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Clowns to the Left of Me Jokers to the Right… Irresponsible and

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short post today about some of the most remarkable comments about the massacre in Las Vegas. Truthfully, I am still trying to get my head around what happened; and since there is as yet no evidence of why Stephen Paddock committed this heinous act I am still perplexed by it. I cannot imagine anyone whether they were in their right mind or not deciding to meticulously plan and execute such a cold blooded massacre. I can say that it was an act of unequivocal evil and had it been perpetrated by a Muslim, an undocumented alien, or an African American there would be more outrage and you can bet that people who in the immediate aftermath of the massacre said it shouldn’t be politicized would have politicized the hell out of it.

But instead of outrage I see Alex Jones blaming it on “the deep state,” Pat Robertson blaming it on “a lack of respect for President Trump and the flag,” Bill O’Reilly saying it was “the price of freedom,” Senator John Thune seemingly blaming the victims saying that “they should have made themselves smaller,” and a CBS News legal counsel said that she had no sympathy because “I’m actually not even sympathetic bc country music fans are often republican gun toters.” At least CBS fired her within hours of her abominable comments. However, I honestly doubt that any supporter of Robertson, Jones, Thune, or O’Reilly, would demand that they be fired. Of course there were a host of others that said that the shooting was part of God’s judgment or blamed people for any of a number of half-baked theological reasons.

The terrible thing about the commentators was that none of them seemed to give a damn about the victims, or those who lost loved ones or friends in this. For these soulless hacks it is all about finding blame and exculpating themselves from any responsibility when they all through their constant political invective and promotion of conspiracy theories help prepare the way for people to justify the massacre of so many people. In fact other right wing outlets like the Gateway Pundit seemed almost gleeful when they made a false identification of the shooter as “Registered Democrat and anti-Trump partisan.” They had to delete their posts and articles because they blamed the wrong person. But for a while they certainly defamed and libeled an innocent man all in the hope of making a cheap political point.

So anyway, I am frustrated and angry about those who make such comments, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think that we shouldn’t debate the politics of the availability of the weapons and devices that made Stephen Paddock’s assault so deadly. As a career military officer I cannot imagine why we allow weapons like those used by Paddock, modified military weapons that have only one purpose: efficiently killing people in mass numbers, to be legal. I’ll probably write more about the subject another time, but the irresponsibility of ideologues only makes events like this even more tragic.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Another Year on the Margins of the Church

1622612_10152232336042059_727365308_nMe and my Little Buddy, Minnie Scule

I have been living on the margins of American Christianity for a bit over seven years now. The watershed moment was when I returned from Iraq in February 2008 my faith shattered and my soul wounded suffering from severe PTSD. I was not in good shape then and two years later after faith returned, albeit in a different form I realized that I no longer fit in the mainstream of conservative American Christianity.

The process of return took me to the margins of the faith that I knew and grew up in. For a while I felt like a victim, but over the course of the years I have discovered a tremendous freedom in living on the margins of the church. Jamake Highwater wrote something that really struck me as true:

“What outsiders discover in their adventures on the other side of the looking glass is the courage to repudiate self-contempt and recognise their “alienation” as a precious gift of freedom from arbitrary norms that they did not make and did not sanction. At the moment a person questions the validity of the rules, the victim is no longer a victim.”

When I began to express some of those changes, which mainly had to do in the manner of how I viewed others I got in trouble. At the time I was part of a pretty conservative Episcopal-Catholic denomination with very strong Evangelical and Charismatic leanings. I wrote that I thought that homosexuals could be Christians and not automatically damned to hell. I wrote that not all Moslems were bad. I expressed a great deal of empathy for non-believers, particularly Atheists and Agnostics having recently come out of a period where for all intents I was an Agnostic praying that God really did exist and care. I also asserted that I saw no reason why women could not or should not be ordained to the Priesthood and the Episcopacy and I expressed other views that while not connected with anything to do in the Christian faith was not politically correct in conservative circles.

During that time period I found that I was getting slammed and “unfriended” on Facebook by people I had previously considered friends whenever I had the nerve to disagree with them, or innocently post something that they disagreed with on my Facebook page. I think that was the hardest part for me, I was shocked that people who I had thought were friends, who knew what I was going through were so devoted to their ideology that they condemned me and threw me away. I found that I agreed with Mahatma Gandhi who observed: “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Of course I say that with a fair amount of humility because most of the time I am not a very good Christian, if that means actually trying to emulate Jesus.

Of course that is not uncommon in the annals of Christianity. Ulrich Zwingli, the Reformer of Zurich was so upset when his students and closest associates became Anabaptist that he had them drowned in the Rhine River. In fact any time Church leaders have had significant powers over people through the levers of the State they have quite often used that power to crush anyone that did not believe like them or questioned their authority.

In a sense for two millennia various groups of Christians have been creating God in their own image and inflicting their beliefs on others. Christians punishing other Christians for having views that they do not agree is so common. Last week a Chaplain of a Nazarene college was fired for questioning Christian support for war in the wake of the movie American Sniper. Sadly most of the time that Christians are condemned by other Christians it is not even for any of major doctrinal beliefs found in the Creeds, the great Ecumenical Councils of the Church, or even of the various Confessions or Statements of Faith of any denomination. Instead they usually have to with unpopular stands on political or social issues. Anne Lamott has a pithy little thought that I love which I think describes this type of Christian persecution: “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

In September of 2010 I was asked to leave that church, even though my actual theological orthodoxy, as to what I believed about God and Christ was unchanged. Thankfully another church, the Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Church, a denomination of the Old Catholic tradition took me in. It is a tiny denomination, much like the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands, but very affirming and I fit well in it.

