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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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“Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be “governed” without opposition by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct.” A Portrait Of the German Resistance

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is an article about resisters and those that revisited the evil of the Nazi State. Many of these men and women sacrificed their lives in their efforts to resist Hitler. They included university students, military officers, civil servants, clerics, and ordinary citizens. This was part one of a series that I never completed. Over the next few weeks I will complete the series. Things just got away from me last year with home repairs and renovations and an injuries that I am only just now recovering from the following month. So this is a good place to start again on that series since many of my new readers, or twitter followers have never read it. 

Let me make it clear, despite the President’s despotic and narcissistic actions which have been so harmful to so many Americans, and which threaten the stability of the world and could end up in war; we are not living in 1930s Germany, and Trump is not Hitler. At the same time there are many troubling parallels. In my opinion it would not take much to bring us to a similar point, especially as the President doubles down on intentionally racist, sexist, and simply inhuman and cruel words, and policies. 

My next article in the series will deal with American abolitionists. I am not sure what I will do after that, probably various American Civil Rights leaders, including African Americans, Mexican Americans, Women, Asians, and LGBTQ rights advocates. 

So until tomorrow, 

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

They are know and unknown but all resisted tyrants and all have become inspirational figures in my life. They are men and women, and many are soldiers or clergy, while others were civil rights leaders. Most were advocates of non-violence, but some due to the incredibly evil nature of the regime under which they lived and served resorted to violence. But all show me and I hope will show you that the path of resistance is not futile.

The problem is that far too many people become discouraged the longer the struggle lasts and end up accommodating themselves to the evil regimes under which they lived. That will probably be the experience of those who struggle against tyranny around the world today as authoritarianism under many guises becomes more entrenched. It is a world wide phenomena but if the classic understanding of democratic liberalism advocated by so many including the founders of the United States is to survive, authoritarians and their tyrannical worldview must be resisted.

Sophie Scholl, a young student at the University of Munich wrote:

“I’ve been thinking of a story from the Old Testament: Moses stood all day and all night with outstretched arms, praying to God for victory. And whenever he let down his arms, the enemy prevailed over the children of Israel. Are there still people today who never weary of directing all their thinking and all their energy, single-heartedly, to one cause?”

That my friends is important.

Yesterday, July 20th was the 74th anniversary of Operation Valkyrie, the attempt of conservative German military officers, diplomats, and others to kill Hitler and end the tyrannical and genocidal Nazi regime. Among the men who died in that attempt were Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, General Henning von Trescow, General Ludwig Beck, Lieutenant Colonel Mertz von Quirnheim, and General Friedrich Olbricht. Others were implicated and were murdered after kangaroo court proceedings at the hand of the Volksgericht, the “People’s Court” headed by Roland Freisler. Among them was Field Marshal Erich von Witzleben. While Freisler hounded and tried to humiliate him Witzleben remained calm and announced to the court:

“You may hand us over to the executioner, but in three months’ time, the disgusted and harried people will bring you to book and drag you alive through the dirt in the streets!”

 

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General Henning von Tresckow

“We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.” When the attempt failed von Trescow was serving on the Russian front far away from Berlin. To avoid arrest and the possibility that under torture he could implicate others or cause harm to his wife and children von Trescow killed himself. Another participant wrote that before his death von Trescow said:

“The whole world will vilify us now, but I am still totally convinced that we did the right thing. Hitler is the archenemy not only of Germany but of the world. When, in few hours’ time, I go before God to account for what I have done and left undone, I know I will be able to justify what I did in the struggle against Hitler. God promised Abraham that He would not destroy Sodom if only ten righteous men could be found in the city, and so I hope for our sake God will not destroy Germany. No one among us can complain about dying, for whoever joined our ranks put on the shirt of Nessus. A man’s moral worth is established only at the point where he is ready to give his life in defense of his convictions.”

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General Ludwig Beck

Beck, who had resigned his post as commander of the German Army in protest of the planned invasion of Czechoslovakia wrote something that has become a key part of my military and personal ethic: “It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.” 

Tresckow, a committed Christian also noted of Hitler’s supposedly Christian supporters: “I cannot understand how people can still call themselves Christians and not be furious adversaries of Hitler’s regime.” 

