most of which are directed at other Moslems. While those against the West and Israel get the most attention, the vast majority of these ruthless killers victims are other Moslems. I think just last year alone over 15,000 Iraqis, the vast majority of whom were Moslems were killed by other Moslems, especially those of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda. Also victimized were Arab Christians and others. Their crime, not being the right sect of Moslem, or some other similar reason.

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Said Kouachi

However, though a sizable number of Moslems agree with, condone and support such actions, in a religion that numbers close to 1.6 billion adherents, they are a minority and the vast majority of Moslems condemn their radical beliefs.

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Said Kouachi and Cherif Kouachi after killing Paris Policeman Ahmed Marabet

While Moslem extremists account for most of these crimes committed in the name of God, they are not alone. In India there are fundamentalist indus who routinely kill Moslems and Christians, burn their villages and commit other atrocities. There are some Orthodox Jews who routinely take out their violence on Israeli Arabs, many of whom are Christians as well as Jews who are, well to put in in the words of the Orthodox, heretics, no better and maybe even worse than non-believers.

But sadly there are Christians who committed similar murderous acts through terrorist activity.

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Anders Behring Breivik

Anders Behring Breivik, a Norwegian went into action to kill the enemies of Western Civilization and Christian culture on July 22nd 2008.  In an assault that included a car bomb which killed 8 people and wounded 209 and an attack on a youth camp which killed 69 and wounded another 110, almost all of them children.

Eric Rudolph justified his 1996 bombings of an Atlanta abortion clinic and the Olympic village on his “Christian” faith. Likewise, Scott Roeder a professed “pro-life” Christian murdered Dr. George Tiller in Wichita Kansas, in Tiller’s church, because the latter was an abortionist. Both Rudolph and Roeder claimed their authority as Jesus and the Bible.

Timothy McVeigh who killed 168 people and wounded over 400 more was to a Moslem, but a lapsed Catholic who had what best can be said a confused religious identity alternating between Catholicism, whose last rights he received before his execute, the Nazi concept of a Believer in God, and that of an agnostic. His motivations were not religious but political.

And sadly, those again are just the wave tops of terrorism, and that does not count the supposedly Christian members of the Irish Republican Army and Protestant paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, the murder of liberal Catholics and those accused of being Marxists in Brazil, Argentina, El Salvador and other South and Central American countries by “conservative Catholics” or “Evangelical Christians,” or the Rwanda genocide when Christian Hutus and Tutsis slaughtered each other with abandon killing about a million people.

Back in the days of state churches British Anglicans persecuted Roman Catholics as well as Separatists and Baptists, Catholics in France, Austria, Spain and Italy used the power of state religion to persecute dissenters of any kind, and in the American Colonies Puritans conducted witch trials, persecuted and executed Baptists and Quakers, and practiced genocide against native Americans, including those who had converted to the Christian faith. Need I even go into the extermination of the Native American tribes by English and Spanish colonists and those who followed them in the name of Manifest Destiny; or those who enslaved African Americans in this country, claiming the backing of God and the Bible?

Almost all of these acts were done in the name of God, as are hundreds, if not thousands of acts done every year. I shan’t go into the crimes committed by the Nazis, which though done in the name of the Nazi ideology included the justification that the Jews were the “Christ killers,” nor shall I go into depth about the various pogroms in Russia, be they Czarist, Communist or by the new Russia state, or the crimes committed by the Chinese Communists or Imperial Japan.

I could go on and on and on, but that would just be beating a dead horse and I am against abusing animals, even after they are dead; but the list can go on, and on, and on, ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

The fact is that no-matter what group kills in the name of their God, or if no God, their ideology, race hatred, or tribal rivalry, it should be condemned by all.

What happened this week in Paris was just another chapter in the inhumanity of people motivated by their interpretation of God, and their attempt to punish non-believers. Some might attempt to accuse me of using false equivalents, or attempting to deflect legitimate blame for these horrible murders in Paris, but that is not so. I condemn them, those who conducted and supported them and those who plan the next round: which sadly will happen again, and again and again; because the bloodlust of the true believer cannot be satiated.

