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To Kill a Mockingbird at 59: Sometimes the Bible in the Hand Of One Man is Worse than a Whiskey Bottle in the Hand Of Another

mock

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tomorrow marks the 59th the anniversary of the release of Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird. I have read the book, and seen the film many times. Sadly, it is all too relevant in our time. Race hatred and a belief in the absolutes of aberrant forms of Christianity which bless White Racism are rampant in the United States and Europe, many of these groups are overtly Fascist and Authoritarian.

That alone is to make the novel and the film worth reading and watching, especially if you haven’t read the book or seen the film.

Sadly, such people would “kill the Mockingbird” to ensure that they keep their privileged position in society. The Mockingbirds are those that they have condemned to social inferiority and discrimination and eternal punishment, especially gays and the LGBT community, but others as well.

This is especially the case of the preachers, pundits and politicians that crowd the airwaves and internet with their pronouncements against Gays, immigrants, Arabs, poor blacks, political liberals, progressive Christians, and for that matter anyone who simply wants the same rights enjoyed by these Christians.

In the book there is a line spoken by Miss Maudie Atkinson, a neighbor of Atticus Finch and his children. She says to Atticus’s daughter Scout:

“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of another… There are just some kind of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”

As I survey the world of Christian conservatives I become surer of this every day. I’ve often wrote about my own fears in regard to dealing with such people as well as the troubling trends that I see. Last week I wrote five articles on the trends that I see in the church, trends toward greed, political power, social isolation and the active campaign of some to deny basic civil rights to people that they hate on purely religious grounds.

The language of some like Matt Staver of Liberty Counsel, Tony Perkins of the American Family Association and a host of others describe actions of governments and courts to ensure equal treatment of all people under the law as threats to Christians, affronts to them and of course to God. Their words are chilling. Matt Staver commented a few years back that if the Supreme Court upheld marriage equity for gays that it would be like the Dred Scott decision. Of course that is one of the most Orwellian statements I have ever heard, for the Dred Scott decision rolled back the few rights that blacks had anywhere in the country and crushed the rights of people in non-slave states.

Again, as a reminder to readers, especially those new to the site, I spent a large amount of my adult Christian life in that conservative Evangelical cocoon. I worked for a prominent television evangelist for several years, a man who has become an extreme spokesman for the religious political right. I know what goes on in such ministries, I know what goes on in such churches. I know the intolerance and the cold hearted political nature of the beast. I know and have gone to church with Randall Terry, the former head Operation Rescue who once said: “Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…” I have walked in those shoes, I have been whipped up by those preachers. I fully understand them, and because I do I am in a unique position to critique their words and actions, especially as the supposedly moral majority snuggle up with one of the most amoral men ever to become President, solely to protect and crease their political power. They have surrendered their claim to being a party of morality, and embraced evil for the sake of their power. Without empathy, they judge and condemn others not like them. They are incapable of understanding anything that conflicts with their visions of White Power, racial superiority, and an interpretation of Christianity which needs state support in order to survive.

As Atticus Finch told his children:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

They cannot, thus I total reject the message of such people now, not out of ignorance, but because I have walked in their shoes. At times I supported their causes, not to any extreme, but all too often my crime was simply said nothing when I knew that what they preached, taught and lived was not at all Christian, but from the pits of Hell.

As far as them being entitled to hold whatever opinion they want, even if I disagree, yes that is their right. But as Atticus said:

“People are certainly entitled to think that I’m wrong, and they are entitled to full respect for their opinions. But before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The only thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

My conscience will not allow me to be silent when I see men like Staver, Perkins, Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, Pat Robertson, and so many others preach hatred towards those who are different than them. Their reach and power has only increased with their support of President Trump.

In the movie and the book the Mockingbirds were Tom Robinson, the black man falsely accused of rape and assault and Boo Radley, a shy recluse feared by his neighbors, a man who stories were made up about; stories that turned a simple man into a monster in the eyes of people who did not know him. Today they are others who fit the Mockingbird role, people who just want to get along and live in peace, but who endure discrimination and damnation from those who call themselves Conservative Christians.

Jem Finch, the son of Atticus asks his sister a question in the book and the film:

“If there’s just one kind of folks, why can’t they get along with each other? If they’re all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other?”

I ask the same question on a daily basis.

So until tomorrow I wish you a good night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under books, christian life, civil rights, ethics, faith, film, History, LGBT issues, movies, News and current events, Political Commentary

The End of the Mueller Investigation and the Need for Congress to do its Duty, and for People to Speak out: Otherwise We are All Trump’s Accomplices

Edward R. Murrow

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great American journalist and pioneering radio and television broadcaster Edward R. Murrow said: “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.” His words are profound. He, along with William Shirer covered the rise of the Nazis and then lived through the height of the Red Scare and the McCarthy era inquisition. Of course he was right, the fact is that it does not matter which party controls the reigns of government or who the President is that principled opposition is not disloyal.

This is an important fact to remember even as the current President of the United States, his accomplices in the world of Fox News and Breitbart, and his fanatical supporters in what is called the Christian Right dare to say. The fact is that for our government to function as the founders intended it is absolutely necessary for the minority party, as well as other minorities be allowed to dissent. When that Constitutional right is abridged in any way it endangers our society and our way of life. In an age where opinions can be picked up cheap on the internet, television, or radio, and where things like courage, fortitude, and real faith are in short supply, we have to acknowledge as Murrow did “that we are living in an age of confusion – a lot of us have traded in our beliefs for bitterness and cynicism or for a heavy package of despair, or even a quivering portion of hysteria.”

We have a President who has spent the year after his election victory demonizing his opponents, be they members of the press, the Democratic Party, or even members of his own Republican Party for infractions that had they happened under any previous American President of any party would have never happened.

