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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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Calling Out the Spiritual Arsonists of Trump’s Imperial Clergy Cult

Pastor Ed Young Calling Democrats a Godless Religion

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Pardon the interruption last night, I was working on an article but about halfway through got a bit of writer’s block. I started well but ended up not knowing where I wanted to go with it, so instead I sat back and proceeded to read. That is not a bad thing. But tonight I do have something that I want to get off my chest.

Over the past couple of days I have experienced something rather disconcerting. A couple of people that I know from long ago but haven’t seen in years come out of left field and take me to task for pointing out the evils of racism, and anti-semitism that have become all too common since Donald Trump came down out of Trump Tower to announce his candidacy for President of the United States, and the Messiah of the Christian Right.

I won’t go into detail but the comments hit me wrong because both took aim at me for being a Chaplain and Priest who opposes racism and anti-semitism. One was definitely ideologically driven and quite nasty, while the other was more based on the person’s theology. One seemed to be denying that the environment created by Trump was feeding both, while the other admitted that people, especially elected officials who espouse racism are stupid.

Shortly following that exchange I saw an article in the Fort Worth Star Telegram that discussed comments made by former Southern Baptist Convention President, Pastor Ed Young of Houston’s massive Fifth Baptist Church, that: God would curse the United States because of the “Godless Democrats” who were elected in the mid-term elections. In fact, Young called the Democrats “a Godless religion and not a political party.”

Honestly, I don’t believe that either the Republicans or Democrats have a lock on Godliness or truth. This isn’t an argument for a moral equivalence between the parties, but neither can honestly claim to represent God.

Likewise, I don’t believe that the United States is, ever has been, or was established as a Christian nation. Such a proposition would have been abhorrent to Washington, Jefferson, Madison, John Adams, or even Abraham Lincoln. In fact one cannot find In fact like the great Virginia Baptist and champion of the religious liberties of the First Amendment, John Leland, I believe:

“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.”

But Ed Young, Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, Robert Jeffress, and a host of other politically calculating and corrupt Christian preachers not only promote the lie that the United States is somehow a Christian nation; they effectively believe non-Christians of any stripe are less than equal and should be subject to their often heretical notions of Christian doctrine and morality.

Gary North, a man who is not well recognized by most people has been one of the most influential members of the Christian Right’s political theorists. North, who has been a close adviser to Ron and Rand Paul, as well as many other GOP leaders 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.”

That might have been the case of the State Churches of Europe from which our founders fled, and it is the curse that the Emperor Constantine bequeathed the Church. This was noted by the great Southern Baptist pastor, and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President, George Truett:

“Constantine, the Emperor, saw something in the religion of Christ’s people which awakened his interest, and now we see him uniting religion to the state and marching up the marble steps of the Emperor’s palace, with the church robed in purple. Thus and there was begun the most baneful misalliance that ever fettered and cursed a suffering world…. When … Constantine crowned the union of church and state, the church was stamped with the spirit of the Caesars…. The long blighting record of the medieval ages is simply the working out of that idea.”

The denominational descendants of Leland and Truett have much more in common with Constantine’s clerics, and the medieval concept of the Divine Right of Kings, than they do the tradition of religious liberty advanced by our Enlightenment informed founders. They are creatures of the Dark Ages and intent on establishing their own theocracy, while anointing a man who mocks the Christian faith and shows no evidence of being a Christian as their leader.

Nothing Trump does shakes their faith in him, in fact he seems to embolden their longings and actions to establish a theocracy. The defeat of many of their allies in Congress has frightened them, thus the histrionics of Young and others. It plays into their culture of perpetual victimhood and apocalyptic vision of this world. That is why they campaign so hard for him and are shocked when he is rebuked by the electorate.

But these religious leaders are seldom held to account by conservative Christians, instead they vent their ire on those sounding the alarm rather than the arsonists who are trying to burn down the American experiment in liberty.

Leland wrote:

“Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear–maintain the principles that he believes–worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death, let him be encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more? A liberal man asks for nothing more of government.”

That is what I believe, but now we have entered a perilous time when Trump’s Christian supporters are voicing their support for policies that allow them to discriminate against others solely because of their religious beliefs, and less freedom for those who do not. Unfortunately, Trump and his administration are implementing policies on a daily basis that do discriminate based on religion. He knows that by tossing these crumbs to conservative Christians that they will excuse every one of his unethical, and authoritarian policies. Candidate Trump was right about them:

“You know what else they say about my people? The polls, they say I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s like incredible.” 

The President has encouraged violence against opponents, called journalists and others enemies of the people, and stoked the fires of racism and anti-semitism by refusing to categorically condemn Nazis and White Supremacists. Instead he does all that he can to embolden them. In the wake of the mid-terms more and more of these heavily armed and militant groups are threatening violence against those who oppose the President.