As far as my old church, it was going through a difficult time and the Bishop who threw me out was a big part of the problem. He was removed a few months later when it was revealed that he was plotting to take all of the military chaplains out of the denomination to another without consulting the other bishops. One friend who is still in that church speculated that I was asked to leave by the bishop because he thought I might reveal his plans, even though he had not told me directly about them.

What was odd about that church was that in 2004 I was censured by the then second ranking archbishop in that church, forbidden from publishing and even having or having any personal contact with his clergy where I was living because I was “too Catholic.” The irony was that this bishop was a big cause of the trouble that the church went through including the massive splits that occurred in 2005-2010. He left that church, became the editor of a conservative Catholic website and now is a Priest in the Anglican Ordinate and effectively a Roman Catholic Priest.  I love irony.

Thankfully I still have a number friends in my old church, and thankfully there are good people there doing their best to live the Gospel. I can’t say that I would fit in there anymore, but I have no residual animosity to the current leadership of that denomination and pray that they continue to recover from the tumult and division that marked their struggle from 2005-2011. I admit that it was a painful time and for a while I was quite bitter about how I had been treated, but it has been easier to live by forgiving. C. S. Lewis noted: “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” Since I have been forgiven for so much how can I not at least try to live in a forgiving manner?

I have written a lot about my frustrations with American Christianity in particular the conservative Christian subculture. Looking at what I wrote I can see that I definitely exist on the margins of that world. But that is not a bad thing, there is a certain amount of freedom as well as intellectual honesty and integrity that I have now that I could not have being for all intents closeted in my former denomination.

Living on the margins allows me to echo Galileo who wrote: “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” It allows me to be at the intersection of faith and unbelief and allows me entry into both worlds, both of which I believe to be sacred and both need to be heard, as well as protected.

Thus when I champion religious liberty, it is not the liberty to use religion to bludgeon others or to use the police power of the State to enforce their religious views on others. Unfortunately that is what I see going on in this country as conservative American Christians especially Evangelicals, Charismatics and conservative Roman Catholics wage a Kulturkampf against modernism and secularism. It as if many of the leaders of that movement desire to set up a Christian theocracy. Gary North, a longtime adviser to Ron Paul and many in the Tea Party movement wrote:

“We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”

Personally, and with no invective intended I have to imagine that if a Moslem leader in this country said something similar that the Religious Right would be screaming bloody murder and that Bill O’Reilly and Fox News would be leading the charge.

 

Thus we see a reprise of the Scopes Monkey Trial in efforts to diminish the teaching of real science in schools and replace it with various religious theories of origins such as Young Earth Creationism. It doesn’t seem to matter what the issue is: equality for women, minorities, gays, teaching science, caring for the poor, the sick and the weak, acknowledging the value of other cultural traditions and religions it seems that many politically charged conservative Christians have no tolerance for anyone outside their often quite narrow belief system. North 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.”

I’m sorry but again this sounds not too dissimilar to the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, without the sheep and the comfortable clothes, or the Moslem Brotherhood types, Hezbollah or the Iranian Imams. The religion of North might be different from the Taliban but the goals are eerily similar, and only a fool would not see that. But then we Christians are quite good at ignoring the hate being preached by those that claim to be defending us from those “evil” Moslems.

This is no empty threat, throughout the country Christian Conservatives and their political front men are ramming through laws that have but one intent, the establishment of a Christian theocracy and the persecution of those who do not agree. Allegedly all of these laws are designed to “protect religious liberty” but in fact are nothing more than a legislative attempt to disenfranchise non-believers or others that the majority does not approve. Unfortunately the people pushing these laws do not understand that once the become law they can be used against them if another group comes into power. They set precedent and under such precedent even Sharia Law could be enacted in Moslem dominated areas of the country, such as Dearborn Michigan, or polygamy in separatist Mormon communities in Utah and Idaho.

I am sorry but that is antithetical to the thoughts of our founders and the real defenders of religious liberty in the early days of our republic. John Leland, head of the Virginia Baptists and a key player in the drafting of the First Amendment and religious liberty protections in Virginia wrote:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever…Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

Leland understood what he was talking about, because in Virginia Baptists and others were being persecuted by Anglicans who before the Revolution had been the State Church of Virginia and wanted to be again in the new republic. James Madison wrote of the danger:  “Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

I will defend the right of religious conservative to believe what they want, including the right to teach it in their churches, church schools and homes and to express those views in the public square as part of real dialogue. I may not agree with them, but if I want my views to be protected I should grant others what I would want. What I cannot support is the attempt of some politically active Christian conservatives to force those views on others through the power of the State, the public schools or any other place where the citizens of our very diverse and pluralistic society have to co-exist.

Likewise, I have become much more outspoken in defending those who are the targets of real Christian hate, in particular the LGBT community, unbelievers, especially atheists and agnostics and Moslems. That may seem odd, but really, if we as Christians do not show God’s love to them, just how do we expect that they will embrace what we believe?

I love the movie Inherit the Wind. I especially love the scene where Spencer Tracy playing the fictionalized version of Clarence Darrow gives a logical yet passionate defense of religious, civil and intellectual liberty.

“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!”

