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Freedom of Religion and the Yuck Factor: American Religious Theocrats

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The distinguished British Mathematician and Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote:

“Religion carries two sorts of people in two entirely opposite directions: the mild and gentle people it carries towards mercy and justice; the persecuting people it carries into fiendish sadistic cruelty…” 

I fully agree with him based on my knowledge of human history and behavior. I strongly support religious freedom, so long as it is not abused by people to harm others. I get sick of religious liberty hyperbole when it is used by theocrats of all religious stripes. I am kind of like James Spader’s character, Alan Shore in Boston Legal; but then, maybe there is a valid reason that my seminary classmates at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary asked me why I wasn’t in law school. They did not mean it as a compliment.

During one episode dealing with a case regarding religious liberties Spader’s character (Whose God is it Anyway, Season Three Episode 5) said:

“I don’t know about you but I’m getting a little tired of the religious freedom thing. When did religion get such a good name anyway. Be it the Crusades, the reformation genocides, the troubles in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, mass slaughters in the name of Allah, the obligatory reciprocal retributions. Hundreds of millions have died in religious conflicts. Hitler did his business in the name of his creator. Religious extremism, it’s our greatest threat today, a holy jihad. If we’re not ready to strip religion of its sacred cow status, how about we at least scale back on the Constitutional dogma exalting it as all get out….

Everyone should get to believe in his God, pray to his God, worship his God of course. But to impose him on others, to victimize others in his name?  The founding fathers set out to prevent persecution, not license it…

At a certain point we have to say “enough with this freedom of religion crap. Yuck, yuck, yuck. I know, I’ll get letters….” 

At this time though I am doing my best to fight budget cuts that could harm the rights of Navy and Marine Corps personnel of their rights to practice their religion in base chapels, cuts that will harm the religious rights of the most vulnerable service members and their families. I don’t have to agree with their religion, politics or theology, but I follow the Constitution, and legal precedent, not my own opinions on faith.

Let me explain.

Those who follow my writings know how much I struggle with faith and doubt on a daily basis. I believe, but as the man told Jesus when he asked Jesus to heal his child “I believe, help my unbelief.” I no longer believe in the “absolute truths” that I once believed. Of course to some this makes me a heretic or worse. That being said, I have faith in a God I cannot see. I have faith in a God who clothes himself in human weakness and allows himself to be killed as a state criminal.

That being said I see many of my fellow Christians, not to mention those of other faiths who attempt to use their interpretation of what they believe are absolute truths and attempt to impose them on others. Using their houses of worship they indoctrinate believers into believing the “truth” including the judgment on non-believers.

I remember going through classes in my previous denomination which were entitled “The Government of God” and utilized Robert Bork’s book Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline as its primary text. Obviously the class had little to do with faith, but was a tool by which we were indoctrinated to believe the political-religious ideology of our church leaders. There were several more texts, which basically echoed Bork’s thought, but they were taught in a manner is if they were as important as the often contradictory Biblical tests or the writings of the church Fathers, the great saints, scholastics or Protestant Reformers. It was an exercise in political indoctrination based on religious ideology. At the time I had no idea that what the church leaders were appealing to was nothing more than a variation on Christian Dominionism. I will not mention it’s name because most of those who taught this are not alive to defend themselves, and one, though I disagreed with his theology, I knew that he really did love people.

However, such ideology is incredibly dangerous, even when it is taught by well meaning people, because when people in power take it to heart and act upon it, all pretense of fairness, justice and integrity is lost. Those who are simply different are persecuted, those who do not tow a particular party or religious line are suspect, and the innocent are presumed guilty. It has happened throughout human history in every corner of the world, and it still goes on today.

I ended up rejecting that view of faith and life after coming home from Iraq, and for voicing my disagreement on a number of issues was asked to leave that denomination in 2010.

I believe again, but my doubts are real. But even more I have a belief in justice, and I believe that that justice itself cannot be built on absolutes. As Captain Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) noted in the Star Trek the Next Generation episode Justice: 

“I don’t know how to communicate this, or even if it is possible. But the question of justice has concerned me greatly of late. And I say to any creature who may be listening, there can be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions.”

