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The Scourge of Dehumanization


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

One of the things that I fear today is the open resurgence of race hatred being preached by the nicely dressed “intellectual” Nazis of the self-named Alt-Right.

Now that Donald Trump has been elected President, and baring a miracle in the Electoral College, I expect the openly racist, anti-Semetic, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and anti-LGBT rhetoric to skyrocket. I also expect that attack on minorities will continue to increase.

But what I fear more than anything, that should there be a major terrorist attack, or a real or imagined  national security crisis, is that xenophobic leaders, instill fear and terror about people who are different from the majority. It is shockingly easy to do, and is part and parcel of every human culture. In doing so they use language which enables people, often very good people, to view others as less than human, a process known as dehumanization. Right now we see the results of this. On one hand there are the fanatics of DAESH and other Muslims extremist groups that use propaganda to dehumanize anyone that does not adhere to their beliefs. On the other hand there is the response of some American and European politicians, preachers, pundits and media organizations which in responding to the extremists, dehumanize all Muslims and suggest the most severe measures to deal with what they call the problem of Islam.

David Livingstone Smith wrote, “Dehumanization isn’t a way of talking. It’s a way of thinking—a way of thinking that, sadly, comes all too easily to us. Dehumanization is a scourge, and has been so for millennia. It acts as a psychological lubricant, dissolving our inhibitions and inflaming our destructive passions. As such, it empowers us to perform acts that would, under other circumstances, be unthinkable.”

Once someone has succumbed to the idea that certain others are no longer fully human, or less than human the unthinkable becomes not only possible, but probable. Of course this process takes time, and usually comes from years of exposure to propaganda that first demonizes, and then dehumanizes those that the propagandists despise. At Nuremberg, Julius Streicher, the publisher of the Nazi tabloid Der Sturmer was asked by a prosecutor, “And do you think to call them “blood-suckers,” “a nation of blood-suckers and extortioners– do you think that’s preaching hatred?” Streicher replied, “No, it is not preaching hatred; it is just a statement of facts.”

In Hitler’s Third Reich it was the Jews and others who were viewed as sub-human. When one reads the testimony of the major war criminals at Nuremberg, every single defendant admitted to the role that decades of anti-Semitic propaganda had in shaping their worldview.

The sad truth is that Hitler is not alone. Such beliefs and actions are all too common. In 1830s to the 1850s in the United States it was Irish and German Catholics; in the ante-bellum and the Jim Crow South it was African Americans who were said to be an inferior race; in the 1860s to the early 1900s on the west coast it was the Chinese. After Pearl Harbor, the Japanese who we put in internment camps. Let us not forget the protracted campaign to exterminate the Native Americans, something that Rush Limbaugh mocked in 2009 saying, “Holocaust? Ninety million Indians? Only four million left? They all have casinos — what’s to complain about?” Those are just European and American examples. One can see the same language and action in Rwanda, the Sudan, the Middle East, the Japanese campaign in China, the Soviet starvation and massacres of Poles and Ukrainians during the 1930s; and the list can go on and on.

One of the ways that they make it easy for their followers to approve of draconian measures is to dehumanize their victims and euphemistically refer to the situation as a question, a question that must have an answer or a solution. In the Third Reich it was the Jewish question, and the answer became the apocalyptic Final Solution.

The Nazis referred to the Jews as sub-human, a bacilli, or cancer. Today leading politicians in the United States and Europe are referring the Syria refugees, as well as other Moslems in a similar manner. Some of the worst offenders are men who beat on their chest and claim to be Christians. Mike Huckabee referred to the Syria refugees as “spoiled milk,” Ben Carson called them “rabid dogs.” The mainstream British columnist, Katie Hopkins called them “rats and cockroaches.” Plenty of other less prominent politicians, pundits and preachers have voiced similar opinions, and you cannot visit Facebook without seeing scores of memes and comments echoing those thoughts, and Carson has been nominated to be the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Michael Flynn, the soon to be National Security Adviser to the President called Islam a “cancer” and a “political ideology” that “definitely hides behind being a religion.” Others in or close to the Trump transition team openly refer to Jews in a desultory manner and like the Nazis of old talk of a Jewish, Freemason conspiracy to rule the world. 

But others, particularly the media and already elected officials use other language to dehumanize people. The language of natural disasters, or war is common. Politicians, preachers and the media couple refugees and migrants with words such as influx, occupation, invasion, flood or flow. All of these terms are used to stoke fear in the minds of their listeners or followers. Floods must be controlled, invasions, defeated, occupations, ended. Eventually people just take it for granted that such threats must be dealt with, such questions, answered.