Since I don’t want to go back to the 16th Century I will be content to live in the freedom that I have on the margins of contemporary American Christianity. Personally I would rather be there than in the 16th century.

bloom-county-liberal-label-1

Back in 2010 when I was getting kicked out of my old church and suffering the rejection of friends it wasn’t something that I enjoyed. However, I am grateful to be where I am now and to have the freedom that I enjoy. I certainly didn’t plan it this way, but I am definitely okay with the way things have turned out. Living on the margins of American Christianity beats the hell out of living within the hateful, greedy and oppressive structures that permeate our American Christian landscape.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Friday Morning Myth Busting before a Trip to Gettysburg

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Dear Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I head up with my class to Gettysburg for our Staff Ride. Of course this comes on the heals of the San Francisco amazing game seven victory in the 2014 World Series, and if you read this site you understand that I was up until the wee hours of the morning because I was much too excited to sleep. This is actually, despite the lack of sleep a blessing because most of the time that I don’t sleep it is because of anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks and night terrors that torment me. As Gouverneur Warren, one of the heroes of Gettysburg wrote after the war:

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

But last night was different, to was hard to get to sleep because of the excitement of one of the best World Series games in history. That being said I am tired. I revised my chapter on the ideological nature of the American Civil War, and I should have another chapter revision on the Confederate decision to allow Robert E. Lee to invade Pennsylvania in the late spring of 1863 done by the time that I leave tomorrow. But those chapters, which are around 80 pages long are now too big to post in one fell swoop here.

However, in my readings I encountered a quote by historian Drew Faust Gilpin, as well as another that was part of a Methodist tract from 1860 that both seem absolutely timely today. I included both in the chapter, but I am going to post it here as well, because in the religious-historical myth that has become the staple that frauds like David Barton, Glenn Beck and their political and media allies flood the the airways and internet with, it is timely. Gilpin wrote:

“Sacred and secular history, like religion and politics, had become all but indistinguishable…The analogy between the Confederacy and the chosen Hebrew nation was invoked so often as to be transformed into a figure of everyday speech. Like the United States before it, the Confederacy became a redeemer nation, the new Israel.”

The Methodist tract noted:

“Confederate independence, explained a Methodist tract quoting Puritan John Winthrop, was intended to enable the South, “like a city set on a hill’ [to] fulfill her God given mission to exalt in civilization and Christianity the nations of the earth.”

Personally I cannot imagine anymore hatful projections of the Christian faith, but then I was reminded by the Fox News Channel resident Shrink, Dr Keith Ablow, that the United States needs to be conducting it’s own Jihad, its own wars of conquest to impose the American way on the rest of the world. Of course the blowhard shrink Ablow who has no skin in the game doesn’t seem to mind putting the sons and daughters of the nation in harm’s way, to die in unjust, unrighteous, illegal, immoral and certainly un-Christian wars to satiate his bloodlust. Ablow revels in diagnosing the pathologies and motivations of people that he has never met, not a very professional way of doing business as a shrink, but just watching Ablow’s rants on television and reading what he puts out on the internet I wonder if he is a sociopath, a man without empathy, a man who does not seam to be motivated by the desire to help people, nor by the upholding the Hippocratic oath, to do no harm.

I find it fascinating to read what General and later President Ulysses S Grant said about such ideas:

“As the United States is the freest of all nations, so, too, its people sympathize with all people struggling for liberty and self-government; but while so sympathizing it is due to our honor that we should abstain from enforcing our views upon unwilling nations and from taking an interested part, without invitation, in the quarrels between different nations or between governments and their subjects. Our course should always be in conformity with strict justice and law, international and local.”

But that my friends is why history matters, and why you should take your time to study it, including the uncomfortable things that destroy the myths perpetuated by the Lost Causers of the modern “Conservative Christian” revisionists and their allies who sell their crap as truth to people who want to believe it because they have been conditioned by thirty years and more of propaganda, that the myth is true.

Clothed in  the garb of faith and patriotism these lies, and the political, military and economic consequences  that they have spawned over the past thirteen years, have cost more American lives and treasure, as well as destroyed our stature in the world than any series of events in our history. heretical These filthy and polluted ideas helped destroy what could have been a renaissance in international relations because their proponents painted everything in terms of black and white and you either are for us or against us. Yes let me say it, President George Bush’s, uninspired,misguided and down right ignorant  religious world views have taken us to the abyss.

This my friends is why history matters. Sometimes it may seem dry and dusty, and no you cannot get rich as a real historian, while the fake ones like Barton, Beck and Bill O’Reilly are able to make a lot of money because they appear to what people want to hear by lying, by so linking their religion with their politics and their distorted view of history that the reality of history is ground to dust under the heals of their designer jackboots.

So, tomorrow, or is it already today now, I head up to Gettysburg where the brave men of the Army of the Potomac, whose veterans, like those of other Union armies engaged in the struggle for freedom helped give our nation a “new birth of freedom.” 

I think that how the Army of Tennessee, a Union army in the West described the war is at the heart of the issue.

“The Society of the Army of the Tennessee described the war as a struggle “that involved the life of the Nation, the preservation of the Union, the triumph of liberty and the death of slavery.” They had fought every battle…from the firing on the Union flag Fort Sumter to the surrender of Lee at Appomattox…in the cause of human liberty,” burying “treason and slavery in the Potter’s Field of nations” and “making all our citizens equal before the law, from the gulf to the lakes, and from ocean to ocean.”

It is amazing what the study of history and going to the places that it was made can do in someone’s heart. For me, the study of the Battle of Gettysburg and the American Civil War, and not just the military aspects of it has motivated me to be more forceful and speak up against the lies of those like Barton, Beck, O’Reilly, Ablow and the hosts of pundits, preachers and politicians who spread their lies as truth.

But then for me, truth matters. In this I am reminded of a quote from Star Trek the Next Generation. It is from an episode called “The First Duty.” In it the seasoned Captain Jean Luc Picard confronts his young protege Wesley Crusher after a disastrous accident that leaves a Star Fleet Academy cadet dead. Picard tells the young Crusher that “the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, historical truth or personnel truth…

To me, as a miscreant priest, and career officer that quote strikes home. I have a duty to the truth, believe it or not it does matter to me, and sometimes that means that I have to be a myth buster and call out the professional liars who posit themselves as historians, political scientists or experts on military strategy, when none of them have either the education or the experience to be experts in anything but being able to lie for fun and profit.