Even following the release of the Mueller Report and Mueller’s comments yesterday that the evidence against the President shows his involvement in crimes involving Russia and the 2016 elections. His words, in which he noted if the President was not involved he would have stated so in his report have been twisted by Trump and his GOP supporters to mean that he is innocent of all charges. However, Mueller very clearly that he could not charge the President under current Justice Department rules. He has left the way open for Congress to do its job and commence investigations and impeachment hearings. If our Republic and its Constitutional institutions are to survive this has to be done regardless of any political price to be paid. if it is not done we will all be complicit in the end of our Republic.

Some politicians, pundits, and medical professionals have suggested that the President is either insane or perhaps suffering from the early stages of dementia. Others disagree and believe that he is neither insane or suffering from dementia but that he is a master manipulator who knows exactly what he is doing. His list of actions that would have certainly damned the candidacy of any previous Presidential candidate, or the term of of office of any other President grows with every passing hour. Despite that whatever opposition there is seems to be ineffectual and shunted aside. In normal times the suggestion that the President might be suffering from a type of mental illness or a medical condition that impaired their cognitive ability would be a cause for bi-partisan concern, and to think that the President might be a manipulative prospective tyrant would as it did during Watergate turn his own party against him. Honestly, the thought of an either insane or cognitively impaired President trying to demonize his opposition or one that is bent on crushing them are both bad scenarios. I think that the latter is worse if his own party has surrendered its soul to their ideological goals so much that they are willing to go along with actions and statements that just over a year ago many of them said should disqualify someone from the presidency.

My problem is that I am a historian and that I have studied totalitarian states and the history of how they became such. What I am seeing going on now frightens me. We are moving closer to a totalitarian system of government than I could have ever thought could have happened in this country. I believed that our system of checks and balances coupled with a free press would keep anyone from overthrowing our system of government and establishing a totalitarian state, but we seem to be moving rapidly in that direction.

Historian Timothy Snyder noted in an interview with Sean Illing: “We think that because we’re America, everything will work itself out. This is exactly what the founders refused to believe. They thought human nature is such that you have to constrain it by institutions. They preferred rule of law and checks and balances.”

But that is no longer true for this Administration and its GOP enablers in Congress, checks and balances are out the door, and so is the rule of law.

The rule of law, the Constitutional system of checks and balances, and the underlying premise of the Declaration of Independence cannot be sacrificed for political expediency. The question one has to begin to ask in light of all of the President’s actions and words is: is the President insane, is he impaired, or is he evil and intent on establishing himself as a tyrant? None of those options are good, but if the President’s supporters were principled as was the Republican Party in 1973-74 during Watergate then such actions can be stopped.

However, if they are not, and if the leaders of the President’s Party knows or suspects that he is insane, impaired, or evil and acting against the Constitution, but take no action in order to get their agenda passed then they are no better that the non-Nazi German conservatives of 1932-1935 who abandoned all principle because Hitler gave them some of what they wanted.

The same is true of the ruling class of French conservatives who for decades undermined the Third Republic until the German invasion of 1940 left France defeated. William Shier wrote:

“And more and more, as the last years of the Third Republic ticked off, the wealthy found it difficult to put the interest of the nation above that of their class. Faced with specific obligations to the country if the state were not to flounder in a financial morass, they shrank from meeting them. The Republic might go under but their valuables would be preserved. In the meantime they would not help keep it afloat by paying a fair share of the taxes. The tax burden was for others to shoulder. If that were understood by the politicians, the Republic could continue. If not… were there not other forms of government possible which promised more security for entrenched wealth? The thoughts of some of the biggest entrepreneurs began to turn to the Fascist “experiment” in Italy and to the growing success of the Nazi Party in Germany.”

I’m going to stop for now, but remember the questions about the President posed by many other than me that must be answered: is he insane, is he impaired, or is he evil?

Honestly I don’t know. I can speculate, but the questions have to be asked by people in elected or appointed offices established by the Constitution, as well,as the press, and the citizenry if we are to retain our republican system of government. Dissent is not disloyalty. Asking such questions is not treason. Our founders wrestled with this. Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.”

The fact that the President’s overtly unconstitutional views of government, his frequent attacks on all opponents, his destruction of longstanding alliances and embrace of tyrants has been normalized by much of the press, media, and populace one cannot hope that things will change for the better anytime soon.

In his majority opinion in West Virginia v. Barnett In 1943, Associate Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson wrote:

“Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.

Based on the President’s words and actions I do believe that he will engineer a Reichstag Fire moment in order to gain absolute power in the United States under the pretense of National security. His administration is already physically doing that to immigrants, while using terribly hostile and discriminatory terms against racial or religious minorities, women, gays, the press and political opponents. Sadly, too few people speak up, and fewer take action.

Murrow noted: “No one can terrorize a whole nation unless we are all his accomplices.”

Trump, his accomplices in the GOP, the Right Wing Media, high profile Christian preachers, and yes, the Russian government are all complicit in this attack on the very foundations of our republic. If American citizens of any party are unwilling to stop this, we will all be Trump’s accomplices.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, laws and legislation, leadership, News and current events, Political Commentary

A Meditation On Resistance For Today From General Henning Von Tresckow

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are times that resistance seems almost hopeless. I was talking with one of my friends who is very discouraged about the situation. He is an idealist. I spent much of the evening trying to buck him up.

British Historian Laurence Rees wrote:

“human behavior is fragile and unpredictable and often at the mercy of the situation. Every individual still, of course, has a choice as to how to behave, it’s just that for many people the situation is the key determinate in that choice.” 