This language encourages their followers to approve of draconian measures is to dehumanize their victims. Somewhat euphemistically they refer to the situation as a question, a question that must have an answer or a solution. In the Third Reich it was the Jewish question, and the answer became the apocalyptic Final Solution. The Nazis preached that there would have to be a showdown between their pure “Aryan” race, and the Jews. Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz noted the Himmler stressed “that if Germany was to survive then World Jewry must be exterminated and we all accepted it as truth.”

Höss told American Army psychologist Gustave Gilbert about how he accepted the orders f0or the Final Solution based on his beliefs:

“That was the picture I had in my head, so when Himmler called me to him, I just accepted it as the realization of something that I already accepted – not only I, but everybody. I took it for granted that even though this order, which would move the strongest and coldest nature – and at that moment this crass order to exterminate thousands of people (I did not know how many) – even though it did frighten me momentarily – it fitted in with all that had been preached to me for years. The only problem itself, the extermination of Jewry, was not new – but only that I was the one to carry it out, frightened me at first. But after getting the clear direct order and even an explanation with it – there was nothing left to do but carry it out.”

Gilbert asked Höss, “So, that was the background for accepting a mass murder order?” Höss  replied, “Yes, when I think of it all, it is hard to figure out – but at the time I didn’t think of it as propaganda, but as something one just had to believe.”

But that is what millions of people are being asked to believe today in terms of all Muslims. It is not the fact that some Muslims are fanatical killers bent on war, and that we are at war with them; but that Islam itself, and thereby all Muslims are the enemy, and must be destroyed. The continual preaching of this will lead to, persecution, mass murder, and maybe even genocide, and it will be done by people like Höss, who are convinced that they are doing the right thing.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Super Tuesday Analysis

election

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am a little bit late posting today as I wanted to see how the Super Tuesday primaries turned out and I was not surprised.

Last night I watched results from the Super Tuesday primary states with great interest. Mind you I did not turn on my television to do so. The maddening number of politicians, pundits, and propagandists masquerading as spokespeople, consultants, and experts on every cable news outlet wears me out. Instead I simply pulled up a website that simply let me watch the election returns come up in real time.

I didn’t listen to a single “victory speech” by Cruz, Clinton, Sanders, Trump, or Rubio because such speeches are basically propaganda and spin, though I did read some of the excerpts from each candidate’s speech, carefully parsing them for truth in light of the actual data from the primaries, not just the total votes or delegates won, but where each candidate did well, or fell on their ass.

So here is my bottom line and what I think will probably happen next.

One the Democratic side Clinton won seven states and Sanders four states. But the states that Hillary one were big delegate rich states which are more reflective of the Democratic Party as a whole than the four states that Sanders won she now has 1034 of the 2383 that she needs for the nomination while Sanders lags over 600 delegates behind with just 408. The polling data from big delegate laden state primaries coming up show that she will further extend her lead over Bernie and it appears that Hillary will continue her march to become the Democratic nominee. The good thing for the Democrats is that Sanders challenge has forced Hillary to recognize progressives and move her campaign more to embrace policies enunciated by Sanders, this will in effect serve to unify the Democrats in the lead up to November.

The Republican race is more complicated than that of the Democrats. The campaign of Donald Trump has blown away the influence of what had been known as Republican Establishment. His opposition is fragmented and that fragmentation will not end anytime soon. Trump currently has 316 of the 1230 delegates needed to clinch the nomination. Cruz has 226 and Rubio 106. But the apparent closeness of those numbers is deceptive. Trump benefits from the completion between Cruz and Rubio and neither is likely to drop out of the race, Cruz because he honestly believes that God has chosen him for the job and Rubio because despite his poor showing in most primaries is the face that the GOP wants to project, and as a result he will retain the support of realists and moderates in the party.

The split between Cruz and Rubio will ensure that Trump continues to rack up primary victories in big states. Complicating the situation for Rubio is fact that John Kasich has gained some traction and in Vermont and Virginia played spoiler, probably keeping Rubio from winning those states. Rubio won in Minnesota but has lost thirteen of fourteen times.

On Super Tuesday Cruz won in three states Texas, Oklahoma, and Alaska. But even in Texas he needed to do better than he did and he was blasted by Trump in the Deep South, which he has to win to get the nomination. To put Cruz’s Texas win in perspective, it is the lowest percentage that any Republican Presidential candidate has received since 1912. He is under performing even when wins, his polling numbers in many states are abysmal and no amount of spin will change that fact. 

Cruz has a different problem, if Trump is seen to be a bully, Cruz is seen to be a completely dishonest and slimy bully that most people in his party cannot stand to be around. One of those people is Ben Carson, who Cruz went out of the way to cheat in Iowa by having his staff call potential Carson voters to switch their vote to him as Carson had dropped out of the race. It probably gave Cruz his narrow victory over Trump in the Iowa caucus and in the process made Carson his mortal enemy. Carson has no chance at winning and he knows it, but he is not formally dropping out. My guess is he will do this simply to draw voters away from Cruz since they cater to the same base of conservative Evangelical Christian voters. Since he is skipping the next debate this may have less impact than if he participated in it.

