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“Functionaries Ready to Believe and Act Without Asking Questions” Trump’s Orwellian Administration

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I have thought about the actions of President Trump of the last week or so that I remembered the words of historian Timothy Snyder. He wrote in his book The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America:

“Authoritarianism begins when we can no longer tell the difference between the true and the appealing. At the same time, the cynic who decides that there is no truth at all is the citizen who welcomes the tyrant.”

Sadly it seems that there are many Americans, a vocal minority who can no longer tell the difference between truth and what they find appealing. Much of this cannot be ascribed to any other motive than racism, admitted or not. Likewise, there is probably a larger number of Americans who have become so cynical that they have made the decision that there is no truth. They are the people who really make authoritarian regimes possible.

Hannah Arendt wrote:

The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction ( i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false ( i.e ., the standards of thought) no longer exist.

That is a big part of the danger that we face today. Such people become the willing functionaries who drive the machine of the criminal state.

The late and great Auschwitz survivor, Primo Levi wrote:

 “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.” 

Last night I quoted from the book The Participants: the Men of the Wannsee Conference in the chapter dealing with Friedrich Kritzinger, State Secretary for the Reich Chancellery, whose job it was to make the bureaucracy of the Third Reich run as smoothly as possible. The writers of that chapter noted:

“Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies?” (St. Augustine). This might not be a quote from Kritzinger, but it serves as a reminder that, by working as a lawyer for a regime, which he has known from the start to be criminal, he made himself a stooge.” (The Participants p.217”) 

I wonder how many like Kritzinger are currently serving in the Trump Administration, or in Congress defending his every misdeed. From my perspective I could name more than a dozen without blinking an eyelash, men an women who purposely subvert the law and Constitution in the name of Trump, as if loyalty to him is more important than their oath, or if his word “trumps” the law and Constitution. In the Third Reich it was said by many leading Nazis that Hitler’s word was above the law and that it was the law.

Be it whether they are true believers of lies, or cynics who have stopped believing in truth, they make possible the existence and functionality of the criminal authoritarian state. Both the true believers and the cynics refuse any personal responsibility and commit themselves to a system that knows no bounds of cruelty or lawlessness. Hoffer wrote:

“There is also this: when we renounce the self and become part of a compact whole, we not only renounce personal advantage but are also rid of personal responsibility. There is no telling to what extremes of cruelty and ruthlessness a man will go when he is freed from the fears, hesitations, doubts and the vague stirrings of decency that go with individual judgment. When we lose our individual independence in the corporateness of a mass movement, we find a new freedom—freedom to hate, bully, lie, torture, murder and betray without shame and remorse.”

So anyway, I am tired. It has been a long day.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, holocaust, laws and legislation, leadership, Military, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

Fear, Paranoia, Trump, Evil, and the Absence Of Empathy

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Every day that I see a tweet or hear President Donald Trump go into incoherent

streams of banal blathering I am reminded that the man has no ability to empathize with any other human being, even his family. It does not matter whether it is people suffering in a hurricane, people who have seen mass numbers of family and friends murdered by domestic terrorists, labeling racial and religious minorities as terrorists, criminals, animals, or vermin; or encouraging violence against political opponents and the press at his rallies, he always makes things about him, and plays to the fears of his base.

His lies are often whoppers and those he has been proven by many organizations to have lied or distorted the truth well over 10,000 times during his presidency, often to the detriment of his policies and programs, and which subvert the alliances and treaties that help to keep America great.

I cannot imagine any other American President with such an absence of empathy. He displays all the traits of a narcissistic sociopath, devoid of empathy or the capacity to love anyone other than himself. Everything else is fungible to him. He has no real friends, only temporary partners, and that includes his multiple wives and paramours.

Yet for some reason the bulk of the Republican establishment and its conservative Christian base not only supports him but make up theological jibber-jabber to justify their support on the thinnest Biblical support, usually biblical verses or stories taken completely out of context. But he appeals to their fears, and I doubt that they will abandon him unless the economy completely collapses leaving them destitute, in which case they will likely blame whoever he blames and still support him, just like so many religious people who in other nations have tied their religion to despots.

Believe me, religious people of any faith can live to the highest and most commendable humanitarian deeds as a result of their faith, while others can sink to depravity which only true believers can sink.

The distinguished British Mathematician and Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote:

“Religion carries two sorts of people in two entirely opposite directions: the mild and gentle people it carries towards mercy and justice; the persecuting people it carries into fiendish sadistic cruelty…” 

Whitehead was right, and the latter will follow the President into the abyss. The American philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote:

“A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”

Sadly, such people are capable of anything. Historian Timothy Snyder reminded us shortly after President Trump’s Election reminded us in his book On Tyranny: 

“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.”