You see when I go to Gettysburg, and I stand where so many men died do make others free I become ever more inspired to confront the liars.

But now I am preaching and I try not to do that. I do need to attempt to get some sleep, so have a nice night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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The Freedom of Living on the Margins of American Christianity

1622612_10152232336042059_727365308_nMe and my Littlest Buddy, Minnie Scule

I have been living on the margins of American Christianity for a bit over six years now. The watershed moment was when I returned from Iraq in February 2008 my faith shattered and my soul wounded suffering from severe PTSD. I was not in good shape then and two years later after faith returned, albeit in a different form I realized that I no longer fit in the mainstream of conservative American Christianity.

When I began to express some of those changes, which mainly had to do in the manner of how I viewed others I got in trouble. At the time I was part of a pretty conservative Episcopal-Catholic denomination with very strong Evangelical and Charismatic leanings. I wrote that I thought that homosexuals could be Christians and not automatically damned to hell. I wrote that not all Moslems were bad. I expressed a great deal of empathy for non-believers, particularly Atheists and Agnostics having recently come out of a period where for all intents I was an Agnostic praying that God really did exist and care. I also asserted that I saw no reason why women could not or should not be ordained to the Priesthood and the Episcopacy and I expressed other views that while not connected with anything to do in the Christian faith was not politically correct in conservative circles.

During that time period I found that I was getting slammed and “unfriended” on Facebook by people I had previously considered friends whenever I had the nerve to disagree with them, or innocently post something that they disagreed with on my Facebook page. I think that was the hardest part for me, I was shocked that people who I had thought were friends, who knew what I was going through were so devoted to their ideology that they condemned me and threw me away. I found that I agreed with Mahatma Gandhi who observed: “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Of course I say that with a fair amount of humility because most of the time I am not a very good Christian, if that means actually trying to emulate Jesus.

Of course that is not uncommon in the annals of Christianity. Ulrich Zwingli, the Reformer of Zurich was so upset when his students and closest associates became Anabaptist that he had them drowned in the Rhine River. In fact any time Church leaders have had significant powers over people through the levers of the State they have quite often used that power to crush anyone that did not believe like them or questioned their authority.

In a sense for two millennia various groups of Christians have been creating God in their own image and inflicting their beliefs on others. Anne Lamott has a pithy little thought that I love: “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

In September of 2010 I was asked to leave that church, even though my actual theological orthodoxy, as to what I believed about God and Christ was unchanged. Thankfully another church, the Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Church, a denomination of the Old Catholic tradition took me in. It is a tiny denomination, much like the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands, but very affirming and I fit well in it.

As far as my old church, it was going through a difficult time and the Bishop who threw me out was a big part of the problem. He was removed a few months later when it was revealed that he was plotting to take all of the military chaplains out of the denomination to another without consulting the other bishops. One friend who is still in that church speculated that I was asked to leave by the bishop because he thought I might reveal his plans, even though he had not told me directly about them.

What was odd about that church was that in 2004 I was censured by the then second ranking archbishop in that church, forbidden from publishing and even having or having any personal contact with his clergy where I was living because I was “too Catholic.” The irony was that this bishop was a big cause of the trouble that the church went through including the massive splits that occurred in 2005-2010. He left that church, became the editor of a conservative Catholic website and now is a Priest in the Anglican Ordinate and effectively a Roman Catholic Priest.  I love irony.

Thankfully I still have many friends in my old church, and thankfully there are good people there doing their best to live the Gospel. I can’t say that I would fit in there anymore, but I have no residual animosity to the current leadership of that denomination and pray that they continue to recover from the tumult and division that marked their struggle from 2005-2011. I admit that it was a painful time and for a while I was quite bitter about how I had been treated, but it has been easier to live by forgiving. C. S. Lewis noted: “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” Since I have been forgiven for so much how can I not at least try to live in a forgiving manner?

Last night I wrote about my frustrations with American Christianity in particular the conservative Christian subculture. Looking at what I wrote I can see that I definitely exist on the margins of that world. But that is not a bad thing, there is a certain amount of freedom as well as intellectual honesty and integrity that I have now that I could not have being for all intents closeted in my former denomination.

Living on the margins allows me to echo Galileo who wrote: “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” It allows me to be at the intersection of faith and unbelief and allows me entry into both worlds, both of which I believe to be sacred and both need to be heard, as well as protected.

Thus when I champion religious liberty, it is not the liberty to use religion to bludgeon others or to use the police power of the State to enforce their religious views on others. Unfortunately that is what I see going on in this country as conservative American Christians especially Evangelicals, Charismatics and conservative Roman Catholics wage a Kulturkampf against modernism and secularism. It as if many of the leaders of that movement desire to set up a Christian theocracy. Gary North, a longtime adviser to Ron Paul and many in the Tea Party movement wrote:

“We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”

Personally, and with no invective intended I have to imagine that if a Moslem leader in this country said somethings similar that the Religious Right would be screaming bloody murder and that Bill O’Reilly and Fox News would be leading the charge.

Thus we see a reprise of the Scopes Monkey Trial in efforts to diminish the teaching of real science in schools and replace it with various religious theories of origins such as Young Earth Creationism. It doesn’t seem to matter what the issue is: equality for women, minorities, gays, teaching science, caring for the poor, the sick and the weak, acknowledging the value of other cultural traditions and religions it seems that many politically charged conservative Christians have no tolerance for anyone outside their often quite narrow belief system. North 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.”