I have found that as Picard said, “that life itself is an exercise in exceptions.”  We all make them, and the Bible and the history of the church is full of them. So I have a hard time with those who claim an absolute certitude in beliefs that are built on faith and treat them as fact, despite the fact that they are not provable. Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted the problem well when he talked of this problem and described the dilemma of so many believers:

“Man no longer lives in the beginning–he has lost the beginning. Now he finds he is in the middle, knowing neither the end nor the beginning, and yet knowing that he is in the middle, coming from the beginning and going towards the end. He sees that his life is determined by these two facets, of which he knows only that he does not know them”

Even so believers of all faiths wrap themselves in the certitude of their faith. They espouse doctrines that at best are humanity’s best attempts to describe a God that is infinitely bigger and more complex than they believe. The contest then becomes not about God himself, but the manner that the human being who interprets God espouses as incontrovertible doctrine. 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.”

That certitude and the belief that we absolutely know the mind of a God who claims that we cannot know is the height of arrogance and it ensures that when we speak in terms of absolutes that we do not understand God, nor do we believe in justice, because as Captain Picard so wisely noted “life itself is an exercise in exceptions.” Even the most devout of believers make exceptions, simply because they are human and can’t avoid it, unless they are sociopaths.

Henri Nouwen wrote something very profound that all who claim to know God’s absolute will or truth need to consider. Nouwen wrote: “Theological formation is the gradual and often painful discovery of God’s incomprehensibility. You can be competent in many things, but you cannot be competent in God.”

The fact is that no one can be competent in God, and that those who claim to are either hopelessly deluded b their ignorance, or worse, are evil men masquerading as good. Those who pro port to know absolutes and want to use the Bible or any other religious text as some sort of rule book that they alone can interpret need to ask themselves this question, posed by Commander Riker to Captain Picard when he talked about absolutes and life: “When has justice ever been as simple as a rulebook?” 

Sadly too many people, Christians, Moslems, Jews, Hindus, and others apply their own misconceptions and prejudices to their scriptures and use them as a weapon of temporal and divine judgement on all who they oppose. However, as history, life and even our scriptures testify, that none of us can absolutely claim to know the absolutes of God. As Captain Picard noted “life itself is an exercise in exceptions.” 

Thus our human justice, as feeble as it often is must take this into account: It takes true wisdom to know when and how to make these exceptions, wisdom based on reason, grace and mercy. Justice, is to apply the law in fairness and equity, knowing that even our best attempts can be misguided and if based on emotion, hatred, racism or vengeance all clothed in the language of righteousness can be more evil than any evil it is supposed to correct.

Does it matter if we are doing it the sake of law and order, or for love of country, or to defend the faith; if at the heart of it what we call justice, or moral absolutes is nothing more than the implementation of an agenda to crush the powerless under our heel and promote even more injustice? If we lean toward the view that we are implementing the absolute law and will of God then we had better be sure, as Nouwen so well noted we can be competent in many things, but we cannot, as much as we deceive ourselves, be competent in God.

But we see it all too often, religious people and others misusing faith to condemn those they do not understand or with whom they disagree. As Patrick Stewart playing Captain Jean Luc Picard noted in the Start Trek Next Generation episode The Drumhead:

“We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.”

Believe me, American religious theocrats, who have the ear of President Trump are using those rights to persecute and restrict the liberties of fellow citizens. That I cannot abide, because last year I was on the receiving end of it. I try not to go there because it brings up so many unpleasant memories, but I was reminded of them as I wrote this post. I will not revisit them as I wrote about them last July after I had been exonerated of the false charges.

But I will not stop fighting for the religious liberties of all, including the rights of non-believers. I admire the work of Mikey Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Despite how they are characterized by many Christian theocrats, they supported me when I was under attack and well over 90% of their clients are Christians.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Special Announcement About the State of the Union Address

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Sorry of the interruption but I have an announcement. My regularly scheduled post will be published at 12:01 AM but I do have an announcement to make:

I am not going to be watching the State of the Union Address this year.

While in general  I find these addresses regardless of what President gives them to less than inspiring and occasionally mind numbing I always used to try to watch them. While President Trump did not give a State of the Union Address last year, he did give an address to both houses of Congress that in many ways was similar to the State of the Union. I watched it, as well as his inauguration address, and I actually went to one of his campaign events before he was elected because I always have tried to keep an open mind about the President, and I have done that since Gerald Ford when I was not old enough to vote. By the way I worked as a volunteer for the Ford Campaign before I could vote. But now I can’t watch his antics and is President Ford said: “If Abraham Lincoln was alive today he would roll over in his grave.” 

