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“As long as the prerequisite for that shining paradise is ignorance, bigotry and hate, I say the hell with it.” Inherit the Wind and the Scopes Monkey Trial In the Trump Pandemic Era

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

“As long as the prerequisite for that shining paradise is ignorance, bigotry and hate, I say the hell with it.” Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) Inherit the Wind

Tomorrow is the 85th Anniversary of the beginning of what became known as the Scopes Monkey Trial which was dramatized in the 1960 film Inherit the Wind. I really do believe that it is well worth watching, especially when a charlatan like Donald Trump, a man with no Christian virtues whatsoever stokes up the hopes of conservative Christians by catering to his base of Conservative Christians who hang on his every word, like a cult, believing that he, through the police power of the state will Christianity great again.

I think that in the time of the Coronavirus 19 Pandemic it is important to confront the science denying cult that surrounds the willfully ignorant Science Denier in Chief, Donald Trump that they are not only wrong but their hands are coated with the blood of every American who has died from this virus. Though he had early warning of it the President and his administration did nothing to prepare for it and hindered the CDC as it attempted to respond. There has been no logic to any of the President’s decisions other than to try to restart an economy shredded by the virus, even though there was not a single state that met the CDC guidelines for reopening, and few that did nothing to mitigate its return by enforcing the only things we have available to slow its spread. Now it has blown up in their faces and now the President wants to pressure schools to open with the virus entering into what could be called a firestorm mode.

Of course the Christianity that Trump and his followers refers to is not that of Jesus, but that of Constantine and every other strongman who has used the Christians and the church to achieve earthly power and to crush any opposition. Noted televangelists have come to Trump’s side, many like John Hagee saying that Christians that God will punish Christians, that vote against Trump. That is why this film is still so pertinent.

It is fascinating that a play and film set about an incident that actually occurred in the 1920s remains so timeless. It is hard to believe that 90 years after the trial and over 50 years after the movie that our society would still be debating the issue in the movie and that legislatures and school boards are still attempting to pass religious doctrine off as science.

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It is a film about what is commonly called the “Scopes Monkey Trial” which was litigated in July of 1925 and featured an epic battle between populist three time Presidential Candidate and former Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan and famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow. The film is not completely historically accurate. It was adapted from a play by the same name. It came out following the hysteria of the McCarthy Era, when people were condemned and blacklisted for their freedom of speech, association; frequently on the basis of false testimony against them. However, the film captures the blind hatred of religious bigots the willingly ignorant who object to any belief or theory that threatens their superior position in society.

The trial was brought about after the passage of the Butler Act in Tennessee. It was an act that made it a criminal offense to teach evolution in any publicly funded school. The act stipulated:

“That it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.”

The author of the act was Tennessee State Representative John W. Butler, a farmer and the head of the World Christian Fundamentals Association an interdenominational organization dedicated to a “New Protestantism” based on the Pre-Millennial interpretation of Bible prophecy.

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Butler was heavily influenced by William Jennings Bryant who with his followers had gotten legislation banning evolution in 15 states. H.L. Mencken commented that over the years of his public life that Bryant, who had been a progressive advocate had “transformed himself” into some “sort of Fundamentalist Pope.”

Butler was opposed to the teaching of evolution and the act passed the house by a vote of 75-1. No public hearings had been held on it and no debate proffered.

Butler’s legislation did face some opposition in the State Senate. However it passed there on a vote of 24-6 after the famous Fundamentalist evangelist Billy Sunday preached as series of revival meetings to incite public opinion in favor of the bill. Sunday’s message was clear, he preached that “Education today is chained to the Devil’s throne” and praised Butler and the House for their “action against that God forsaken gang of evolutionary cutthroats.” The bill was signed into law by Governor Austin Peay, but Peay expected little to come of it.

The American Civil Liberties Union put the law to the test using high school biology teacher John Scopes who was charged with breaking the law. The trial ended up becoming less about the guilt or innocence of Scopes or even the constitutionality of the law, but rather as the field where the conflict between religious and social issues and faith versus intellectualism was fought. Butler, the man who legislated the law on religious grounds covered it as a correspondent.

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Mencken wrote of the trial:

“The Scopes trial, from the start, has been carried on in a manner exactly fitted to the anti- evolution law and the simian imbecility under it. There hasn’t been the slightest pretense to decorum. The rustic judge, a candidate for re-election, has postured the yokels like a clown in a ten-cent side show, and almost every word he has uttered has been an undisguised appeal to their prejudices and superstitions. The chief prosecuting attorney, beginning like a competent lawyer and a man of self-respect, ended like a convert at a Billy Sunday revival. It fell to him, finally, to make a clear and astounding statement of theory of justice prevailing under fundamentalism. What he said, in brief, was that a man accused of infidelity had no rights whatever under Tennessee law…”

It was an epic event covered by news outlets across the nation and the atmosphere in the town outside the courthouse was circus like, something that the movie depicts very well. The defense was not allowed to produce Scientists as witnesses, even to the chagrin of Butler who despite his opposition to evolutionary theory felt that it was not fair. When all was said and done Scopes had been convicted and a fine of $100 assessed, which was overturned on appeal. Bryan died a week after the trial and of the 15 states with similar legislation to Butler passed them into law.

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The film is based on the play of the same name written in 1950 by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. It was written during the height of the McCarthy Era and opened in 1955. The first film version starring Spencer Tracy as Henry Drummond (Clarence Darrow), Frederic March as Matthew Harrison Brady (William Jennings Bryan), Gene Kelly as E.K. Hornbeck (H.L. Mencken) while Dick York played Bertram Cates (John Scopes). Lawrence and Lee invented some fictional characters including Reverend Brown played by Claude Akins.

The film directed by Stanley Kramer captures the raw emotions of the trial, the participants and the spectators who came from near and far. The depiction of the angry mob of Christians is terrifying to watch. In the film they sing:

“We’ll hang Bertram Cates to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Bertram Cates to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Bertram Cates to a sour apple tree. Our God is marching on! Glory Glory Hallelujah! Glory Glory Hallelujah! Glory Gory Hallelujah! His truth is marching on. We’ll hang Henry Drummond to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Henry Drummond to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Henry Drummond to a sour apple tree, our God is marching on.”