My prediction is that Clinton and Trump will clinch their party nominations by the beginning of April unless something really strange happens.

Now a minor editorial note. I am a Democrat and would have to call myself a pragmatic progressive and possibly a Democratic Socialist based on what I believe. That being said I spent thirty-two years of my life as a Republican beginning in 1976 when I worked for the Gerald Ford campaign as a high school student, but I was a “big tent Republican.” I became disillusioned with the party based on my experiences in Iraq, when I realized that the rational for going in was lies, and I was repelled by the stridently militant demands of right-wing Christians who seemed to be attempting to turn the party into their religious party. As a result I left the GOP in 2008.

While some democrats rejoice in what is happening to the GOP today, but I do not. As a historian I honestly believe that the GOP will implode. Senate Mitch McConnell is trying to limit losses by distancing himself from Trump hoping that if he and others do so they might retain control of the House and Senate.  The coming GOP implosion may benefit the Democrats in November, but such implosions of major political parties are generally not good for the country. One only has to look at the implosion of the Whigs in 1854 and the Democrats between 1858 and 1860 to see how badly such events can turn out for the country.

I will be writing something about that in a day or two.

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under News and current events, Political Commentary

Dehumanization & Genocide

sturmer-display

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

One of the most terrible things about a national security crisis, real or imagined, is that xenophobic leaders, instill fear and terror about people who are different from the majority. It is shockingly easy to do, and is part and parcel of every human culture. In doing so they use language which enables people, often very good people, to view others as less than human, a process known as dehumanization. Right now we see the results of this. On one hand there are the fanatics of DAESH and other Moslems extremist groups that use propaganda to dehumanize anyone that does not adhere to their beliefs. On the other hand there is the response of some American and European politicians, preachers, pundits and media organizations which in responding to the extremists, dehumanize all Moslems and suggest the most severe measures to deal with what they call the problem of Islam.

David Livingstone Smith wrote, “Dehumanization isn’t a way of talking. It’s a way of thinking—a way of thinking that, sadly, comes all too easily to us. Dehumanization is a scourge, and has been so for millennia. It acts as a psychological lubricant, dissolving our inhibitions and inflaming our destructive passions. As such, it empowers us to perform acts that would, under other circumstances, be unthinkable.”

Once someone has succumbed to the idea that certain others are no longer fully human, or less than human the unthinkable becomes not only possible, but probable. Of course this process takes time, and usually comes from years of exposure to propaganda that first demonizes, and then dehumanizes those that the propagandists despise. At Nuremberg, Julius Streicher, the publisher of the Nazi tabloid Der Sturmer was asked by a prosecutor, “And do you think to call them “blood-suckers,” “a nation of blood-suckers and extortioners– do you think that’s preaching hatred?” Streicher replied, “No, it is not preaching hatred; it is just a statement of facts.”

In Hitler’s Third Reich it was the Jews and others who were viewed as sub-human. When one reads the testimony of the major war criminals at Nuremberg, every single defendant admitted to the role that decades of anti-Semitic propaganda had in shaping their worldview.

The sad truth is that Hitler is not alone. Such beliefs and actions are all too common. In 1830s to the 1850s in the United States it was Irish and German Catholics; in the ante-bellum and the Jim Crow South it was African Americans who were said to be an inferior race; in the 1860s to the early 1900s on the west coast it was the Chinese. After Pearl Harbor, the Japanese who we put in internment camps. Let us not forget the protracted campaign to exterminate the Native Americans, something that Rush Limbaugh mocked in 2009 saying, “Holocaust? Ninety million Indians? Only four million left? They all have casinos — what’s to complain about?” Those are just European and American examples. One can see the same language and action in Rwanda, the Sudan, the Middle East, the Japanese campaign in China, the Soviet starvation and massacres of Poles and Ukrainians during the 1930s; and the list can go on and on.

One of the ways that they make it easy for their followers to approve of draconian measures is to dehumanize their victims and euphemistically refer to the situation as a question, a question that must have an answer or a solution. In the Third Reich it was the Jewish question, and the answer became the apocalyptic Final Solution.

The Nazis referred to the Jews as sub-human, a bacilli, or cancer. Today leading politicians in the United States and Europe are referring the Syria refugees, as well as other Moslems in a similar manner. Some of the worst offenders are men who beat on their chest and claim to be Christians. Mike Huckabee referred to the Syria refugees as “spoiled milk,” Ben Carson called them “rabid dogs.” The mainstream British columnist, Katie Hopkins called them “rats and cockroaches.” Plenty of other less prominent politicians, pundits and preachers have voiced similar opinions, and you cannot visit Facebook without seeing scores of memes and comments echoing those thoughts.