Regardless of who the President was, whether I agreed with his policies and policies or not I have always done my best to watch the address. A few were quite memorable, but most were not. I’m sorry but uninspired speech, predicated on talking points, and punctuated with perfunctory applause doesn’t do much for me. When I think about President Trump’s words tonight whatever they may be I think that I agree with Theodore Roosevelt who said:

“Of one man in especial, beyond anyone else, the citizens of a republic should beware, and that is of the man who appeals to them to support him on the ground that he is hostile to other citizens of the republic, that he will secure for those who elect him, in one shape or another, profit at the expense of other citizens of the republic. It makes no difference whether he appeals to class hatred or class interest, to religious or anti-religious prejudice. The man who makes such an appeal should always be presumed to make it for the sake of furthering his own interest.”

That being said I always thought it was something of a sacred duty to watch the State of the Union, but I cannot watch it this year. After enduring a year of watching the President attack the very fabric of American society, law, and the Constitution I cannot endure watching an hour or more of a man who has made over 2,000 verifiable lies in the past year being cheered by his Congressional majorities as he tells more lies and pretends to act in bipartisan manner. So tonight I figure that I can wait and read the text without wasting over an hour of my life that I would never ever get back again by watching what will ultimately be a meaningless and mangled mass of magniloquence.

I wish that I could find something redeeming about this President, but even if I occasionally agree with him on some aspect of policy; which I do on occasion, I fear the worst in the coming years of his administration.

Now I will read the text of his address and I may even comment on it. Likewise, whether I want to or not I will be subjected to replays of it wherever I turn.

But tonight, I am sitting back, drinking a nice but cheap Pinot Grigio wine and binge watching the second season of Boston Legal.

So until whenever,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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I’ve had Enough of the Freedom of Religion Crap from Trump’s Evangelical Supporters

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Every time I see men like Jerry Falwell Jr., Tony Perkins, Franklin Graham, James Dobson, James Robison, Pat Robertson, or any of the host of their lesser known minions, including men who are Priests, ministers, or chaplains  defend the indefensible actions and moral depravity of President Donald Trump I want to puke. Sorry, but the first time that I heard the word puke when I was a kid I loved it. I even loved it as an adult because it is an amazingly fun word, especially when you are on a Guided Missile Cruiser steaming down the Arabian Peninsula with a category five cyclone on your beam battering the ship with 18-20 foot swells for three days, and half of your shipmates are seasick and you are not, but I digress…

When I see and hear all of these modern day Pharisees or Inquisitors all that I can think is yuck.  Likewise I totally understand why so many people, especially young people are fleeing the Church in record numbers every single year and why so many others want nothing to do with the Church even if they are okay with Jesus.

In the wake of the latest “Stormy” allegations against the President in which his ecclesiastical defenders have again gone to the mat to defend him I think that it is wise to attack the motivations of the men and women who made morality, particularly their version of it a political wedge issue beginning with Bill Clinton’s sexual immorality, which I do  not defend. But to condemn him, and to demonize Barak Obama who was not a womanizer while giving Trump a free hand and pass on things that are worse than Clinton did or than they ever imagined Obama did is simply sick. They need to be called out and condemned because they are worse than hypocrites because their already tiny moral centers have shriveled up and their hearts have calcified into the hardest stone.

The fact that Tony Perkins who is one of the most extreme proponents of this hypocrisy said that Trump “gets a Mulligan”  for his dalliance with the relatively well know porn star Stormy Daniels. The fact that Trump’s lawyers paid her off with $130,000 as he began his campaign for President seems also to be a Mulligan. Honestly I can’t imagine what he would say if there was an allegation that Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton had been accused of the same thing.

As for the President I never expected anything better from him, and maybe he is deserving of the grace and mercy of God because he is a paranoid, narcissistic, Sociopath who no capacity for self-reflection or anything else related to the care of his own soul. But as to these supposed “men of God” who support the establishment of laws that benefit them and punish people that they believe to be infidels or unbelievers while excusing the  I have nothing but contempt. To see them crowing about how their supposed “religious liberty” trumps anyone else’s civil rights under the Constitution makes me want to vomit.

These are the same people who condoned or supported the heinous “imprecatory prayers” unleashed against President Obama in which they prayed for his death while subjecting him to a Jihad that the Taliban or the Iranian Imams would have been hard pressed to match.

I am a huge proponent of Religious Freedom as the Founders intended it to be, but these modern and supposedly “Conservative” Christians don’t believe in what the Founders believed, because they are Theocrats of the same kind that our Founders fled when they came to the American colonies. These men would have found the Spanish Inquisition leaders as true brothers in Christ. They would have cheered the killings of anyone deemed to be a heretic and the total destruction of the towns or cities that they lived in. The Virginia Baptist John Leland and their other American religious freedom proponents.