One of the problems is that throughout history, resisters frequently fail to unify in the face of their primary adversary and instead look for the faults among their own potential leaders. That my friends is the way to failure. So tonight, or as it is early this morning I will leave you with a few thoughts of one of the key German resistance leaders against Hitler during the Second World War. That man was Major General Henning Von Tresckow, a key member of the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

Tresckow said a number of things that I will quote in the way he said or wrote them. But for every time Tresckow writes or says Hitler, substitute Trump, and when he says Germany, substitute the United States.

In reality that is now where we find ourselves. We are on the verge of a dictatorship of a man who can barely be called sane. Yet, he has a core Cult, of committed followers who will through their own willful avoidance of the truth would support him even if he overthrew the Constitution, and proclaimed dictatorial powers, and unleashed violence against every domestic opponent. He routinely makes those kinds of threats, to the cheers of his Cult. In one of his speeches from March 14th of this year Trump declared:

“I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad,”

That is not a comfortable thought, but it is the new normal, especially among his supposedly Christian supporters, who include some of the most powerful religious leaders in the country.

Tresckow noted:

“I cannot understand how people can still call themselves Christians and not be furious adversaries of Hitler’s regime.”

I feel the same way about Trump, whose most fervent and loyal supporters are conservative or Evangelical Christians. Honestly, when I read their writing, hear the speeches, and listen to their defense of Trump I see little difference in them and the German Christian movement that turned the Churches into a key part Hitler’s political base. Honestly, I cannot understand how any Christian cannot be a furious adversary of the Trump regime. This is not based on politics at all, but the demands of the Gospel itself. As Jesus taught in Matthew 24:24:

“For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”

Trump is an unbeliever in the greatest sense of the word. Though he presents himself as a defender of Christianity; in thought, word, and deed has made himself a cult-like messiah figure to conservative and Evangelical Christians. He has played on their fears, their racism, their misogyny, their homophobia, and their fear of something that they call socialism. Of course the early church was much more or a practitioner ethics that bordered on socialism, though the term was not yet in use, than the post-Nicea imperial church that has been the face of Christianity in most “Christian” countries since Constantine. This Trump Cult is not Christian: it is an anti-Christian, and anti-humanity personality cult.

Unlike the Third Reich, the situation has not reached the point for any resistier to resort to political violence in response to Trump or his Cult. Instead we must speak the truth and seek to win elections, and not build cult like followings of any of our candidates, and destroy any sense of unity. We have to win with ideas and truth. Even so there is a possibility that we could fail, that is a possibility, and that failure would be the certain end of our Republic, its institutions, and its Constitution as we know it.

Tresckow also said:

“It is almost certain that we will fail. But how will future history judge the German people, if not even a handful of men had the courage to put an end to that criminal?”

We have to put an end to the Trump regime at the ballot box, and even that may not cause him give up without a physical fight. His former attorney, Michael Cohen has said exactly that. Trump is destroying the hard work of Americans and our allies to build a better would, and in almost every country, Trump is destroying the image of the United States, like Tresckow said in his time:

“We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.”

Those are import words, but just substitute the name Trump for Hitler. Tresckow was no socialist or liberal, but he believed in freedom. In fact he wrote regarding the Prussian political tradition and how it could be subverted to support evil:

“The idea of freedom can never be disassociated from real Prussia. The real Prussian spirit means a synthesis between restraint and freedom, between voluntary subordination and conscientious leadership, between pride in oneself and consideration for others, between rigor and compassion. Unless a balance is kept between these qualities, the Prussian spirit is in danger of degenerating into soulless routine and narrow-minded dogmatism.”

Truthfully that is a spirit much like the United States that which is engulfing the United States today, soulless routine and narrow minded dogmatism. The tension that exists in the key ideal of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, and the words of Trump and his supporters men who desire to rule by fiat and by extra-Constitutional means, cannot be more marked than it is today.

In the movie adaptation of the plot to kill Hitler Valkyrie: Tresckow is quoted:

“God promised Abraham that he would not destroy Sodom if he could find ten righteous men… I have a feeling that for Germany it may come down to one.”

To be sure, Trump is no Hitler, though his words sound more and more Hitlerian every day. I will not call the President a Nazi, though he has give tacit support to Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist groups and frequently engages in racist diatribes. He is certainly acting as any authoritarian leader would, and we have to heed the warning of Russian dissident Gary Kasparov:

“dictators & would be autocrats do not ask “Why?” when it comes to using power for their advantage. They ask “why not?”

To go back to the words of Tresckow in Valkyrie, in noting it may come down to the actions of one man or woman, my friends, that “one” may come down to you or me. We cannot sit silently by as more and more actions that would have been considered as criminal are perpetrated by the President and his followers.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, ethics, faith, History, holocaust, Loose thoughts and musings, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, White nationalism

“Vice into Virtue, Slander into Truth… Sadism into Justice” The Miraculous Rationalizations Of Trump’s Christian Cult

Catch-22 (1970) Alan Arkin Mike Nichols 24

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The government is partially shut down, nearly an million government employees and contractors have either been furloughed or working without pay for almost three weeks. A large number of those are employees of the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department, the Transportation Department, and the Department Of the Interior. A huge number of them are law enforcement: FBI, Border Control Agents, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents, TSA, Federal Prison Guards, a host of other Federal Law Enforcement Officers, Court employees, and too many others to list. All have vital functions to making sure the country is safe and that the government is able to fulfill its responsibilities to its citizens and the nation, and this partial shutdown for the sake of a wall of folly endangers national security.

Sadly, neither the President nor his most faithful supporters, mostly Evangelical Christians and those in media who have long supported theocratic, authoritarian, fascist, and racist policies. Of the Christians most claim to be pro-life, which more accurately stated is anti-abortion, as most do not seem to care about any life once it has left the womb, especially if that life is darker skinned, or the progeny of poor people, or non-White Christians.