Thus I have to make a stand, and it has already cost me. A parishioner at my chapel tried to have me tried by Court Martial last summer for opposing Trump policies based on scripture and the Christian tradition. I will not back down.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”

Likewise, I won’t stop sounding the alarm when I see Trump’s Christian cult arsonists trying to burn the foundation of the country to the ground.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“Are We Still of Any Use?” The Horrible Witness of Conservative Christians in the Trump Era

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over his first year in office President Trump has managed to tell over 2,000 lies. That being said we all expect politicians to lie, it’s part of American life and political discourse. Will Rogers once said “If you ever injected truth into politics you have no politics.” I think that the expectation that elected officials will lie is one reason that Mark Twain quipped: “An honest man in politics shines more there than he would elsewhere.”

However the shear numbers of lies and falsehood proclaimed by the President is having a toxic effect on our society, in particular on those in the church, men and women who call themselves by the name of Christ who not only believe them, but repeat them, and defend them.  The fact is that for decades these same Christian leaders and people have proclaimed their allegiance to what they call “moral absolutes” and  “Biblical values”while excoriating Democrats, particularly Bill and Hillary Clinton for their lies. The fact is that by doing this Christians simply become another political interest group hustling politicians for favors that benefit them, even at the expense of the credibility of their witness to Christ.

The constant repetition the President’s well documented lies, and their defense by his preacher’s daughter Press Secretary, his other administration flacks, Congressional supporters, the Fox News media empire, and the big name Evangelical Preachers who have sold their souls in his defense have damaged the soul of the country and yes the Church.

Of course one would expect the President’s opponents to point out his lies but in normal times you wouldn’t expect his conservative religious supporters to go to the mat defending him and his lies, and even calling him a “role model” for young people.  In a recent survey some 70% of his predominantly Christian, Republican supporters say that he is and that my friends is, if you value the long term witness of the Christian Church absolutely devastating, especially since for over a decade young people have been fleeing the church in never before seen numbers while unbelievers, even those that admire Christ and what some would call Christian values want nothing to do with the Church.

The fact is that the repetition of lies and falsehoods, whether you are a Trump supporter or opponent there is a not a good thing either for the Church or for the country. It has a terrible effect, and one only has to look to the countries of Europe to see how Christian support for malevolent leaders has reduced it to irrelevance. Whether it be the support of ethnic and religious persecution, or the participation in and protection of sexual predators masquerading and Bishops, Priests, and Nuns has eviscerated the witness of the Church.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood this and asked a question that should be asked by people that call themselves by the name of Christ who at the same time defend the indefensible and not only defend, but take great pleasure in defending the lies of the President. Bonhoeffer observed the same dynamic in his day. He wrote:

“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretense; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, and straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?”

Please believe me when I say that I am not being an alarmist about this situation. I know too much about history, human nature, and yes the Church not to see the danger.

But that’s part of the problem. The lies and actions of the President and his administration have been cumulative; what was shocking on day one became normalized over the course of the past year. The effect is both numbing and corrosive: first on the President’s defenders who surrender all pretext of moral or religious authority, and on his opponents who gradually are worn down by the barrage of lies and the fact that they are also the minority party, or if the are Republicans, the minority in the President’s party.

Since President Trump first announced his candidacy for President in 2015 I have been sounding a warning about the President. I have lost friends and been ostracized or attacked by others for doing so, despite the fact that until my return from Iraq in 2008 I had been both a politically active Conservative Christian and Republican for over thirty years. That being said regardless of the cost I would rather follow my conscience than surrender it to the cacophony of lies and acceptance of evil by people who were once friends.

I do not consider myself to be a victim of my former friends. In fact I understand how they got to this point. In fact what has happened with them did not begin with the lies of President Trump. For decades, they, like I did until 2008, bought the repeated lies of the politicians, pundits, and preachers of the American conservative movement. The leaders of this movement coopted them by constantly repeating that they were under attack and needed to take control of the government in order to both defend the faith and implement a Christian government.  Whole theologies were built around this and gradually many, if not most conservative and Evangelical Christians accepted the idea that Christians had to “take dominion”over the country regardless of the cost. The leaders of the so-called “Christian Right” including Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Albert Mohler, Robert Jeffress, and far too many others have sacrificed every bit of their integrity in defending the President and excusing his lies to further their own power.

Truthfully, I understand how they got there. If I hadn’t gone to Iraq, seen what I saw there, realized the lies that went into the propagation of the war and the lies of Christians who demonized all Muslims because of some after the attacks of September 11th 2001, I would probably still be one of them. For me it took war to understand the moral and theological bankruptcy the politics and theology of the Christian Right, of which over 80% voted for the President and over 75% still support him.

Bonhoeffer asked the right question in terms of Christians and their support of morally bankrupt regimes. Are we still of any use?

