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“Our Civil Rights Have no Dependency on Our Religious Opinions…” Celebrating the 233rd Anniversary of the Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On this day, 233 years ago, the the legislature of the Commonwealth Of Virginia ratified a law written by Thomas Jefferson. It was the precursor to the Establishment and the Free Exercise Clauses Of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

It is the antithesis of, and the antidote to all theocratic movements, to include contemporary Christian Nationalism and it’s close cousin Christian Dominionism, or as it is sometimes called Seven Mountains Theology.

Jefferson, James Madison, and their Virginia Baptist ally, John Leland understood the threat to a republic such as ours posed by religious theocrats of any type, to include Christians.

The Virginia statute was necessitated by militant Anglicans who desired to re-establish themselves as the state religion in Virginia and had gone about using physical violence against various dissenters, especially Virginia’s Baptist minority. It is fascinating, in a frightening and grotesque sense of the word to see Virginia Baptists like Jerry Falwell Jr., and other Evangelical leaders of the Free Church tradition interpreting Religious Freedom in a manner similar to the Anglicans of Virginia in the 1780s, or in the manner of all Christians who follow the path of Constantine.

Such was the warning of the great Southern Baptist Pastor and seminary president George Truett, who wrote:

“Constantine, the Emperor, saw something in the religion of Christ’s people which awakened his interest, and now we see him uniting religion to the state and marching up the marble steps of the Emperor’s palace, with the church robed in purple. Thus and there was begun the most baneful misalliance that ever fettered and cursed a suffering world…. When … Constantine crowned the union of church and state, the church was stamped with the spirit of the Caesars…. The long blighting record of the medieval ages is simply the working out of that idea.”

The Virginia Statute stood in complete opposition to theocratic minded Americans then, and now. The statute which I post below in its entirety is must reading for anyone who thinks that they understand what the founders of the United States believed about religious liberty:

An Act for establishing religious Freedom

Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free;

That all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and therefore are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord, both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do,

That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time;

That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions, which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical;

That even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor, whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the Ministry those temporary rewards, which, proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind;

That our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry,

That therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence, by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages, to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right,

That it tends only to corrupt the principles of that very Religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments those who will externally profess and conform to it;

That though indeed, these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way;

That to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own;

That it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order;

And finally, that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:

Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities. And though we well know that this Assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of Legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare that the rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.

Please, take some time to let those words sink in, especially if you think that religious liberty is only for people of your favorite religion, or the one that you belong to. The fact is, that those who established religious liberty in the United States, many of them like John Leland, professing Christians, did not think that religious liberty was for the powerful, or those who wanted to dominate others on the basis of religion wedded to government and political power.

Leland wrote:

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

With that I bid you a good night.

Until tomorrow and another day of Trump’s Evangelical supported Shutdown,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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

Catch-22 (1970) Alan Arkin Mike Nichols 24

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Heinlein wrote:

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

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

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

Samuel Huntington wrote in his book The Clash of Civilizations:

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

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

The great American philosopher, Eric Hoffer wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted:

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

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

With that I wish you a good day.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Pardon Me, But… Reflections on the Evangelical Dead Enders of Trump World

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Pardon me tonight, but as I watch the descent into collective madness of the Trump regime and its acolytes as the walls close in around it I wonder what acts of desperation they will resort in the coming weeks until the mid-term elections and afterward should the Democrats regain control of the House, Senate, or both.

Truthfully, am afraid of what Trump, his Vichy Republican supporters and the cult-like base might do if they lose. In normal times and with normal players in our system with its checks and balances I wouldn’t be concerned, but with this crew I am concerned and I wouldn’t be surprised at anything that they might do to retain power.

I have lost count of the number of egregious policies and behaviors of the administration and its most fervent supports. It is like watching a cult leader and his disciples. Republican strategists and “Never Trumper” Rick Wilson noted of the Evangelicals that make up a significant part of his base:

Evangelicals are the dead-enders of the Trump world, a phenomenon explained by both demographics and geographic distribution; the southern and Midwestern states where they live are Trump country, writ large. He is their Golden Calf, and the leaders of the Evangelical movement repeat daily, “This is your god, who brought you up from Egypt.”

While I know many evangelicals who are truly in their personal lives the salt of the earth, but as for their high powered leaders who have over the course of more than three decades led them to surrender their lives and sell their souls for 30 small disc shaped pieces of metal composed of 97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper, if that much.