I’m sorry but again this sounds not too dissimilar to the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, without the sheep and the comfortable clothes, or the Moslem Brotherhood types, Hezbollah or the Iranian Imams. The religion of North might be different from the Taliban but the goals are eerily similar, and only a fool would not see that. But then we Christians are quite good at ignoring the hate being preached by those that claim to be defending us from those “evil” Moslems.

This is no empty threat, throughout the country Christian Conservatives and their political front men are ramming through laws that have but one intent, the establishment of a Christian theocracy and the persecution of those who do not agree. Allegedly all of these laws are designed to “protect religious liberty” but in fact are nothing more than a legislative attempt to disenfranchise non-believers or others that the majority does not approve. Unfortunately the people pushing these laws do not understand that once the become law they can be used against them if another group comes into power. They set precedent and under such precedent even Sharia Law could could be enacted in Moslem dominated areas of the country, such as Dearborn Michigan, or polygamy in separatist Mormon communities in Utah and Idaho.

I am sorry but that is antithetical to the thoughts of our founders and the real defenders of religious liberty in the early days of our republic. John Leland, head of the Virginia Baptists and a key player in the drafting of the First Amendment and religious liberty protections in Virginia wrote:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever…Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

Leland understood what he was talking about, because in Virginia Baptists and others were being persecuted by Anglicans who before the Revolution had been the State Church of Virginia and wanted to be again in the new republic. James Madison wrote of the danger:  “Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

I will defend the right of religious conservative to believe what they want, including the right to teach it in their churches, church schools and homes and to express those views in the public square as part of real dialogue. I may not agree with them, but if I want my views to be protected I should grant others what I would want. What I cannot support is the attempt of some politically active Christian conservatives to force those views on others through the power of the State, the public schools or any other place where the citizens of our very diverse and pluralistic society have to co-exist.

I love the movie Inherit the Wind. I especially love the scene where Spencer Tracy playing the fictionalized version of Clarence Darrow gives a logical yet passionate defense of religious, civil and intellectual liberty.

“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!”

Since I don’t want to go back to the 16th Century I will be content to live in the freedom that I have on the margins of contemporary American Christianity. Personally I would rather be there than in the 16th century.

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Back in 2010 when I was getting kicked out of my old church and suffering the rejection of friends it wasn’t something that I enjoyed. However, I am grateful to be where I am now and to have the freedom that I enjoy. I certainly didn’t plan it this way, but I am definitely okay with the way things have turned out.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve Shrugged: My Frustration with the Christian Subculture

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“If Christ were here now there is one thing he would not be – a Christian.” Mark Twain

Padre Steve is shrugging a lot today, so please excuse this but I have to say it. Sometimes I just want to scream when I see people and institutions claiming to be Christian when they exhibit none of the Christian graces or marks of the Christian faith.

I am constantly amazed by the self serving and self-righteous hatred shown by many of my allegedly Christian brothers and sisters towards that they do not approve.  This is especially true of how they treat the LGBT community, who only want to get equal rights under the law. Of course my brothers and sisters who want to legislate the LGBT community out of existence. Some American Christians promote laws in Africa to send gays to prison or even worse sentence them to death. They do this with gusto, all while claiming with absolute certitude their interpretations of the Bible. While they condemn gays they ignore all the other Old Testament laws that prescribe similar harsh sentences, such as death for the very things that they do. The fact that supposedly Christian leaders such as Scott Lively and others are attempting to pass laws in the United States and other countries, especially in Africa to openly persecute and even execute gays is abhorrent.

To use the power of the State to enforce one’s religious beliefs on others is exactly what the founders of our country attempted to negate in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Thomas Jefferson writing to Alexander Humbolt in 1813 correctly noted: “History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.”  

Thus I shrug my shoulders and wonder which Bible they are reading, and I am a Priest, with a sound Biblical and theological education. Thus to those without that it really has to be confusing. But I am also a historian, ethicist and occasionally a stand up philosopher and I can spot theological and historical bullshit when I see it and smell it. Unfortunately many leaders of the American “Christian Right” are full of it and it stinks to low Hell.

I shrug my shoulders in wonder of the ignorance I see displayed by my Christian bothers and sisters, some of whom certainly regard me as an apostate or heretic for criticizing their political-religious crusades.  But then I remember that the Bible they read is the one that excuses all the sins that they approve of, but condemns the sins of those that they don’t like. I think that the translation they cite is the Damn Everyone Else to Hell But Me Version of the Bible. But wait, you say that that there is no such translation? Well it may not be in print but it is certainly written on their hearts, like it is on the hearts of all true believers, but I digress. The great American philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote: “A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”

Likewise I get frustrated by my Christian brothers and sisters who routinely tell those suffering from Cancer or other painful or terminal conditions that they need to read a book or listen to a sermon by some Christian that is obviously more spiritual and better than the rest of us. Instead of coming alongside of those suffering they spout empty words, just like Job’s friends.

So I shrug because I remember that the command of Jesus to Christians is to bear one another’s burdens, not preach at those that are suffering.

But that being said I shrug my shoulders in amazement when I see those same Christian brothers and sisters embracing the abject and atheistic Social Darwinism of Ayn Rand and her Objectivist Philosophy. This has now been “baptized” by many leaders of the Christian Right as “Biblical” or “Christian.”