Last night I wrote about the uncomfortable necessity of trying to understand evil, its causes and those who perpetuate and encourage it, including the current American President, a man incapable of feeling for others, or taking responsibility for his words and actions. The same is true of many of his supporters. Gustave Gilbert who served as a psychologist to the major war crimes defendants at Nuremberg noted:

“In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trails 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.”

The President has a dark Charisma which his devout followers find irresistible, and since he is not a fringe character, but the leader of one of the most powerful countries on the planet, this is not something that we can easily dismiss. Nor can we dismiss the ever increasing power of the Executive branch of the government,  the specialization and distancing of bureaucrats from the policies they implement, and the pressure of pastors, employers, family, church members, and party officials on people who would normally not harm a fly. However, as Conservative columnist and former Bush Administration staffer Michael Gerson wrote in July of 2017: “The president and his men are incapable of feeling shame about shameful things.”

While President Trump is a catalyst for many of the things happening in the country and the world, he is not the cause. The seeds have been planted for decades by preachers, pundits, and politicians that specialize in promoting fear and paranoia in their followers.

The late American historian, Richard Hofstadter wrote:

“The idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.”

This is important at a time of increasing economic uncertainly, a world where the old stable democratic orders are under attack, the paranoia increases, along with it fear, racism, and war across the spectrum. A leader who encourages violence and turns every issue into a personal animus only emboldens his followers.

Historian Christopher Browning wrote of this in his book Ordinary Men:

“I fear that we live in a world in which war and racism are ubiquitous, in which the powers of government mobilization and legitimization are powerful and increasing, in which a sense of personal responsibility is increasingly attenuated by specialization and bureaucratization, and in which the peer group exerts tremendous pressures on behavior and sets moral norms. In such a world, I fear, modern governments that wish to commit mass murder will seldom fail in their efforts for being unable to induce “ordinary men” to become their “willing executioners.”

Holocaust survivor and philosopher Primo Levi warned us of them, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.” 

Whether President Trump wins re-election or doesn’t the danger will not decrease. Many of his followers, and many Trump himself may refuse to stand aside if he loses. some threatening civil war if he loses. But, if he wins he has the power to further dismantle the Constitutional guardrails that have been the protectors of our political system, as well as turn all the instruments of power into his personal weapons. He is already doing so. This is the practice of tyrants throughout history.

Anyway, I’m done for the night as we wait for Hurricane Dorian to reach us sometime overnight. Having been through quite a number of hurricanes in North Carolina and Virginia I know how dangerous they are. My heart is with all of Dorian’s victims in Bermuda and in the Southeastern United States. I have many friends in harm’s way. I cannot ignore their suffering, unlike the President, and many of his minion.

So until tomorrow, as long as we weather the storm without major power outages, flooding, or storm damage, I will write again.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, faith, History, holocaust, leadership, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, weather

Einsatzgruppen and Ordinary Men: Religion, Ideology, and True Believers, Now

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

this is a follow up to yesterday’s article about the Einsatzgruppen  and Ordungspolizei action in Poland from 1939 to early 1942, the period before Hitler and his minions made the decision to enact the Endlosung, the Final Solution to what they referred to in academic and clinical terms of the Jewish Problem. 

I cannot think for you, but the social and political climate of the United States and many other Western Democracies, what happened then is not simply an academic question that we can leave in the past, unless we are to submit ourselves to repeat that tragedy, that Holocaust. 

Eighty years ago the members of Heinrich Himmler’s Einsatzgruppen were following the German Army into Poland. These forces were intended to do one thing, to eliminate any Poles capable of resisting the Reich and to round up and kill Jews. The sad thing is that while the Genocide committed by the Nazis is in a league of its own, the propensity for others to write about, urge, and promote genocidal practices is not unique.

One of the most troubling aspects of genocide is the degree to which people will go to rationalize and justify it, especially if it is supposedly commanded by their “God.” This includes people who exalt their human leader’s pronouncements to that of a god.

Eric Hoffer wrote:

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

Thus, today’s article is difficult to write. I realize that some people will be offended because to those that cannot see the nuance that any criticism of their beliefs is akin to an attack on God. That is not my intent at all, there are too many people of faith in all religions who work against the extremists who claim to speak evil in the name of their God. Likewise I am not  attempting by any stretch of the imagination to broad brush or demonize people of faith. That being said, there are people of every faith and ideology who are capable of planning and committing genocide.

Yes there are extremists, but there are also many ordinary people who obey without questioning, and if ordered by a high enough authority will commit unspeakable acts. As Primo Levi noted, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in numbers to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are…the functionaries ready to believe and act without asking questions.”