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March’s depiction of Matthew Harrison Brady is riveting. The Brady of the film does not do justice to other parts of Bryan’s life. Bryan, outside his fight against evolution was ahead of his time in many ways. Earlier in his career he had pressed for Universal Suffrage, fought against war and labored against the social Darwinism of the banks, business and the Robber Barons. However the loss of three Presidential elections left him bitter and it is believed that he saw the trial as an opportunity to regain the limelight and perhaps build a base to again run for President. This speech by Brady is a fair characterization of Bryan’s beliefs:

“I have been to their cities and I have seen the altars upon which they sacrifice the futures of their children to the gods of science. And what are their rewards? Confusion and self-destruction. New ways to kill each other in wars. I tell you gentlemen the way of science is the way of darkness.”

The problem with the Bryant of the Scopes Trial was that he was a caricature of his former self, he played to the crowds. The trial played to the worst parts of his character and that shows in the movie depiction. Some Christians find this an unfair portrayal and even call it a lie, however even though March’s portrayal is fictional it does fit the spirit of the trial which is captured in the writings of many of the contemporary commentators of the trial. Mencken wrote of the real Bryan: It is a tragedy, indeed, to begin life as a hero and to end it as a buffoon.

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Another of those commentators, Marcet Haldeman-Julius wrote of the real Bryan:

“As he sat there in the court room, day after day, silent, fanning, fanning, his face set I was appalled by the hardness, the malice in it. No one who has watched the fanatical light in those hard, glittering black eyes of Bryan’s can doubt but that he believes both in a heaven and in a hell. At the same time the cruel lines of his thin, tight-pressed mouth proclaim, it seems to me, that he would stop at nothing to attain his own ends. It is anything but a weak face–Bryan’s. But it is a face from which one could expect neither understanding nor pity. My own opinion is that he is sincere enough in his religion. Also that in it is included the doctrine Paul so frankly taught–that a lie told for the glory of God is justified…”

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But I think that the real drama and tension in the film comes from Spencer Tracy in his portrayal of Drummond. This speech is taken almost verbatim from the trial:

“Can’t you understand? That if you take a law like evolution and you make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools? And tomorrow you may make it a crime to read about it. And soon you may ban books and newspapers. And then you may turn Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the mind of man. If you can do one, you can do the other. Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums beating we’ll be marching backward, BACKWARD, through the glorious ages of that Sixteenth Century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind!”

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I think that this speech is the real crux of the tension that we face even now. Legislators in a number of States have enacted laws of much the same kind of spirit as Butler and defended them with the same kind of fire as Bryan. Civil libertarians, especially secular ones bring up the same issues as Darrow did. I am a Christian and a Priest and my thinking about this is much like that espoused by Drummond in the movie.

So the film may be a fictional depiction of the Scopes Trial, but it is a film that I think that people would do well to watch. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me or the issues that I agree with brought up by the character of Henry Drummond. However, I think that everyone should watch the film and come to their own conclusions as well as to ask themselves how their particular ethic, whether secular or religious informs them in how they deal with this issue and so many others that divide us today.

Bryant’s death, coming a few days after the trial was nowhere as near as dramatic as the death scene in the movie, sometimes fiction makes the story a bit more entertaining.

But the film also gives a warning to cynics like Mencken. After Brady’s death and the trials end there is a fascinating dialogue between Drummond (Darrow) and Hornbeck (Mencken). It is worth watching:

Henry Drummond : My God, don’t you understand the meaning of what happened here today?

E. K. Hornbeck : What happened here has no meaning…

Henry Drummond : YOU have no meaning! You’re like a ghost pointing an empty sleeve and smirking at everything people feel or want or struggle for! I pity you.

E. K. Hornbeck : You pity me?

Henry Drummond : Isn’t there anything? What touches you, what warms you? Every man has a dream. What do you dream about? What… what do you need? You don’t need anything, do you? People, love, an idea, just to cling to? You poor slob! You’re all alone. When you go to your grave, there won’t be anybody to pull the grass up over your head. Nobody to mourn you. Nobody to give a damn. You’re all alone.

E. K. Hornbeck : You’re wrong, Henry. You’ll be there. You’re the type. Who else would defend my right to be lonely?

I just know when I watch it, that it could have been in the news this week, only with a different cast of characters. My concern is that there is a very loud minority that wants to inflict its particular religious view on everyone and use the public treasure to do it. The attitude of many of these people is much like the characters from the actual Scopes Trial including their view that pushes both demonizes those they oppose and their desire to regulate the secular opposition to the sidelines.

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I know that the same accusation is made by religious people of secularists, however I have seen the results of religious wars in Iraq and the Balkans, and from history. Those conflicts and the brutality of religious people in them give me great pause when I see religious and political leaders here suggest curtailing the civil liberties and even using the law against those that they oppose. As Drummond asked in the movie: “Must men go to jail because they find themselves at odds with a self-appointed prophet?”

That is why this film and that trial are still so important, for the very practice of liberty and protection of the First Amendment.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, film, History, laws and legislation, movies, Political Commentary

Liberty for the Few, Slavery for the Mass: The Basis of Trump’s America

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short thought for today. I am continuing to work on my Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory! Race, Religion, Ideology, and Politics in the Civil War Era, and Their Importance Today in order to try to get it to my agent and a German reporter for Die Zeit newspaper so she can publish part of it that paper in order to find a German publisher for it.

I have been working hard on the text. I am finishing up my new chapter on Reconstruction, and beginning to rewrite the epilogue and add a chapter on the beginnings of American slavery.

As I did this a quote from George Fitzhugh slaveholder and leading pro-slavery apologist in the 1840s and 1850s jumped out at me because of how similar it is to what I see being advocated by various people and agencies within the Trump administration, as well as the words and legislative actions of GOP lawmakers at the state and Federal level; of course all backed up by the 24/7 right wing propaganda industry. Despite their protestations over the years of supporting the Constitution they actually find it an encumbrance to exerting full executive, legislative, and judicial tyranny. Their views are very close to Fitzhugh who wrote:

“We must combat the doctrines of natural liberty and human equality, and the social contract as taught by Locke and the American sages of 1776. Under the spell of Locke and the Enlightenment, Jefferson and other misguided patriots ruined the splendid political edifice they erected by espousing dangerous abstractions – the crazy notions of liberty and equality that they wrote into the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Bill of Rights. No wonder the abolitionists loved to quote the Declaration of Independence! Its precepts are wholly at war with slavery and equally at war with all government, all subordination, all order. It is full if mendacity and error. Consider its verbose, newborn, false and unmeaning preamble…. There is, finally, no such thing as inalienable rights. Life and liberty are not inalienable…. Jefferson in sum, was the architect of ruin, the inaugurator of anarchy. As his Declaration of Independence Stands, it deserves the appropriate epithets which Major Lee somewhere applies to the thought of Mr. Jefferson, it is “exuberantly false, and absurdly fallacious.”