This, when I see and hear the political-religious leaders of the Christian Right like Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, and a host of other Evangelical and Conservative Christian leaders defend the indefensible actions of President Trump I am reminded of the words of Joseph Heller in his classic novel Catch 22, who wrote about the Chaplain:

“The chaplain had mastered, in a moment of divine intuition, the handy technique of protective rationalization, and he was exhilarated by his discovery. It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.” 

As much as I doubt at times, I still remain a Christian. However, if I wasn’t already a Christian I couldn’t think of a single reason to follow the false God of men like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, or any of the host of big name Evangelical Christian preachers who excuse the behaviors of President Trump and his decadently despicable defenders, including people that I once thought that I knew and considered to be friends.

I used to think that most people like to believe that religion is a benign or positive influence in the world. As much as I want to believe the positive aspects I have to admit based on the historical and sociological evidence that this is not so, especially during unsettled times of great change. We live in such an era and when it comes to identity, God is the ultimate trump card.

If one wonders why the most fanatical individuals and groups on earth are tied to religions, whether it is the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, Orthodox Jews, radical Hindus and Buddhists as well as militant Christians. Of course all of these groups have different goals, but their thought and philosophy are quite similar.

Robert Heinlein wrote:

“Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.”

Heinlein, the author of the classic Starship Troopers was absolutely correct. Just look at any place in any time where any religion, sect or cult has gained control of a government. They are not loving, they are not forgiving and they use the police power of the state to persecute any individual or group that is judged to be in error, or even worse has the gall to question their authority.

Since the Christian groups tend to thrive in the West, they only speak in terms of violence, most, with the exception of Russian Orthodox Christians, do not have a government to translation of those words into action. Many, especially conservative Catholics and some Evangelical and Charismatic Protestants seem for a long for the day when they can assume control of a theocratic government.

Samuel Huntington wrote in his book The Clash of Civilizations:

“People do not live by reason alone. They cannot calculate and act rationally in pursuit of their self-interest until they define their self. Interest politics presupposes identity. In times of rapid social change established identities dissolve, the self must be redefined, and new identities created. For people facing the need to determine Who am I? Where do I belong? Religion provides compelling answers….In this process people rediscover or create new historical identities. Whatever universalist goals they may have, religions give people identity by positing a basic distinction between believers and non-believers, between a superior in-group and a different and inferior out-group.”

Huntington was right, you see the true believers, those who follow their religion without question and believe that it is superior to all others also believe that their religion entitles them to be atop the food chain, others who don’t believe like them be damned, if not in this life, the next. That is the certitude of the true believer, especially the religious one. Secular or atheistic fanatics could care less about the next life, for this life is all that they have. But the religious “true believers” are not only interested in destroying someone in this life, but ensuring that in the next that they suffer for eternity, unless they believe in the annihilation of the soul after death, which really spoils the whole Dante’s Inferno perspective of the damned in the afterlife.

The great American philosopher, Eric Hoffer wrote:

“The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is the surrendering and humbling of the self breed pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

That is why they, the religious true believers of any faith are capable of such great evil, and why such people can murder innocents in the most brutal manner simply because they do not believe correctly. In fact today when I see the words and actions of these supposed Conservative Christians.

Please do not get me wrong. I am a Christian, a priest, a historian and a theologian, but I also know just how insidious those who hold their religion over those of others can be. While I hold faith dear, I know that it can be abused for the claim of some to have God as their final authority is a sort of trump card with which they are able to justify the most obscene and evil acts against others.

Likewise I struggle with faith every day. If you have read this blog from the beginning you will see chronicle my struggles with faith and its practice, especially in life and politics.

I guess that is why I am even more frightened of religious true believers than non-religious true believers. While the non-religious true believer may sacrifice everything for the sake of power and control in this life, and may in fact commit the most heinous crimes against humanity, their hatred is bounded in space and time to this earth. The religious true believer is not content with that; their enemies must be damned and punished in this life, but for eternity, without hope of salvation.

When the true believers look at people like me, or Yossarian, I am sure they believe what Heller wrote:

“Morale was deteriorating and it was all Yossarian’s fault. The country was in peril; he was jeopardizing his traditional rights of freedom and independence by daring to exercise them.” 

I will be a Yossarian any day of the week rather than the Chaplain in Catch 22, who like Falwell, Jeffress, Graham, and so many other have “turned vice into virtue, slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted:

Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.

As the President considers declaring a national emergency to build his wall, it would be good for all,of us to remember that tyranny does not arise in a vacuum. It requires accomplices who are willing to embody the Chaplain of Catch 22.

With that I wish you a good day.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, ethics, film, History, holocaust, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Tree of Life Weeps: a Week of Terrorism, Anti-Semitism, Race Murder, and Political Violence

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In his book Auschwitz: A New History, Laurence Rees noted something that is important about how human beings act in crisis. After interviewing many of perpetrators, victims, and bystanders who were at Auschwitz and other parts of the Nazi death machine he wrote this:

“…human behavior is fragile and unpredictable and often at the mercy of the situation. Every individual still, of course, has a choice as to how to behave, it’s just that for many people the situation is the key determinate in that choice.”

Yesterday morning, on the Shabbat, the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was attacked by Rob Bowers, an open and unashamed White Supremacist determined to kill as many Jews as he could. Armed with an AR-15 style assault rifle and two or three semi-automatic pistols he entered the synagogue and opened fire screaming “All Jews must die!”

