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

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, ethics, faith, History, holocaust, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion

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

tony perkins

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leland noted:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, ethics, faith, History, laws and legislation, News and current events, Political Commentary

“Societies Can Break, Democracies Can Fall” An Unprecedented and Dangerous Shutdown

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The present government shutdown is like none that we have seen before. What is going on now is a blatant attempt by the President to humiliate and destroy his opposition from both the Democratic Party and the few Republicans willing to oppose him. Interestingly enough he is being aided by the two Republican congressional leaders who has already emasculated, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Both have already so compromised themselves with the Trump’s ardent supporters that they know that their political survival is absolutely dependent on what they do for him.

All this is despite the fact that on Friday Senator Chuck Schumer offered the President more than any previous Democratic leader to end the shutdown, even going against the Democratic base by agreeing to fully fund the President’s wall. The President at least pretended to agree to a deal that would protect the people protected under DACA, the “Dreamers.” The legislation to protect them was first introduced in a bi-partisan bill sponsored by Republican Orrin Hatch and Democrat Dick Durbin. It eventual died but was resurrected by President Obama through his immigration policies. President Trump ended that but on numerous times indicated that he wanted to find a “loving” solution to the plight of the children undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country, some as long as three decades ago.

However, less than three hours after the meeting Schumer was told that the conditions that he thought were agreed to were rejected with Presidential Chief of Staff John Kelly saying that they were “too liberal.”

For all intents and purposes these young people that were protected under DACA are Americans but are prevented from becoming citizens because of how they got here. They are not a menace, they are our neighbors and contribute much to this country; their only crime was to be brought here as children, and now they are being demonized by Trump, Ryan, McConnell, and most of the GOP host in ways that fully assimilated German Jews were during the early days of the Third Reich.

By their words, actions, and policies and actions these men are showing that they are committed to only one thing: total victory for Trump. But that is what Trump has been about since he first went into business, for him it is and always has been a zero sum game, whether be it in business, marriage, entertainment, as a candidate, and now as President.

The plan now is to try to make the Democrats loom as the devil behind the shutdown while they simply are doing what Ryan, McConnell and the GOP Congress did in 2011 and 2013. The hypocrisy and lies that they employ to do this will be on full display all weekend and until they achieve their goal, even if the Democrats eventual agree to end the shutdown, and if they do that is when Trump will move in for the kill.

What is happening is dangerous beyond anything that we have ever seen in this country. The danger to the country is greater than at any time since the Confederate States attempted to destroy the Union in the name of White Supremacy and Slave Power in 1861. Sadly, the President is much more like Jefferson Davis than Abraham Lincoln.

On March 14th of 2016, almost eight months before President Trump was elected  I wrote these words on this site:

“I am afraid. Over the past few weeks violence has become commonplace at the campaign rallies of Donald Trump. In the past week a reporter from the Breitbart News service, an organization that is solidly behind Trump was assaulted by Trump’s campaign manager, and Breitbart threw her under the bus for him. Protesters have been assaulted, reporters threatened, Trump not only condones the actions, he encourages them, threatening to use the law and courts to ruin people’s lives, and offering to pay the legal bills of his supporters who have been charged with crimes. He labels any opponents as “bad people” who need to be punished. The ultimate cruelty is that though he is the one inciting the violence, he and his supporters blame that violence on the victims, be they Democrats or Republicans, protestors or media, pundits, politicians or preachers. He is creating a frenzy among his most violent supporters that demands victims to satiate their new found bloodlust…

If he succeeds in his takeover bid, it will forever change American politics, especially if he is able to ride the fear, and to the White House. I don’t think the latter will happen, but I would not exclude it from the realm of the possible…”

Well Donald Trump is the President now and anyone who thinks that he can be contained, even by the Mueller investigation is foolish.  Today the American system of government so carefully crafted by our founders to prevent such events is now collapsing before our eyes. It is true that over the years that both parties and for that matter almost all Americans bear some responsibility for this, but it is Donald Trump who in the past year has upended almost every societal and political norm in that the founders put in place. Based on his past action and his nefarious personality as well as intent of his supporters; the true believers and the opportunists, we cannot have confidence that our institutions will survive. The only reason that he would cut a deal,with the Democrats would be to further embarrass and degrade McConnell and Ryan, but since they rallied to him Saturday I don’t see that happening.