Leland noted:

“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.”

Imagine that. The man who is probably the most responsible for making sure that James Madison crafted the Bill of Rights and in particular the First Amendment would have died before agreeing to what the men and women who claim to be his theological descendent propose today.

I am actually sick of the religious liberty hyperbole of these damned Theocrats, all of them. I find that I agree with the argument of Alan Shore (James Spader) in Boston Legal when he said:

“I don’t know about you but I’m getting a little tired of the religious freedom thing. When did religion get such a good name anyway. Be it the Crusades, the reformation genocides, the troubles in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, mass slaughters in the name of Allah, the obligatory reciprocal retributions. Hundreds of millions have died in religious conflicts. Hitler did his business in the name of his creator. Religious extremism, it’s our greatest threat today, a holy jihad. If we’re not ready to strip religion of its sacred cow status, how about we at least scale back on the Constitutional dogma exalting it as all get out….

Everyone should get to believe in his God, pray to his God, worship his God of course. But to impose him on others, to victimize others in his name?  The founding fathers set out to prevent persecution, not license it…

At a certain point we have to say “enough with this freedom of religion crap. Yuck, yuck, yuck. I know, I’ll get letters….” 

I totally agree with the words of Alan Shore, enough of this politically driven “freedom of religion crap.”

Likewise I agree with Leland, this theocratic crap that Perkins and the rest of these assholes spew should be “exploded forever.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Basketball Court Update: An Activist is Born 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

What an exciting day to be alive and to do something that matters for kids. I have written a couple of times about what is going on in my neighborhood regarding getting the kids of our neighborhood a safe place to play. Since I have shared some of the background in those articles I’ll just tell you about the special meeting of our neighborhood association board of directors which was called to discuss the issue. 

Bottom line up front the board is now looking at ways to keep the courts open and plan for an eventful multi-use facility to replace the current tennis courts. The tennis courts are seldom used and the placement of temporary basketball hoops has resulted in a number of good things, although there are some problems which can be worked out. The really good thing is that the kids now have a safe place to play and don’t have to play in the streets since our parks are mostly covered with very nice lakes. In a number of surveys residents have voted by over a two to one margin to keep the courts. 

That being said, a couple of white ladies, including the lady that got me energized about this by coming to my do to complain and enlist me to help get the courts shut down got the first words in. They were negative and one told such a bold faced lie how two blocks away she could hear the kids cursing over her television that most people were shocked. The lady who complained to me went on her usual way to complain about the kids, but other than them most people were supportive and offered suggestions to the board that were generally well received. 

I got to speak to and I have to say that I was persuasive, witty, and even entertaining; and I’m sure that I offended those ladies and maybe a couple of other self-righteous would be dictators. But as Thomas Paine said: “He who dares not offend cannot be honest.” 

So I opened my comments somewhat irreverently, with  with the phrase “May it please the court.” I then introduced myself and noted how long we had lived in the neighborhood and noted that despite the fact that I was a Navy Chaplain with 36 years of military service that I was quite the liberal social justice activist. I then recounted how when I was in Iraq Judy had approached the board about basketball courts and was told by a board member “we have to keep undesirable elements out.”  That brought a gasp from some people and some a number of people nodded their approval. What the people back then said was that they didn’t want Black  kids playing there in so many words even though those are our neighborhood kids. I was able to point out the racism without even saying that word. 

So I continued and pointed pointed out that I wouldn’t have known about the controversy if the older lady hadn’t come to my door to complain about the kids, and pointed her out. That shook her up, she didn’t expect to get called out in public. Later the old bat tried to shut me down by saying “did you say I harassed you?” So I turned and addressed her for a quick moment, and said “yes you did and I won’t have any of it.”  At that the board President told me that I was not to address her but the board members per the rules of order. SoI replied “I do apologize, may it please the court, I was addressing you until she interrupted me so it’s only fair that I be allowed to tell her to shut up.” The board President allowed me to continue and I my words were surprisingly well received by at least half of the board and probably three quarters of the people in the room. 

My only regret is that I didn’t have Judy video my speech, which was longer, more eloquent, and funnier than the others, especially with my satire and ability to respond in the moment with my rapier wit, to the board, the audience, and the old bat. Likewise I didn’t have to threaten to go to the media, the city, or anything, I just spoke the truth and it wa quite the show. The kids and their parents loved it, some people even clapped when I sat down. I am so happy that we often binge watch our collection of all five seasons of Boston Legal. I have to say that I learned a lot from James Spader’s portrayal of attorney Alan Shore. 