The Al Qaeda Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed credit for the attack and one of its leaders, Sheikh Usama (RA) said in his message to the West: “If there is no check on the freedom of your words, then let your hearts be open to the freedom of our actions.” 

In our time it appears that the Islamic extremists have ensured that a generational war between radical Islamists and the West occurs. That war will likely claim the lives of millions of people before it is done. I would hope that saner heads would prevail, but religion and ideology are powerful motivators. If we still value the rights of freedom, freedom of speech, dissent and thought we have to defeat them, sadly with the these extremists that will mean taking them on in a war, since others of the Al Qaeda and Islamic State have promised to continue such attacks. We would be fools to bury our heads in the sand. 

What happened in Paris was an attack against the values of freedom of speech and expression which lie at the heart of modern Western and American political belief. Sadly, though, even in the West there are men like Catholic professor and philosopher Peter Kreeft who call for an “Ecumenical Jihad” of Catholics, Evangelical Christians, Orthodox Christians, Jews and Moslems against secularism, which he has identified as the common enemy of all. To such people ideas and thought contrary to their doctrine, and the people that support them are the enemy.

You see the attack on Charlie Hebdo was a blow against secularism and the freedom of speech and expression. It was a crime not only against humanity, but ideas. Just because radicalized Moslems did it doesn’t mean that others, like Breivik, Rudolph, Roeder and their fellow travelers would not do the same in the name of their God given the opportunity. 

But then in our own country there are those who want to want to establish Biblical Law as the law of the land in this country. These Christian religionists and extremists have claimed a powerful place in American politics and daily advocate silencing and persecuting all who disagree with them. Against science, against tolerance, against pluralism, against the rights of all who disagree with their theological construct they believe it is God’s will that they rule the earth. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson wrote:

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

Gary North, a leader in the Christian Reconstructionist movement and advisor to both Ron and Rand Paul and leader of Evangelicals in the Tea Party movement wrote:

“The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.”

Such words cause me to tremble for they strike at the heart of the American republic. Madison, Jefferson and other founders warned against such religious-political ideology. In Inherit the Wind Henry Drummond, a fictionalized version of Clarence Darrow protested to the judge and jury:

“Can’t you understand? That if you take a law like evolution and you make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools? And tomorrow you may make it a crime to read about it. And soon you may ban books and newspapers. And then you may turn Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the mind of man. If you can do one, you can do the other. Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums beating we’ll be marching backward, BACKWARD, through the glorious ages of that Sixteenth Century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind!”

As a Christian, or rather what I would rather say now as a follower of Jesus, I agree with Henry Drummond played by Spencer Tracy when it comes to religious extremists and other no-compromise ideologues:

“As long as the prerequisite for that shining paradise is ignorance, bigotry and hate, I say the hell with it.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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#Je Suis Charlie and the Conservative Christian Absence of Empathy

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The horrific terrorist murders and the butchery committed by radical Islamist agains the staff of the French satire paper Charlie Hebdo has brought much comment and discussion. I wrote about it yesterday and pointed out that a leading figure of the Catholic part of the American Religious Right, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, took the time to let everyone in his audience know that the cartoonists had brought the attacks on themselves. How? Well they insulted the prophet Mohammed. While Donohue gave lip-service that killing the journalist was wrong, he blamed the victims. 

Of course Donohue doesn’t give a damn about Moslem feelings, he is only looking for an excuse to excoriate anyone who would also dare to make satire of his rigid faith, even Pope Francis. But then Donohue will unite his cause, the destruction of secular democracy and pluralism with what Peter Kreeft described as an Ecumenical Jihad where Catholics, conservative Protestants, especially Evangelicals, Orthodox Christians, Jews and Moslems would fight secularism. You see for “true believers” like Donohue, and many leaders and pundits of the Christian right the current enemy is secular democracy, because it alone stands against theocracy of every kind.