But others, particularly the media and already elected officials use other language to dehumanize people. The language of natural disasters, or war is common. Politicians, preachers and the media couple refugees and migrants with words such as influx, occupation, invasion, flood or flow. All of these terms are used to stoke fear in the minds of their listeners or followers. Floods must be controlled, invasions, defeated, occupations, ended. Eventually people just take it for granted that such threats must be dealt with, such questions, answered.

This language encourages their followers to approve of draconian measures is to dehumanize their victims. Somewhat euphemistically they refer to the situation as a question, a question that must have an answer or a solution. In the Third Reich it was the Jewish question, and the answer became the apocalyptic Final Solution. The Nazis preached that there would have to be a showdown between their pure “Aryan” race, and the Jews. Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz noted the Himmler stressed “that if Germany was to survive then World Jewry must be exterminated and we all accepted it as truth.”

Höss told American Army psychologist Gustave Gilbert about how he accepted the orders f0or the Final Solution based on his beliefs:

“That was the picture I had in my head, so when Himmler called me to him, I just accepted it as the realization of something that I already accepted – not only I, but everybody. I took it for granted that even though this order, which would move the strongest and coldest nature – and at that moment this crass order to exterminate thousands of people (I did not know how many) – even though it did frighten me momentarily – it fitted in with all that had been preached to me for years. The only problem itself, the extermination of Jewry, was not new – but only that I was the one to carry it out, frightened me at first. But after getting the clear direct order and even an explanation with it – there was nothing left to do but carry it out.”

Gilbert asked Höss, “So, that was the background for accepting a mass murder order?” Höss  replied, “Yes, when I think of it all, it is hard to figure out – but at the time I didn’t think of it as propaganda, but as something one just had to believe.”

But that is what millions of people are being asked to believe today in terms of all Moslems. It is not the fact that some Moslems are fanatical killers bent on war, and that we are at war with them; but that Islam itself, and thereby all Moslems are the enemy, and must be destroyed. The continual preaching of this will lead to, persecution, mass murder, and maybe even genocide, and it will be done by people like Höss, who are convinced that they are doing the right thing.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, holocaust, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion, terrorism

Paris & the Return of the Know Nothings

american-patriot

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In the wake of the recent DAESH terror attacks there has been a resurgence in anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States and Western Europe targeting the Syrians fleeing the terror of DAESH, or as they call themselves the Islamic State. The parties that capitalize on this in both areas have long track records and usually mask their hatred of people who are not like them, in terms of security. The arguments are nothing new, they have been used against almost every immigrant group that has ever come to the shores of Europe or America.

If you have read my last few posts, you know that I do believe that we are in a war against an intractable foe that must be defeated. At the same time I believe that we cannot allow ourselves to forget the best of our heritage and our highest ideals in doing so. Unfortunately, it seems that we are about to make things worse by re-victimizing the victims, and emboldening the claim of DAESH to be the return of the Caliphate.

Many of the prominent candidates for the Republican nomination for President, numerous representatives, over half of the nation’s governors have announced their opposition to any immigration of Syrians to this country, their language often mirroring that of previous anti-immigrant groups. Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and others have tapped into the vast reservoir of nativism that has always been a part of the American body-politic. These politicians, as well as the pundits and preachers who fan the flames of fear are gaining traction. One cannot go to Facebook, or other social media sites and not see some of the vilest memes and comments be the people who stirred up by them make some most ill-informed comments imaginable, and a lot of these people are the descendants of immigrants who were subject to the very kind of discrimination, and even race hatred that they spew at current immigrants, especially Syrians and others from the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

As I said, such attitudes and movements are nothing new. Anti-immigrant movements in the United States go back to our earliest days, ever since the first Irish Catholics showed up in the northeast in the late 1790s and early 1800s. Met with scorn and treated as criminals the Irish Catholics had to work hard to gain any kind of acceptance in Protestant America. But immigrants continued to come, seeking the freedom promised in the Declaration of Independence.

Many White American Protestants viewed Irish, German and other European immigrants to the Unites States in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s as interlopers who were attempting to take over the country. The immigrants were regarded as poor, uneducated, uncouth, and immoral, and in the case of Catholic immigrants as representatives and foot soldiers of a hostile government, the Vatican, headed by the Pope and the bishops. Those who opposed immigration formed a movement that was aimed at forbidding immigrants from being granted full rights, especially the rights of citizenship and voting. The fear was pervasive. Many Northern Whites were afraid that immigrants would take their jobs, since like slaves in the South, the new immigrants were a source of cheap labor.

Northern Protestant church leaders and ministers were some of the most vocal anti-immigrant voices and their words were echoed by politicians and in the press. The movement grew and used government action, the courts and violence to oppress the Irish and Germans who were the most frequent targets of their hate. The movement eventually became known as the “Know Nothing” movement.