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Admiral Wilhelm Canaris 

There were other Christian resisters of the Hitler regime. Hans Oster was the son of a pastor and one of the senior officers in the Abwehr, the German military intelligence. His boss, Admiral Wihelm Canaris was also a resister. Both would be executed on the personal order of Hitler in April 1945 along with Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, all had been arrested for their involvement in anti-Hitler activities. For his part Canaris would note something that military, intelligence, or police officials who might be tempted to excuse the actions of modern day tyrants or would be authoritarians:

“One day the world will hold the Wehrmacht responsible for these methods since these things are taking place under its nose.”

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

Pastor Bonhoeffer who died with Oster and Canaris at Flossenburg wrote:

“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.”

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Hermann Maas 

Hermann Maas, another Lutheran pastor made his mark by speaking out in defense of Jews and Socialists. He angered the German political right including the Nazis by doing so. He aided Jews and other non-Aryans to escape Germany, and cared for the elderly Jews who could not. He was removed from his pastorate and imprisoned. He survived the war and would be the first German recognized by Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. Maas discussed the responsibility of all Germans for the crimes of Hitler and the Nazis, something that Christians and others in nations like the United States, Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America that are threatened by authoritarian leaders and racist regimes:

“Every German bears responsibility for Germany no matter who he is or where he stands, in the homeland or abroad, in public and at home. No one can absolve him of this responsibility. He can transfer it to no one.” 

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Sophie Scholl

But these men were not the only opponents of the Nazi regime. A young woman, a student at the University of Munich named Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans were at the center of an anti-Nazi resistance called the White Rose. They published and distributed a number of anti-Nazi leaflets and were caught doing so in early 1943.

One of those pamphlets noted:

“Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be “governed” without opposition by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct. It is certain that today every honest German is ashamed of his government. Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes – crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure – reach the light of day?

If the German people are already so corrupted and spiritually crushed that they do not raise a hand, frivolously trusting in a questionable faith in lawful order in history; if they surrender man’s highest principle, that which raises him above all other God’s creatures, his free will; if they abandon the will to take decisive action and turn the wheel of history and thus subject it to their own rational decision; if they are so devoid of all individuality, have already gone so far along the road toward turning into a spiritless and cowardly mass – then, yes, they deserve their downfall.

Goethe speaks of the Germans as a tragic people, like the Jews and the Greeks, but today it would appear rather that they are a spineless, will-less herd of hangers-on, who now – the marrow sucked out of their bones, robbed of their center of stability – are waiting to be hounded to their destruction. So it seems – but it is not so. Rather, by means of a gradual, treacherous, systematic abuse, the system has put every man into a spiritual prison. Only now, finding himself lying in fetters, has he become aware of his fate.

Only a few recognized the threat of ruin, and the reward for their heroic warning was death. We will have more to say about the fate of these persons. If everyone waits until the other man makes a start, the messengers of avenging Nemesis will come steadily closer; then even the last victim will have been cast senselessly into the maw of the insatiable demon.

Therefore every individual, conscious of his responsibility as a member of Christian and Western civilization, must defend himself against the scourges of mankind, against fascism and any similar system of totalitarianism. Offer passive resistance – resistance – wherever you may be, forestall the spread of this atheistic war machine before it is too late, before the last cities, like Cologne, have been reduced to rubble, and before the nation’s last young man has given his blood on some battlefield for the hubris of a sub-human. Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure.”

She wrote:

“It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”

I think of all of these people that I admire young Sophie Scholl the most. She had no power. She was not an officer, a government official, a businessman, or a pastor. She was simply a young woman who was informed by her faith and her concern for basic human morality and ethics.

While the Nazi State was consumed by the flames of Hitler’s Götterdämmerung, the lives and message of those few who resisted still redounds to us today. And yes, in comparison to the majority of Germans  of the Hitler era, they were a tiny minority, Of over 2000 German General and Flag officers a mere 22 were involved in anti-Nazi activities and the same is true for most professions in the Third Reich.

Milton Mayer wrote the words of a German University Professor and colleague after the war was over. The professor was reflecting on how people ended up going along with the Nazi regime. Mayer wrote his friends words:

“And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.

“You have gone almost all the way yourself. Life is a continuing process, a flow, not a succession of acts and events at all. It has flowed to a new level, carrying you with it, without any effort on your part. On this new level you live, you have been living more comfortably every day, with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things that your father, even in Germany, could not have imagined.

“Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.

“What then? You must then shoot yourself. A few did. Or ‘adjust’ your principles. Many tried, and some, I suppose, succeeded; not I, however. Or learn to live the rest of your life with your shame. This last is the nearest there is, under the circumstances, to heroism: shame. Many Germans became this poor kind of hero, many more, I think, than the world knows or cares to know.”

I think this is something for every American to ponder in the age of Trump.

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To Boldly Go…. Binge Watching Star Trek the Next Generation from the Beginning and Wondering About Possibilities not of This Earth

Friends Of Padre Steve’s World,

I have always been what some would call a Trekkie. Ever since I was a young child watching Star Trek the Original Series I have been fascinated with space, other universes, galaxies, and other life that must exist beyond earth. As a Christian and theologian I have to admit that the possibilities of a non earthnocentric order fascinate me. Christians, especially pastors, and theologians love to talk about the attributes of God: his omniscience, his power, his omnipresence, ad infinitum, but instead of contemplating the unknown potentials of a universe that we know little about, our puny minds remained focused only on earth and ways in which to destroy it in order to ensure the Apocalypse arrives, I cannot do that.

While obviously as a Christian I have to live fully in this world, and in doing so bear witness of Jesus the Christ, fight for equality and human rights, and do my best to bear witness of the truth, that human beings can be among the most noble as well as debased beings that have ever existed. There are certainly examples in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures to support both extremes, and theologians who those who support the total depravity of humanity, or an exalted view of humankind.

But, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer so succinctly noted:

“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” 

The fact is, that we human beings are stuck in that uncomfortable middle, and to admit that is a step on the road to freedom. That is what I find so fascinating about Star Trek the Next Generation, it confronts human nature with the added dimension of the possibility, if we don’t destroy ourselves first, that we will meet others from other solar systems and galaxies.

In the finale of Star Trek the Next Generation, the being known as Q discusses that question with Captain Picard:

Capt. Picard: I sincerely hope that this is the last time that I find myself here.

Q: You just don’t get it, do you, Jean-Luc? The trial never ends. We wanted to see if you had the ability to expand your mind and your horizons. And for one brief moment, you did.

Capt. Picard: When I realized the paradox.

Q: Exactly. For that one fraction of a second, you were open to options you had never considered. That*is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence.

I really do believe that being open to options that we never considered is both a part of the Christian life, as well as humanity in general.

I certainly don’t have the answers, but I am am open to answers that lie beyond my realm of sight and thought. There are times that I think that I was born 300 years too late for the Enlightenment and probably at least 300 years too soon for the world of Star Trek, I am caught in that uncomfortable middle that Bonhoeffer spoke of, but in the middle of the middle.

But for now I have 171 more episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation to go, then on to Star Trek Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek Voyager. 

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Silence in the Face Of Evil is Evil Itself

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the words “silence in the face of evil is evil itself.”

Today I blocked and deleted a former friend from a church I went to decades ago because of his attitude towards me and what I post on Facebook. I get tired of the hypocrisy of people who pretend to be patriotic when in fact they openly support a President who openly denies his oath when he said today that he would accept “dirt” on his political opponents from foreign sources.

This is a very difficult article to write because truthfully I believe that civility and mutual respect should be an ideal that we as Americans should not retreat from, as John F. Kennedy noted:

“So let us begin a new remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.” 

I have written about that subject a number of times, the last being on November 22nd 2016 shortly after President Trump’s election and on the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. However, since that time I have seen the President lead a descent into depravity that I fully comprehended then, although I hoped for a different outcome. Trust me, as an American with a profound respect for the office of the President that is what I wanted, but it didn’t happen.

The fact is that the President has in his words, deeds, and tweets destroyed any hope of our political divide being healed, or of Americans of different viewpoints being able to reconcile their differences anytime in the foreseeable future. He stokes the hatred and division almost on an hourly basis, and of course his opponents having become wise to him are rolling up their sleeves and fighting back.

Too me that is an unfortunate situation that might become a tragedy for the United States and the world, as Abraham Lincoln noted “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” To GOP Congressman Steve King of Iowa the sight and sound of Trump’s opponents is like “Harpers Ferry” and what comes next will be “Fort Sumter.” Since King proudly displays the Confederate Battle Flag in his office I know exactly what side of this fight that he is on.