My friends, that is the message of President Trump and the Republican Party today. They provide evidence in almost every statement and tweet made by the President and were on full display as he defended the Confederates of Civil War. Equal rights and liberties for all are a existential threat to the champions of oligarchy and thus they must be suppressed even if it means destroying the foundations of liberty, and that begins by destroying our history. That is Trumps agenda. The seed of a KKK man doesn’t fall far from the tree that produced it. However, unlike his father, Donald Trump became President of the United States but acts as if he is the successor to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. His words often sound like that of George Fitzhugh, except that he is not nearly as eloquent in the use of the English language as were the leaders and ideologues of the Confederacy. Compared to them, as evil as they were deluded, by racism and ideology, despite being intellectually gifted and versed in the written and spoken word.  Unlike them, Trump can barely write, tweet, or voice a coherent thought. I think that this is mostly because as a child of wealth and privilege he was and remains intellectually lazy. Sadly, this is probably compounded by some form of dementia today.

Fitzhugh wrote:

“We conclude that about nineteen out of twenty individuals have “a natural and inalienable right” to be taken care of and protected, to have guardians, trustees, husbands or masters; in other words they have a natural and inalienable right to be slaves. The one in twenty are clearly born or educated in some way fitted for command and liberty.”

Sadly, there are all too many Trump supporters, especially Evangelical Christians who only care about their rights. They will have no hesitancy in ensuring that the rights of others are suppressed even as the oligarchy they support eliminates their rights under the Constitution as well. They are fools, and men like Fitzhugh realized this, as he wrote: “Liberty for the few – slavery in every form, for the mass.”

Such believe and language is not the language of liberty, But tyranny. It is an Orwellian bastardization and twisting of the word and its meaning.

Abraham Lincoln stated the matter well when he said “We all declare for liberty” but “in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men and the product of other men’s labor.” 

This is not about traditional differences between Republican and Democrat, liberal or conservative. Instead it is about the very foundations of liberty. Without liberty we will slide into authoritarianism, dictatorship and tyranny. With every passing day, President Trump and his Attorney General, Bob Barr work through the justice Department, the courts, and supporters in the Senate to overthrow our republic’s system of checks and balances, the constitutional limitations on the executive branch, and the rights of all Americans, not just those that worship at the Golden Cow of the Trump presidency.

So anyway, have a great day and until tomorrow, Please be safe.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, History, laws and legislation, leadership, News and current events, Political Commentary, racism, Religion

Now or Never the Choice Between Freedom and Tyranny in the Last Months of Trump’s Regime

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today will be another day of working around the house to get it ready for our new puppy, which is also mid-COVID 19 belated spring cleaning. It’s going to be a full day of work. 

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, after I finish my book. 

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, policies, and actions in the midst of a pandemic, an economic meltdown, and crashing poll numbers leading up to the November elections.

One wonders because on March 14th he said: “I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad,”  then during the protests of the death of George Floyd he attempted to do just that in Washington D.C.

These are very dangerous times. 

They are known 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!”

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

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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COVID-19, Trump Policy, and “Life Unworthy of Life”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am reflecting about the present in light of the past, and how policy wise, the Social Darwinist policies of the Trump Administration, and the words of his cult propagandists regardless and  and followers direct me to the Eugenics movement of the 1920s and 1930s in the United States, Weimar Germany, and other European nations, as well as Japan. But the eugenics movement was nowhere more malevolent, evident and active than it was in Hitler’s Germany. Likewise it is hard to believe that members of the administration as well as its supporters seem to believe, if you take them at their word that the elderly, disabled, mentally ill, and poor, especially those who are not white or Christian are a burden on the State, and are as the Eugenicists of the 1920s and 1930s, as well as Hitler’s Nazi Party believed, were ”Life unworthy of life .” 

It seems hard to believe for anyone born after the mid 1960s, that government through its laws, decrees, and policies could deem certain people to be “life unworthy of life.” The most malevolent of such governments was the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler, but individuals and institutions in the United States promoted the same ideology, but could not carry it to its logical conclusion.

The life that was unworthy of life included the physically and mentally handicapped or disabled, those with Downs Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Polio, and people with other neurological conditions. Likewise the mentally ill, those suffering clinical depression, schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses were considered to be life unworthy of life. Even the deaf were included, as well as veterans suffering from what we would now call PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injury. Also included were people labeled as “asocial” a very loose definition that could include almost any metal disorder or criminal act, including being a homosexual.

Tens of thousands Of such people were liquidated at the T-4 Euthanasia centers, most located in former hospitals, psychiatric institutions, or sanitariums.

Once the Nazis decided to eliminate them the same day as they invaded Poland in 1939, most of these people gassed with carbon monoxide gas from the exhaust of trucks or Diesel engines, and their remains were cremated. Others, especially children were either starved to death or given a lethal injection while they slept. In every case the next of kin of each victim was sent a standard form letter telling them that their relative had died of influenza, typhus, or some other disease while being given the best of care. The next of kin were then given the option of paying for an urn that may or may not have contained the ashes of their loved ones for inurnment near their home town. If they could not afford an urn the ashes were disposed of in the cemetery nearest to where they were killed. At Hadamar, it was on the grounds of the institution.

Despite the Nazis attempts to disguise their crime they could not be hidden, and after over 70,000 Germans were Euthanized the official T-4 Euthanasia program was ended in Germany.  The gas chambers, cremation ovens and facilities were disassembled by SS experts, and sent east to Poland, where they and their experienced technicians became key components of the Holocaust of the Jews at Soribor, Belzec, Treblinka, and Auschwitz. 

But the Euthanasia program, despite Nazi lies to senior clerics and officials of neutral countries didn’t stop, it simply moved eastward as the SS Einsatzgruppen killed the patients at every mental hospital, sanitarium, old folks home, or orphanage they came across. Inside Germany at the four T4 centers over 80,000 were gassed. At Hartheim in Austria a Party was held on the gassing of the 10,000th victim. Richard Evans wrote:

“At Hartheim the staff held a party to celebrate their ten-thousandth cremation, assembling in the crematorium around the naked body of a recently gassed victim, which was laid out on a stretcher and covered with flowers. One staff member dressed as a clergyman and performed a short ceremony, then beer was distributed to all present. Eventually no fewer than 20,000 were gassed at Hartheim, the same at Sonnenstein, 20,000 at Brandenburg and Bernburg, and another 20,000 at Grafeneck and Hadamar, making a total of 80,000 altogether.”