Know Nothing leaders were not content to simply discuss their agenda in the forum of ideas and political discourse, they often used mob-violence and intimidation to keep Catholics away from the ballot box. Mobs of nativist Know Nothings sometimes numbering in the hundreds or even the thousands attacked immigrants in what they called “Paddy hunts,” Paddy being a slur for the Irish. To combat immigrants who might want to exercise their right to vote, the Know Nothings deployed gangs like the New York’s Bowery Boys and Baltimore’s Plug Uglies. They also deployed their own paramilitary organization to intimidate immigrants on Election Day. This group, known as the Wide Awakes was especially prone to use violence and physical intimidation in pursuit of their goals. The Nativist paramilitaries also provided security for anti-immigrant preachers from angry immigrants who might try to disrupt their “prayer” meetings.

Know Nothing’s and other Nativist organizations, organized mass meetings throughout the country which were attended by thousands of men. The meetings were often led by prominent Protestant ministers who were rich in their use of preaching and prayer to rile up their audiences. The meetings often ended with physical attacks and other violence against German or Irish immigrants and sometimes with the burning of the local Catholic Church. They also provided security for preachers from angry immigrants who might try to disrupt nativist prayer meetings.

The violence was widespread and reached its peak in the mid-1850s.

Monday, August 6, 1855 was Election Day in Louisville, Kentucky. To prevent German and Irish Catholics from voting, Know Nothing mobs took to the street and launched a violent attack on immigrants as well as their churches and businesses. Known now as “Black Monday” the Nativists burned Armbruster’s Brewery, they rolled cannons to the doors of the St. Martin of Tours Church, the Cathedral of the Assumption and Saint Patrick’s Church, which they then were searched for arms. The private dwellings and the businesses of immigrants were looted. A neighborhood known as “Quinn’s Row” was burned with the inhabitants barricaded inside. At least 22 persons were killed in the violence and many more were injured. In Baltimore the 1856, 1857, and 1858 elections were all marred by violence perpetrated by Nativist mobs. In Maine, Know Nothing followers tarred and feathered a Catholic priest and burned down a Catholic church.

The Know Nothings did not merely seek to disenfranchise immigrants through violence alone, they were more sophisticated than that. They knew that to be successful they had to change the law. Then, as now, a new immigrant had to live in the United States for five years before becoming eligible to become a naturalized of the United States. The Know nothings felt that this was too short of time and their party platform in the 1856 election had this as one of the party planks:

A change in the laws of naturalization, making a continued residence of twenty-one years, of all not heretofore provided for, an indispensable requisite for citizenship hereafter, and excluding all paupers, and persons convicted of crime, from landing upon our shores; but no interference with the vested rights of foreigners.

The rational of the Know Nothings for the 21 year wait was that if a baby born in the United States had to wait until it was 21 years old he could vote, that immigrants were being permitted to “jump the line” and vote sooner than native-born Americans. But really what the Know Nothings wanted to was to destroy the ability of immigrant communities to use the ballot box. In many localities and some states Know Nothing majorities took power. The Massachusetts legislature, which was dominated by Know Nothings, passed a law barring immigrants from voting for two additional years after they became United States citizens.

A Know Nothing supporter recorded the 1856 Know Nothing Party platform. The similarities between it and many of the new nativists ideas are quite striking:

(1) Repeal of all Naturalization Laws.

(2) None but Americans for office.

(3) A pure American Common School system.

(4) War to the hilt, on political Romanism.

(5) Opposition to the formation of Military Companies, composed of Foreigners.

(6) The advocacy of a sound, healthy and safe Nationality.

(7) Hostility to all Papal influences, when brought to bear against the Republic.

(8) American Constitutions & American sentiments.

(9) More stringent & effective Emigration Laws.

(10) The amplest protection to Protestant Interests.

(11) The doctrines of the revered Washington.

(12) The sending back of all foreign paupers.

(13) Formation of societies to protect American interests.

(14) Eternal enmity to all those who attempt to carry out the principles of a foreign Church or State.

(15) Our Country, our whole Country, and nothing but our Country.

(16) Finally,-American Laws, and American Legislation, and Death to all foreign influences, whether in high places or low

In addition to their violent acts, the use of the courts and political intimidation the Know Nothings waged a culture war against immigrants. Latin mottoes on courthouses were replaced by English translations. Actions were taken to remove immigrants who had become naturalized citizens from public offices and civil service jobs as well as to use the government to persecute Catholic churches. In Philadelphia, all naturalized citizens on the police force were fired, including non-Catholics who has supported Catholic politicians, and in Boston, a special board was set up to investigate the sex lives of nuns and other supposed crimes of the Catholic church.