But my purpose today, in fact the sole intent of this article is to point out some of the questions and issues that people of faith need to ask when they faced with the killing of innocents or defenseless people in the name of God, or of a political leader. The fact that the Trump administration has already began rounding up people including American citizens and separating them from their families in what amount to concentration camps. (And yes, I do know the difference between a concentration camp like Dachau and a death camp like Treblinka, or Auschwitz so don’t even go there Mr. Trump Cultist.) But the fact is that once you go down the path that the Trump administration has elected to trod there is not much more to overcome before the killing begins.

Historian Timothy Snyder wrote:

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

Thus, one only has to look at history and the words or actions of people who live among us to realize that the seeds of genocide are always being sown by those who find others less than human. The men and women who sow the seeds of future genocide can do so in the name of their God, their religion, their religious or secular political ideological, or their views on the superiority of their race. The Nazis provide us a road map of the twisted logic used by the perpetrators of such actions, but they are not alone in history, and people like them exist today, some peddling their hatred in the name of God and religion, but not always.

When one reads the speeches, the after action reports, and the post-war testimony of those who orchestrated and conducted the worst terror of the Nazi regime against the Jews and others that they considered to be less than human, or in the case of the handicapped and the mentally ill, “life unworthy of life” they are stunning, and troubling. I just finished reading Horst Bieshold’s Crying Hands: Eugenics and Deaf People in Nazi Germany, and I am currently reading Christopher Browning’s The Origins Of the Holocaust: The Evolution Of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939 – March 1942. 

During his Posen speech of October 1943 SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler was quite clear about the aims of the Nazis, and their goals regarding the Jews and other Untermenschen (Sub humans) including infants and children. Himmler said:

“We came to the question: what to do with the women and children? I decided to find a clear solution here as well. I did not consider myself justified to exterminate the men – that is, to kill them or have them killed – and allow the avengers of our sons and grandsons in the form of their children to grow up. The difficult decision had to be taken to make this people disappear from the earth…”

One would think that killing babies, any babies, but in the particular case Jewish babies to prevent them from growing up to avenge the deaths of their parents would be repulsive, especially to Jews. For most Jews it is, but like every religion Judaism has its share of extremists.

One of them is the controversial Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, the dean of the Od Yosef Hai Yeshiva near Nablus in Israel. In a chapter in his book Torat ha-Melekh [The King’s Teaching] entitled “Deliberate harm to innocents,” which provides numerous justifications to kill gentiles, even babies, Shapira wrote:

“In any situation in which a non-Jew’s presence endangers Jewish lives, the non-Jew may be killed even if he is a righteous Gentile and not at all guilty for the situation that has been created… Hindrances—babies are found many times in this situation. They block the way to rescue by their presence and do so completely by force. Nevertheless, they may be killed because their presence aids murder. There is justification for killing babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us, and in such a situation they may be harmed deliberately, and not only during combat with adults.”

The Rabbi’s followers have engaged in frequent violence against Palestinians and Jews who do not hold his radical views. In 2006 he was detained for questioning after writing an article in which he said that all Palestinian males from age 13 and up should be killed or expelled from the West Bank. The rabbi condemns any moderation by the Israeli Defense Forces, and he criticizes Israel’s legal system and judiciary when its rulings conflict with his uncompromising views. To be sure his book was condemned by other Rabbis, especially of the Reformed School, but some Orthodox Rabbis supported it.

Those views are not unlike the stated views of the leaders of the so-called Islamic State when it comes to the killing of non-believers. In that organization’s 2013 Declaration of War those leaders stated:

“If you can kill a disbelieving American or European – especially the spiteful and filthy French – or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be. Do not ask for anyone’s advice and do not seek anyone’s verdict. Kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military, for they have the same ruling. Both of them are disbelievers. Both of them are considered to be waging war [the civilian by belonging to a state waging war against the Muslims]. Both of their blood and wealth is legal for you to destroy, for blood does not become illegal or legal to spill by the clothes being worn.”

Many Imam’s and Mufti’s around the world and in the Middle East have issued Fatwah’s against the Islamic State and condemned its teachings. But many of these clerics, who often represent their tribal or government leaders, are considered to be disbelievers and “defenders of Israel” by the Islamic State. As such, many Moslem clerics, and large numbers the vast oppressed masses of impoverished, and often disenfranchised Arab Moslems are attracted to that ideology, especially that directed against the Jews, who are seen as the ultimate enemy.

There are Christians too that find theological justification for killing children, and their reasons are chillingly like those of Himmler: The author of an article on the blog Rational Christianity wrote:

“Why were the children killed, if they weren’t guilty? Apparently, they were considered as morally neutral, since they weren’t yet old enough to be held accountable or to have done much right or wrong. While not as corrupt as their parents, they were part of the society that was judged, and shared its earthly (though not its eternal) fate.”