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Live Big and Keep Writing

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

My literary agent is working with a number of publishers regarding my first book Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: Race, Religion, Ideology, and Politics in the Civil War Era, and I am doing some work on the manuscript after I asked him if he thought it was okay. So I am doing that.

Honestly when I started the manuscript which began as one of my introductory chapters of my Gettysburg Staff Ride text I could never have imagined that the subjects that I had addressed in it would have become such a prominent part of our political landscape. Really, in 2014I could not imagine that the Republican Party would have become the vehicle for a White Supremacist ideologue like Steve Bannon and a slave to a man like Donald Trump. While I thought that the so called Christian Right and the Seven Mountains or Dominionist Christians were a travesty to both Evangelical Christianity and the Constitution I could have never imagined that they would align themselves with a movement that no responsible Christian, or for that matter Republican (which I was for 32 years) would have ever supported.

So I am working my way back through my text, updating and editing it. That is not a bad thing. Since it has been about six months since I last touched the text I find that while I want to make edits, additions, and changes, that it is a pretty good product. Hopefully one of those publishers that my agent is working with will agree and it will be on the road to publication. Because of the subject I hope that it might even get a mention on things like Oprah’s Book Club. Honestly if that happened

I wouldn’t mind being on the New York Times Bestseller list. As Denny Crane said: “Live big.”

What really strikes me is that as I read through the text is that I haven’t finished learning and as I scrub it I find myself drawn to other books, articles, and original documents that I have read or studied at one time or another which add to what I had previously written. That is humbling to me because I realize just how much is still out there that could be including or could help improve what I had already written. Since I can neither stop reading or writing this is my conundrum, knowing when to stop. That being said I realized when I sent my initial draft of this to my agent that it was probably at best a 70% solution. Now that I am working on it again it pleases me that what I have already written is not a waste and in fact is still relevant to modern life and politics.

SomI am going to continue to both live big and write with the intention of being big. Who knows, a couple of best seller books might help me if I ever need to escape Trump and the Christian Right’s America.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Trumped: The End of the GOP as We Knew It


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I have just a few quick thoughts on the end of the GOP’s #NeverTrump campaign. 

It came as I thought with the crushing defeat that the Donald dealt Ted Cruz and John Kasich in Indiana last night. Now I really expected one or both to stay in the campaign to try and deny Trump a first ballot nomination in Cleveland, but the campaign to stop Trump seemed to end today when Ohio Governor John Kasich ended his campaign.

It started last night when “God’s Annointed One” for the Presidency, Ted Cruz ended his campaign to establish a theocratic state based on the theology of Christian Dominionism. Though he tried to cast himself as a successor to Ronald Reagan’s conservative mantle in the #NeverTrump movement, that was nothing more than a charade, Reagan would have never considered Cruz a real conservative, nor would have Barry Goldwater, the true ideological father of the now dead modern conservative movement. In fact Goldwater detested and distrusted the Christian Right. The end of Cruz’s campaign was also the death kneel of the Christian Right which expected that one of its own, Cruz, Huckabee, or Ben Carson, would be the GOP nominee this year. It is funny, back in October or November Teddy of last year was one of the favorites to win the nomination while Trump was considered a long shot outsider at best. 

However, the problem for Cruz and the other candidates of the Christian Right was threefold. First the influence of the Christian Right is declining. It’s leaders are old and increasingly ignored inside and outside the GOP, with the exception of people like Cruz. The polling numbers on this are incontrovertible, and the fact is that the incredibly partisan and hardline policies of leaders of the Christian Right is contributing to the rapid loss of young people in churches and the growth of the demographic known as the Nones, or those with no religious preference.  Second, there were too many of them in the race, and they bled votes from Cruz in the early primaries. The third was brought on by Cruz himself, nobody, even in his party likes him. He is viewed as creepy, Nixon without the charm, and former Speaker of the House, John Boehner summed up what many people feel when he  said that Cruz was “Lucifer in the flesh.” That fact was demonstrated in the Iowa caucuses when Cruz’s campaign used dirty tricks and torpedoed the campaign of Ben Carson, making thousands of phone calls the day of the caucus to tell caucus voters to vote for Cruz since Carson had dropped out. It was a bold faced lie and it enabled him to steal a win there. 

As far as Cruz goes, and everything that he represents, I can only say good riddance, and I hope you lose your next senate race. 

What this signals for the GOP is yet to be determined, but like many others I beleive that it signals the end of the GOP as we have known it. The party leadership may attempt to unify behind him and to control him, but it will be an uncomfortable alliance, and one which Trump holds the winning cards. The GOP is broken, it ignored the advice of those who wrote the post-mortem of the 2012 defeat of Mitt Romney, and now they have been “Trumped” so to speak. Trump’s negatives are such that even if he wins the general election, which based on current polls that pit him against either Clinton or Sanders show him losing hardly, the GOP may well lose the Senate, and many seats in the House. The fact is that Trump does not give a damn what Reince Priebus and GOP leadership think, he will do what he needs to win and if he does win, he will take the credit and do as he pleases. Some influential members the GOP conservative media base are already saying that in spite of the collapse that they will not support Trump. 