Eric Hoffer wrote in his book The True Believer 

“The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is the surrendering and humbling of the self breed pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

Last night I complemented a friend of mine, a conservative Christian theologian and pastor who defended the rights of the journalists of Charlie Hebdo on his Facebook page. That post elicited a lot of commentary and I voiced my opinion supporting my friend and told my story. My story includes being, taunted, ridiculed, threatened with physical harm and even death by people who profess to be Christians on this site and on Facebook. I have to say that it interesting to note that I have never been threatened by a Moslem, Jew, Wiccan, Buddhist, Hindu or secularist of any kind, just Christians.

So when I see people like Bill Donohue, and other pundits, preachers and politicians of the Religious Right blame the victims who were killed by radical religionists (this time Moslems) I get nervous.

I guess I shouldn’t have even entered the conversation, but I felt that defending my friend’s post was the right thing to do. That was a mistake, for once again I found myself ambushed by a conservative Christian who listened to nothing that I said, mocked and belittled me and when I stood up for myself condemned me. It didn’t matter that I had been threatened even with death by alleged Christians, I was told that “blasphemers against Christianity have nothing to fear in the West.” When I said that I didn’t blaspheme I was met with derision. When I told my story and told her that since she didn’t know me to shut up, of course I was told by her: Not very Christian to tell people you don’t agree with to shut up.” Of course she had already for all intents and purposes told me to shut up without using those words. 

I am sorry, but I would rather have a completely secular society than to deal with theocratic religionists of any kind, Christian, Moslem, Jew, in any way. I totally agree with Eric Hoffer about true believers, they are dangerous and they will stoop to anything to silence dissent, even terrorism and murder.

It is true in the west just is it is true in places like Iraq where Sunni and Shia Moslems kill each other with abandon. I remember secular Iraqi Moslem Army officers telling me how they wished they had Christian priests like me to care for their soldiers because they did not trust the Sunni and Shia Mullahs who had helped destroy that country after we Americans did our part in 2003.

So if that offends any religionist of any sect, even people who profess with they lips to be my Christian brother or sister but could’t care if I lived or die, I don’t care, the truth matters more.

But then maybe I do, care too much…

But, when I think of it, Eric Hoffer was right. To this lady and many conservative Christians I am evil, because I will not toe their line and put up with their bullshit. Perhaps I will meet this lady in heaven or hell and we can have a bar fight.

But I am a realist. I do know that the external threat if Islamic radicals is a danger, but sadly, I felt safer on Iraqi bases with small groups of Americans than I do today among most conservative American Christians. The Iraqi military men that I knew, Sunni and Shia were much more welcoming of dialogue, relationships and capable of empathy than the vast majority of those who call themselves conservative Christians. Likewise, most of them had a more sincere faith in Jesus than many who I see in this country who use Jesus and the Christian faith as a wedge issue to promote their political power and position.

Gustave Gilbert, the American Army Jewish psychologist who worked with the major German war criminals at Nuremberg said that “evil was the absence of empathy.” Sadly, empathy is a quality that many, if not most const conservative American Christians have. Frankly, life was easier before I learned to feel compassion and have empathy for those who I thought were the enemies of God. When you honestly believe that you are the elect, that you are a “true believer” and all others are suspect, life is easy and Eric Hoffer nailed it.

So I need to have some beer and calm down, maybe watch a movie.

Have a nice night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

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Je Suis Charlie: An Attack on Freedom

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Edgar Johnson wrote  that “A satirist is never certain whether he/she will be acclaimed or punished.” Today 10 extraordinary and acclaimed satirists were punished by Islamic extremists who killed them for their alleged offenses against Mohammed.