Another author, a man named Wayne Jackson of Apologetics Press writes of the children of the Canaanites, “Would it not have been infinitely worse, in view of eternity, had these children grown to maturity and adopted the same pagan practices as their parents?”

William Lane Craig, a frequent apologist wrote in the Reasonable faith website a comment that sounds like it could have come from the lips of Himmler in dealing with the effect of the mass murders of Jews and others on the troops of the Einsatzgruppen. Craig wrote:

“So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites? Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgment. Not the children, for they inherit eternal life. So who is wronged? Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalising effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.”

However, Craig has no qualms about what the Israelites did, simply because the genocide was commanded by God.

If one substitutes “Hitler” for “God” one sees a similar rationalization used members of the Einsatzgruppen. Colonel Walter Blume, a Police Colonel at Vitebsk who tried to “care” for his troops during a mass execution of Jews. He wrote:

“If I am now asked about my inner attitude which I then held, I can only say that it was absolutely split. On the one hand there was the strict order of my superior… and as a soldier I had to obey. On the other hand I considered the execution of this order cruel and humanly impossible. My very presence at this execution convinced me of this in a final manner. I still know that I wanted to make the situation easier for my men who were certainly moved by the same feelings. When ten men were shot there was always a pause until the next had been brought in. During these pauses I let my men sit down and rest and I joined them. I still know what I said exactly the following words to them at this time: “As much as it is no job for German men and soldiers to shoot defenseless people but the Fuhrer has ordered these shootings because he is convinced that these men would otherwise shoot at us as partisans or would shoot our comrades and our women and children were to be protected if we undertake these executions. This we would have to remember when we carry out this order.” Furthermore, I tried talking about neutral subjects to make the difficult spiritual situation easier and to overcome it.”

That is the troubling issue for me. Genocide is genocide and evil, no matter who commands it. We can try to wiggle around and avoid the subject by saying that whatever God we have is above normal law, or that our secular leader’s commands are above the law, but we cannot escape the fact that genocide is immoral and an immutable evil; even if we do it in the name of our God.

I think that is the problem that I have with people who follow their leaders down the path to genocide, even those who they believe are speaking for God. Likewise, I am very much concerned when people seem to care more about the emotional and spiritual effects of mass murders on the perpetrators than on the victims.

But then, the victims are dead and have no one left to speak for them, unless we do. Never forget.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Freedom of Religion and the Yuck Factor: American Religious Theocrats

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The distinguished British Mathematician and Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote:

“Religion carries two sorts of people in two entirely opposite directions: the mild and gentle people it carries towards mercy and justice; the persecuting people it carries into fiendish sadistic cruelty…” 

I fully agree with him based on my knowledge of human history and behavior. I strongly support religious freedom, so long as it is not abused by people to harm others. I get sick of religious liberty hyperbole when it is used by theocrats of all religious stripes. I am kind of like James Spader’s character, Alan Shore in Boston Legal; but then, maybe there is a valid reason that my seminary classmates at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary asked me why I wasn’t in law school. They did not mean it as a compliment.

During one episode dealing with a case regarding religious liberties Spader’s character (Whose God is it Anyway, Season Three Episode 5) said:

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

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

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

At this time though I am doing my best to fight budget cuts that could harm the rights of Navy and Marine Corps personnel of their rights to practice their religion in base chapels, cuts that will harm the religious rights of the most vulnerable service members and their families. I don’t have to agree with their religion, politics or theology, but I follow the Constitution, and legal precedent, not my own opinions on faith.

Let me explain.

Those who follow my writings know how much I struggle with faith and doubt on a daily basis. I believe, but as the man told Jesus when he asked Jesus to heal his child “I believe, help my unbelief.” I no longer believe in the “absolute truths” that I once believed. Of course to some this makes me a heretic or worse. That being said, I have faith in a God I cannot see. I have faith in a God who clothes himself in human weakness and allows himself to be killed as a state criminal.

That being said I see many of my fellow Christians, not to mention those of other faiths who attempt to use their interpretation of what they believe are absolute truths and attempt to impose them on others. Using their houses of worship they indoctrinate believers into believing the “truth” including the judgment on non-believers.

I remember going through classes in my previous denomination which were entitled “The Government of God” and utilized Robert Bork’s book Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline as its primary text. Obviously the class had little to do with faith, but was a tool by which we were indoctrinated to believe the political-religious ideology of our church leaders. There were several more texts, which basically echoed Bork’s thought, but they were taught in a manner is if they were as important as the often contradictory Biblical tests or the writings of the church Fathers, the great saints, scholastics or Protestant Reformers. It was an exercise in political indoctrination based on religious ideology. At the time I had no idea that what the church leaders were appealing to was nothing more than a variation on Christian Dominionism. I will not mention it’s name because most of those who taught this are not alive to defend themselves, and one, though I disagreed with his theology, I knew that he really did love people.