The board voted down two motions to shut down the courts and has decided to come back to the issue and study how best to move forward. I volunteered to help out with the kids at closing time and will get a key from the manager tomorrow, heck, I may even get my own basketball to shoot some hoops and get to know them better. 

Over all it was a very nice first outing as a budding community social activist. As one of my friends told me a couple of weeks ago, this might be part of my post-Navy calling. I could see that and I am sure that social activism will be a big part of my life. 

So anyway, I have a couple of draft articles that I am working on and you’ll see those soon. One is about Robert E. Lee, of whose statues there has been so much controversy lately, and another dealing with how I think to best handle the statues. I’m going to hold that last one for a few days to let some of what happened in Charlottesville and other places calm down a bit so it can be read without all the current raw emotions of almost everyone including me overwhelming the message. I have some other articles that I will be producing as well on other hopefully less controversial topics. 

So anyway, until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The One Truly Essential Wall: Separation of Church and State

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I don’t know about you but I am sick and tired of people, no matter what their religious belief in this country who use the Constitutionally protections extended to religious freedom in manners that the founders of our country never would have imagined. The fact that those basic religious freedoms are not in danger in any way is irrelevant to true believers.  In their insecurity such people need to create new laws specifically crafted to allow them to discriminate against others based on their religious beliefs.

Sadly, and I say this as a Christian, the vast majority of people doing this are people that claim to be Christians and in a few weeks they will have the chance to use not only state and local governments to do their bidding but the Federal Government and quite possibly the Supreme Court. It is a situation that those who founded our country fought against, and even addressed the matter in the Constitution and in their correspondence.

Thomas Jefferson was first among these men. In his wonderful letter to the Virginia Baptist Association in 1808, in a letter the echoed his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of of 1802 in which he referred that the legislature in enacting the dual provisions of religious liberty in the Constitution had built up “a wall of separation between Church and State” noted:

“Because religious belief, or non belief, is such an important part of every person’s life, freedom of religion affects every individual. Religious institutions that use government power to support themselves and force their views of other faiths, or no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Morever, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption in religion itself. Erecting the “wall of separation between church and state,” therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.” 

You see my friends, Jefferson and the other courageous men who so carefully crafted this wall of separation had real experience with the abuses by church-state and the incestuous clergy who used state power to prop up themselves and their churches and to persecution those that refused to submit to their control. Likewise there were religious groups in the recently independent former colonies like the Baptists who in Virginia and other states, as well as the Quakers in Massachusetts who were victims of such persecution, and they were determined not to let it happen here through the marriage of church and state.

In fact Jefferson was absolutely convinced that no specific God or religion be established: not only in the Constitution of the United States, but in his own home state, the Commonwealth of Virginia. There Jefferson authored the Virginia a religious liberty bill which was passed, but which met with considerable opposition from faithful Christians. Reflecting on that legislation Jefferson wrote this in 1821:

“[When] the [Virginia] bill for the establishment of religious freedom…was finally passed,…a singular proposition proved that it’s protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.” The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend within the mantle of its protection the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahamoten, the Hindoo and the infidel of every denomination.”

Sadly, Jefferson’s words are twisted, rejected and even despised by the authors of the Religious Liberty Restoration Acts being enacted in state houses around the country.  President-Elect Trump, whose actual understanding of Constitutional liberties is minimal, has promised to sign into law a bill called First Amendment Defense Act. Not only are the state legislatures enacting laws meant only to provide Christians the  protection and the police power of the state to discriminate against any person, or group based on religious belief, something that so so-called First Amendment Defense Act will do at the Federal level. I believe that he will sign it based on the preachers he has speaking or praying at his inaugural, all of who are proponents of enhancing the rights of Christians to discriminate based solely on their religious beliefs, and to limit the civil rights of those they oppose. Call it theocracy, something better suited to Tehran or Riyahd than the United States.

Our founders, especially Jefferson and Madison who have found that incomprehensible, but then they would certainly not be surprised because they had seen it and lived under it during the English Administration of the colonies. They also understood human nature very well.

Thus I think that we should applaud Thomas Jefferson and like Christopher Hitchens exclaim “Mr. Jefferson. BUILD UP THAT WALL!” 

However that wall is being torn down by the descendants of Christians who longed to be free from the coercion and evil wrought by the marriage of church and state, a marriage which Jefferson so wisely noted harmed the church as much as the state.