This is not an isolated incident, although it appears with eleven people killed, the worst single attack on American Jews in our history. While the United States is probably the least anti-Semitic country in the Jewish diaspora, there has always been an undercurrent of anti-Semitism in the United States. Historically this has been mostly relegated to White Supremacist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, the America First movement of the 1930s, and other White Nationalist, or Neo-Nazi groups. The Right Wing, White Nationalist anti-Semitism almost always flows from the deep well of racism. In the various expressions of this ideology, Jews are not White, they are Middle Eastern, and thus foreign. Likewise, to the Right Wing the Jews are conflated with Communism and thus in league with America’s Cold War enemies.

Likewise, there are people on the fringes of the American Left who espouse anti-Semitic beliefs, often in reaction to the policies and actions of Israel. Regardless of where it comes from, anti-Semitic threats, actions, and violence are an expression of evil, just as much as are other forms of racism.

The historical background is important. Recognizing it enables us to put the dramatic rise in documented anti-Semitic attacks or incidents over the past three years https://www.adl.org/resources/reports/2017-audit-of-anti-semitic-incidents in their appropriate context.

The fact is that the rise is significant and coupled with the more open and in your face actions of leading White Supremacists, and their political connections within the Republican Party, and among highly placed officials and advisers to President Trump. GOP Congressman Steve King of Iowa frequently makes common cause with White Nationalists, and he is not alone. When in the President claimed that there “were fine people on both sides” in response to the violence precipitated by White Nationalist, KKK, and neo-Nazis which claimed the lives of a counter protester in Charlottesville, it was a tacit blessing of their movement, and despite the later attempts of the President to walk back the remarks, the damage was done.

Now the terrorist attack was committed by a man who embraced the apocalyptic fear mongering of the President regarding Central American immigrants, did not vote for or approve of the President. Bowers does not believe that the President is a Nationalist and believes that White Supremacists that support him are being foolish.

Bowers, who has posted that “the Jews are the children of Satan…” was particularly incensed by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. The HIAS was founded in 1881 to help the Jewish victims of Russian pogroms find safety. They are the oldest such agency in the United States and now support refugees of every race, color, and creed. Bowers was most angered by its support for Central American refugees. In his rage at refugees Bowers is similar to many of the President’s supporters, except that the rage is directed at Jews who support refugees. He could have targeted any number of Christian or secular organizations that support refugees but he targeted Jews. Over the past few months he has made online threats to HIAS for its sponsorship of a National Refugee Shabbat in which participating congregations dedicated a worship service to the plight of refugees. Just before the attack Bowers posted:

“HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in,”

Bowers’s rational for killing Jews is very much like the German Nazis in regard to German and European Jews. They believed that they were the victims of the Jews, that the Jews were trying to destroy their race, and since they believed that the Jews were a sub-human infestation, had to be exterminated. Just three days ago Bowers posted:

“Daily Reminder: Diversity means chasing down the last white person.”

Bowers was a frequent poster on the Gab social media site which has become a haven for men like him, as an alternative to Twitter or Facebook, however, anti-Semitic posts on Twitter have risen at an alarming rate. About 40% of the anti-Semitic posts on Twitter include the #MAGA and #KAG hashtags of Trump supporters.

Bowers’s violent act was not an isolated incident, but part of a larger pattern of violent racism and racist political extremism. It took place at the end of a week of race and political based violence. First, a rabid Trump supporter, conspiracy theory follower, and anti-Semite was arrested for mailing 13 bombs to political figures, former government officials, and media figures. All of the people targeted had been openly attacked by the President on Twitter or in various speeches. One of his former employers noted that the man said that he wished “to go back to the Hitler days” and that if it was in his power he would “eradicate the Jews” along with lesbians, black people and Hispanic people.

Then there was the was the incident in Louisville, Kentucky where a White man attempted to attack a predominantly Black church, and failing that went to a Kroger supermarket and shot two Black customers in the back, killing them. When confronted by an armed civilian in the parking lot the man said “whites don’t kill whites.” There was no other motive for the killing except the man’s expressed White Supremacism and racism.

These domestic terrorists are all individually responsible for the crimes that they committed and the lives that they have snuffed our. That being said, how they got to the place in their minds where such actions are justified is not hard to explain. They are very similar to others throughout history who have embraced race hatred, including anti-Semitism as a way of life. But, without a belief that violent acts are permissible due to the existential threats promoted by the President, his GOP political allies, the hosts of Right Wing pundits who have poisoned the airwaves and internet for three decades, and the political preachers who justify race and religious based Nationalism, the perpetrators would likely never act.

Last week the President publicly described himself as a Nationalist for the first time. In 2016 Timothy Snyder wrote of President Trump and the contrast between a Nationalist and a Patriot:

“The president is a nationalist, which is not at all the same thing as a patriot. A nationalist encourages us to be our worst, and then tells us that we are the best. A nationalist, “although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge,” wrote Orwell, tends to be “uninterested in what happens in the real world.” Nationalism is relativist, since the only truth is the resentment we feel when we contemplate others. As the novelist Danilo Kiš put it, nationalism “has no universal values, aesthetic or ethical.” A patriot, by contrast, wants the nation to live up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves. A patriot must be concerned with the real world, which is the only place where his country can be loved and sustained. A patriot has universal values, standards by which he judges his nation, always wishing it well—and wishing that it would do better.

The President has stoked the flames or racism, nationalism, and even anti-Semitism sine the day he announced his candidacy. The GOP establishment, even those men and women who before Trump’s nomination opposed and condemned all that he stood for have embraced him, very much as the German conservatives did with Hitler between 1932 and 1936, only much faster.