The fact is that he and many like him want bloodshed, they want Civil War, they want to remake the Union in a way that Jefferson Davis and his band of traitors failed to do. As a historian of the period with a book awaiting publication the fact is that in the end it comes down to the fact that King, many of the President’s supporters and quite probably the President himself are all White Supremacists. They want a full and complete return to White Man’s Rule and the subservience of all non-white races and non-Christian religions to it. They are the Know Nothings of the North and Slave Power Secessionists of the South rolled into one package of ignorance, incivility, and hatred.

I write often about comparisons of the attitudes and actions administration and its supporters to Nazi Germany, but truth be told there is a lot of dirty laundry in our own history that sheds light on Trump and his supporters.

The fact is that for nearly three decades the vast majority of Northerners were too polite to criticize the egregious actions of the Know Nothings in their midst or the Southern Slave Power Block that dominated the presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court for the three decades prior to the War of the Rebellion, also known as the American Civil War, or the War Between the States. Honestly, I think that the term ascribed to it by many Union Veterans in the Grand Army of the Republic after the war, the “War of the Rebellion” is the best.

Those opposed to the Know Nothings and Slave Power Block were condemned as being rude, impolite, and worse. Some were physical assaulted. In 1856 Senator Charles Sumner was attacked by Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina on the floor of the Senate for his speech against the Kansas Nebraska Act. Sumner was beaten until he was unconscious and Brooks’ heavy cane which he used to conduct the attack broke. Brooks continued to beat Sumner aided by Representative Lawrence Keitt also of South Carolina who brandishing a pistol threatened Senators coming to his aid. Sumner has proclaimed no threats of violence but only spoken the truth about the Act and those that supported it. So much for civility and now.

The scurrilous and overtly violent threats against minorities and civil rights advocates by conservatives, especially White Christian conservatives have continued unabated since from the ante-Bellum South and the Know Nothing North, through the War of the Rebellion, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, to the modern day. Whole political campaigns including that of George H.W. Bush run by Lee Atwater turned on the demonization of African Americans. The same is true regarding the Republican revolution led by Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, and again even more so from the time that Candidate Donald Trump descended to the lobby of Trump Tower in 2015 until now. The President proclaims that White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis are “very fine people.” 

The President and many of his followers including administration officials like Stephen Miller set the tone while Presidential spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders lies and denies the President’s words and vilifies anyone that dares to question her. So when she is asked to leave a restaurant, or when Miller or DHS Secretary Nielsen are shamed when trying to enter Mexican restaurants it makes makes my heart bleed. People who have no compassion, no sense of empathy and behave as sociopaths and then act the victim when the tables are turned only deserve scorn.

Their anti-immigrant and often blatantly racist tropes of the President, his administration, and his supporters on the Fox Propaganda Network, the Right Wing media, the Putrid Princes of the Captive Conservative Church, and his assorted sordid supporters should be condemned and opposed around the clock. If they are not then any of us who remain silent knowing the evil of these policies is as guilty as anyone that turned their backs on the Jews in Nazi Germany. The higher the office the greater the guilt and culpability.

That being said if had the chance to see any one of them in a public setting I would not resort to public shaming. I do not own a restaurant or business so I could not ask them to leave. However, that being said if any of them the President himself presented themselves to me at my chapel or any civilian church that I might be celebrating the Eucharist I would deny them communion which from a Christian point of view is “a fate worse than a fate worse than death.”

Bonhoeffer wrote:

“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 for me I must tell the truth and protest against the violence and the arbitrary pride of power exhibited by the Trump administration and its supporters. I could not live with myself if I didn’t do so. Some might think this political and in some sense it is, but it is entirely based on my understanding of the Christian faith and the very premise of the founders of this country, that phrase in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among them being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

If need be I would die for that faith and that proposition and I will not be silent in the face of evil. I will live and die as a Christian who believes those sacred words of secular scripture found in the Declaration.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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So Far Yet to Go, Overt Racism on Display Yet Again: Catholic Youth Accost Native American at the Lincoln Memorial

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tomorrow is the official observance of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In the past I have been content to post variations on the theme of Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech. In some of those I have also mentioned Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I will address his I have a dream speech in a future post, probably near the anniversary of his assassination.