The tolls in Poland, the Baltic States, and the Soviet Union were much higher, but outside of the T4 program which “officially” ended in 1941.

Now in the United States the laws guaranteeing health care to people are being challenged, the Secretary of Education has removed funding from the Department’s funding request for the Special Olympics, programs for the physically and mentally disabled under the SSI are being cut to the bone, and even care for disabled veterans is being threatened as not being economical because none of them are economically valuable to an administration for which profit is the bottom line of the insurance industry. Likewise, most supposedly pro-life Christians have no problems in cutting such programs because many have bought into the materialistic, Prosperity Gospel, whose fawning preachers have anointed President Trump if he were King Cyrus.

To them, criticism of the President cannot be tolerated, no matter how factual it may be. Thus, the  sick, then weak, then infirm, or mentally ill, who are not productive have no place in society. Inside the womb they are a remarkably powerful political issue; but once outside the womb they might as well be dead if you listen to Trump’s clique of Reichsbishofs, according to who cannot produce for the economy should not eat, get medical care, or live. They are life unworthy of life.

You see, in the authoritarian world in which we live, where an uninhibited and unhinged executive backed by profit minded billionaires, and greedy preachers, such lives; the old and infirm, the disabled, the mentally ill, the young but physically disabled, those with neurological issues, and birth defects stand in the way of profit, stand in the way of a “perfect” society.

If you directly challenged such people may not advocate euthanasia per say, they would not advocate for gas chambers, or firing squads. Instead they would turn a blind eye to depriving their victims of citizenship, starving them, depriving them of medical care, and turning them out of care facilities knowing that their families lack the capability of caring for them. and if they have any capacity for work, work them until they die, so long as they Confess Christ before they die.

How do we know that life does not matter to them? One way is to note the many times that pharmaceutical corporations have increased the costs of previously inexpensive yet vital life saving medicines by thousands of dollars a dose all for profit with little to no pushback from the White House, or the FDA, much less the Senate GOP majority, or the Evangelical supporters of Trump.

Please understand, this dystopian future need not happen if people of any faith, or no faith at all make a stand against a twisted idea of dictatorship backed up by billionaires and corporate entities that suck billions of dollars from the taxpayer and pay almost nothing themselves. Of course they couldn’t do it on their own in not supported by a de facto State Media, and a cult like legion of followers who would follow Trump even if he shot someone on 5th Avenue. His words, not mine.

I will turn 60 in just over two weeks, and this does bother me enough to speak out. As a senior military officer facing the end of his career and retirement amid multiple physical and emotional issues, it does matter. I keep two things in mind today. First is that of my own responsibility to my Oath, and to fellow citizens.  In that I am reminded of the words of German General Ludwig Beck who wrote:

“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.”

And like Beck’s compatriot, Major General Henning Von Tresckow stated: “We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.” Or in my case, Trump’s America.

Historian Timothy Snyder reminds of a certain truth, which should we forget, as I imagine a large number of Trump supporters have:

“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.”

Those are all hard truths to comprehend. As Americans we always presume that we are the good guys, when in fact many times we have acted in means contrary to the ideals of the Declaration as well as the Constitution, and other laws enacted by Congress. But our republic has survived, but its institutions are both resilient and fragile. History has proven this, we have even survived a civil war, but we may not survive an increasingly vindictive and unstable President, his compliant majority in the Senate, and the 35-40% of voters who are in effect no longer Republicans, but a Trump Cult which is largely buttressed by Conservative Evangelical Churches, and inspired by a President who uses force, legal, and extralegal alike to secure his rule.

We live in extraordinary times which call for extraordinary strength if our Republic is to continue in any form that resembles the intentions of the founders and their liberal enlightenment beliefs.

If we do not want to see the return of a full fledged government and industrial sponsored campaign to eradicate life unworthy of life, we have to fight. It is a fight that we did not chose, but if the Republic is to survive without becoming a criminal dictatorship we must speak up, and we must do so now. If we do not we have no one to blame but ourselves.

As Yehuda Bauer said: “Thou shall not be a perpetrator, thou shall not be a victim, and thou shall never, but never, be a bystander.”

The choice is ours, and the time is now.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“You Can Take Our Lives and Freedom, but You Cannot Take Our Honor” Life is Not a Cabaret

Otto Wels

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am going to address something of critical importance today, even though it occurred over 87 years ago, which in the scope of history is not that long, despite the fact that the average American, regardless of their political beliefs and ideology are ignorant of past events, even those of just a few years ago. Thus, when one discusses events of 20, 40, 60, 80, or 100 years ago, one typically receives blank stares, or appeals to historical myths and fabrications that they learned in school, church, or from the media, both news and entertainment. As a historian it drives me crazy, our society, including our political, business, and media elites, has become a new generation of Know Nothings, of whom none other than the President and cult like followers supply some of the worst, but certainly not the only examples.

in 1932 the Communist Party of Germany KPD, refused to ally itself with the Social Democratic Party, SDP because they viewed the Socialists as sell-outs who refused to embrace a Soviet State in 1918 and 1919. At that time they called themselves Independent Socialists, but though a minority unleashed a left wing reign of terror that pushed German Conservatives further to the extreme right, and left the Social Democrats working with the German Army to try to hold the center. In the end, it was the extreme right that finally won a thirteen year struggle to overthrow the Weimar Republic, and after abortive coup attempts, including the Kapp Putsch in Berlin, which was crushed by a nationwide strike of labor groups, and the Nazi led Bier Hall Putsch, which was crushed due to the duplicity of Hitler’s coerced allies, and the refusal of Munich’s police to withdraw in the face of the Nazi advance at Odeonsplatz.

However, the Nazis learned from their failures at violent revolution, and instead, despite being outlawed for a number of years, worked within the democratic model to slowly gain regional, and eventually a national following. By 1932 the Nazi Party, as well as the KPD were at the height of their support. The traditional conservative German right was divided and its leaders thought they could control the Nazi movement. The left was divided between the moderate SPD and the militant KPD. An alliance of the two left parties in 1932 and 1933 would have created a parliamentary majority and stopped the Nazi movement in its tracks, but the KPD, which had split from the SPD in 1919 hated the SPD more than they did the Nazis, even though the Nazis were an existential threat to the German left. 

As a historian I think that this is one of the of the most relevant examples as the United States and other democratic nations lurch toward legally elected right wing authoritarian governments.