It is not that Trump is Hitler, at best he is a sorry pretender, not that he isn’t dangerous in his own right. Rather, it is the fact that his former GOP opponents have sold their souls for some kind of political or economic gain to him despite their obvious contempt for him and all that he stood. It is that the reality that the de facto state run media of Fox News sets his agenda on a daily basis. It is the fact that the scions of Evangelicalism who would never have supported a man like him have not only embraced Trump, but have invented supposedly Biblical reasons to support him. It is the fact that millions of people now embrace conspiracy theories because Trump repeats and amplifies them. It is the fact that this maelstrom of madness has opened the floodgates to the violence we have seen over the past week and it was not unbelievable or unsurprising. It was all too predictable. I have been saying so for years.

Timothy Snyder wrote:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

We have to understand why or this not be the end. It will continue and it will get worse, regardless of what happens in the mid-term elections unless people stop being bystanders and confront the evil that is before us. The President will not, and neither will the compliant GOP majorities in Congress.

The fact that these men have been emboldened to use race based terrorism and murder, to openly espouse and act on anti-Semitism, and other forms of racism as was the case in Louisville and there is no push back in the Right Wing media while much of the mainstream media continues to give the enablers of such violent people equal time by inviting them to panel discussions where the truth is allowed to be obfuscated in the name of fairness and equal time.

So it will happen again and again. No amount of security can stop it. Unlike the terrorist who attacked on September 11th 2001, these terrorists are born and bred Americans. Two of the three would have attracted any attention, and the one who did was so over the top and open about his beliefs that he was considered to be a loon. They all had a choice as how to behave, and like the murderers of Auschwitz they allowed their situation to determine their choices.

Be assured, these acts will continue to happen. Anti-Semitism didn’t die in the Bunker with Hitler. It has found a comfortable home in the United States and what happened this week at the Tree of Life Synagogue shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, and ethics can collapse.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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A Visit to Lutherstadt Wittenberg

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

For the first time in 22 years during our recent trip to Germany I returned to the city where a little known Augustinian Monk and Professor of Theology, Dr. Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation and changed the world forever. There had been other revolts against the Catholic Church by various dissenters but none of them had ever found and ear with rulers who by their support could change the status quo and protect them from being tried as heretics.

To be tried as a heretic meant that you were also in violation of the law of the local monarch or the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and likewise an enemy of the State. Once convicted of heresy the the opponents of the regime were then executed in whatever way the Church and State deemed to be the most effective way of discouraging future dissenters.

Luther was not only a keen theologian, he knew how to gain the support of common people, as well as the princes and other members of the nobility who knew that they were getting screwed by both the Church and the Empire. Thus while his theological motives based on his experience of the grace of God were genuine, he understood the political implications of his theology which broke the chains of Germans Protestants to Rome.

The result would lead Luther’s political supporters into multiple wars against Rome and the Holy Roman Empire, and then against German dissenters who dissented from Luther. It would also set the stage for successful breaks from Rome in England, and in Geneva, where John Calvin proclaimed a harsh and cold version of Protestantism. In many ways Luther never fully rejected parts of Catholic doctrine such as the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Christ, and the efficacy of Baptism for the forgiveness of sins, despite writing circles around himself to show his differences with Rome. He would never be Protestant enough for Calvin, or Ulrich Zwingli of Zurich, or the later more radical Calvinist separatists in France, Holland, England, and Scotland. Of course none of those were acceptable to the Radical Reformers of the Anabaptist-Mennonite movement in Holland which spread to England in the guise of the early English Baptists, who were simply Anabaptists who had thrown out pacifism.

Luther was a remarkable man with many flaws. His theology led to married clergy, the Bible being translated into German and then many other languages. In fact Luther’s translation of the Bible into German helped birth the modern German language as much as the later King James Bible did for English some 80years later.

Likewise, through his emphasis on the Three Solas, Sola Gratia, Sola Fides, and Sola Scriptura he opened the door for individuals to have more say in their spiritual lives and interpretation of the Christian faith, which led to many more breaks with the Church, his Church within a few years. Luther opened the door to a Christianity which has never stopped splitting, often with ugly consequences, and sometimes reforming for the better. Luther was a huge influence on John Wesley who influenced me like William Wilberforce and John Newton who helped abolish slavery in England and it’s colonies. At the same time one cannot overlook just how Luther’s vehement denunciations and demonizations of the Jews helped set the stage for the German anti-Semitism that brought about the Holocaust.

But all that being said from a theological point of view Luther shattered the theological oneness of the western church. Instead of one Pope, Luther opened the door for everyone to be his own Pope.

His theology also allowed rulers to break from Rome and still support their own State Church. In the various fiefdoms of Germany some went with Luther, others Calvin, and still others Zwingli. In England, Henry VIII took the Church of England out of Rome and that church recognized the English King, or at times the Queen the head of the Church.Without Luther to shatter the barrier between Church and State, there would likely never have been the freedom granted to the great

This when the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States wrote those documents they were absolutely opposed to the government of the United States having a State religion or for that matter even endorsing any sect of Christianity. The great Virginia Baptist and friend of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, John 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.”

Luther certainly would not have agreed with that, but he opened the door to it and we should all be grateful that he did. One wishes that the Christian Nationalists of the United States would read their United States history because they are try to establish a particular minority sect of Christianity, a fundamental evangelicalism rooted in the political theology of John Calvin as the official State religion. To do so they are using a man who would shame the Medici Popes in his profound disregard and disrespect of anything resembling the Christian faith; for his carnal indulgence, his wanton greed, vain pomposity, and his narcissism which borders on self-deification. Luther would have recognized him and them as frauds of the most odious kind.