Historian Timothy Snyder noted:

“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 I see the words and actions of the President, his supporters and even some friends that I thought I knew, including retired military chaplains I fear for this country. I don’t want to sound like an alarmist but that is what I see going on. This is not an ordinary shutdown and it will not end with business as usual. God, I do hope that I’m wrong, but I know in my heart that I am right.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Shutdown

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Well another government shutdown is here and it all could have been averted but for one man, a man who since 2013 has been egging on the GOP on shutdown threat after shutdown threat.  Two of those shutdowns occurred and cost taxpayers billions of dollars, harmed many Americans and caused great damage to both the reputation of the United States and national security as this one will if it goes on as I expect that it will.

Now why would I say that?  Even now Senators are now working to find some kind of deal to minimize the consequences of the shutdown by finding some sort of short-term funding bill that will kick the can down the road for another few weeks.  But even if they do come to an agreement the fact is that Paul Ryan’s GOP madhouse has to agree to it and that is no sure thing. In the House the GOP Freedom Caucus and others want the shutdown. But even then, after the House and Senate finally agree on something one more person has to sign on to it.  But ultimately the man who has to sign the legislation is the same man who has wanted a shutdown for years, and now he has orchestrated one on his watch. Last week a deal appeared to be in place and he blew it up and in the process revealed the racism that guides so much of his thinking.

That man wasn’t Mitch McConnell or Paul Ryan, neither was it Chuck Schumer. Although Ryan and McConnell are certainly complicit in this debacle the real culprit was President Trump. In the midst of crises around the world that he has been stoking as well as fear at home he has engineered another crisis with no logical reason for it, that is no positive reason for it which makes me believe that his motivations are either based on ignorance or something nefarious. There are arguments for both but based on his actions over the past couple of years I lean  towards the latter.

President Trump came to power through legal means but neither before he took office or since has he shown one shred of respect for our country’s ideas, laws, or Constitution. Many of his supporters have surrendered all principle in supporting him, especially conservative Christians and no matter what he does, even if he “murders a man on 5th Avenue” they will still support him, and this emboldens him.

I don’t expect a deal and I do expect a real crisis while this is going on and when that happens be it a major terrorist attack or possibly even war on the Korean Peninsula because no-one is expecting it. I could be wrong and I would hope so, but the fact is if you look at history despots of all kinds use tactics similar to this to overthrow democracies. As Timothy Snyder wrote:

“The mistake is to assume that rulers who came to power through institutions cannot change or destroy those very institutions—even when that is exactly what they have announced that they will do.” 

I do hope I’m wrong but I have such a bad feeling about what is going on now and in real life I have to find out what happens with my civilian contractors when I wake up.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“The Time for All Good Men Not to go to the Aid of Their Party, But to Come to the Aid of Their Country” Flake, Douglas, and McCarthy: Profiles In Senatorial Courage

Jeff-Flake-800x430

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I’m up late tonight because of a snowstorm that is allowing me to go in to work late in the morning. But that allowed me to spend more time putting this article together and that is not a bad thing.

Yesterday Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona made a speech on the Senate floor. I do not think that I have seen one like it since Stephen A. Douglas opposed President James Buchanan in 1858 regarding the LeCompton Constitution. I am trying to remember the last time I have seen a sitting U.S. Senator compare a President of his own party one of the worst dictators in the history of the world. I both watched it and read it and honestly I don’t think that I have seen anything close to it since Senator Eugene McCarthy destroyed Lyndon Johnson’s hopes for a second term in 1968.

Stephen_A_Douglas_by_Vannerson,_1859

In 1858 Douglas warned his fellow Democrats about Buchanan, saying:

“I warned the anti-Lecompton Democrats of the North that the President intended to put the knife to the throat of every man who dared to think for himself on this question and carry out principles in good faith. “God forbid,” I said “that I ever surrender my right to differ from a President of the United States for my own choice. I am not a tool of any President!”