At first the GOP dismissed Trump. Then they tried to marginalize him, then when it was too late attempted to stop him. At every turn Trump outmaneuver end them, appealed to the anger and frustration of GOP voters, harnessed that energy, and “Trumped” the GOP leadership at every turn. It was quite fascinating to watch, and if I wasn’t a historian and well aware of the kinds of emotions Trump is playing to I would laugh it off. 

But as I have Sid since November, Trump cannot be underestimated, and if the Democratic nominee and party underestimate him, they too may end up being Trumped. So if there are Democrats or progressive out there feeling a sense of satisfactory schadenfreude in this, don’t celebrate too soon. 

So anyway, enough for today. Have a great evening. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Straw that Stirs the Drink: The Implications of Resurgent Religion for Strategists and Policy Makers

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am being published in the most recent issue of Campaigning: The Journal of the Joint Forces Staff College. The article will be available along with the rest of the journal at the website of the college, but I am posting it here. It is an interesting topic since religion is raising its head in numerous conflicts around the world, and is a very real part of the contemporary American political climate. Note, the pictures are not included in the Campaigning issue.

I hope that you enjoy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

One can never separate war and the means by which it is fought from its political ends. There are, however, many societies whose language and religious ideology shape the leader’s political ends. To borrow the immortal words of legendary baseball slugger Reggie Jackson, religion is often “the straw that stirs the drink.” The fact that religious ideologies influence societies and international relations is not new, but after almost three centuries of decline the twenty-first century promises to begin a new age of religious influence. Samuel Huntington notes, “Western secular models of the state are being challenged and replaced”[1] in many nations as religious influence grows. The indicators of this shift, religious, cultural, and racial, are glaringly obvious in the Middle East but clearly present in Eastern Europe, Russia, the Balkans, India, Latin America, and the United States, and threaten to subvert Western secular models of the state.

According to Clausewitz, war is an extension or continuation of politics. Clausewitz, a product of classic German Liberalism, understood the term politics in light of the German concept Weltanschauung, which translates as “World View.” The term is not limited to a particular doctrine or the ideology of party politics, but it encompasses the worldview of a people or culture and includes religion. Religious leaders, as well as media outlets and politicians, use a world view to influence their populatio. In fact, the world view is often crucial in the decision by a people to go to war, their rationale for going to war, whom they war against, the means for conducting war, and the end state they envision from warring.

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Because Weltanschauung includes all elements of culture, to include race, religion, and economy, as well as sociological and historical factors; religious leaders, as well as media outlets and politicians, use it to manipulate their people. Radical proponents of religious fundamentalism around the world, who reject the pluralities of modernism and science, skillfully “use each new method of communication” [2] to spread their message of fear in a dualistic manner  to influence those most vulnerable to the threat of change.

Modern Americans and Western European policy makers tend to look at the world, and issues of politics and policy in isolation from each other, and especially in isolation from religion. Such an atomistic method ensures that many policy makers cannot see the forest for the trees. This is particularly true when religion is a motivating factor and an ideological component of conflict. Religiously based ideology is a powerful and “often intractable force that can be quite unresponsive to all the instrumentalities of state power, let alone the instrumentalities of foreign policy,” [3] and has been so from the advent of civilization to the present day. Samuel Huntington observed, “To a very large degree, the major civilizations in human history have been closely identified with the world’s great religions; and people who share ethnicity and language but differ in religion may slaughter each other….” [4]

Even among religions that claim to worship the same god beliefs may differ, and that fact underscores Colin Gray’s all important, “contexts of war.” Gray makes the case for seven essential contexts policy makers and military leaders must understand regarding war that “can have strong negative consequences,” [5] if ignored or misunderstood.

Each of the contexts is associated with the manner of social development, and define the essential characteristics of a particular armed conflict. In many areas of the world religion functions as the “central political pillar maintaining the power of [the] ruler—a major pole in determining people’s loyalty—and as a key ingredient in determining a nation’s stability or instability.” [6] Religion and religious values remain instrumental to the ethics and the social norms of a society and dictate how it deals with other nations and peoples, as well as how it conducts war.

Over the course of the last three centuries the emphasis on rational and empirical thought predisposed western strategists and policy makers to exclude religion as a component of analysis. Furthermore, the scientific methodology used by many analysts dictates that they asses individual components of issues in isolation from each other, and often without connection to their opponent’s world view. Experts dissect economic factors, military capabilities, existing political systems, diplomatic considerations, and the ways societies gather information and exhaustively examine and evaluate each individual component. But the problem comes when policymakers fail to understand how world view, ideological factors, history, and religious belief impact how a given opponent will conduct war.