In the political upheaval of the 1850s Nativists tried to find homes in the different political parties. Some Know Nothings who were abolitionists became part of the new Republican Party, and Abraham Lincoln condemned them in harsh terms. He wrote his friend Joshua Speed about the hypocrisy that they displayed by supposedly being against the oppression of blacks while willing to oppress immigrants:

“I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor or degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy [sic].”

As an organized movement, the Know Nothings died out by the early 1860s, migrating to different parties and causes. In the North many became part of the pro-slavery Copperhead movement, which opposed Lincoln on emancipation and the Thirteenth Amendment. In the post-war South the anti-Catholic parts of the Nativist movement found a home in the Ku Klux Klan and other white terrorist organizations which also used racist and nativist propaganda to perpetuate violence, and disenfranchise emancipated blacks in the decades following the end of the Civil War and the end of Reconstruction. The Nativist and anti-immigrant sentiments have periodically found a home in different parts of the country and the electorate. Violence was used against Chinese, Japanese and Filipino immigrants on the West Coast, against Mexicans in the Southwest, Italians, Slavs, Eastern Europeans and Jews in the Northeast.

Sadly it seems that it is being turned against others today. I find it strange that there are a host of people, mostly on the political right that are doing their best in their local communities, state legislatures and even Congress to roll back civil liberties for various groups of people. There is a certain amount of xenophobia in regard to immigrants of all types, especially those with darker skin white Americans, but some of the worst is reserved for Arabs and other Middle-Easterners, even Arab Christians who are presumed as all Middle Easterners are to be Moslem terrorists, even those who have been here decades and hold respectable places in their communities.

But immigrants are not alone, there seems to be in some states a systematized attempt to disenfranchise the one group of people that has almost always borne the brunt of legal and illegal discrimination, African Americans.

Likewise there have been numerous attempts to roll back the rights of women, especially working women; the use of the legislature by religious conservatives to place limits on the reproductive rights of women, holding them to the standard of a religion that they do not practice. Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling for Marriage Equality in Obergfell v. Hodges there still are numerous attempts to curb any civil rights, including the right to marriage or civil unions of the LGBT community.

As I said, this is nothing new, that hatred and intolerance of some toward anyone who is different than them, who they deem to be a threat is easily exploited by politicians, pundits and preachers, none of whom care for anything but their prosperity, ideology, religion, or cause. While I would not call them a new incarnation of the Know Nothings, I have to notice the similarities in their message and the way that they push their agenda. As for those among them who claim the mantle of Christ and call themselves Christians I am troubled, because I know that when religion is entwined with political movements that are based in repressing or oppressing others that it does not end well. As Brian Cox who played Herman Goering in the television miniseries Nuremberg told the American Army psychologist Captain Gustave Gilbert played by Matt Craven “The segregation laws in your country and the anti-Semitic laws in mine, are they not just a difference of degree?

That difference of degree does matter, and there have been and still could be times when the frustration and anger of people, especially religious people can be whipped into a frenzy of violence and government sanctioned oppression by unscrupulous politicians, preachers and pundits. History is replete with examples of how it can happen. When I think of this I am reminded of the close of Spencer Tracy’s remarks in the movie Judgment at Nuremberg:

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

Who and what are we?

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, History, laws and legislation, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion

Who but Tyrants? The Danger of State Religion

dyer-hanging-1

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

James Madison wrote something about certain Christians of his day that could have been written today. The topic, one of Madison’s favorite topics actually, was the subject of the relationship between church and state. Madison wrote:

“[T]here remains [in some parts of the country] a strong bias towards the old error, that without some sort of alliance or coalition between Govt. & Religion neither can be duly supported. Such indeed is the tendency to such a coalition, and such its corrupting influence on both parties, that the danger cannot be too carefully guarded against.”

I have lost count of the number of preachers, pundits, and politicians, who have been making public statements and doing their best to pass legislation to make Christianity the official state religion of the United States. To a person all represent the politically militant wing of the conservative, or maybe better named Right Wing Christianity. I wrote about this some yesterday and have written numerous pieces on the subject so I am not going to say much more here; except to say that the historical ignorance of those that want to impose Christianity as the law of the land is mind-numbing in large part because of how fiercely the concept was resisted by those who founded the United States.