I also shrug when I see men who are paid millions of dollars a year to stir up hate and discontent by criticizing those that they do not approve throw tantrums and compare themselves to Jesus. Fox News Pundit Bill O’Reilly whined last week and did just that, saying that “even Jesus had haters.” Sorry Bill, but there is no comparison. You and those like you are hacks paid to stir shit up and keep people enraged so they keep watching your program. Unlike you, Jesus showed love and compassion to those that condemned him and didn’t get a penny for it.

I am a Christian, but I hate to say that the more I look around the more I see Christians who make me wonder about the God that they claim to represent. If I was not a believer I would have to admit that I see nothing redeeming in what I see and that have to wonder why I would want to believe in a God who according to the Christian Right is capricious, vindictive, petty, unloving, unethical and unjust. A “God” who is nothing like the one who according to Paul the Apostle:

“who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:6-8 NRSV)

Thus I shrug. I cannot fathom the absurd depths of ignorance and hatred that is so routinely and even unthinkingly a part of the lives of some of my fellow Christians.

If the fact that I say this pisses people off, I have to say that I no longer care.  I cannot pretend as I can no longer live in the cloud cuckoo land of conservative American Christianity.

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So anyway. I had to get it out. I know that there will be some people who take offense to most of what I said and that is fine with me. But it has to be said if Christianity is to survive in the West. If Christians do not throw aside the mantle of power, privilege and priority that it assumed under Constantine, the mantle of the imperial church and return to being Christians, the Christian faith will not survive. And yes, that includes all of those massive auditoriums built by narcissistic mega-church pastors and the congregations that worship them.

People are fleeing what we call Christianity in the United States. They are fleeing churches in ever growing numbers and all the statistics, surveys and polls confirm this. More and more people are identifying themselves as not having a particular religious belief. Likewise more and more are openly admitting to being atheists or agnostics.  The numbers and percentages of unbelievers are growing at exponential rates. They are known as “the Nones” or those with no religious preference. As a military chaplain I have seen this trend growing for the past 25 years and it is only getting worse, and truthfully I cannot blame them. And who can blame the “nones” for turning their backs on Christianity? If I was not already a Christian there is little that convince me to become one today, not because of Jesus, but because of how Christians treat others. So that being said I will still love and care for all of my “nones” and be there for them.

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Christians have forgotten the reality of the Gospel. The world will not know us by our correct doctrine, nor will it know us by how well we observe the law, nor will it know us by any other thing but this: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The fact is that if I wasn’t already a Christian there is nothing in the witness of most American Churches and Christians, especially Evangelicals and conservative Catholics that would ever bring me to faith in Jesus.  I totally agree with author Ann Rice who back in 2010 said:

“For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

The sad thing is, that before Iraq and my PTSD crash and crisis of faith that left me a practical agnostic for nearly two years that I used to be just like many of people that I am calling out today. Maybe I was a bit more nuanced theologically and better able to say cruel things without making them sound too cruel, but truthfully some of the things that I said and believed at one time were not much different than what my more crass brothers and sisters do today. For that I am sorry.

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Okay, I have said it. I have gotten it off my chest for now, though I am sure that some time in the next number of months or year that I will pop my cork again. But what can I say?

So for tonight and until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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More Thoughts on Religious Freedom: By Job I think that Christians might actually be Under Attack, but not like Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity say that they are

Once again I the defender of religious liberty find that even in the elucidation of my thoughts of said subject that I remain a woefully misunderstood man.  Religious freedom is a sticky wicket, everyone wants it, everyone claims it but few want to give it to those that they disagree with or find to be against whatever their particular creed is. Now I am basically a moderate Anglo-Catholic which means that I am a Catholic with Anglican tendencies or Catholic slightly more independent and Anglican tendencies.  My faith is found in the Holy Scriptures, the Creeds and the Councils of the Church, it comes from 2000 years of Christian experience, the good and the bad, the positive and the negative the human and the Divine.  I stand firmly in the tradition of the Christian faith certainly not a heretic or unbeliever but when I question actions of fellow Christians I am viewed with suspicion. In fact a lady from my denomination told me to “don’t watch it if I don’t agree with it” when I asked hard questions about something she said on a social networking site.  Now I know that this woman is both sincere and passionate in her beliefs, but her beliefs while firmly within the mainstream of modern American Evangelical Christian thought actually have little to do with the Christian faith but rather a defense of beliefs that many Christians in the United States as well as the world would find distinctly un-Christian.

You see my friend is symptomatic of the myopia typical of modern American Evangelicals, or for that matter many “conservative” Christians regardless of their tradition proclaim.  You see many American Christians do have legitimate and compelling reasons to be concerned, the society is becoming much more secular, much more religiously and culturally diverse and in many places individual Christians and even churches seem to be the targets of a plethora of lawsuits, attacks on the symbols of their faith as well as many of the values that they hold dear from groups on the left.  Likewise there are Christians from more liberal or “social Gospel” minded traditions that would likewise see their faith under attack from conservative secularists, those in positions of great financial advantage and Libertarians and others that believe the their faith should not be allowed a place in the public forum, especially when they champion the rights of those that are economically disadvantaged or that are not in the mainstream of American life.    Seems that no matter what your point of view that being a Christian is not a particularly popular thing to be in the United States now days, my goodness well how can it not be?  First there were the televangelists, and then the pedophile priests, and then the financial and political scandals involving various clergymen of both the left and the right, and clergymen and churches that demand special status and privilege from government agencies simply because they are “religious” who would blame the secularists and even believers from being skeptical?