ISIS-MAP

In part, policy makers tend to interpret information through their own worldview. As Gray notes, “Policy and strategy will be influenced by the cultural preferences bequeathed by a community’s unique interpretation of its history as well as by its geopolitical-geostrategic context.” [7] As such, both military and civilian policy makers fail to address the criticality of religion to developing effective strategy. Barbara Tuchman wrote, “When information is relayed to policy-makers, they respond in terms of what is already inside their heads and consequently make policy less to fit the facts than to fit the notions and intentions formed out of the mental baggage that has accumulated in their minds since childhood.” [8] A world view imposes cultural prejudices and blinders on western policy makers and strategists, that predispose them to look for shortcuts, or the most convenient explanations selected from the information they can see. Edward Luttwak wrote:

Enlightenment prejudice has remained amply manifest in the contemporary professional analysis of foreign affairs. Policymakers, diplomats, journalists, and scholars who are ready to overinterpret economic causality, who are apt to dissect social differentiations most finely, and who will minutely categorize political affiliations are still in the habit of disregarding the role of religion, religious institutions, and religious motivations in explaining politics and conflict, and even in reporting their concrete modalities. Equally the role of religious leaders, religious institutions, and religiously motivated lay figures in conflict resolution has also been disregarded – or treated as a marginal phenomenon hardly worth noting. [9]

Unbeknownst to policy makers, their prejudices, the world view blinders they wear, inhibit them from seeing how interconnected the most primal elements of the human experience are to others’ worldviews, even their own. As such, both military and civilian policy makers fail to address the criticality of religion to developing effective strategy.

Many people believed that modern ideas, “such as science, technology, secularism, and humanism would overcome the religious concept of the universe that dominated premodern society.” [10] Contemporary Western strategists and policy makers came to adulthood in a culture that supplanted the importance of religious ideas and need. A global, four-decade resurgence of religious ideals makes adaptation for strategists and planners difficult because of the dramatic shift in essential, unquestioned views. [11] Others’ worldviews, including religious beliefs, often influence the application of economic, political, diplomatic, military power, and the use and dissemination of information. That fact remains true despite the religion or sect involved, and especially in a decidedly secular, or at least outwardly non-religious, nation. Perhaps, by ignorance or a refusal to admit the importance of religious motivations in conflict, strategists and planners fail to realize the western culture arose from primal religious beliefs that informed politics, philosophy, ethics, law, economics, art, racial constructs, and science for nearly 1500 years. Perhaps, that refusal fueled a justified appall or embarrassment of the religious justifications their forbearers used to incite war that subjugated or exterminated peoples.

The United States Military made a belated attempt to address ideology, culture, and religion in terms of counter-insurgency doctrine when it published the U.S. Army/Marine Counterinsurgency Manual. The discussion of these issues is limited to two pages that specifically deal with various extreme Moslem groups that use religion as a pillar of their ideology, strategy, and operations. But the analysis in the counterinsurgency manual is limited because its focus is very general and at a tactical level. While the manual encourages leaders to attempt to understand the cultural differences it contains little to help leaders understand the importance of religion and ideology at the strategic and operational levels.

Commendably, the manual discusses how terrorist and insurgent groups use ideology, which is frequently based on religion to create a narrative. The narrative often involves a significant amount of myth presented as history, such as how Al Qaida and ISIL use the Caliphate as a religious and political ideal that for many Moslems, “produces a positive image of the golden age of Islamic civilization.” [12]

A purely intellectual understanding of how Al Qaida and ISIL use symbolism and imagery limits how strategists and planners can develop methods to counter it. Rather, strategists and planners would benefit from a historical introspection that leads to a personal reflection, aimed at understanding how the theological tools of the Christian religion subjugated peoples and the ramifications today. Protestant Christianity, particularly the Puritan concept of “a city set on a hill” undergirded the American belief in the nation’s Manifest Destiny, which in large part led to the extermination of the Native Americans, the War with Mexico, the romanticism of the ante-bellum American South, the belief that African Americans were sub-human, and that God ordained slavery. The concept persisted after the Civil War in the myth of the Lost Cause, and was exported abroad as the United States belatedly entered the race for overseas colonies.

Manife4

The concept of Manifest Destiny is still an essential element of the idea of American Exceptionalism, which often justifies much of American foreign policy. Former President George W. Bush alluded to this idea in his 2003 State of the Union Address where he said, “that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to humanity.” [13] Throughout the Bush presidency, the President’s idea that God undergirded the policy of the United States led to a mismatch of policy ends and the means to accomplish them. Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States and historian Michael Oren wrote:

Not inadvertently did Bush describe the struggle against Islamic terror as a ‘crusade to rid the world of evildoers.’ Along with this religious zeal, however, the president espoused the secular fervor of the neoconservatives…who preached the Middle East’s redemption through democracy. The merging of the sacred and the civic missions in Bush’s mind placed him firmly in the Wilsonian tradition. But the same faith that deflected Wilson from entering hostilities in the Middle East spurred Bush in favor of war. [14]

Only when policy makers and strategists understand that the use of religious ideology to conquer, subjugate, and terrorize in the name of God is universal, does it become easier to defeat those who employ it.