A few months after he gained power, Hitler’s Nazi majority Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, or by its full title Gesetz zur Behebung der Not von Volk und Reich (“Law to Remedy the Distress of People and Reich”). The came on the heels of the Reichstag Fire Decree and had tremendous repercussions for the German Republic and in effect made Hitler and his administration a dictatorship. The legislative branch, the Reichstag was limited to nothing more than a rubber stamp for the executive, as was the judicial branch, the Reichsrat. It supposedly protected the rights of the President, the Reichstag, and judiciary, but it made Hitler the the sole decider of domestic and social laws, as well as all foreign policy decisions.

The law stated:

The Reichstag has enacted the following law, which is hereby proclaimed with the assent of the Reichsrat, it having been established that the requirements for a constitutional amendment have been fulfilled:

Article One

In addition to the procedure prescribed by the constitution, laws of the Reich may also be enacted by the government of the Reich. This includes the laws referred to by Articles 85 Paragraph 2 and Article 87 of the constitution. (Article 85 and 87 dealt with the budgetary process and allocation of funds for advertisement.)

Article Two

Laws enacted by the government of the Reich may deviate from the constitution as long as they do not affect the institutions of the Reichstag and the Reichsrat. The rights of the President remain unaffected.

Article Three:

Laws enacted by the Reich government shall be issued by the Chancellor and announced in the Reich Gazette. They shall take effect on the day following the announcement, unless they prescribe a different date. Articles 68 to 77 of the Constitution do not apply to laws enacted by the Reich government. (These Articles dealt with the legislative process in which the Reichstag, Government, Reichsrat, and President all had specific responsibilities which limited the power of the government to rush laws into force without due process and deliberation, and if needed the approval of the electorate)

Article Four

Treaties of the Reich with foreign states, which relate to matters of Reich legislation, shall for the duration of the validity of these laws not require the consent of the legislative authorities. The Reich government shall enact the legislation necessary to implement these agreements. (This removed the requirement of the Reichstag to approve treaties)

Article Five

This law enters into force on the day of its proclamation. It expires on April 1, 1937; it expires furthermore if the present Reich government is replaced by another.

When the legislation was introduced the debate was muted. While the Communist Party was yet to be banned, deputies of the Communist Party could not attend the session, many had already been arrested and many more were in hiding or had fled the country. Hermann Goering adjusted the rules for a quorum in order to compensate for the lack of members in attendance. Deputies of the Social Democratic Party were also terrorized, hounded, and some arrested, but 94 attended, outnumbered they did not buckle under the Nazi threats, which included the chamber being ringed by armed members of the SA and SS.

The non-Nazi Protestant based conservative parties provided no resistance, but the Catholic Center Party was torn by concerns that the legislation could limit the rights of the Catholic Church. However, they had been outmaneuvered by Hitler who had already negotiated a Concordant with the Vatican. The result was to ensure that the Catholic Center Party would vote for the measure, which passed with a mere 94 deputies opposing it, all members of the Social Democratic Party.

The only member of the Reichstag to speak against the measure was the head of the Social Democrats, Otto Wels. In defiance of Hitler, Goering, the Nazi Deputies, and the threatening SA and SS men uttered words that every resistor in every country threatened by authoritarian leaders who despise the rule of law and the Constitutions that they used to gain power need to hear and proclaim, because the truth can never be silenced:

“You can take our lives and our freedom, but you cannot take our honour. We are defenseless but not honourless.”

Shortly after the Enabling Act, every non-Nazi Conservative party voluntarily dissolved, their organizations, youth, and veterans organizations being absorbed into the SA or Hitlerjugend. Many rank and file KPD members readily embraced the Nazis, even if their leaders were killed, jailed, or exiled. That was not the case with the SPD. Because of their stance and the courage of Otto Wels, they became the most hated and persecuted German political parties.

Otto Wels died as an exile in France. Many Social Democrats were placed in Concentration Camps and died, likewise some Communists. The Catholic Center Party would find itself betrayed, and many of its leaders would be killed, jailed, or placed in Concentration Camps, and Hitler would persecute opposition members of the Catholic Church as if no Concordat had ever been negotiated. A few members of the Protestant conservative parties, would join the German resistance, and some would be jailed, placed in Concentration Camps, or after the failed Military Coup of July 20th 1944, would be executed for their resistance, but they were a distinct minority, and few had any misgivings as long as it looked like Germany would win the war.

But eventually the Nazis would be driven from power. Their descendants today, whether in Germany, the United States, or other countries must be confronted at all costs. Democracy, and the American Constitutional Democracy, based on the principles of the Declaration of Independence, which recognizes that all men are created equal, and the Constitution of the United States which was the first to checks and balances between the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government, must be upheld. The Executive Branch, cannot, regardless of which party is in power be allowed to overthrow that democracy.

We have reached a point in the history of the United States where the Executive Branch, over a period of decades has assumed the powers of dictatorship as the Legislative branch over the corresponding time has surrendered its prerogatives and powers, while the judicial branch had become the domain of politically appointed judges and justices. Donald Trump and the GOP Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, have been the leaders of that, but should by some chance Bernie win, I have no doubt that some of his supporters secure his power by similar means. Yesterday, the President declared himself to be the Chief Law Enforcement Official in the country, in effect above all law. The Founders attempted to ensure that would not happen by placing Congress above the Executive Branch in the Constitution, but they assumed that no Chief Executive would do such a thing.

One does not know what will happen next, especially after the Senate acquitted the President in his impeachment trial, and the President’s subsequent retribution on those whose did not support him completely, or obeyed their oaths of office.

However, it is my opinion, that anyone who truly values the primary principles of the Declaration and the Constitution, and not just be a compliant tool of any political leader, must ne willing to take a stand; like the one Otto Wels made when confronted with a dictatorship in the making. Even if the President unleashes the power of the police and his own heavily armed supporters against opponents, we must remember like Otto Wels, they can “take our lives and freedom, but they cannot take our honor…”

This is something that anyone committed to the principles of the Declaration and Constitution must take seriously over the next eight and a half months leading to the next Presidential election. If we fail, the effects will be felt for at least a generation, and the institutions of our government will be transformed in ways that the founders could only imagine in their worst dreams.

Democrats and Never Trump conservatives must keep this in mind. Nothing is guaranteed right now, it is quite possible that Trump and his cult like supporters in Congress, before the election, or if he is re-elected, with their now majority in the courts could enact something like the Enabling Act if we are not careful. We must be careful to watch for the major terrorist attack, or war that could lead to the implementation of already legislated laws, such as the Patriot Act, or executive orders that give near dictatorial powers to the executive, and which would, if they occurred, be supported by a majority of Americans.

Historian 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.”