The great Virginia Baptist leader John Leland, a friend of both Jefferson and Madison was scathing in his condemnation of those who wanted to impose a Christian state religion and place it in the Constitution:

“How undeniable the fact, that civil government is not founded on Christianity …. How improper, how unjust, how anti-Christian it must be, for one man or one party of men to get that kind of religion interwoven into the civil constitution, which they believe is best, under the pretence that their consciences are wounded if others do not believe like themselves. The plea of conscience, in such cases, is the art of ill design, or the effect of imposition, which none but tyrants or bigoted enthusiasts will make …. Government is the formation of an association of individuals, by mutual agreement, for mutual defence and advantage; to be governed by specific rules. And, when rightly formed, it embraces Pagans, Jews, Mahometans and Christians, within its fostering arms–prescribes no creed of faith for either of them–proscribes none of them for being heretics, promotes the man of talents and integrity, without inquiring after his religion–impartially protects all of them–punishes the man who works ill to his neighbor, let his faith and motives be what they may. Who, but tyrants, knaves and devils, can object to such government …. It is the glory of the United States, that, after Christian tyranny had raged with savage fury for fifteen hundred years, its progress should be arrested in this land of liberty.”

The fact is, in every place and clime where a religion, be it a Christian Church, or any non-Christian religion holds the franchise of power with the state that no person is safe. Robert Ingersoll stated it very well, “The liberty of man is not safe in the hands of any church. Wherever the Bible and sword are in partnership, man is a slave. All laws for the purpose of making man worship God, are born of the same spirit that kindled the fires of the auto da fe, and lovingly built the dungeons of the Inquisition….”

Today, a very vocal minority that has seized control of a major political party wish to reverse the very liberty promoted by our founders and men like Leland who fought for it by legislating at every turn laws which give special privilege to Christians, often under the name “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts,” which exempt people from obeying laws applicable to all citizens, merely based on their “sincere religious beliefs.” Some of these laws even permit discrimination against others based on an individual’s sincere religious beliefs. One of that party’s leading candidates for the Presidential nomination, Ben Carson, said that a Moslem should not be able to be President, defying the Constitution itself. I do not have to wonder what Jefferson, Madison, Leland or so many other pioneers of real religious liberty would say to Mr. Carson or others like him. Their replies to the people of their day more than suffice to reply to such ignorant buffoons.

Leland was right. This country was miraculous because to again quote Leland; It is the glory of the United States, that, after Christian tyranny had raged with savage fury for fifteen hundred years, its progress should be arrested in this land of liberty.” And as he so succinctly put it, who but tyrants, knaves, and devils, could resist a government which “embraces Pagans, Jews, Mahometans and Christians, within its fostering arms–prescribes no creed of faith for either of them–proscribes none of them for being heretics, promotes the man of talents and integrity, without inquiring after his religion–impartially protects all of them–punishes the man who works ill to his neighbor, let his faith and motives be what they may.”

For me it gets old to continue to have to write about this, but then someone has to, otherwise the truth about religious freedom will be trampled under the jack-boots of Christian tyrants who have the fact is we deceived sincere Christians into following a creed that will enslave them. History matters, and have not advanced so far that we cannot return to the barbarism of our ancestors. If the political manifestation of the Christian Right was ever to establish themselves and their Dominionist theology as the law of the land, we would all be in trouble.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Logical End of Fear

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http://movieclips.com/FkTn-judgment-at-nuremberg-movie-dr-janning-explains-his-actions/

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am still traveling in Germany and one of the places that we will have visited by the time that you read this is the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg. It was here that the war crimes trials of the Nazis were held; it was here that Americans helped set a standard of justice that our leaders since have ignored, of course for reasons of sate, or raison d’être.

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

As I have written this alliance with political parties that stood against any was brought about by the fear and hate propagated by those who had lost their favored status after the collapse of the Kaiser Reich, and especially the fear of what many Christians believed was the threat of atheistic Socialists and Communists. Their brief experiment with democracy which was devastated by political battles amid the 1919-1920 Weimar Inflation which destroyed the financial security of most Germans as well as the Stock Market Crash of 1929 which brought about the Great Depression made many receptive to the “Nazi Gospel.”

The more I look at our country the more I think that many conservative American Christians are going the same direction as their German predecessors. They have been swept up in the climate of fear, hate, distrust and perceived persecution at the hands of liberals, atheists, socialists and their own government. As I noted yesterday much of this stems not from actual persecution but from the loss of their privileged position as the dominant force in society.

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

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

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

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

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

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3BwK51YFgQ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those who stood trial at Nuremberg were all people that should have known better, as should we, especially those who claim the name of Christ and presume to be bearing his good news. When I get back from Germany I am sure I will have more to add.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Inheriting the Wind: Iowa & the GOP 2015

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I wonder about the people now leading the Republican Party, especially the Christian Right and the politicians that fall all over themselves to ingratiate themselves to get their vote. I wonder if they have any clue as to the long term damage that they are doing to that party, their faith or to the country.

I should know something about this, because for most of my adult life I was a Republican, and at times subscribed to some of the same beliefs as the current leaders of the Religious Right that dominate my former party. To watch the events of this weekend, like so many others of the past couple of decades before, was mind-numbing.