Today I decided to read the Letter from a Birmingham Jail again  and contemplate Dr. King’s words in the light of the overt racism that has become fashionable in Donald Trump’s America. Today I saw videos of a gang of white male Catholic High School students from Covington Kentucky accosting Native America Vietnam Veteran Nathan Phillips at the Lincoln Memorial. The students were in Washington DC for the annual March for life, but clad in Trump’s Make America Great Again hats and shirts they had surrounded and were shouting at the man and a few other Native Americans gathered there. One young man stood directly in front of Mr. Phillips giving him a mocking and menacing look. It was like watching Hitler Youth mock Jews in the 1930s, and they call themselves Christians, and I knew that I would not take much to turn these young men into killers. Historian 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.”

The actions of such people are so far out of the prophetic tradition of the Christian church and its ancestors the great Jewish prophets of the Old Testament that it makes my mind spin. I could see them in time standing over death pits with guns in their hands.

I wonder what they are learning from their parents and the school that they attend. While I was already planning on writing about Dr. King I realized just how far we have to go to see his dream come true.

The fact is that as much as anyone would like to deny it, the American President not only is a paranoid and narcissistic sociopath, but also a racist as well. He is all too much like the men and their supposedly Christian supporters who did all that they could to stop the civil rights movement and to fight against every evil cause that Dr. King stood to oppose. The sad thing is that as banal and abhorrent as the racism of President Trump is, that of his defenders is far worse, for they, at least his Christian supporters should know better.

The fact is that instead of speaking a few well meaning yet conscience salving platitudes about Dr. King we really have to remember who he really was and what his message spoke to, and no it was not his acknowledgement of American Exceptionalism. That being said he embodied all that was good about the ideal of the United States of America and the message of Jesus and the prophets; and he was killed for it. Dr. King understood the implications of following Jesus, the depths of Christian theology and the its prophetic past. When I hear and read Dr. King’s words I am reminded of the Sermon on the Mount as well as the messages of Jeremiah and the other great Old Testament prophets.

A year after I returned from Iraq I struggled with what I was becoming. Before Iraq I had always considered myself to be a conservative, but though I was already on the path to becoming a liberal and progressive I could not identify myself as such, so I called myself a “passionate moderate” and the site “Musings of a Passionate Moderate.” A few years ago I owned the fact that I am a liberal and progressive, but also a realist. I came to realize that while moderation is an important part of civic life, it is not redemptive if it stands in silent opposition to justice in the name of order. As my journey continued I began to understand the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote:

“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.”

Dr. King wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail: 

“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” 

Dr. King’s words in that letter are timeless and their implications should be contemplated by anyone who truly believes in that proposition in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” That is something that Dr. King certainly believed, but like those who sat on the fence in his day so many today choose to believe, but not to act upon. That is why that I continue to make my stand in the name of Jesus the Christ, the Gospel, and yes, the proposition of the Declaration that all men are created equal. If the President and his Christian supporters don’t get that then there is no hope for them as long as they continue down that path, but as I wrote yesterday, I still believe that people can have epiphanies.

I encourage all of my readers to read Dr. King’s letter. You can read it here:

https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be” Thoughts on the Eve Of New Year’s Eve

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

T. S. Elliott wrote:

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.”

It is the eve of New Year’s Eve and I have been reflecting on the year past and thinking about the future, and trying to put the past year into words. The good thing is that I write a decent amount about my experiences as they occur on this site, so in addition to it being a wealth of historical, biographical, religious, and political thinking, it also serves as kind of a public diary.

I have to admit, 2018 was an difficult year for me personally as well as for Judy, even little Pierre had a brush with death. The difficulties have been many but we have survived and are preparing for a new chapter in our lives as I finally after over 37 years in the military am preparing to retire.

The year began fairly well but in April we had a water leak from our air conditioning drain pan while we were out of town. It was the first heat wave of the year and our AC unit is really good, it sucked out the humidity from the air like a beast. Unfortunately, the drain pipes had been clogged with blown in insulation which had solidified during the winter when the AC was not in use. The result was a flood on our second floor which damaged walls, floors, ceilings, and furnishings. It was a bitch to get fixed, in fact we still have some work to do, mostly painting, but a few other things, but those were delayed by other events.