But I would argue that many good Christians from various traditions in all sincerity and devotion to their beliefs as well as the liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights and with no malice whatsoever feel attacked.  And why should they not feel attacked?  Their faith is mocked in the media, their symbols protested or outlawed, their beliefs ridiculed and the values that they want and earnestly seek to teach their children thrown back at them at every chance.  You see whether the issue is the rights of the unborn, the sanctity of marriage for conservatives or the right to same sex marriage espoused by liberals or the rights of illegal or undocumented workers, the needs of the poor and destitute there is always someone in power that wants to shut these people down and most always the issue is power and money where corporations, local and state governments and even individuals use the law to squash out dissent by churches or other religious bodies and individuals at every turn. Who can blame these people from feeling attacked?  Who can blame them for rallying to the cry of those that would take up their cause even if those people have ulterior motivations from religious or secular groups from the right or from the left?

This brings me back on point, I do not condemn men and women of faith that live their life with virtue and seek to serve both God and their neighbor in love.  In fact I would dare say that many Christian and Churches in good conscience believe that they are attempting to do well and see their efforts maligned in the press and in the media and attacked by politicians with something to gain from attacking various Christian Churches and their activities which quite often are grounded in nothing more than the mandate to love Goad and love their neighbor.  No matter if it is a Church that holds prolife or anti-abortion beliefs or those that give sanctuary to undocumented workers or those that care for others that are the cast offs of American society it seems that there is no shortage of those willing to file lawsuits or initiate criminal proceedings for even the most preposterous of offenses be it holding a Bible study in a residential area, operating a soup kitchen from the back of a truck or simply displaying the symbol of their faith in a public place or even upon their bodies.

Now I am not one of those going about screaming that Christians are being systematically persecuted but what reasonable person would not feel attacked if the very signs, symbols, sacraments and actions that were central to their faith were ridiculed day in and day out? Nor am I one that proclaims that the United States has some manifold destiny wrought by God or that the Founding Fathers were great believers in the Christian religion, not by far.  I am a defender of religious liberty and firm advocate for the separation of Church, or Mosque or Synagogue or even Wiccan bonfire and State. This is something that this robustly moderate Anglo-Catholic learned in a Southern Baptist seminary, before the Fundamentalist takeover, that our religious freedom is to be guarded and the rights of all religions safeguarded against the designs of a predominately secular and materialist state and corporate culture if there is to be any religious freedom for anyone.

In response there are extremist who take legitimate fear and turn it into anger and paranoia even as they collect vast amounts of money from people desperate for someone to take their side.  But despite all of the “herculean” efforts of these worldly “saviors” nothing ever changes even as they grow rich at the expense of the people the purport to serve all the while accomplishing nothing and further alienating their charges from the rest of society.  Yes persecuted Christian send your $20, $50, $200 or $1000 gift to our ministry and by God our lawyers will eventual defeat those that persecute you. By God give our candidates money so they can go to Washington and make things right again and protect your values even while they engage in marital infidelity at taxpayer expense, Governor Sanford thank you for the ammunition, ditto to you Senator Ensign and my goodness how can I forget you Vice President Gore? You see I am an equal opportunity pundit when politicians and preachers fleece the flock of God and then convince them that they need to give more for their efforts.  I love America.

That’s what they all say isn’t it? “Give me your money and or your vote and I will get results for you.”  But they don’t despite the hundreds of millions, maybe even the billions of dollars that have been donated to fill their coffers. Mass marketing mailings and e-mails targeted by groups that play upon the worst fears of believers which keep these people on edge and anxious about everything when I think it was the Lord that told his disciples to “be anxious for nothing” or maybe it was Saint Paul, but whoever it was it’s in the Bible, you can look it up.

I think I will continue this series as I believe that religious liberty is under threat in a thousand different ways, well maybe not a thousand I haven’t counted lately but at least I am sure in a number of ways some more insidious than others.  I do not believe that this threat should only alarm Christians but that people of any faith that take it serious should be concerned.  I am not asking or desirous of governmental favors for religious groups because that only leads to tyranny as religious people and groups prostitute their faith for special status. That is the nature of the beast, maybe even like the Beast in the Book of Revelation which had a political, religious and economic nature.  However I do think that it is high time that people of good intent and real faith regardless of what it is start looking out for each other otherwise no one’s faith will be safe.

To be continued….

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve Might be a Mad Cow Carrier and Can’t Give Blood…He’s “Mad” as Hell and isn’t going to take it anymore!

I am guilty yes guilty my friends.  I have about a one in a zillion chance of having the dreaded variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease but if your believe those who promote conspiracy theories and unscientific assumptions I am probably something like Typhoid Mary just waiting to unleash death and destruction on millions of unsuspecting God fearing beef eating Americans by donating blood.  That is my alleged crime and while it is not a ‘crime’ in the truest sense of the word it might as well be as it ostracizes me and hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of veterans and their dependants from a civic duty that many of us did before all the media hype that surrounded the decision to ban us from being able to give blood.  It is discriminatory, exclusionary and for that matter bad public policy.

Now my dear readers what is my crime and the punishment that has been inflicted on me?  I was in the military and lived in Europe in the 1980s and 1990s for a period of about four years. That my dear reader makes me ineligible to donate blood even if I am otherwise healthy and willing to give in time of need.  However the rule is rather arbitrary in nature. It specifies that living in most of Europe for 6 months or more if you are in the military is enough for a person to be a risk.  However the rules tolerate those who go on beef eating and haggis hogging binges for limited amounts of time while wearing kilts in Great Britain. It is an absurd standard to hold anyone to as the fact is simple, if you didn’t eat high risk cattle you have almost no chance of contracting or carrying the disease.