Luther’s flaws are many. He suffered severe, probably clinical depression, and many PTSD from the beatings administered by his father. That was not helped by his understanding as a young man, theology student, and monk of a very punitive and angry God who he could never please. His life crisis came at a time in his life, between 28 and 32 years old, when developmental psychologists tell us that many great thinkers, intellects, and leaders have their breakthroughs.

He was also at times terribly sarcastic, vindictive, and angry. He could turn on friends and former students who broke with him in a visceral manner. He was also beset by an anti-Semitic streak that while it was a part of the times that he lived was used by other German anti-semites, especially Hitler’s Nazis in their persecution, and later extermination of the Jews. He was also prone to see the religious wars of his time, be they against the Turks, the Roman Catholics, or the Radical Reformers, through the lens of an apocalyptic worldview.

Despite all his flaws he is one of the most important men in history. Without his break with Rome and the support of European nobility there probably would have been no Enlightenment as we know it for the great artists, writers, scientists, and others of that period would likely have never had safe places to go beyond the limits of Medieval Scholasticism and Aristotelian philosophy.

Likewise the principle of the Reformation is that Reformation never ends. The Church must continually reform or die. Unfortunately, that is seldom the case, the Christian Church has always been resistant to change and frequently is the last holdout against truly evil movements. Christians, not just in the United States, frequently heed the call of racism, nationalism, and misogyny more than any other group. Of course there are other religions where many of the faithful and their leaders do the same thing, but today’s post is about Luther and the the Christian faith.

Luther understood that the Gospel must speak to the issues of the day. He said: A gospel that doesn’t deal with the issues of the day is not the gospel at all. In our day those issues are ones that I think that had he lived among us that Luther would see and preach about. I could see him boldly condemning the court preachers of Donald Trump, (yes I see the split infinitive and I don’t care – to “boldly go” as someone we’ll know has said). Men like Robert Jeffress, Jerry Falwell Jr., and Franklin Graham wouldn’t stand a chance against the Monk from Wittenberg. Neither would the Medici President and his sycophant supporters who scream in indignation when he or they are exposed for who they are.

So, until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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God’s Not Quite Chosen People: Confederate Christianity and the “Christian” Trump Cult

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Unlike many areas of study, history never goes out of date. While I do not think that history necessarily repeats itself, I do believe that essentially humans never real change. Yes we sometimes do get better, but we often instead of rising to our best, we repeat the errors of those who have gone before us. 

Today I read about President Trump’s closed door meeting with about 100 Trump supporting Evangelical Christian leaders at the White House. As he usually does the President laced his comments with outright lies about laws and legislation that he has supposedly enacted which his cult like supporters fawned over him. It was yet another display of how far those who with one breath claim the name of Christ in the next take Judas’s 30 pieces of silver in order to gain temporal power. But I digress…

But this tendency to do their worst is especially true in he arenas of politics and religion, especially when societies decide to merge the two.

I have written about this good number of times citing contemporary and historical examples, but today I am pulling out yet another section of the chapter of my Civil War and Gettysburg Staff Ride text dealing with how the Southern Confederacy for all practical purposes merged church and state during the Civil War. Now it did not become a full fledged theocracy, but I have no doubt that it would have had the Confederacy succeeded in its quest to become independent. The philosophical and religious thought that undergirded so much of what the Confederacy stood for almost demanded this.

And so today when we look at the fracturing of religion along political and ideological lines political resurgence of the Christian Right in the Republican Party we see many of the themes of the Confederacy being recast and broadcast as what it is to be authentically American and even more dangerously, that only Christians can be real Americans. That it what almost all the current field of Republican candidates cow-tow to the most extreme leaders and spokesmen of the Christian Right, some of whom are openly neo-Confederate in their beliefs and have ties to neo-Confederate and White Supremacist organizations.  

Since those supposedly Christian leaders seek to use their influence to force their religion on others, this subject remains very important. 

Have a great day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

lee-jackson-in-prayer

Perhaps more than anything, the denominational splits helped prepare the Southern people as well as clergy for secession and war. They set precedent by which Southerners left established national organizations. When secession came, “the majority of young Protestant preachers were already primed by their respective church traditions to regard the possibilities of political separation from the United States without undue anxiety.”[1]

One of the most powerful ideological tools since the days of the ancients has been the linkage of religion to the state. While religion has always been a driving force in American life since the days of the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, especially in the belief about the destiny of the nation as God’s “Chosen People,” it was in the South where the old Puritan beliefs took firm root in culture, society, politics and the ideology which justified slavery and became indelibly linked to Southern nationalism. “Confederate independence, explained a Methodist tract quoting Puritan John Winthrop, was intended to enable the South, “like a city set on a hill’ [to] fulfill her God given mission to exalt in civilization and Christianity the nations of the earth.” [2]

Religion and the churches “supplied the overarching framework for southern nationalism. As Confederates cast themselves as God’s chosen people.” [3] the defense of slavery was a major part of their mission. A group of 154 clergymen calling themselves “The Clergy of the South” “warned the world’s Christians that the North was perpetuating a plot of “interference with the plans of Divine Providence.” [4] A Tennessee pastor bluntly stated in 1861 that “In all contests between nations God espouses the cause of the Righteous and makes it his own….The institution of slavery according to the Bible is right. Therefore in the contest between the North and the South, He will espouse the cause of the South and make it his own.” [5]

The effect of such discourse on leaders as well as individuals was to unify the struggle as something that linked the nation to God, and God’s purposes to the nation identifying both as being the instruments of God’s Will and Divine Providence:

“Sacred and secular history, like religion and politics, had become all but indistinguishable… The analogy between the Confederacy and the chosen Hebrew nation was invoked so often as to be transformed into a figure of everyday speech. Like the United States before it, the Confederacy became a redeemer nation, the new Israel.” [6]