However, such ideology is incredibly dangerous, even when it is taught by well meaning people, because when people in power take it to heart and act upon it, all pretense of fairness, justice and integrity is lost. Those who are simply different are persecuted, those who do not tow a particular party or religious line are suspect, and the innocent are presumed guilty. It has happened throughout human history in every corner of the world, and it still goes on today.

I ended up rejecting that view of faith and life after coming home from Iraq, and for voicing my disagreement on a number of issues was asked to leave that denomination in 2010.

I believe again, but my doubts are real. But even more I have a belief in justice, and I believe that that justice itself cannot be built on absolutes. As Captain Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) noted in the Star Trek the Next Generation episode Justice: 

“I don’t know how to communicate this, or even if it is possible. But the question of justice has concerned me greatly of late. And I say to any creature who may be listening, there can be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions.”

I have found that as Picard said, “that life itself is an exercise in exceptions.”  We all make them, and the Bible and the history of the church is full of them. So I have a hard time with those who claim an absolute certitude in beliefs that are built on faith and treat them as fact, despite the fact that they are not provable. Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted the problem well when he talked of this problem and described the dilemma of so many believers:

“Man no longer lives in the beginning–he has lost the beginning. Now he finds he is in the middle, knowing neither the end nor the beginning, and yet knowing that he is in the middle, coming from the beginning and going towards the end. He sees that his life is determined by these two facets, of which he knows only that he does not know them”

Even so believers of all faiths wrap themselves in the certitude of their faith. They espouse doctrines that at best are humanity’s best attempts to describe a God that is infinitely bigger and more complex than they believe. The contest then becomes not about God himself, but the manner that the human being who interprets God espouses as incontrovertible doctrine. Eric Hoffer wrote:

“A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”

That certitude and the belief that we absolutely know the mind of a God who claims that we cannot know is the height of arrogance and it ensures that when we speak in terms of absolutes that we do not understand God, nor do we believe in justice, because as Captain Picard so wisely noted “life itself is an exercise in exceptions.” Even the most devout of believers make exceptions, simply because they are human and can’t avoid it, unless they are sociopaths.

Henri Nouwen wrote something very profound that all who claim to know God’s absolute will or truth need to consider. Nouwen wrote: “Theological formation is the gradual and often painful discovery of God’s incomprehensibility. You can be competent in many things, but you cannot be competent in God.”

The fact is that no one can be competent in God, and that those who claim to are either hopelessly deluded b their ignorance, or worse, are evil men masquerading as good. Those who pro port to know absolutes and want to use the Bible or any other religious text as some sort of rule book that they alone can interpret need to ask themselves this question, posed by Commander Riker to Captain Picard when he talked about absolutes and life: “When has justice ever been as simple as a rulebook?” 

Sadly too many people, Christians, Moslems, Jews, Hindus, and others apply their own misconceptions and prejudices to their scriptures and use them as a weapon of temporal and divine judgement on all who they oppose. However, as history, life and even our scriptures testify, that none of us can absolutely claim to know the absolutes of God. As Captain Picard noted “life itself is an exercise in exceptions.” 

Thus our human justice, as feeble as it often is must take this into account: It takes true wisdom to know when and how to make these exceptions, wisdom based on reason, grace and mercy. Justice, is to apply the law in fairness and equity, knowing that even our best attempts can be misguided and if based on emotion, hatred, racism or vengeance all clothed in the language of righteousness can be more evil than any evil it is supposed to correct.

Does it matter if we are doing it the sake of law and order, or for love of country, or to defend the faith; if at the heart of it what we call justice, or moral absolutes is nothing more than the implementation of an agenda to crush the powerless under our heel and promote even more injustice? If we lean toward the view that we are implementing the absolute law and will of God then we had better be sure, as Nouwen so well noted we can be competent in many things, but we cannot, as much as we deceive ourselves, be competent in God.

But we see it all too often, religious people and others misusing faith to condemn those they do not understand or with whom they disagree. As Patrick Stewart playing Captain Jean Luc Picard noted in the Start Trek Next Generation episode The Drumhead:

“We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.”

Believe me, American religious theocrats, who have the ear of President Trump are using those rights to persecute and restrict the liberties of fellow citizens. That I cannot abide, because last year I was on the receiving end of it. I try not to go there because it brings up so many unpleasant memories, but I was reminded of them as I wrote this post. I will not revisit them as I wrote about them last July after I had been exonerated of the false charges.