This morning I looked at my iPhone Twitter feed and noticed that there had been an attack on  the offices of the French satire paper Charlie Hebdo. When I got to work and logged on to my computer I saw the awful news that a dozen people were dead, many more wounded. As I watched the video reports of the attack on the BBC News live stream I was horrified, but not surprised. I just wondered when, where and to whom this would happen. While the attackers appear to be radicalized Moslems, claiming links to Al Qaeda, and with the Islamic State claiming credit for the attack, the fact is that free speech is under assault around the world with journalists, writers and even bloggers being threatened and sometimes like today killed in the most brutal manner.

Sometimes the threats come from Moslem and other religious extremists, and the fact is that in addition to Moslems radical Christians, Hindus and Jews have have threatened, assaulted or killed those they oppose. Other radical non-religious entities do the same. Likewise many governments use open and secretive means to silence dissenting writers.

The fact is that speaking the truth to power, making comments that some find offensive, or the timeless art of political and religious satire is dangerous. I have been threatened a number of times on this site, mostly by White Supremacists and Neo-Nazi types, but occasionally a less than gruntled Christians or Moslems.  I’ve gotten used to it, though on one occasion in 2010 I had to report one person who made very specific threats against me and my family to the FBI.

However, the attack on the people who made up the staff of Charlie Hebdo was very troubling. While the paper made satire of Islamic extremists, it also took on the Catholic Church, Orthodox Jews, as well as made mincemeat of the the French political landscape and political leaders, right wing and left wing, which means that those that they became the enemies of a lot of powerful people who do not like to be criticized.

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The fact is that satire is meant to shake things up and on occasion offend those in power. It does so through wit and humor, sometimes even crude and offensive humor. That is what makes it so effective. Some of the greatest American social and political commentators included Mark Twain and Will Rogers, who used satire many times and quite often offended many people, especially political, religious and business leaders or organizations.

That kind of satire as Harry Shearer, who does the voices for a number of characters on The Simpsons and maintains his own satire program noted that because satirists have the job of needling those in power that they often have no one to defend them.

Shearer noted:

With Charlie Hebdo, “you really have a clean case here,” Shearer said. “This is a magazine, a group of humans who exist not to sell hardware and software on the side. This is a group of humans who exist mainly if not exclusively to put out a satirical magazine that is not basically commercial; it’s a satirical enterprise that happens to exist in a commercial market. The sad fact is there is no one else to defend them. Satirists are reliant ultimately on the very establishment they mock. That’s the great irony of their situation.”

Those killed included some of the most talented and gifted cartoon satirists in the world, some of whom had been living under death threats for years.

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The dead included Stéphane Charbonnier, the editor and best known cartoonist, nine other staff including other noted cartoonists and writers and two policemen.

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Stéphane Charbonnier

Today, anyone who values liberty, and freedom of speech, expression and association knows the reality that if you offend the wrong people that you could be killed. It really doesn’t matter who or what you criticize, the fact is that there are people who for whatever reason, be it an offense against their God, their ideology or political beliefs, that some people cannot take criticism. 

I did find it interesting that Bill Donohue of the Catholic League blamed Charbonnier and his staff for insulting the prophet. I found that interesting coming from a man who simply debases and demeans his opponents while condemning them to hell, and who has made plenty of inflammatory statements about Islam and Moslems. Donohue, the champion of intolerance condemned not the intolerance of the killers, but the “intolerance” of those who were murdered. I am sure that in the next few days there will be many right wing Christian preachers and pundits who say similar things.

But also one has to look at this attack in a strategic context. If the attackers are members of Al Qaeda or ISIL they chose their victims carefully in order to provoke a response against innocent Moslems that will provoke even more violence. Such people are evil.

The fact is that I don’t have to like satire, sometimes I am offended by some of the things that I see, read or hear, but good satire makes me think, that is it’s brilliance. As G.K. Chesterton said “A man is angry at a libel because it is false, but at a satire because it is true.”

So in the tradition of defending the freedom of speech, the press and association, #Je Suis Charlie.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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