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What Matters is Justice… A Divine Spark or a Killer Angel?

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Southern Justice by Norman Rockwell 

Friend of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past week and a half since the election I have seen many reports of attacks, violence, and harassment of people by persons that claim that the election of Donald Trump allows them to do so. Gays, Mexicans, Muslims, Women, Blacks, and people identified as being “liberal” have all been targeted, sometimes in person, sometimes by the posting of racist flyers on houses and cars, vandalism of churches, and online harassment and trolling. Sadly, these actions do not seem to be abating.

But then I think I know why. For decades those perpetrating these acts have desired to get even and take revenge on people and organizations that they fell are trampling their way of life, or in some destroying the racial and religious purity of the country, and over the years, goaded by preachers, pundits, and politicians their anger has become hatred of all who stand on the other side. Eric Hoffer wrote that “Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life.”

As such, civil rights advocates, institutions that support equality, and the minorities in question become the target of long pent up frustration, and seething hatred that has built up for years just waiting for someone to release the valves and let it flow. To the people committing these acts that person is Donald Trump. It began in the primaries where supporters demonized and destroyed any principled GOP opposition to him, and now it has been let loose, and I see no end of it despite President Elect Trump’s call to “knock it off.”

We would like to such behavior is abnormal, but it is a deeply ingrained part of our humanity. I recall the words of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, one of my heroes, in the movie Gettysburg when he quotes Hamlet to the curmudgeonly Irish soldier Buster Kilrain, “What a piece of work is man, in form and movement how express and admirable. In action how like an angel.”  Kilrain, who had to flee Ireland responded “Well, if he’s an angel, all right then. But he damn well must be a killer angel. Colonel, darling, you’re a lovely man. I see a vast great difference between us, yet I admire you, lad. You’re an idealist, praise be. The truth is, Colonel… There is no “divine spark”. There’s many a man alive no more of value than a dead dog. Believe me. When you’ve seen them hang each other the way I have back in the Old Country…. There’s many a man worse than me, and some better… But I don’t think race or country matters a damn. What matters, Colonel, is justice…”

I constantly wrestle with the tension of my idealism and my inner realist, the inner realist being much more like Kilrain. So when I see the way people are venting their anger at their enemies, seemingly bent on revenge for grievances real and imagined I tremble. I know history and human nature too well, and the one constant in history is humanity which seems to be forever at war between its amazing and almost angelic qualities of goodness and compassion and its blind hatreds of things it fears.

In the past election campaign we saw people on every side of the spectrum demonizing and dehumanizing their opponents, and despite my best efforts not to give in to that, I too was guilty of at times doing just that and I am not proud, it is one thing to passionately advocate and defend, but it is not okay to dehumanize your opponents. As I wrote last night I have had to come to grips with that, and begin to try to help heal the wounds in our country by reaching out to specific people who I came into conflict with and with whom I must attempt to ask forgiveness for my actions, will at the same time attempting to forgive those who also wounded me. As I wrote yesterday, the latter will be much more difficult.

However, those feelings are still high on both sides of the political chasm and will not go away for some time, but one side now is taking control of all the levers of government, for good, or for bad, what happens next we do not know, we can only speculate and we have to ponder the question; in such an environment where long seated hatred and revenge seems to be such a big factor, can justice survive?

Donald Trump has done something that no single American politician has ever accomplished; he has single-handedly created a mass movement of people whose loyalty is to him and not the political party that he used to gain the Presidency. Some are comparing him to President Andrew Jackson but I don’t know if that is a good comparison, but I digress as I am thinking not so much about President Elect Trump as I am thinking about the mass movement that he has created, and what I have seen, read, and experienced at the hands of some of those people.

American philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote of people who become subsumed in mass movements:

“There is also this: when we renounce the self and become part of a compact whole, we not only renounce personal advantage but are also rid of personal responsibility. There is no telling to what extremes of cruelty and ruthlessness a man will go when he is freed from the fears, hesitations, doubts and the vague stirrings of decency that go with individual judgment. When we lose our individual independence in the corporateness of a mass movement, we find a new freedom—freedom to hate, bully, lie, torture, murder and betray without shame and remorse.