But I will not stop fighting for the religious liberties of all, including the rights of non-believers. I admire the work of Mikey Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Despite how they are characterized by many Christian theocrats, they supported me when I was under attack and well over 90% of their clients are Christians.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Re-Thinking the Unthinkable: When Trump and His Followers Refuse to Give up Power

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is the first article I have written in the wake of the release of the Mueller Report, the actions of Attorney General Barr, and the defiant words of the President and his loyal supporters.

For those that rejoiced in the continued revelations of President Trump’s malfeasance and incompetence hoping that this will soon trigger his removal either by impeachment or the use of the 25th Amendment, including me were wrong.

Back on May 18th Of 2017 I wrote these words on this blog:

“be assured that unless something totally unexpected occurs that this will not end soon, nor well.

Donald Trump is a unique creature in American politics, he has succeeded in establishing himself as the center of a political cult that has taken over the Republican Party. Despite his overall approval ratings consistently being below 40% with terrible numbers pertaining to his basic character and trustworthiness, well over 80% of Republicans in every poll continue to support him. They reject any fact that is contrary to what they believe about their leader, and they tend to support the most unconstitutional aspects of his ill-defined political ideology, which more resembles the Nazi Fuhrerprinzip than anything from the American political tradition. They abhor those who raise objections of any kind based on fact so much that they have gone resorted to repeating what they sometimes refer to as alternative facts or alternative truths.

Guided by an uncompromising propaganda network of talk radio and television hosts as well as internet based organizations they have little loyalty to anyone but the President. This mass movement supported by such propaganda is well described by the great American philosopher Eric Hoffer who wrote:

“All mass movements strive, therefore, to interpose a fact-proof screen between the faithful and the realities of the world. They do this by claiming that the ultimate and absolute truth is already embodied in their doctrine and that there is no truth nor certitude outside it. The facts on which the true believer bases his conclusions must not be derived from his experience or observation but from holy writ.”

This is the world of alternative facts, and the prelude to dictatorship if the trend is allowed to continue. Likewise the true believers, those who follow the President as if he were some sort of Messiah intent on destroying the old order and establishing a new will not stand easily aside. Their support for the President is much deeper than normal political attachment, he is an extension of them who gives voice to their innermost fears, passions, and insecurity. They are defiant in their stand against those that he is against. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote of how the language of their leader and his propaganda works in the minds of the followers:

“Victor Klemperer, a literary scholar of Jewish origin, turned his philological training against Nazi propaganda. He noticed how Hitler’s language rejected legitimate opposition: The people always meant some people and not others (the president uses the word in this way), encounters were always struggles (the president says winning), and any attempt by free people to understand the world in a different way was defamation of the leader (or, as the president puts it, libel).”  

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Thus they cannot be convinced by normal argument or fact. Hoffer noted:

“The leader personifies the certitude of the creed and the defiance and grandeur of power. He articulates and justifies the resentment damned up in the souls of the frustrated. He kindles the vision of a breath-taking future so as to justify the sacrifice of a transitory present. He stages a world of make-believe so indispensable for the realization of self-sacrifice and united action.”

Even when everything comes apart around them and their leader collapses they cannot admit that he was deceiving them. At the end of the war a German soldier told Victor Klemperer that “Hitler has never lied, I believe the Fuhrer.” Snyder writes: “The final mode is misplaced faith. It involves the sort of self-deifying claims the president made when he said that “I alone can solve it” or “I am your voice.” When faith descends from heaven to earth in this way, no room remains for the small truths of our individual discernment and experience. What terrified Klemperer was the way that this transition seemed permanent. Once truth had become oracular rather than factual, evidence was irrelevant.”

The man is not normal, he is not stable, and he knows nothing but conflict. His followers believe in him almost as a Messiah figure who cannot be wrong and must be defended to the last and experience has shown us that some of would resort to violence to silence his critics.

Like Hitler and other despots, he and his most loyal followers see this as a fight to the finish which Trump which he must win or be defeated. It is a zero sum conflict, and I do not expect it to end well, even if Trump is eventually removed by impeachment or the 25th Amendment.”

Let us also add losing the 2020 election to that list. With Trump and his followers relentless attacks on Congress, individual political opponents in Congress, presidential candidates, State officials, judges, the FBI and members of the Justice Department, distinguished journalists, entertainers and sports figures, for that matter anyone who speaks the truth or attempts to uphold the law and Constitution; the likelihood that he will not leave office, or will attempt to find a way to secure a permanent way to stay in office. Mind you, there are many ways he could do this, and possibly secure the approval of a majority of Americans.

Many, if not most of his supporters believe that his Presidency is divinely ordained. When people believe that their leaders are backed by God they are capable of great evil. One only has to look to history and the link between religion and political repression to see this.