I am grateful that we had insurance and some other resources otherwise it would have been much worse, even so it did cost us money and time, and I had to spend a couple weeks of leave that I could have used for other things. But it was stressful, and physically exhausting. The work, including having a professional water damage company drying out the place, getting a contractor, having contractors doing repairs and renovations, getting materials, and doing much work ourselves took us into September when we took a break for our pilgrimage to Germany.

That would be enough, but in the midst of it I had a threat to my career and freedom when military retiree member of my Protestant Chapel Congregation complained to my command about a sermon and attempted to have me tried by Court Martial. His complaint was political, my sermon which was solidly based on scripture and history conflicted with his Fox News and Donald Trump version of Christianity.

That took place at the end of June and I first part of July preparing for and being investigated by the command. The investigation exonerated me, but I did have to hire a lawyer who represents many high profile military and government personnel in religious liberty cases. That cost a decent amount of money but it was far better than trusting my freedom and career to a brand new Navy defense attorney. Even some emotional and spiritual toll that it took convinced me to retire. I came to realize that there is no place for who tries to stand for truth in front of politicized right wing chapel congregations.

That coupled with an insufferable amount of other chapel bullshit and bullying by military retirees in my chapel congregations at me and my staff made up my mind. My junior Chaplains have asked if I would be willing to preach again in the chapel, but I had to be honest, I don’t feel safe with and don’t trust and good number of people in the Protestant congregation.

The fact that I am neither Protestant or Roman Catholic has kind of made me a man without a country in the Navy Chaplain Corps. Members of Religious minorities who don’t tow the line to the powerful are not tolerated. After 26 years of championing religious liberties for people of all faiths regardless of their beliefs or social-political stances as an Army and now Navy Chaplain, I found out that some people don’t give a damn and would use their religious rights to attempt to destroy me.

I say, fuck that, I don’t need it. So I am retiring before I am required to do and before the end of this tour of duty. That being said, I appreciate my staff who stood by me, and I am proud to have been able to serve this country in peace and war in so many different ways, in so many places, and with so many great people; the people who did this can’t take that away from me. But I cannot be silent and I will still speak the truth. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

 “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Then there were the medical challenges. During August after work, and more work at home I was called by a former shipmate going through a very difficult time. I was on the phone with him until about 2:30 AM. When I went upstairs I realized that I had Judy’s car keys in my pocket, so I trudged back down the stairs but took my eyes off the stairs and didn’t keep my hand on the railing. I slipped and fell, spraining my left ankle, the ACLs of both knees, and my right hip. After a long period of getting examined, x-rays, physical therapy, and MRIs I will be getting arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in my left knee and PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma) treatment on my right knee. In the next month or so. I can only echo the words of Mickey Mantle who said “I always loved the game, but when my legs weren’t hurting it was a lot easier to love.” I haven’t been able to run and even walking is not without pain, and considering that even earlier this year I was running thee to five miles or walking and running six to ten miles a day, this really sucks.

Then Judy had her right knee, which she thought was her good knee go out. She thought, and the ER docs thought it was a sprain, but it turned out that the knee, like her left knee needed replacement. She went through that on November 9th and has been recovering and rehabbing ever since. She will have to have the left knee replaced next year.

The scariest thing was when our little Papillon, Pierre ingested something toxic, probably from a mushroom, that caused him to have severe bleeding ulcers in his stomach which turned into a life threatening situation. He had to have emergency surgery, but came through it well. He had completely recovered but it was scary because he is my little shadow, daddy’s boy, and still so young.

But there were good things. We celebrated our 35th marriage anniversary, we have good friends, we made it through, or are making it through the difficult times. We also made a trip to Germany where we saw German friends, visited Munich, Berlin, Karlsruhe, Wittenberg, and other locations, and I was able to visit a good number of historical locations dealing with the Holocaust and the resistance to the Hitler regime.

Despite everything that we went through I am grateful for family, friends, and my staff at work who helped us get through everything. We are alive, we are making it through our medical and physical issues, the house is getting fixed and I am getting ready to retire from the Navy and transition to hopefully teaching history, writing, and working with veterans.

In the movie Star Trek: Generations, Captain Jean Luc Picard tells Commander William Riker:

“Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. But I rather believe than time is a companion who goes with us on the journey, and reminds us to cherish every moment because they’ll never come again. What we leave behind is not as important how we lived. After all, Number One, we’re only mortal.” 

So as I close out the old year I wish you my readers all the best. May the coming year be good for all of us.

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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