Events like this are truly rare, they don’t happen often and when they do they are quite remarkable and are portents of bigger things to come. Douglas’s opposition ushered in a split in the Democratic Party and helped elect Abraham Lincoln who through his courage helped to overthrow the institution of slavery that Buchanan had sought to expand. McCarthy’s opposition to Johnson helped to not only torpedo Johnson’s hopes for a second term but helped to galvanize the nation against the Vietnam War, fracture the Democratic Party, and elect Richard Nixon.

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McCarthy was equally courageous. He noted: “This is, I say, the time for all good men not to go to the aid of their party, but to come to the aid of their country.”

Senator Flake’s speech was a real watershed, try as they might to shun Flake his Republican opponents like Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi who said: “I don’t think that sort of speech is helpful, I disagree with those quotes and I don’t know why it’s helpful. … I don’t see any need to further stir that pot.” Richard Shelby of Alabama noted: “He’s certainly crossed the Rubicon with Trump. Strife is not productive.” Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma railed against Flake “He hates him. He doesn’t like the president, I can’t imagine anyone questioning that. As it gets closer to the end of his time here, I think he’s going to accelerate his wrath against the president.” Senator John McCain defended his colleague from Arizona.

In previous times both Douglas and McCarthy were attacked by members of their own Party, McCarthy by men who would later become Republicans answering Nixon’s call to a Southern Strategy, Douglas by those who led the drive for secession and Civil War in 1860 and 1861.

Flake, for all of his flaws, and yes he does have them has been pretty much a loyal Republican voting with the GOP on Trump’s legislation the majority of the time, just like Douglas did with much of Buchanan’s legislation and McCarthy with Johnson’s. But all of them as loyal as they had been to their President and parties found something that they had to stand against.

With Douglas is was Buchanan’s assault on the Constitution and law, McCarthy it was the lies of the Johnson administration about Vietnam. Today it is Jeff Flake comparing President Trump to Josef Stalin. In fact one of his GOP critics pointed out how often that Flake had voted with Trump and asked if he would have done that with Stalin. It is a good question for anyone who ignores so much about a President so long that the legislation that they like gets approved, but that being said what Flake did was big and it demonstrated a moral courage that most politicians of both parties are lacking when they vote for legislation solely based on political expediency. So in the case of Senator Flake I say better late than never.

What the Arizona Senator was big and it is an ominous portent of the future regardless of what happens next. I say that very dispassionately as a historian.

If you have not read it or watched it here is what Senator Flake said:

Mr. President, near the beginning of the document that made us free, our Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” So, from our very beginnings, our freedom has been predicated on truth. The founders were visionary in this regard, understanding well that good faith and shared facts between the governed and the government would be the very basis of this ongoing idea of America.

As the distinguished former member of this body, Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, famously said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” During the past year, I am alarmed to say that Senator Moynihan’s proposition has likely been tested more severely than at any time in our history.

It is for that reason that I rise today, to talk about the truth, and its relationship to democracy. For without truth, and a principled fidelity to truth and to shared facts, Mr. President, our democracy will not last.

2017 was a year which saw the truth — objective, empirical, evidence-based truth — more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government. It was a year which saw the White House enshrine “alternative facts” into the American lexicon, as justification for what used to be known simply as good old-fashioned falsehoods. It was the year in which an unrelenting daily assault on the constitutionally-protected free press was launched by that same White House, an assault that is as unprecedented as it is unwarranted. “The enemy of the people,” was what the president of the United States called the free press in 2017.

Mr. President, it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase “enemy of the people,” that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of “annihilating such individuals” who disagreed with the supreme leader.

This alone should be a source of great shame for us in this body, especially for those of us in the president’s party. For they are shameful, repulsive statements. And, of course, the president has it precisely backward – despotism is the enemy of the people. The free press is the despot’s enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy. When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn’t suit him “fake news,” it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press.

I dare say that anyone who has the privilege and awesome responsibility to serve in this chamber knows that these reflexive slurs of “fake news” are dubious, at best. Those of us who travel overseas, especially to war zones and other troubled areas around the globe, encounter members of U.S. based media who risk their lives, and sometimes lose their lives, reporting on the truth. To dismiss their work as fake news is an affront to their commitment and their sacrifice.

According to the International Federation of Journalists, 80 journalists were killed in 2017, and a new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists documents that the number of journalists imprisoned around the world has reached 262, which is a new record. This total includes 21 reporters who are being held on “false news” charges.