Trump has said he would do that and his supporters are committed to what he says, but until now most Americans have refused to believe him, and them. Sadly, most still don’t. After all, once one ceases to resist what more is there to do, just go to the Cabaret.

As Joel Gray, the Master of Ceremonies in the musical and film Cabartet sang:

Where are your troubles now?
Forgotten? I told you so!
We have no troubles here
Here, life is beautiful.
The girls are beautiful.
Even the orchestra is beautiful.

Yes, ignore everything and immerse yourself in our entertainment and sports culture, as if nothing else matters. What does freedom matter if you have no troubles?

So until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Intellectual, Political, and Theological Integrity in the Time of the Iowa Caucuses, the State of the Union, and Ideological Conformity

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a quick note for today as it will be an eventful week; the Iowa Caucuses on Monday, the State of the Union Address on Tuesday, and the acquittal without an actual trial with witnesses or new evidence on Wednesday, or Thursday at the lastest.

Since the first will be disputed because of irregularities, hacking, and political manipulation in the caucuses which will sow discord in the Democratic Party; the second, the State of the Union which will be President Trump’s preludes to his acquittal by the Senate; and the last a charade which will destroy the checks and balances intended by our Founders, and solidify an authoritarian government, led by the Executive Branch regardless of who is President or which party they represent. The guardrails that secured our republic and its Constitution have been damaged beyond repair. Humanity, the one constant in recorded history will see to that.

So what I am going to to do, at least until I retire from the military is post articles that the discerning reader will understand are due to prudence over propaganda, and enlightening people by sometimes indirect means that to bludgeon my way through issues. This is because while I am a liberal, progressive, or whatever label you want to put on me I am a historian and a realist.

I will be bold when I need to be, but it may be through the lives and words of others, people who living or dead I support and admire. Sometimes it will be my own words, but sadly, my words and wisdom often pale to those who have often paid with their lives for their opposition to the status quo. Truthfully, being a former conservative who now is a bit further to the left than the center left., but certainly not an extremist in any way. My pragmatism and study of history prevents that, as does my Oath of Office to the Constitution which rises beyond political party or religious denomination’s beliefs.

That might confuse true believers and ideologues regardless of their place on the political and ideological chasm. Thus my posts will reflect my position on the political and theological left, without    compromise, but while doing my best to maintain intellectual, theological, political, and historical integrity. So you can expect more articles from history, with appropriate political or theological commentary thrown in as needed. Likewise, though I am a Democrat I will try to refrain from intra-Party fratricide because of the broader issues at hand. The political fight among Democrats must not become a Democratic version of the Trump Cult where one candidate is not to be criticized or their lives, records, and actions submitted to scrutiny. I refuse to exchange one version of tyranny for another.

I will now quote from one of my favorite episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation called The Drumhead uttered by Jean Luc Picard:

“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.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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“A Mind Ready to Stand Alone” Intellectual Freedom in the Age of Trump and After

Richard Hofstadter

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was a very busy day and I am tired. Tomorrow will be busy with a full day of counseling, administration, and walking about the shipyard visiting our workers. So instead of commenting on impeachment, Iran, or illegal sign stealing, which I will start doing tomorrow. Obviously since sign-stealing in baseball, especially the World Series is culturally more important and reflective of our society than the impeachment of incredibly deserving President, and potential war, one criminal state against another, Mano an Mano. Anyway, I digress. So I am posting a commentary on the anti-intellectualism of much of America, and and especially of Trump’s ‘Merca. So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

In July of 2017 the Pew Research Center published a detailed study of the current views of Americans regarding various institutions. One of those was higher education. The results showed that since 2015, Republicans, particularly Conservative Republicans place much less value on higher education and even that higher education has a negative effect on the country.

This should not be too surprising to anyone who studies American History. Our history is filled with anti-intellectual movements which are quite often tied in with conspiratorial world views, isolationism, and anti-immigrant or foreigner movements such as the Know Nothings, the Ku Klux Klan, and the original “America First” crowd. This has been a consistent drumbeat in American History, and yhe late historian Richard Hofstadter wrote:

“As a consequence, the heartland of America, filled with people who are often fundamentalist in religion, nativist in prejudice, isolationist in foreign policy, and conservative in economics, has constantly rumbled with an underground revolt against all these tormenting manifestations of our modern predicament.” 

But simple native prejudice and religious fundamentalism are only part of the problem. Throughout much of our history Americans have as Susan Jacoby has noted “only in terms of its practical results.” She notes that this phenomenon has “reasserted itself strongly in the “no frills” decisions of many local and state school boards. That the eliminated frills had once provided children with some exposure to a higher culture than pop was a matter of little concern to the public.”

The prevailing opinion, especially among conservatives is that education is only valuable if it produces jobs. In other words it’s training, not education and if you don’t know the difference between the two you are probably not really educated. The fact is that education, especially formal higher education should pursue truth more on their own long after their formal schooling ends. I can thank my teachers and professors at every level for inspiring me to do that. Sadly, more many, if not most Americans education at any level is simply a way to punch a ticket to get a job, but I digress…

In 2015 Pew noted that 54% of Republicans held a positive view of higher education, while 37% viewed universities, colleges and higher education negatively. That shifted in 2016 to a plurality of 45% positive and 45% negative. Their 2017 survey showed a much more pronounced shift, 58% negative and only 39% positive. Of the Republicans those who considered themselves “conservative” views were even more pronounced with 65% saying that higher education had a negative impact.

A change of such magnitude regarding what Americans have almost always universally valued as a societal good does not happen in a vacuum, the ground has to be prepared for it. Since a large portion of the GOP conservatives are Evangelical Christians one has to look at what has been going on in Evangelical Church and its politics for the past 50 years. whole denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention experienced splits as moderates were drive from the denomination and its educational institutions during the Fundamentalist takeover of it and its institutions.

The growth of Evangelical power centers that any type of education that comes from secular institutions have created their own educational centers to propagate their fundamentalist and radically right wing political views. Institutions like the American Family Association, the Eagle Institute, and others mimic traditional think tanks but are nothing more than propaganda outlets covered with an academic veneer in order to fool people into thinking that they are legitimate.  Likewise, the promotion and acceptance of fake history by faux “historians” like David Barton has led to a devastating decline in the willingness of Evangelicals, and hence Republicans to care about the truth and to rail at institutions which they despise out of the fundamentalist worldview.