American Presidents often invoke the name of God to justify the compulsion to conquer, such as McKinley did when he decided to annex the Philippines in 1899 following the defeat of the Spanish. The war against the Filipinos used some of the most bloodthirsty tactics employed to fight the Filipino insurgents, who only wanted independence, and stained our own national honor. Mark Twain wrote: “There must be two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive’s new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on; then kills him to get his land. . . .” [15]

A doubtlessly sincere McKinley sought counsel from God about whether he should annex the Philippines or not. Barbara Tuchman wrote: “He went down on his knees, according to his own account, and ‘prayed to Almighty God for light and guidance’. He was accordingly guided to conclude “that there was nothing left to do for us but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos. And uplift and civilize and Christianize them, by God’s grace to do the very best we could by them, as our fellowmen for whom Christ died.” [16]

The counterinsurgency manual does mention how “Ideology provides a prism, including a vocabulary and analytical categories, through which followers perceive their situation.” [17] But again, it does this at a micro-level and the lessons are not applied at the higher levels of strategic thinking and policy. This is often due to the fact that American and other western strategists and policy makers view religion “as a set of theological issues rather than as a profoundly political influence in public life.”[18] Even after nearly a decade and a half of unremitting war against enemies for whom religion is at the center of their politics, policy makers still misread or neglect the importance of religion and religiously based ideology in the political motivations of their opponents. In many cases, the religion of a people is a stronger part of their identity than that of the state. Nations created during the post-colonial era “continue to see religion, clan, ethnicity, and other such factors as the markers of community identity” [19] Despite the advances in communications and technology and the globalization of so many western concepts, the political and religious leaders of Islamic nations view modern western political and social concepts as unwanted intrusions on their ancient cultures, and more importantly, insults to their religion.

kim davis pastor

But, lest American policy makers and strategists see this rise as something completely foreign, a similar phenomenon is occurring in the United States. Despite the fact that a growing number of Americans espouse no-religious preference and, according to multiple studies conducted over a period of two decades, are leaving organized Christianity, adherents of two highly motivated and militant branches of Christianity have grown in strength and political power over the last forty years. The group known as Christian Dominionism advocates Christian domination of all parts of society and culture, and Pre-Millennial Dispensationalists believe in the imminent return of Christ to earth, including the belief that most of the earth’s population will be killed during the Apocalypse. A Pew Research Center survey found that by the year 2050, that 41% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ will return to earth. [20] Leaders, politicians (including major conservative presidential hopefuls), pundits, and preachers often weigh in on public policy, to include military strategy, and claim that God’s law supersedes that of the state. They simultaneously reject secularism while legislating against those they deem enemies, and advocate for a “holy war” against Islam without distinction to Islam’s own divisions and distinctive denominational differences.

may appear irrational American strategists and policy makers, but it is completely rational to those who subscribe to it. The study of history, particularly how the deep roots of religion and faith shape cultural worldviews, as well as the actions of various peoples and nations, helps the policy maker and strategist adapt policy, strategy, and ultimately operational and tactical methods to the context of the conflict at hand. To do this effectively it is important that American strategists not be afraid to examine our own past to see how our ancestors used religion for good as well as for evil. However, the often dark mirror of history can be disconcerting to peer into. People tend to be uncomfortable when the face that they see in the mirror is all too similar to their current enemies, to the point that one might turn away in fear of what they see. The inability to look into the dark mirror of our own history is especially perilous when enemies are perfectly willing to wage war without end unto the destruction of the world in the name of their God, because when you belatedly look back in the mirror, failure will be staring you right in the face.

Notes

[1] Huntington, Samuel P. Who Are We? America’s Great Debate The Free Press, Simon and Schuster Europe, London 2004 p.360

[2] Jacoby, Susan. The Age of American Unreason Revised and Updated Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, New York 2008 p.18

[3] Luttwak, Edward. The Missing Dimension  in Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft  Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1994 p.13  

[4] Huntington, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order Touchstone Books, New York 1997 p.42

[5] Gray, Colin S. Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace, and Strategy Potomac Book, Dulles VA 2009 p.5

[6] Rubin, Barry Religion in International Affairs in Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft  Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1994 pp.20-21

[7] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.25

[8] Tuchman, Barbara W. Practicing History Alfred A. Knopf, New Your 1981 p.289

[9] Ibid Luttwak The Missing Dimension pp.9-10

[10] Ibid. Rubin Religion in International Affairs p.21

[11] Ibid. Rubin Religion in International Affairs p.21

[12] ___________ U.S. Army/ Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual FM 3-24 MCWP 3-33.5 15 December 2006 with and forward by General David A Petraeus and General James Amos, Konecky and Konecky, Old Saybrook CT 2007 p.26