I have spent the better part of my adult life as a military chaplain defending and protecting the rights of others to their free exercise of religion on whether or not I agreed with them. I held and still hold that to be a sacred duty of my commission and office. I can also state that even most people who did not agree with regarding my beliefs respected me and still consult me because first they knew that I cared about them and secondly that they knew that I would do all within my power to protect their freedom the exercise their religion, or to have no religion and not to be penalized for it.

But that being said I have found that I am increasingly isolated by the fervent religionists who have highjacked the understanding of religious freedom to mean theirs and only theirs and who use the battering ram of the legislature to destroy Mr. Jefferson’s “Wall.” Sadly they are to blind to see that their actions are a two-edged sword which once precedence has been established can be turned on them with a vengeance. I and other chaplains who come from more moderate or liberal traditions that have long embraced both the Social Gospel, the Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, and LGBTQ Rights movements have been long shunned by many of our conservative or fundamentalist colleagues. I have no doubt that in the coming administration that this will become more common and that we may find ourselves punished for speaking our beliefs. Old guys like me will probably be okay and just retire, but but the young progressive chaplains will have a difficult time.

One of my favorite television series of all times is Boston Legal. My favorite character in the show is the lawyer played by James Spader, one Alan Shore. In the episode Whose God is it Anyway  Spader’s character is defending a friend form charges or religious discrimination in the workplace, and his character, Alan Shore delivers this remarkable closing, which because of the unrelenting actions of many of my Christian Brothers and Sisters in putting their rights and privileges as Christians over those of other citizens. That my friends is profoundly dangerous.

By doing so they through their intense hubris not only harm others as they attempt to control them by the police power of the state but damage their own credibility and the religious liberty of Americans yet to be born. It is no wonder that this generation of American Christianity is shedding members at a rate never seen in this country before, and driving those who they might want to bring to faith away. But I digress…

There is a bit of dialogue in that episode of Boston Legal that I wish I had thought of and said years ago. I am certain that if  Jefferson, Madison and so many of our founders would agree with if they had lived to see the depths of dishonesty of Christian individuals, businesses and legislatures have sunk in their abuse of others through their unremitting pursuit of their religious freedom. That is not just at home where they enact laws allowing them to discriminate, but through their apocalyptic machinations to bring the world to war killing billions of people just so Jesus will come back. Though they would deny it, their ultimate goals, albeit in the name of a different  God, are little different than that the Islamic State, Al Qaida, the Iranian Mullahs or Hezbollah. That my friends should scare the living shit out of any rational person.

So here is that closing:

“I don’t know about you but I’m getting a little tired of the religious freedom thing. When did religion get such a good name anyway. Be it the Crusades, the reformation genocides, the troubles in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, mass slaughters in the name of Allah, the obligatory reciprocal retributions. Hundreds of millions have died in religious conflicts. Hitler did his business in the name of his creator. Religious extremism, it’s our greatest threat today, a holy jihad. If we’re not ready to strip religion of its sacred cow status, how about we at least scale back on the Constitutional dogma exalting it as all get out….

Everyone should get to believe in his God, pray to his God, worship his God of course. But to impose him on others, to victimize others in his name?  The founding fathers set out to prevent persecution, not license it…

At a certain point we have to say “enough with this freedom of religion crap. Yuck, yuck, yuck. I know, I’ll get letters….” 

To that I can only say “Amen!”

So with that I bid you a good day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, ethics, faith, History, laws and legislation, Political Commentary, Religion

Liberty Lies in Our Hearts: Kim Davis & Civil Rights

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Just a short post today, and I do mean that. Yesterday, I promised a short article and a Facebook friend, a lawyer said, “That was short?” I replied that it was like an “Alan Shore closing.” For those who have not seen Boston Leal and watched James Spader play that character you really need to do so; but I digress…

In Boston Legal Alan Shore once quoted Learned Hand, a Federal Judge and judicial philosopher. He said, “Liberty lies in our hearts, and once it dies there, no constitution can save it.”

In light of my last few articles where I waded into the morass of the case of Kim Davis, the Recalcitrant County Clerk of Rowan County Kentucky, who was stupid enough to trust her money grubbing, politically motivated lawyers from Liberty Counsel and is now sitting in jail on contempt of court charges; I need to clarify a couple of things.