This theology also motivated men like the convinced hard line Calvinist-Presbyterian, General Stonewall Jackson on the battlefield. Jackson’s brutal, Old Testament understanding of the war caused him to murmur: “No quarter to the violators of our homes and firesides,” and when someone deplored the necessity of destroying so many brave men, he exclaimed: “No, shoot them all, I do not wish them to be brave.” [7]

In effect: “Slavery became in secular and religious discourse, the central component of the mission God had designed for the South….The Confederates were fighting a just war not only because they were, in the traditional framework of just war theory, defending themselves against invasion, they were struggling to carry out God’s designs for a heathen race.” [8]

From “the beginning of the war southern churches of all sorts with few exceptions promoted the cause militant” [9] and supported war efforts. The early military victories of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and the victories of Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley   were celebrated as “providential validations of the cause that could not fail…” Texas Methodist minister William Seat wrote: “Never surely since the Wars of God’s ancient people has there been such a remarkable and uniform success against tremendous odds. The explanation is found in the fact that the Lord goes forth to fight against the coercion by foes of his particular people. Thus it has been and thus it will be to the end of the War.” [10]

This brought about a intertwining of church and state authority, a veritable understanding of theocracy as “The need for the southern people to acknowledge God’s authority was bound up with a legitimation of the authority of clerical and civil rulers. Christian humility became identified with social and political deference to both God and Jefferson Davis.” [11]

Jefferson Davis and other leaders helped bolster this belief:

“In his repeated calls for God’s aid and in his declaration of national days of fasting, humiliation, and prayer on nine occasions throughout the war, Jefferson Davis similarly acknowledged the need for a larger scope of legitimization. Nationhood had to be tied to higher ends. The South, it seemed, could not just be politically independent; it wanted to believe it was divinely chosen.” [12]

Davis’s actions likewise bolstered his support and the support for the war among the clergy. A clergyman urged his congregation that the people of the South needed to relearn “the virtue of reverence- and the lesson of respecting, obeying, and honoring authority, for authority’s sake.” [13]

Confederate clergymen not only were spokesmen and supporters of slavery, secession and independence, but many also shed their clerical robes and put on Confederate Gray as soldiers, officers and even generals fighting for the Confederacy. Bishop Leonidas Polk, the Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana, who had been a classmate of Jefferson Davis at West Point was commissioned as a Major General and appointed to command the troops in the Mississippi Valley. Polk did not resign his ecclesiastical office, and “Northerners expressed horror at such sacrilege, but Southerners were delighted with this transfer from the Army of the Lord.” [14] Lee’s chief of Artillery Brigadier General Nelson Pendleton was also an academy graduate and an Episcopal Priest. By its donations of “everything from pew cushions to brass bells, Southern churches gave direct material aid to the cause. Among all the institutions in Southern life, perhaps the church most faithfully served the Confederate Army and nation.” [15] Southern ministers “not only proclaimed the glory of their role in creating the war but also but also went off to battle with the military in an attempt to add to their glory.” [16]

Sadly, the denominational rifts persisted until well into the twentieth century. The Presbyterians and Methodists both eventually reunited but the Baptists did not, and eventually “regional isolation, war bitterness, and differing emphasis in theology created chasms by the end of the century which leaders of an earlier generation could not have contemplated.” [17] The Southern Baptist Convention is now the largest Protestant denomination in the United States and many of its preachers are active in often divisive conservative social and political causes. The denomination that it split from, the American Baptist Convention, though much smaller remains a diverse collection of conservative and progressive local churches. Some of these are still in the forefront of the modern civil rights movement, including voting rights, women’s rights and LGBT issues, all of which find some degree of opposition in the Southern Baptist Convention.

But the religious dimensions were far bigger than denominational disagreements about slavery; religion became one of the bedrocks of Confederate nationalism. The Great Seal of the Confederacy had as its motto the Latin words Deo Vindice which can be translated “With God as our Champion” or “Under God [Our] Vindicator.” The issue was bigger than independence itself; it was intensely theological. Secession “became an act of purification, a separation from the pollutions of decaying northern society, that “monstrous mass of moral disease,” as the Mobile Evening News so vividly described it.” [18]

The arguments found their way into the textbooks used in schools throughout the Confederacy. “The First Reader, For Southern Schools assured its young pupils that “God wills that some men should be slaves, and some masters.” For older children, Mrs. Miranda Moore’s best-selling Geographic Reader included a detailed proslavery history of the United States that explained how northerners had gone “mad” on the subject of abolitionism.” [19] The seeds of future ideological battles were being planted in the hearts of white southern children by radically religious ideologues, just as they are today in the Madrassas of the Middle East.

While the various theological and ideological debates played out and fueled the fires of passion that brought about the war, they also provided great motivation to their advocates. This was true especially to Confederates during the war, that their cause was righteous. While this fueled the passion of the true believers, other very real world decisions and events in terms of politics, law and lawlessness, further inflamed passions.

Notes

[1] Brinsfield, John W. et. al. Editor, Faith in the Fight: Civil War Chaplains Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2003 p.67

[2] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.27

[3] Ibid. Gallagher The Confederate War pp.66-67

[4] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.145

[5] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.138

[6] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.29

[7] Fuller, J.F.C. Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN 1957

[8] Ibid. Faust, The Creation of Confederate Nationalism: Ideology and Identity in the Civil War South p.60

[9] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation 1861-1865 pp.245-246

[10] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom pp.145 and 147

[11] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.26

[12] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.33

[13] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.32

[14] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One: Fort Sumter to Perryville Random House, New York 1963 1958 p.87

[15] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.246

[16] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.142

[17] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage pp.392-393

[18] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.30

[19] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.62

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