Mr. President, so powerful is the presidency that the damage done by the sustained attack on the truth will not be confined to the president’s time in office. Here in America, we do not pay obeisance to the powerful – in fact, we question the powerful most ardently – to do so is our birthright and a requirement of our citizenship — and so, we know well that no matter how powerful, no president will ever have dominion over objective reality.

No politician will ever get to tell us what the truth is and is not. And anyone who presumes to try to attack or manipulate the truth to his own purposes should be made to realize the mistake and be held to account. That is our job here. And that is just as Madison, Hamilton, and Jay would have it.

Of course, a major difference between politicians and the free press is that the press usually corrects itself when it gets something wrong. Politicians don’t.

No longer can we compound attacks on truth with our silent acquiescence. No longer can we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to these assaults on our institutions. And Mr. President, an American president who cannot take criticism – who must constantly deflect and distort and distract – who must find someone else to blame — is charting a very dangerous path. And a Congress that fails to act as a check on the president adds to the danger.

Now, we are told via Twitter that today the president intends to announce his choice for the “most corrupt and dishonest” media awards. It beggars belief that an American president would engage in such a spectacle. But here we are.

And so, 2018 must be the year in which the truth takes a stand against power that would weaken it. In this effort, the choice is quite simple. And in this effort, the truth needs as many allies as possible. Together, my colleagues, we are powerful. Together, we have it within us to turn back these attacks, right these wrongs, repair this damage, restore reverence for our institutions, and prevent further moral vandalism.

Together, united in the purpose to do our jobs under the Constitution, without regard to party or party loyalty, let us resolve to be allies of the truth — and not partners in its destruction.

It is not my purpose here to inventory all of the official untruths of the past year. But a brief survey is in order. Some untruths are trivial – such as the bizarre contention regarding the crowd size at last year’s inaugural.

But many untruths are not at all trivial – such as the seminal untruth of the president’s political career – the oft-repeated conspiracy about the birthplace of President Obama. Also not trivial are the equally pernicious fantasies about rigged elections and massive voter fraud, which are as destructive as they are inaccurate – to the effort to undermine confidence in the federal courts, federal law enforcement, the intelligence community and the free press, to perhaps the most vexing untruth of all – the supposed “hoax” at the heart of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

To be very clear, to call the Russia matter a “hoax” – as the president has many times – is a falsehood. We know that the attacks orchestrated by the Russian government during the election were real and constitute a grave threat to both American sovereignty and to our national security. It is in the interest of every American to get to the bottom of this matter, wherever the investigation leads.

Ignoring or denying the truth about hostile Russian intentions toward the United States leaves us vulnerable to further attacks. We are told by our intelligence agencies that those attacks are ongoing, yet it has recently been reported that there has not been a single cabinet-level meeting regarding Russian interference and how to defend America against these attacks. Not one. What might seem like a casual and routine untruth – so casual and routine that it has by now become the white noise of Washington – is in fact a serious lapse in the defense of our country.

Mr. President, let us be clear. The impulses underlying the dissemination of such untruths are not benign. They have the effect of eroding trust in our vital institutions and conditioning the public to no longer trust them. The destructive effect of this kind of behavior on our democracy cannot be overstated.

Mr. President, every word that a president utters projects American values around the world. The values of free expression and a reverence for the free press have been our global hallmark, for it is our ability to freely air the truth that keeps our government honest and keeps a people free. Between the mighty and the modest, truth is the great leveler. And so, respect for freedom of the press has always been one of our most important exports.

But a recent report published in our free press should raise an alarm. Reading from the story:
“In February…Syrian President Bashar Assad brushed off an Amnesty International report that some 13,000 people had been killed at one of his military prisons by saying, “You can forge anything these days, we are living in a fake news era.”

In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has complained of being “demonized” by “fake news.” Last month, the report continues, with our President, quote “laughing by his side” Duterte called reporters “spies.”

In July, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro complained to the Russian propaganda outlet, that the world media had “spread lots of false versions, lots of lies” about his country, adding, “This is what we call ‘fake news’ today, isn’t it?”

There are more:

A state official in Myanmar recently said, “There is no such thing as Rohingya. It is fake news,” referring to the persecuted ethnic group.