I readily admit that in that time in Europe I did eat beef. Mind you dear reader it was always well cooked and I certainly never ate Haggis.  However I am now and have been for many years treated as if I had some exotic and deadly plague like I was infected with HIV or Hepatitis B, diseases that are proven to be transmitted through contaminated blood products. I my friends am the poster child of what it is to be discriminated against based on special interest groups and media fear mongering.  That absurd fear mongering got our wonderful Food and Drug Administration and other government regulatory agencies to take draconian measures to stop something that in the scope of infectious disease is rather low on the threat scale.  I say that such action is not based on legitimate public health concerns but on a political agenda that uses fear to accomplish what it never could at the ballot box.

Now mind you Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) or the variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) or the real “Mad Cow” disease is no laughing matter but statistics underlying the incidence of the disease in the United States of vCJD show that if there is a threat it is very limited and that the chances of the Cubs winning the Worlds Series are better than getting this dread disease. Even statistics of a supposed “second wave” of vCJD in Great Britain estimate about 70 persons over a period of years during a “second wave” of vCJD might die, at worst case the number is 600.  In fact in Britain only one case of transmission of vCJD though blood products has been confirmed and if all people who had eaten beef lived in and eaten beef in Britain were barred from  donating blood the British would likely have to convert oil tankers to bring blood in from around the world. But they are not while people in the United States who lived in Europe, not even Great Britain are banned as a class from donating blood and the vast majority of these Americans are military members and their dependants.

I am a supporter of stringent policies on infectious diseases but if in Britain, the very epicenter of a disease that reared its ugly head in the early 1980s people can and do donate blood and the incidence of the disease is miniscule and is scientifically regarded to having more to do with genetics than eating beef.  Yet the Federal Government responding to fear mongering press reports and conspiracy theory maniacs have banned an entire class of people from donating the gift of life to those in need.  It is absurd and dishonest and plays into the hands of fear mongering power seeking special interests groups that claim the public good while discriminating against a whole class of people whose only crime was to serve their country.  Bill O’Reilly and Steven Colbert do you hear me?

Before this I was almost a religious blood donor I learned it from my dad who I think had his golden bucket from the Delta Blood Bank in Stockton. In fact he took me to donate for the first time and I continued because it was the right thing to do. I donated until I was branded with the scarlet letter of being a potential carrier of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and have been refused ever since.  This is also true for hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of healthy military members, veterans and family members who ate a steak in Germany or some other western European country because we might have eaten a significant amount of “Bully” British Beef or perhaps a butt load of Scottish Haggis even though the chances of having these delicacies is significantly lower in good old Deutschland where people would rather eat Argentinean beef than beef from a country that they thought they should own by now and where the vast majority of the beef is well rather “brown-shirted” if you get my drift.  If the CDC or FDA has banned a whole class of patriot Americans from donating blood at least do it based on a preponderance of evidence and not speculation and paranoia.

In the United States we often run short of blood but we exclude by default one of the healthiest and giving groups of people in the world from giving. There are times in every major medical center that blood products run in short supply because of supply and demand.  Most donations centers have on hand no more than a 3 day supply for normal transfusion needs and if a major catastrophe involving vast numbers of traumatic injuries occurred, the supply would be gone in no time and people would die for the lack of blood.  Unfortunately in the world of potential mass casualties caused by terrorism or natural disaster this is a more likely occurrence than a mass outbreak of vCJD. Quite often there is more demand than supply and red blood cells have a short shelf life of 35-42 days at refrigerated temperatures and plasma can be frozen but has a shelf life of only about a year meaning that those stocks are also limited.

So rather than looking at statistics and solid data military members are banned from donating blood unless they choose to dishonor themselves by lying about it.  I have never done that as much as I wanted to give blood.  Heck we have an Armed Service Blood Center in our very hospital whose outreach director is one of my former Lieutenants from my days as a company commander in Germany.  I may be at times “mad” but my “madness” is both genetic as from a bit of PTSD, but my blood is a-okay high test 104 Octane B positive blood and I cannot donate when I want to because the debate is being driven by anti-beef eating, anti-military food Nazis who use this ‘cause’ to spread fear and increase their power relative to the rest of us.  Just take a look at their websites which are populated with hyperbole even more hyperbolous than what I spout.

I contend that I and hundreds of thousands of veterans and military members have been damaged by the zealotry of the “Mad Cow” fear mongers and their media accomplices which did its best to spread panic about this incredibly rare disease by showing infected cattle lurching around barnyards. Now it is true that this is a heinous disease but incredibly rare and for the most part has been controlled even in docile cows.

My argument is that there is a terrible need for blood products and a whole group of people are being discriminated against on the basis of media hype and pressure by special interest groups.  I know by saying this that it makes me a target and that once this post gets some hits that I will have one of these anti-beef eating, anti-military and national security ignoring bozos will post nasty things about me. So far as they don’t call me a Dodger fan I will be civil despite the fact that they won’t rest until none of us can give blood because we ate beef once in our lives.

I wish that some bold law firm would take this up as a class action suit naming the FDA, CDC and every major television network that spread the fear which drives the decision to bar an entire group of healthy people from giving blood.  This may seem callous and insensitive but I say let’s stick it to these guys and let them see the shoe is on the other foot. Let’s kick their vegan asses back to the planet Vegan where they belong. It’s late tonight but tomorrow its cheeseburger time for Padre Steve, pass the condiments please and get my stein ready.

So until the next time I say peace and may the law be with us. Maybe there is a reason that some of my classmates in seminary said that I should have gone to law school.  Maybe that’s what I’ll do with my GI Bill when I retire go to law school pass the bar and be a Priest-Lawyer, but not a Canon Lawyer, no money in that is there? So let’s go out and win a billion dollars or so from these oppressors of individual liberty and the common good.

Anyway Peace Out my brothers and sisters, have a burger or steak tonight.

Love ya,

Padre Steve+

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