Timothy Snyder wrote in his book On Tyranny:

“Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. Modern tyranny is terror management. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power. The sudden disaster that requires the end of checks and balances, the dissolution of political parties, the suspension of freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. DO NOT FALL FOR IT.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Moment that Freedom Of Thought Becomes Impossible: Hatred Of the Other and Blind Ideology

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

Proponents of ideological purity assume that their ideological bias is equivalent to sacred truth, be it a religious or secular truth. The promoters of such systems promote something more than their opinion, as Hannah Arendt noted: “For an ideology differs from a simple opinion in that it claims to possess either the key to history, or the solution for all the “riddles of the universe,” or the intimate knowledge of the hidden universal laws which are supposed to rule nature and man.”  As such, ideology is not based on knowledge, but is distinct from it and the enemy of knowledge for it binds the mind in a straitjacket in which all thought must be submitted to the truth of the ideology. As Arendt noted such ideologies must be handled with caution as they “pretend to be keys to history but are actually nothing but desperate efforts to escape responsibility.”  An ideology protects the believer from having to think for himself, it allows the insecure to grasp at the protection that it allegedly provides, and allows the believer to deny reality, and to by definition declare everything that contradicts the ideology to be heretical, and opponents to be aligned with the devil himself, allowing the believer to hate the opponent. As Eric Hoffer noted, “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” 

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

As for me I consider myself to be a left-leaning progressive. I am pro LGBTQ rights, and despite being against abortion in principle,  I believe that Roe v. Wade and the right of a woman to have an abortion must be upheld. I believe in equality for women and believe that women are held to a much higher standard than men, especially in politics. Likewise I believe that women face far greater discrimination in the workplace, academia, and the military than do men.

I believe that racial prejudice, especially against blacks is still a major problem, but it is not confined to blacks, but Hispanics, Arabs, and Asians. These are mostly the provence of the political Right, the but then there is classic Anti-Semitism, a prejudice and hatred of Jews, and it spans the political and ideological spectrum. I can say that as a historian of the Holocaust and as a gentile Christian.

That being said, to offer criticism of the Government of Israel in its dealings with its Arab and Druse minorities that happen to be Israeli citizens, and to Palestinians who have been the victims of the Pan Arab nationalism of the 1950-1970s, to find themselves abandoned by Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and the Gulf States is not being anti-Semitic, it is observing something that is the victimization of a people caught in the middle of a greater political-military struggle.

In 2007 I came across a Palestinian refugee camp at the border of Iraq ans Syria at Al Waleed. Thousands of Palestinian Arabs were marooned there, dependent on th U.N. for food and shelter, and the good graces of Americans and Iraqis for security as they had no place left to go. The new Iraqi government didn’t want people who were allies of Saddam Hussein in their country and drove them to their farthest reaches. Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States didn’t want them either. Likewise, the government that should accept them, the Palestinian Authority didn’t want them and they were not welcome anywhere else in the Arab world. Of course, the Israeli government didn’t want them either. This is an irefruable fact. They were abandoned by all.

As far as Anti-Semitism goes, you don’t have to look hard to find it. Neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers have cottage industries that attemp to disprove or minimize the Holocaust. Most reside on the political Right, such as in France, the Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and in some parts of the German political spectrum. But some too make their home of the Left, the Labour Party in Britain has come under the spell of Jeremy Corbin, a Left Wing anti-Semitic leader if one existed at all. Much of the current anti-Jewish and and Israel propaganda from both the Right and Left is often lifted straight out of The Protoclals Of the Elders Of Zion, not that the polcies of the Netanyahu government are helping anyone.

I happen to be a liberal and progressive realist, but I cannot be an ideologue. That being said I think that the Presdency and policies of the Trump administration exemplify the worst of American racism and exceptualism. Barely educated racist demagogues hold power over a President whose supporters would support him even if he murdered someone on 5th Avenue. Likewise, I think that there are some progressives who are incapable of seeing both sides of an argument and who are as historically as blind, deprived, and ignorant as the most myth bound Christian Conservatives, or other Right Wing anti-Semites. I truly must be a progressive realist in wonderland.

It takes no courage to be an ideologue, and once a person surrenders to an ideology as his or her reason for existence, they sacrifice the ability to reason, the ability to think critically, and the capacity to acquire knowledge. That is the danger of the blind ideologies that are consuming our world today.

Quite obviously, a lot of ideologues from across the spectrum will disagree.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Reading and Reflecting amid the Maladies of Age

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Mickey Mantle once quipped: “If I knew I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”

But 50 plus years of athletics and military service have take their toll. Not long ago I was walking and running 5 to 12 miles a day. Today on the way out of my subdivision to see one of my orthopedic, sports medicine surgeons I saw a man running, I was jealous, and I mused upon the signal sent by the elderly HMS Rodney sent to new HMS King George V during the chase for the German Battleship Bismarck: “I think your 22 knots is faster than mine.”