Leaders in Singapore, a country known for restricting free speech, have promised “fake news” legislation in the new year.”

And on and on. This feedback loop is disgraceful, Mr. President. Not only has the past year seen an American president borrow despotic language to refer to the free press, but it seems he has in turn inspired dictators and authoritarians with his own language. This is reprehensible.

We are not in a “fake news” era, as Bashar Assad says. We are, rather, in an era in which the authoritarian impulse is reasserting itself, to challenge free people and free societies, everywhere.

In our own country, from the trivial to the truly dangerous, it is the range and regularity of the untruths we see that should be cause for profound alarm, and spur to action. Add to that the by-now predictable habit of calling true things false, and false things true, and we have a recipe for disaster. As George Orwell warned, “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.”

Any of us who have spent time in public life have endured news coverage we felt was jaded or unfair. But in our positions, to employ even idle threats to use laws or regulations to stifle criticism is corrosive to our democratic institutions. Simply put: it is the press’s obligation to uncover the truth about power. It is the people’s right to criticize their government. And it is our job to take it.

What is the goal of laying siege to the truth? President John F. Kennedy, in a stirring speech on the 20th anniversary of the Voice of America, was eloquent in answer to that question: “We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”

Mr. President, the question of why the truth is now under such assault may well be for historians to determine. But for those who cherish American constitutional democracy, what matters is the effect on America and her people and her standing in an increasingly unstable world — made all the more unstable by these very fabrications. What matters is the daily disassembling of our democratic institutions.

We are a mature democracy – it is well past time that we stop excusing or ignoring – or worse, endorsing — these attacks on the truth. For if we compromise the truth for the sake of our politics, we are lost.

I sincerely thank my colleagues for their indulgence today. I will close by borrowing the words of an early adherent to my faith that I find has special resonance at this moment. His name was John Jacques, and as a young missionary in England he contemplated the question: “What is truth?” His search was expressed in poetry and ultimately in a hymn that I grew up with, titled “Oh Say, What is Truth.” It ends as follows:

Then say, what is truth? ‘Tis the last and the first,
For the limits of time it steps o’er.
Tho the heavens depart and the earth’s fountains burst.
Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst,
Eternal… unchanged… evermore.

Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.

Senator Flake’s words reminded me a bit of the closing section of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Beyond Vietnam speech in which he said:

As that noble bard of yesterday, James Russell Lowell, eloquently stated:

Once to every man and nation comes a moment do decide,
In the strife of truth and Falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever ‘twixt that darkness and that light.
Though the cause of evil prosper, yet ‘tis truth alone is strong
Though her portions be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. 

That being said I wish that Flake would be much more like Douglas and fight to remain in the Senate and not retire. Douglas noted about his fight with Buchanan:

“After the Christmas recess, the Administration unleashed its heavy horsemen: Davis, Slidell, Hunter, Toombs, and Hammond, all southerners. They damned me as a traitor and demanded that I be stripped of my chairmanship of the Committee on Territories and read out of the Democratic party. Let the fucking bastards threaten, proscribe, and do their worst, I told my followers; it would not cause any honest man to falter. If my course divided the Democratic party, it would not be my fault. We were engaged in a great struggle for principle, I said, and we would defy the Administration to the bitter end.”

I wish more Republicans had the courage of Flake and even more Douglas who sacrificed his ambitions as the presumed front-runner for the 1860 Presidential election. His opposition to Buchanan and the Slave Power Southern Democrats ensured his defeat. When his opponents led the South to secede Douglas remained with the Union rallying Northern Democrats to the cause. Likewise despite a lot of popular support McCarthy was opposed by the party establishment and lost his bid to be the Democratic nominee in 1968. But he said something about the office of the Presidency that every American should support and defend:

“We do not need presidents who are bigger than the country, but rather ones who speak for it and support it.”

What is going on today is as big if not bigger than the crises that led loyal party men like Douglas and McCarthy to defy their President and Party.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail: A Letter to All of Us

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today is our national observance of the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King. 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. 

Today I decided to read it again  and contemplate Dr. King’s words in the light of the overt racism displayed by the American President and the deafening silence of his white conservative Christian supporters in condemning it, or even worse defending the indefensible. 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.