I believe that we are beginning to see how that will play out. I could be wrong, President Elect Trump may take a hard line against those who commit violence, but his pick of Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General bodes ill for civil rights and based on his record and statements regarding them. He has called civil rights proponents “un-American” and in the 1980s he was rejected for the Federal Judiciary based on numerous racist statements and positions. Now he will be in charge of the Department of Justice and the Federal judiciary. So I think one can legitimately be concerned about justice and civil rights. Will Sessions enforce the law, or will he turn his back by not prosecuting those who use intimidation and violence to crush the civil and human rights of people who they despise? Will Steve Bannon, a man who just this summer claimed that his media corporation was a platform for the “Alt-Right,” exercise his influence as chief counselor and strategist to the President to push for even more radical steps against political opponents?

One hopes that our better angels prevail, or will we as a people demonstrate that there is no divine spark?

So with those questions asked I will leave you for the day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Things that We Do: Killer Angels and Hew-Mons : The Part of Humanity we Don’t Like to Talk About

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“Let me tell you something about Hew-mons, Nephew. They’re a wonderful, friendly people, as long as their bellies are full and their holosuites are working. But take away their creature comforts, deprive them of food, sleep, sonic showers, put their lives in jeopardy over an extended period of time and those same friendly, intelligent, wonderful people… will become as nasty and as violent as the most bloodthirsty Klingon. You don’t believe me? Look at those faces. Look in their eyes.” Quark to Nog Deep Space Nine- The Siege of AR-558 

We human beings, regardless of our race, religion or political ideology are a complex lot.

On one hand we can exhibit the utmost kindness, compassion, care and charity and on the other hand we can bless, endorse, encourage. condone and execute the most cruel,  hateful, violent and “inhuman” acts against our fellow human beings. We are quite a contradictory lot if you ask me.

It really is a most interesting and at times contradictory phenomena when you look at it. Of course, I like to believe, as to most of us I am quite sure like to think that we have either been created by God or evolved into a species that rises above the baser parts of life, the things that we like to say were done in years past but are no longer a part of who we are as human beings.

The same can be said for those of us that consider ourselves to be Christians. We look back on nearly 2000 years of Christendom and well, it is not a pretty sight. But like every other generation of Christians we like to think that we are better, perhaps more spiritual, better educated, better interpreters of the Bible or even perhaps better in tune with the Holy Spirit of God than were those before us.

Of course those of us that think that we are so advanced that we have evolved past violence, cruelty, hatred and avarice, be we Christians or not tend to gloss over the fact that we are human, or as Quark calls us “Hew-mons.” As such we are capable of the most extreme acts of kindness, love and benevolence as well as the utmost in cruelty.

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Of course when I say “we” I do include “me” because I am like about everyone else, I have my good days and bad and as much as I would like to think that I am better than my baser instincts something happens and I find that I am not. That much is evident any time I get out into traffic or go to Wal-Mart. It is a good thing that I do not display any Christian symbols on either of my cars, I don’t want God getting blamed for my lack of Christian behavior, and frankly I wish more Christians would do the same. I have lost count of the number of vehicles adorned with Christian symbols, bumper stickers and personalized plates that have ignored all the basic courtesies, rules of the road and polite behavior and who are frankly rude assholes that probably shouldn’t be allowed to drive that make me wish that they would keep their faith in Jesus to themselves, it makes Jesus look bad. But I digress… but just a moment, why do so many of these people drive mini-vans? At least I seem to end up behind them or get cut off by them. Maybe the mini-van is an invention of the Devil? You won’t get me behind the wheel of one.

No wonder that Paul the Apostle laments in the 7th Chapter of the Epistle to the Romans “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”  Martin Luther, the great leader of the Reformation commented on this passage “This tension lasts in us as long as we live; though in one person it is greater, in another less, according as the spirit or the flesh, and he fights with himself until he becomes wholly spiritual.” It is one of the most honest commentaries on scripture even written no wonder we don’t like it.

I don’t know about you but this does make me think, take inventory of my own strengths, weaknesses, virtues and vices. The fact is that in any given situation Quark’s description of Hew-mons in general is very applicable to me.

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In Michael Shaara’s novel The Killer Angels and the film Gettysburg there is a remarkable exchange between Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, Colonel of he 20th Maine and Professor of Natural and Revealed Religions at Bowdin College and Sergeant Buster Kilrain, an exile from Ireland fighting for the Union.

Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain: [quoting Hamlet] “What a piece of work is man, in form and movement how express and admirable. In action how like an angel.”

Sergeant ‘Buster’ Kilrain: “Well, if he’s an angel, all right then. But he damn well must be a killer angel.” 

In light of all that we see every day as human beings we must find it in our hearts to agree with Kilrain. We are such a contradictory species. As Spock would say “fascinating.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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