But, there are blessings as well. While today was a day of doctors appointments and waiting in pharmacies, I got a chance to read. Days like this allow me to energize my reading. Of course I followed the news of the day, but I was able to finish historian Eric Foner’s collection of essays; Battles for Freedom: the Use and Abuse Of American History, as well as re-read in its entirety the late Eric Hoffer’s Classic The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature Of Mass Movements.

I have read many of Foner’s books dealing with American Slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement in my own studies. He is one of the best at dealing with those subjects and if you are a serious student of that period, you need to read his works.

Likewise, Hoffer’s book is a classic and sadly people often quote him out of context, knowing nothing of him, his times, or his life. The True Believer is often quoted in order to justify hatreds against others, be they foreigners, the establishment, racial or religious minorities, or simply whatever political order they despise. This can be from the Left or the Right. Hoffer understood it well, he had lived through the World Wars and the Cold War. He had seen dictatorships arise from different points of the political spectrum, but each shared common characteristics.

The True Believer is an uncomfortable read for those who are not simply trying to find quotes to support their ideology. I think that I was much more uncomfortable with it today than I ever was in the past.

When I first read the book I was trying to understand religious fanaticism, hatred, and terrorism. It was quite good for that purpose but I did not go back and look at how I could in Hoffer’s book. That came to me today as I read it with a different eye in a different time. So I wrote a review of it on Amazon and Goodreads and my takeaway is that any of us can become A True Believer.

Last week I finished reading Peter Hart’s book on the Somme Campaign of 1916. It is a massive book that in addition to explaining the strategy and tactics behind this brutal and bloody battle, contains many first hand accounts of the soldiers who fought in it. If you have been to war, if you have seen its devastation, the vivid written accounts of these soldiers, who describe carnage that few, if any modern soldiers have ever experienced are terrifying. If you haven’t been to war, just read it and think about the battle scenes in movies like Saving Private Ryan, We Were Soldiers, Gallipoli, Stalingrad (the German Version), or series like Band Of Brothers or The Pacific; the more graphic the better. Unfortunately, you won’t experience the olfactory ambiance of death, or experience any discomforts of heat, cold, mud, swarms of flies, and physical and mental exhaustion,which complete the experience. The Alsatian German Guy Sager wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier:

“Too many people learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. They read about Verdun or Stalingrad without comprehension, sitting in a comfortable armchair, with their feet beside the fire, preparing to go about their business the next day, as usual.

One should really read such accounts under compulsion, in discomfort, considering oneself fortunate not to be describing the events in a letter home, writing from a hole in the mud. One should read about war in the worst circumstances, when everything is going badly, remembering that the torments of peace are trivial, and not worth any white hairs. Nothing is really serious in the tranquility of peace; only an idiot could be really disturbed by a question of salary.

One should read about war standing up, late at night, when one is tired, as I am writing about it now, at dawn, while my asthma attack wears off. And even now, in my sleepless exhaustion, how gentle and easy peace seems!”

But I digress…

I have not done nearly as much interaction on social media over the past couple of days. I find reading or watching films or series that make me think or laugh, or maybe both, or discussing the matters with Judy or my dogs. Minnie is quite the conversationalist, and Pierre is becoming one too. Izzy, remains the incredibly sweet but somewhat serious security officer. For her it’s just the facts.

Anyway, my life will be filled with various medical appointments, surgical procedures, physical therapy, sleep management, orthopedic and dermatology consults or follow ups. It’s kind of like the old children’s song Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, Eyes and Ears, and Mouth and Nose; except that my teeth and toes are fine, all the rest has gone to shit. Besides waiting on two knee procedures, hip and shoulder evaluations, having to walk with a cane, carrying my wallet, phone, iPad, and keys in my old replica German Medical bag, which is kind of a man purse. All the while I am recovering from a treatment to burn off pre-cancerous cells off of my scalp and face which have left me looking like the rusted wreck of the USS Utah at Pearl Harbor, but apart from that I am just fine.

Now I will get through this, unless one of my physically active dreams or nightmares results in another injury. My veteran readers know that I have had two emergency room visits when I crashed into my nightstand breaking my nose, or the floor, as like happened last week when I landed on the kneecap of the knee that I am to have platelet rich plasma treatments two weeks from now. Thankfully, I didn’t fracture it, or at least I assume that I didn’t because the surgeon hasn’t called me about it.

So, I persevere with the ear worms of the theme from Rocky III, The Eye Of the Tiger, and Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive blending into the constant ringing of my Tinnitus ravaged ears while walking like Dr. House, without the Vicodin.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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