Non-intellectual virtues such as patriotism, loyalty, faith, prosperity, and power have supplanted the intellectual quest for truth. Expertise of any kind is disregarded but particularly that of academics. Even on college and university campuses academics and the pursuit of academic and intellectual questions is being subsumed by bloated bureaucracies which treat instructors and professors as chattel while seeking profits which usually come at the cost of academics, but again I digress…

The fact is that American society as a whole is hostile towards intellectuals and academics. As Hofstadter wrote:

“All this is the more maddening, as Edward Shils has pointed out, in a populistic culture which has always set a premium on government by the common man and through the common judgement and which believes deeply in the sacred character of publicity. Here the politician expresses what a large part of the public feels. The citizen cannot cease to need or to be at the mercy of experts, but he can achieve a kind of revenge by ridiculing the wild-eyed professor, the irresponsible brain truster, or the mad scientist, and by applauding the politicians as the pursue the subversive teacher, the suspect scientist, or the allegedly treacherous foreign-policy adviser. There has always been in our national experience a type of mind which elevates hatred to a kind of creed; for this mind, group hatreds take a place in politics similar to the class struggle in some other modern societies. Filled with obscure and ill-directed grievances and frustrations, with elaborate hallucinations about secrets and conspiracies, groups of malcontents have found scapegoats at various times in Masons or abolitionists, Catholics, Mormons, or Jews, Negroes, or immigrants, the liquor interests or the international bankers. In the succession of scapegoats chosen by the followers of this tradition of Know-Nothingism, the intelligentsia have at last in our time found a place.” 

The American President has shown that he is exactly that kind of leader, and he is supported by followers who lap up everything that he says. Fed by the lies of pundits and radio talk show hosts who are college dropouts that despise anything that might be considered intellectual the President has added his voice to the cacophony of anti-intellectual thought that characterizes current American conservatism, in which men like William F. Buckley would be hard put to find a home.

There is a cost to such trends. We are not unique and such cultural trends do have consequences that many people do not think could happen here. But the non-intellectualism of our time, especially that of the militant and often fundamentalist Christian Right that predominates American conservatism is dangerous. Milton Mayer wrote of his experience with ordinary Germans in the years after the Second World War in his book They Thought They Were Free: 

“As the Nazi emphasis on nonintellectual virtues (patriotism, loyalty, duty, purity, labor, simplicity, “blood,” “folk-ishness”) seeped through Germany, elevating the self-esteem of the “little man,” the academic profession was pushed from the very center to the very periphery of society. Germany was preparing to cut its own head off. By 1933 at least five of my ten friends (and I think six or seven) looked upon “intellectuals” as unreliable and, among these unreliables, upon the academics as the most insidiously situated.”

The Nazis loved educated men who were able to subordinate themselves to the Party and the State to get the job done. There were quite a few academics, particularly lawyers and doctors who were willing to put their education to use in service of the regime. Real intellectuals, men who thought and fought for truth and freedom were removed from academia or their positions in government. They were replaced with men willing to sacrifice their integrity and honor to further their own interests or to serve Nazi ideology and the Party.

It is my view that regardless of what happens with the Trump Presidency, as bad as things seem now, that the assault on intellectuals, knowledge, education, and ultimately truth will continue unabated, with even more fury, regardless of whether he survives impeachment and is re-elected. Irving Howe wrote in his essay The Age of Conformity: 

“The most glorious vision of the intellectual life is still that which is loosely called humanist: the idea of a mind committed yet dispassionate, ready to stand alone, curious, eager, skeptical. The banner of critical independence, ragged and torn though it may be, is still the best we have.” 

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Silent Witnesses of Evil Deeds… Are We Still of Any Use? Trump’s Christian Advocates


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over his three years in office President Trump has managed to tell over 15,000 lies or distortions of the truth as of December 16th 2019 according to the Washington Post. 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 of the President’s well documented lies, and their defense by 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. Sophie Scholl, a leader of the Anti-Nazi White Rose Resistance who was martyred two years before Bonhoeffer wrote:

But that’s part of the problem. The lies and actions of the President and his administration have been cumulative; and toxic to our political, social, and even religious institutions. What was shocking to most on day one became normalized over the course of the past three years, four and a half if you go back to the time Candidate Trump came down the escalator at Trump Tower to announce his Presidential candidacy.

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. In addition to his lies and obfuscations the President appears to have directly collided with the Russians to influence the 2016 election, use his office for personal gain, pardoning war criminals, breaking treaties, and offering support for nations who kill American based reporters, and even assassinating a military leader of a nation we are not at war with on the soil of a badly needed, but fragile ally; and finally today made comments that he would commit US troops to nations who paid the most for them. In essence, he has agreed to turn the U.S. Military from a force dedicated to supporting and defending the Constitution, to a force for hire, mercenaries if you will.

Sophie Scholl, a leader of the Anti-Nazi White Rose Resistance who was martyred two years before Bonhoeffer wrote:

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. 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.”

Since President Trump first announced his candidacy for President in 2015, I have been sounding out a warning about the President, mostly for my Christian friends. By doing so 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-two 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, Paula White, 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. His Secretary of State, Secretary of Health and Human Services, and others in his administration hold the same views as the Trump Court clergy.

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.

But there is a critical difference for those in the military versus religious sycophants. Above everything our oaths demand obedience to the Constitution above personal loyalty to any President, any Political Party, or any personal religious preference. Members of the military must remember the words of men who served under men with similar personality traits as our President. General Ludwig Beck, Chief of Staff of the German Army, resigned his post in 1938 over Hitler’s threatened invasion of Czechoslovakia. He wrote:

“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.”

Beck also wrote something that is all to important to any military officer, intelligence and law enforcement officials, as well as diplomats in such times as we live today:

“Final decisions about the nation’s existence are at stake here; history will incriminate these leaders with bloodguilt if they do not act in accordance with their specialist political knowledge and conscience. Their soldierly obedience reaches its limit when their knowledge, their conscience, and their responsibility forbid carrying out an order.”


Likewise, another German officer, Major General Henning Von Tresckow, who Like Beck lost his life in the attempt to kill Hitler on July 20th 1944, noted:

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

Finally, the German pastor Martin Niemoller, himself a Conservative Christian, nati-Communist, and early supporter of Hitler wrote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

As I said, Niemöller was an early supporter of Hitler, until he saw the truth about him. I think the same of Christians who support the basest and most immoral, unconstitutional, and deranged aspects of Trump’s policies. But I think that it was Bonhoeffer who asked the right question in terms of Christians and their support of morally bankrupt regimes, not just Trump’s, but those in many nations where Christians back such regimes. “Are we still of any use?”