[13] Bush, George W. State of the Union Address Washington D.C. January 28th 2003 retrieved from Presidential Rhetoric.com http://www.presidentialrhetoric.com/speeches/01.28.03.html 10 June 2015

[14] Oren, Michael Power, Faith and Fantasy: America and the Middle East 1776 to the Present W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 2007 p.584

[15] Twain, Mark To the Person Sitting in Darkness February 1901 Retrieved from The World of 1898: The Spanish American War The Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/twain.html 12 December 2014

[16] Ibid. Tuchman Practicing History p.289

[17] Ibid. U.S. Army/ Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual p.27

[18] Ibid. Rubin Religion in International Affairs in Religion p.20

[19] Ibid. Rubin Religion in International Affairs p.22

[20] Pew Research Center, U.S. Politics and Policy, http://www.people-press.org/2010/06/22/public-sees-a-future-full-of-promise-and-peril/

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All Should be Equally Free: Recognizing the Terror of the New Religious Liberty Laws

john leland

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This may seem a familiar topic for my readers, but due to events in a number of states I feel compelled to talk about it again. The issue of religious liberty and the right to free expression has once again come to the fore in the wake of the Obergfell v. Hodges ruling and the pathetically un-American passage of particularly odious, religiously based anti-LGBT laws in North Carolina, Mississippi, and Tennessee, as well as one that was vetoed by Georgia’s governor. I call these laws pathetic and un-American because they fly in the face of the ideals of the real champions of religious liberty in the United States. One of these early proponents of religious liberty and freedom in the United States was the Virginia Baptist pastor, John Leland.

Sadly, many American Christians either have never heard of him. Likewise, if they have heard of him, as the great pontificator, Mike Huckabee should have in his brief tenure as a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; they seem to have ignored his warnings about state religion. I guess that problems in his church history and Baptist history classes were a big reason that he left seminary. Ideologues like the Huckster didn’t last at Southwestern, at least until the fundamentalist takeover in 1994 that helped destroy the academic and scholarly reputation of that once fine school, but I digress….

Leland was a friend of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and without him it is unlikely that the First Amendment of the Constitution would have mentioned religious faith. Leland had a very personal interest in this as during the 1780s the Anglican Church in Virginia was attempting to again become the official state religion. Anglicans, with the help of local authorities were attacking Baptist congregations and even resorting to physical violence. In defiance of the Anglicans, Leland 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.”

There is a form of religion and indeed the “Christian” faith that is toxic and if not treated leads to the spiritual and sometimes the physical and emotional death of the infected person.

There is a nationalized version of this supposedly Christian faith in the Untied Stats today. It is a bastardized version of the Christian faith overlaid with the thin veneer of an equally bastardized version of American history. Its purveyors are quite popular in the world of “conservative” American Evangelicalism and Catholicism.

Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson and chief Nuremberg war crimes trials prosecutor warned us about people like them over a half-century ago. Jackson wrote, “[I]n our country are evangelists and zealots of many different political, economic and religious persuasions whose fanatical conviction is that all thought is divinely classified into two kinds — that which is their own and that which is false and dangerous.”

Pat Robertson, evangelist and founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network is an example of what Leland and Jackson warned us about. Robertson said on his program that “You say you’re supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense, I don’t have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist.” — Pat Robertson, The 700 Club, January 14, 1991. The late David Chilton was another. He wrote: “We believe that institutionally Christianity should be the official religion of the country, that its laws should be specifically Christian”

It is quite fascinating when you look at it. This faith is a combination of a selective reading of American history, Christian teaching and Biblical interpretation that mixes and matches a wide variety of mutually conflicting and contradictory traditions. This Toxic “faith” if you can call it that; is based on a reading of American and Western History, which negates, marginalizes or willingly distorts the views or contributions of those who they disagree. It does not matter of their opponents are not Christians, or were Christians, including Baptists like John Leland and Roger Williams. Due to their experiences of religious persecution, Williams and Leland refused to buy into any form of state sanctioned religion.

I find it interesting that Conservative Icon and champion of limited government Barry Goldwater had great reservations about those that sought to establish the superiority of any religion. Goldwater said on the Senate floor: “The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent.”

The leaders of this new and quasi “Christian faith” are many and include some of the most popular religious leaders in the United States such as Pat Robertson, the pseudo-historian David Barton, James Robison, Gary North, Bryan Fischer, James Dobson, Gary Bauer Phyllis Schafley and a host of others. For them the Gospel has been equated with government legislation of supposedly “Christian” values; which conveniently are defined by their political agenda, often in complete contradiction to the Gospel and to nearly 2000 years of Christian experience. North, one of the most eloquent expositors of the Dominionist movement wrote:

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

That is quite a statement and those who think that they can co-opt people like North, Robertson or others are quite mistaken. Goldwater realized this. What is fascinating to me is to watch these men and women advocate religious and political positions in regard to Church-State relations that completely opposite of what early American Christian and non-Christian civil libertarians imagined when our country was founded. Positions that quite often are at odds with even the historical tenants of their own faith. Their only claim to innocence can be because not a one of them have any training in history and often are even worse when it comes to their understanding of the Christian tradition, which did not begin in and will not end in the United States.