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Mike Huckabee. the Trinity of Evil Incarnate: Preacher, Pundit and Politician 

The establishment GOP wants the votes of the Christian Right and the Tea Party, however, despite that they really don’t want them running the party. The establishment wants to have it both ways. They want to look like the boring conservatives of the pre-Reagan and Gingrich eras but they need to capture the votes of a base that is anything but that. That is why I find the potential candidacies of Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney so amusing. Neither man can meet the ideological and religious litmus tests of the people who helped the GOP capture both the House and Senate and neither stands a bat’s chance in hell at winning the nomination, or if they do to secure the support of the base. In order to do that they would have to deny who they are, the true descendants of the less than ideological Republican Party of men like Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Nelson Rockefeller and Gerald Ford. Men whose relatively moderate beliefs were swept away by the so called Reagan Revolution and Gingrich takeover of 1994.

Barry Goldwater - Preachers

But Barry Goldwater warned us about them. Goldwater said back in 1981:

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

The situation reminds me of the movie Inherit the Wind, the fictional portrayal of the Scopes Monkey Trial. In the movie one of the most stalwart critics of evolution, the former Presidential Candidate and Preacher Matthew Brady played by Frederic March, who has helped lead the city where the trial is being held into an anti-secular fervor.  At the beginning of the trial he encourages the townspeople to attend a “prayer meeting.” The meeting becomes quite heated as the town’s preacher, Reverend Brown, played by Claude Akins, who has launched into a full assault on all that oppose Brady, and therefore God.

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Reverend Brown works himself into a frenzy, condemn the accused and all that would defend him, including his very own daughter:

“Oh, Lord of the tempest and the thunder, strike down this sinner, as thou did thine enemies of old in the days of the Pharaohs! Let him know the terror of thy sword! Let his soul, for all eternity, writhe in anguish and damnation!”

His daughter, who is engaged to the accused cries out: “No! No, Pa! Don’t pray to destroy Bert!”

Then the reverend utters words which remind me so much of what I heard in Iowa this weekend:

“Lord, we call down the same curse on those who ask grace for this sinner—though they be blood of my blood, and flesh of my flesh!”

Brady, not seeing just how he has brought this about stops the good Reverend Brown and tells him:

“it is possible to be overzealous, to destroy that which you hope to save — so that nothing is left but emptiness.” He then quotes from the book of Proverbs: “Remember the wisdom of Solomon in the book of Proverbs. “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.”

To me this seems to be analogous to the current dilemma faced by the Republican Party. It has helped create, sustain and institutionalize a monster, and now seeing the danger doesn’t know what to do about it, and cannot admit its culpability in for it. Goldwater realized this in the earliest days of the movement which has consumed the Republican Party. The preachers have taken control and they will damn all who do not agree with them to destruction, even those of their own party.

The have been overzealous, and will continue to be so because like Matthew Brady they cannot acknowledge that their zeal may be misdirected and malevolent.

Like Reverend Brown, they are consumed by their hatred for a a non-believer, and they are willing to destroy the people closest to them to do so. I know this is true, because when I expressed doubt and did not tow the party line of my former church I was thrown out. Sadly, most of the men that I had previously counted as my closest friends abandoned or even condemned me.

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My situation reminds me of a another exchange in the film between Brady and his opponent, Henry Drummond played by Spencer Tracy. Brady said: “Why is it, my old friend, that you’ve moved so far away from me?” 

To which Drummond replied: “All motion is relative, Matt. Maybe it’s you who’ve moved away by standing still.”

In standing still and condemning all who differ from their beliefs on any point, the preachers who now, in conduction with their business benefactors will indeed inherit the wind.

Ten years ago I could not have imagined this, but when I read the transcripts of many of the speakers fighting for the GOP leadership in Iowa this weekend it was yet another epiphany, in a series of epiphanies since I served in Iraq. The Iowa conference was a gathering of true believers, appealing to true believers. It was the proverbial self-licking ice cream cone with Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Steve King, Ben Carson, Scott Walker, Rick Perry and the ever imbecilic Donald Trump leading the way. The Iowa meeting was more like the prayer meeting in Inherit the Wind than anything remotely connected with a normal American political meeting regardless of the party. Self congratulatory in denial the meeting was profound for its vapid rancor.

As far as me, watching this and all the other shenanigans of the Christian Right, I am sorry that I didn’t see it coming sooner. It took me until 2008 to realize that I really had not moved, but that the GOP moved, and continues to move away from me.

That is the scary part. Barry Goldwater was all too right in his analysis of those who have taken over the GOP. It is hard to believe that the only Republican bold enough to speak out against this takeover before it happened was the original “true conservative” of the GOP, a man whose 1964 campaign for President opened the door for their takeover of the party. Unlike those who attempted to claim his mantle including Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater really understood the danger of the genie that he let out of the bottle.

The irony is truly profound.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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