It’s a pretty good question, I would ask anyone who calls themself a Christian to meditate upon it.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“How Did it Get So Late So Soon?” The End of 2019 and the Uncertainty of 2020


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is the last day of 2019 and the year has gone by like a whirlwind, some of this is personal and the rest because of the chaos that has become the new normal in our country and much of the world. Dr. Seuss wrote:

“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”

Being that I am neither the prophet nor the son of the prophet, but a priest and historian I cannot predict what will happen in the coming year, only that it will be chaotic and dangerous. I try to be optimistic but I can see the threads of our Republic unraveling and regardless of how President Trump’s time in office ends, I do not expect a soft landing. Without sounding too pessimistic, I think it is wise to live by the words of George Washington when he commanded the Colonial Army during the Revolution:

“If we are wise, let us prepare for the worst.”

Of course many others have said things like hope for the best and prepare for the worst, but in such an world as ours I think that wisdom lies in preparing for the worst, even though I do hope, pray, and work for the best. The last three years have shown us that we can take nothing for granted, that institutions can be corrupted, Constitutional guardrails overcome, and tyranny arise. Historian Timothy Snyder warned us of this in his book On Tyranny: “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.” 

Snyder was right, and while we can all work, pray and hope for the best in 2020, we must also prepare for the worst. Given the words of the President, the policies of his administration, that the absolute nearly worshipful actions and words of his followers, who threaten violence and civil war should he be turned out of office by impeachment or failure to win re-election. That is something to be to be concerned about.

That being said, tonight to all of my friends I wish you the best, and in the words of Auld Lang Syne:

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup !
and surely I’ll buy mine !
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Study the Past, Fight, and Live for the Future: Advice Entering the 4th Year of Trump

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Friends at Padre Steve’s World

I tend to become somewhat reflective as the New Year approaches. I am reminded of Peter Benchley, who wrote, “The past always seems better when you look back on it than it did at the time. And the present never looks as good as it will in the future.” Likewise, St Augustine of Hippo once asked “How can the past and future be, when the past no longer is, and the future is not yet?”

Augustine’s question is interesting, but I think that his question is flawed. I think that the past lives in the present much more than we would like to think and that our future, though unwritten can unfold in a multitude of ways and possibilities.

Many of us live in the past as if it were today. We, individually and collectively, as individuals and nations live in the past and look to it much more fondly than when it was our present. I think that historian Will Durant possibly said it the best: “The past is not dead. Indeed, it is often not even past.”

As a historian myself I value the past and seek answers and wisdom from it to use in the present because what we do in the present does, for better or worse defines our future. Confucius said “study the past if you would define the future.” He was quite wise, he said to study the past, did he did not say to live in it.

That is something that I have been learning for over 20 years now when my Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor, used a Star Trek Next Generation metaphor from the episode A Matter Of Time in order to teach me how my past was influencing the way I was living my life.In the episode a shadowy visitor who claimed to be from the future refuses to help the crew of the Enterprise save an endangered world, claiming that if he were to help them, that his “history – would unfold in a way other than it already has.”

Finally, after other all other possibilities were exhausted, Captain Picard was forced to make a decision and confronted the visitor, who as it turned out to be a thief from the past, using time travel to collect technology to enrich himself by bringing it back in time. Picard makes a comment which I think is pertinent in a time like ours.

“A person’s life, their future, hinges on each of a thousand choices. Living is making choices! Now, you ask me to believe that if I make a choice other than the one that appears in your history books, then your past will be irrevocably altered. Well… you know, Professor, perhaps I don’t give a damn about your past, because your past is my future, and as far as I’m concerned, it hasn’t been written yet!”

When my supervisor told me that my past did not have to be my future, it opened a door of life and faith that I had never experienced before and which showed me that life was to be boldly lived in the present. While it meant a lot then, it means more now for the past according to William Shakespeare “is prologue.”

We cannot help being influenced by the past. We should indeed learn from it, but we cannot remain in it or try to return to it. Kierkegaard said that “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Since I am a Christian, at least by profession, my faith in that future is in the God who is eternal, the God of love. Victor Hugo in Les Miserables said “Love is the only future God offers.” That is the future that I want to envision.

Unfortunently there are many people who claim the same Christian faith that I claim who attempt to return to an imaginary past and to try to legislate that past onto others who do not share their beliefs, if necessarily using the police powers of the state to do so. Such is neither honest because it attempts to enforce a mythologized past on others, nor Christian, because ultimately the Christian hope is focused on the yet to be realized future and not the past, it has nothing to do with establishing some kind of theocratic Christian state that denies rights and a future to all but like minded Christians.

Living is making choices and the future hinges on thousands of them. Many of these choices we make automatically without thought simply because we have always done them that way, or because that is how it was done in the past. However, if we want to break the cycle, if we want to live in and envision that future of the God of love then we have to live in the present though the past lives in us.

T.S. Elliot penned this verse:

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

The coming year promises to be challenging, and the tensions between those who want to return to the past, especially the predominantly Christian cult  devoted to President Trump and making America great again and those who believe in an inclusive hope and future for all will be on full display.

As for me, I choose the path of Picard; because my future, and our future, hasn’t been written yet. Likewise I cannot surrender to those who want to return us to a mythologized past that never existed in history, except in authoritarian States. But the Trump Cult, led by those in elected or appointed office at every level of government are attempting to create an authoritarian state, appealing to a mythological past to write the future. If that is the future they imagine, and want to legislate, I will fight.

I am reminded of the words of the late British military historian B.H. Liddell-Hart who wrote in his final book Why Don’t We Learn From History, wrote something that is quite descriptive of the actions of President Trump and his Cult.

“We learn from history that self-made despotic rulers follow a standard pattern. In gaining power: They exploit, consciously or unconsciously, a state of popular dissatisfaction with the existing regime or of hostility between different sections of the people. They attack the existing regime violently and combine their appeal to discontent with unlimited promises (which, if successful, they fulfil only to a limited extent). They claim that they want absolute power for only a short time (but “find” subsequently that the time to relinquish it never comes). They excite popular sympathy by presenting the picture of a conspiracy against them and use this as a lever to gain a firmer hold at some crucial stage.” 

My choice in our time is to resist, and to fight for a future that includes everyone.  I close with the words of Sophie Scholl, a leader of the anti-Nazi White Rose resistance:

The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. 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.

Such a course is not safe because the fact is, that too many ordinary people who have sold their souls to the Cult of Trump and who would if given the choice, would, just like the janitor at Munich University who identified and turned Sophie and her brother to the Gestapo and death at the hands of Roland Freisler and the extra-judicial Volksgericht (People’s Court).

So, until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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