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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To Stand Up Against Zealots

 

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am not a fan of ideologues or the “fundamentalists” of any point in the political, ideological or religious spectrum. Their lack of courage, stunted intellectualism, and inability to see things from outside their limited field of view does not allow them to face really difficult questions that confront us today.  They claim to hold the keys to the universe but sadly are hold nothing more than the key to their high school gym locker.

The Iranian novelist Salman Rushdie who has been on the run from Iranian fundamentalist ideologues since he wrote the supposedly heretical Satanic Verses once noted:

“The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a religious belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.”

I believe that we are at yet another crossroads in Western civilization. This time a crossroads where the classic liberalism that was the basis for democratic societies is being stampeded by zealots of various persuasions who guided by the supposed infallibility of their ideological belief systems, deliberately and without remorse seek to destroy the institutions that are the guardians of liberty.

In my honest opinion I think that the worst of these are the conservative Christian theocrats and their seemingly ideological enemies the Ayn Rand following Social Darwinist “conservative libertarians.” They have no shame, their respective ideologies blind them to truth and turn them into sociopaths that only give a damn about their power and profits and they latched on to President Trump, prostrating themselves and the Republican Party to him in order that they might triumph.

Of course I will be the first to admit that there are some leftists who would be the first to put a bullet in the head of Lady Liberty to further their own cause.  But they are not the danger. They control nothing that would allow them to succeed and most cannot even agree among themselves to work together, they have nothing on Lenin, Stalin, Mao, the Iranian Mullahs, or even Hugo Chavez; may God give rest to his chubby cheeks.

Say what you want about him but President Trump is not an ideologue, he can’t be, he’s too much of a self-absorbed narcissist to be an ideologue. All he wants is the adulation of his audience and the power and wealth that come with it. He may be a sociopath but it is not for the sake of any ideology. If the issue was the President alone we could survive him; but his supporters of the Christian Right and the Ayn Rand Social Darwinists of the GOP are much more dangerous, because they are true believers who actually control many of the apparatuses of government at the local, state, and federal level.

We have seen the results of such movements in history before and each time they succeed in gaining power they have brought disaster to nations, and sometimes the world.

Proponents of ideological purity assume that their ideological bias is equivalent to sacred truth, be it a religious or secular truth. The promoters of such systems promote something more than their opinion, as Hannah Arendt noted: “For an ideology differs from a simple opinion in that it claims to possess either the key to history, or the solution for all the “riddles of the universe,” or the intimate knowledge of the hidden universal laws which are supposed to rule nature and man.”  

As such, ideology is not based on knowledge, but is distinct from it and the enemy of knowledge for it binds the mind in a straitjacket in which all thought must be submitted to the truth of the ideology. As Arendt noted such ideologies must be handled with caution as they “pretend to be keys to history but are actually nothing but desperate efforts to escape responsibility.”  

An ideology protects the true believer from having to think for himself, it allows the insecure to grasp at the protection that it allegedly provides, and allows the believer to deny reality, and to by definition declare everything that contradicts the ideology to be heretical, and opponents to be aligned with the devil himself, allowing the believer to hate the opponent. As Eric Hoffer noted, “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” 

As I have mentioned the past couple of days my favorite television character, Raymond Reddington, played by James Spader in The Blacklist once said “I know so many zealots, men and women, who chose a side, an ideology by which to interpret the world. But, to get up every single day and to do the hard work of deciding what to believe. What’s right, today? When to stand up or stand down. That’s courage.” The fact is, no matter how stridently they espouse their beliefs, ideologues are by definition not courageous, because courage takes critical thinking, something that ideologues of any persuasion are incapable of doing.

That is why knowledge and critical thought even when they are uncomfortable and take us out of our comfort zone are so much more powerful and important than ideologies that are followed blindly. My words to the ideologues of the Christian Right and the Ayn Rand followers of so many in the Republican Party is that of Samuel Adams who said:

“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.” 

It takes no courage to be an ideologue, and once a person surrenders to an ideology as his or her reason for existence, they sacrifice the ability to reason, the ability to think critically, and the capacity to acquire knowledge and in doing so they surrender to tyranny and servitude though they think they will end up on top.

That is the danger of the blind ideologies that are consuming our world today and why as long as anyone who cares about freedom has a breath in them they must be opposed.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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