In this confused and often hateful “faith” we see men and women who hate centralized government but extol a centralized religion. I was talking with a friend who is adamantly opposed to a powerful Federal Government but extols the perfection of the centralized bureaucracy of his Roman Catholic Faith. He could not see the contradiction. I watch others who extol an almost Libertarian understanding of the government and the Constitution who supposedly in their religious tradition are from the “Free Church” who now advocate the supremacy of the Church over the State and in doing so their particular and limited understanding of Church over that of the Church Universal.

In this confused and contradictory setting there are Catholics espousing political views that are in direct opposition to the understanding of government supported by the Magisterium of the Church. There are Evangelical and Charismatic Protestants that mix and match the untenable and contradictory beliefs of Dominionism and Millennialism which involve on one hand the takeover of earthly power by the Church and the ushering in of the Kingdom of God and the understanding that earthly power is ultimately under the dominion of Satan and must be overcome by the Second Coming of Christ.

Leland wrote:

“These establishments metamorphose the church into a creature, and religion into a principle of state, which has a natural tendency to make men conclude that Bible religion is nothing but a trick of state.”

Leland was one of the most important persons in regards to the relationship of the Christian Churches to the American Government. He was a champion of the religious liberty enshrined in the Bill of Rights and helped influence both James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. He noted in 1791:

“Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear–maintain the principles that he believes–worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death, let him be encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more? A liberal man asks for nothing more of government.” John Leland, “Right of Conscience Inalienable, and Therefore, Religious Opinions Not Cognizable By The Law”

When the adherents of a faith, any faith, but especially the Christian faith enlist the government to enforce their understanding of faith they introduce a toxicity that is eventually fatal when consumed and acted on.

I think that much of what we are witnessing today is much more the product of fear mongering preachers that see opportunity in their political alliances and that are willing to reduce the Gospel to a number of “Christian values” in order to achieve a political end; even if that end is ultimately destructive to the Church and to the Gospel.

The message of the Apostle Paul to the Church in Corinth was this: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (2 Cor 5:18-19 NRSV) 

The early church thrived when it had no earthly power. It thrived when it was persecuted and when the Roman government openly supported almost every religion but it. However, once it became powerful and worldly it became ensnared in affairs far from that simple message of reconciliation.

It was in this country that the various sects of the Christian faith had the opportunity to make a new start, unencumbered by the trappings of power. But instead, like those that came before us, the toxin of power has all too often seduced us. John Leland understood this and fought to ensure that all people of faith were free and unencumbered by state supported religion.

Leland’s friend James Madison wrote to Edward Everett toward the end of his life:

“The settled opinion here is, that religion is essentially distinct from civil Government, and exempt from its cognizance; that a connection between them is injurious to both; that there are causes in the human breast which ensure the perpetuity of religion without the aid of the law; that rival sects, with equal rights, exercise mutual censorships in favor of good morals; that if new sects arise with absurd opinions or over-heated imaginations, the proper remedies lie in time, forbearance, and example; that a legal establishment of religion without a toleration could not be thought of, and with a toleration, is no security for and animosity; and, finally, that these opinions are supported by experience, which has shewn that every relaxation of the alliance between law and religion, from the partial example of Holland to the consummation in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, &c., has been found as safe in practice as it is sound in theory. Prior to the Revolution, the Episcopal Church was established by law in this State. On the Declaration of Independence it was left, with all other sects, to a self-support. And no doubt exists that there is much more of religion among us now than there ever was before the change, and particularly in the sect which enjoyed the legal patronage. This proves rather more than that the law is not necessary to the support of religion” (Letter to Edward Everett, Montpellier, March 18, 1823).

That is the antidote to the toxic faith embodied in the politically motivated Christian Right. It stands against any idea of a state sanction or religion or a religion that like in Saudi Arabia or Iran controls the state. It stands in opposition to the beliefs of so many “Christian” religious leaders work to ensure that they control the powers of government. Attempts that try to proclaim their superiority above even the ultimate message of the Gospel that proclaims, “for God so loved the world….” 

By the way there are always results. The Puritans who many extoll were some of the most intolerant of dissenters of any group that has every held the reins of power over the state and religion ever known in this country. Their victims included Quakers as well as American Indian converts to Christianity. The picture below of the Puritans hanging Quakers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony should give pause to anyone who thinks that such actions are not possible today should any religion gain control of political power.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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