First, I feel bad that Mrs. Davis is being used as a pawn and sitting in jail while her lawyers collect all kinds of donations to support their next cause; and that as soon as they can they will jettison her. That is a fact, because these supposedly Christian legal groups are known for this. They take a case, promise the moon, usually lose and they abandon the person they represent after they have milked the case for every penny they can get. Sadly, other than their fifteen minutes of fame most of the clients get nothing for their efforts. Mrs. Davis is paying the price for that. She is going to be in jail at least a week while her lawyers try to appeal something that there is no precedent to appeal and which has not hope of succeeding. During the time they will make still more money. The truth is to get out of jail Mrs. Davis can find a way to do her job without violating her conscience, or she can resign and allow another to do it. However, when you, like Mrs. Davis, occupy an elected office that pays $80,000 a year in a county where the per capita income is well under $20,000; an office that your mother held for 37 years prior to you taking it less than a year ago; that can be tough.

Second, I cherish the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and my philosophy of life, professional and private is guided by the premise found in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men….”

That my friends is the essence of civil rights, and for that matter the foundation to protect religious rights of all people as well. Those rights are for all, not just Christians; and it is incumbent on elected and appointed officials of the government to follow the law in order to secure those rights for their fellow citizens. If they cannot they should not hold office. People can believe whatever they want. They can believe in any God, they can believe in any secular philosophy, they can hold any political ideology, they can believe that those who do not believe like them are going to hell or whatever; but when they swear to uphold the laws of the land in a public office where they are required to secure the freedom of others by serving them in accordance with the law; they have to either find a way to reconcile their personal beliefs or resign their office.

In fact I have for over 32 years as a commissioned officer in the United States military have had to do that. If by some chance this lands me in someone’s hell, or if indeed God is that petty, vindictive and capricious as to send me to hell for following the law of the land; then I will deal with that during my eternal vacation on the Lake of Fire. But I will not allow fear of what might happen to me in eternity to interfere with safeguarding the rights of the people in my care. My God is certainly big enough, loving enough, and gracious enough to deal with that; otherwise there would not be explicit commands in the Bible to obey the government.

A final thought and clarification on the rules for commenting on this site:

I welcome comments, especially from people who do not agree with me. I get many comments on my articles from different people and welcome comments, especially from people who do not agree with me. As long as they stay on point and are civil I enjoy them.

I have one man who frequently disagrees with me on my views of the Civil War, Reconstruction and Civil Rights. He is an honest man and pretty intelligent. He keeps his comments in line with the subject of the articles in question. He does not venture into tangents that have little to do with the articles in question. Likewise, even when he strongly disagrees he is polite and respectful. We do not agree on much, but I think that we could be friends and I welcome those kinds of comments.

Then I have other commentators. Sadly, most of these people are conservative Christians. These people seldom deal with the article itself, but decide use this site as their forum to promote or defend their denomination or their theology; most of the time in the most crude, ignorant and condescending manner possible.

As of today, I will not allow the comments of people who do not stay on point with the article, attempt to hijack this site as their forum; or who treat me with contempt. As of today I will simply disapprove those comments. If a person wants to comment they can deal with the article, if not I welcome them to start their own blog where they can spew their ignorance at will. But I will not give such people a forum ever again. I don’t have time and as much as I love bacon and pulled pork barbeque, I refuse to cast my pearls before swine.

So I am off to the Chicago and Earth Wind and Fire concert tonight. Was that short enough?

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

Mr. Jefferson BUILD UP THAT WALL! 

  
I don’t know about you but I am sick and tired of people, no matter what their religious belief in this country who use the Constitutionally protections extended to religious freedom in manners that the founders of our country never would have imagined. The fact that those basic religious freedoms are not in danger in any way is irrelevant to true believers  who in their insecurity need to create new laws specifically crafted to allow them to discriminate against others based on their supposedly sincere religious beliefs. Sadly, and I say this as a Christian, the vast majority of people doing this are people that claim to be Christians. 

Thomas Jefferson in his wonderful letter to the Virginia Baptist Association in 1808, in a letter the echoed his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of of 1802 in which he referred that the legislature in enacting the dual provisions of religious liberty in the Constitution had built up “a wall of separation between Church and State” noted: 

“Because religious belief, or non belief, is such an important part of every person’s life, freedom of religion affects every individual. Religious institutions that use government power to support themselves and force their views of other faiths, or no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Morever, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption in religion itself. Erecting the “wall of separation between church and state,” therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.” 

You see my friends, Jeferson and the other courageous men who so carefully crafted this wall of separation had real experience with the abuses by church-state and the incestuous clergy who used state power to prop up themselves and their churches and to persecution those that refused to submit to their control. Likewise there were religious groups in the recently independent former colonies like the Baptists who in Virginia and other states, as well as the Quakers in Massachusetts who were victims of such persecution, and they were determined not to let it happen here through the marriage of church and state. 

In fact Jefferson was was convinced that no specific God or religion be established, and not only in the Constitution of the United States, but in his own home state, the Commonwealth of Virginia. There Jefferson authored the Virginia a religious liberty bill which was passed, but which met with considerable opposition from faithful Christians. Reflecting on that legislation Jefferson wrote this in 1821:

“[When] the [Virginia] bill for the establishment of religious freedom…was finally passed,…a singular proposition proved that it’s protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the holy author of our religion, an ammendment was proposed, by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.” The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof tha they meant to comprehend within the mantle of its protection the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahamoten, the Hindoo and the infidel of every denomination.”

Sadly, jefferson’s words are twisted, rejected and even despised by the authors of the Religious Liberty Resoration Acts being enacted in state houses around the country. Not only are the state legislatures enacting laws meant only to provide Christians the  protection and the police power of the state to discriminate against any person, or group based on religious belief. Our founders, especially Jefferson and Madison who have found that incomprehensible, but then they would certainly not be surprised because they had seen it and lived under it during the English Adminstration of the colonies. They also understood human nature very well. 

Thus I think that we should applaud Thomas Jefferson and like Christopher Hitchens exclaim “Mr. Jefferson. BUILD UP THAT WALL!” 

However that wall is being torn down by the descendants of Christians who longed to be free from the coercion and evil wrought by the marriage of church and state, a marriage which Jefferson so wisely noted harmed the church as much as the state. 

I have spent the better part of my adult life as a military chaplain defending and protecting the rights of others to their free exercise of reglion whether or not I agreed with them. I held and still hold that to be a sacred duty of my commission and office. I can also state that even most people who did not agree with regarding my beliefs respected me and still consult me because first they knew that I cared about them and secondly that they knew that I would do all within my power to protect their freedom the excercise their religion, or to have no religion and not to be penalized for it. 

But that being said I have found that I am increasingly isolated by the fervent relionists who have highjacked the understanding of religious freedom to mean theirs and only theirs and who use the battering ram of the legislature to destroy Mr. Jefferson’s “Wall.” Sadly they are to blind to see that their actions are a two-edged sword which once precedence has been established can be turned on them with a vengeance. 

Last night I was watching one of my favorite television series, Boston Legal. My favorite character in the show is the lawyer played by James Spader, one Alan Shore. In the episode Whose God is it Anyway  Spader’s character is defending a friend form charges or religious discrimination in the workplace, and his character, Alan Shore delivers this remarkable closing, which because of the unrelenting actions of many of my Christian Brothers and Sisters in putting their rights and privileges as Christians over those of other citizens. That my friends is profoundly dangerous. 

By doing so they through their intense hubris not only harm others as they attempt to control them by the police power of the state but damage their own credibility and the religious liberty of Americans yet to be born. It is no wonder that this generation of American Christianity is shedding members at a rate never seen in this country before, and driving those who they might want to bring to faith away. But I digress…

In that episode of Boston Legal something that I wish I had thought of and said years ago and which I am certain that if  Jefferson, Madison and so many of our founders would agree with if they had lived to see the depths of dishonesty of Christian individuals, businesses and legislatures have sunk in their abuse of others through their unremitting pursuit of their religious freedom. That is not just at home where they enact laws allowing them to discriminate, but through their apocalyptic machinations to bring the world to war killing billions of people just so Jesus will come back. Though they would deny it, their ultimate goals, albeit in the name of a different  God, are little different than that the Islamic State, Al Qaida, the Iranian Mullahs or Hezbollah. That my friends should scare the living shit out of any rational person. 

So here is that closing:

“I don’t know about you but I’m getting a little tired of the religious freedom thing. When did religion get such a good name anyway. Be it the Crusades, the reformation genocides, the troubles in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, mass slaughters in the name of Allah, the obligatory reciprocal retributions. Hundreds of millions have died in religious conflicts. Hitler did his business in the name of his creator. Religious extremism, it’s our greatest threat today, a holy jihad. If we’re not ready to strip religion of its sacred cow status, how about we at least scale back on the Constitutoional dogma exalting it as all get out….

Everyone should get to believe in his God, pray to his God, worship his God of course. But to impose him on others, to victimize others in his name?  The founding fathers set out to prevent persecution, not license it…

At a certain point we have to say “enough with this freedom of religion crap. Yuck, yuck, yuck. I know, I’ll get letters….” 

To that I can only say “Amen!” 

So with that I bid you a good day.

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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