Believe me I know what I am talking about. I spent much of my young adult life and ministry in that world. In the early 1990s I worked at the headquarters of a major Evangelist who in 2016 became a political prostitute for candidate Trump, but I woke up after seeing the lies and the human cost of that devotion during my time in Iraq, long before Donald Trump burst on the Republican political scene.

Even before Trump came on the scene I experienced what it was like to have “Christian friends” turn their backs on me because I was no longer politically conservative enough for them. Yet after Trump, the cesspool that is political evangelicalism is far more toxic than it ever was. It’s leaders seem to have flushed anything redemptive in the Gospel down their gilded toilets, and some seem to be competing for the position of Reichsbishof in the new order. For them it is all about the raw acquisition of worldly power, the curse that has infected the Church since Constantine.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

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

This is something that far too many American Christian leaders and their followers have forgotten. Instead they have become vengeful instruments of the most ungodly and unprincipled man ever to serve as the American President, and maybe any man that has ever aspired to be President, and that my friends takes a lot of effort.

Rick Wilson, who knows the current generation of Christian leaders well due to his position in Republican administrations and as a political consultant to many GOP candidates wrote of them:

Changing hearts and minds in a society that has passed them by on many issues is boring and hard work. They’d rather compromise with a candidate who will nominate their preferred judges than uphold their values. Instead of working to change society through moral suasion, exemplars of faith, or even just better communications, they’d rather trust the federal government in the hands of Donald Trump to deliver their desired social end states. Call me crazy, but I thought that was the other team’s modus operandi.

Anyway, like I said in the beginning of this article, pardon me tonight, but…

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Never Again? Holocaust Days of Remembrance 2018

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

April 8th to 15th are the Holocaust Days of Remembrance in the United States. I am glad we do this but sadly I don’t think that the vast majority of Americans really care about the Holocaust or its eternal precedent because frankly we live in an age where history, unless it is being bastardized to fit the propaganda message of political ideologues matters not a wit.

Historian Timothy Snyder refers to the current trend of history being cherry picked and perverted in support of ideology as the  politics of eternity. Over the past two decades this concept has replaced the politics of inevitability  which defined the immediate ear after the Cold War. Inevitability presumed that no-matter what happened that the future would unfold in a manner that ultimately benefited everyone.

That understanding lasted until the disastrous American war against Iraq, the collapse of the banking system, and the politics of inequity that by 2010 made most Americans feel that they were being shortchanged. The social contract that had buttressed society has given way much in the way that it had in Europe following the First World War. Many, regardless of where they lay on the political spectrum feel victimized and angry. Their victimhood and anger require scapegoats who in turn become victims and many times the scapegoats are those who were traditionally exploited and persecuted based on race or religion, or new immigrants who have taken the place of the previously persecuted peoples that now embrace the very ideologies used to persecute their ancestors.

Snyder noted that the politics of “eternity places one nation at the centre of a cyclical story of victimhood. Time is no longer a line into the future, but a circle that endlessly returns the same threats from the past. Within inevitability, no one is responsible because we all know that the details will sort themselves out for the better; within eternity, no one is responsible because we all know that the enemy is coming no matter what we do. Eternity politicians spread the conviction that government cannot aid society as a whole, but can only guard against threats. Progress gives way to doom.”

To those that practice the politics of eternity, no matter what nation they hail from the precedent of the Holocaust looms large.

Snyder correctly observed that “The world is now changing, reviving fears that were familiar in Hitler’s time, and to which Hitler responded. The history of the Holocaust is not over. Its precedent is eternal, and its lessons have not yet been learned.”

That is something that we must never forget lest the would be architects of annihilation of our day; the politicians, preachers, propagandists, and profiteers, who demonize the Jews, Muslims, dark skinned immigrants, LTBTQ people and other inconvenient elements and prepare people to do evil or ignore it: the ordinary men who just obey orders. Primo Levi wrote: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.” 

Levi was right, the common men, those that don’t think but simply follow orders or turn their heads and ignore the evil who are the most dangerous.

But of all of the people victimized by the politics of eternity it has to be the Jewish people  who have suffered the greatest from often disparate enemies. Anti-Semitism knows few boundaries and is not just one prejudice among many, even though the purveyors of it often persecute and massacre others. Christopher Hitchens noted about the Nazi crimes in Eastern Europe which were often aided by local militias: “We should not at all allow ourselves to forget the millions of non-Jewish citizens of Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, and other Slav territories who were also massacred. But for me the salient fact remains that anti-Semitism was the regnant, essential, organizing principle of all the other National Socialist race theories. It is thus not to be thought of as just one prejudice among many.” 

That is one major reason why I fear the surge in the politics of eternity in the United States, Europe, and other nations. I fear that the Jews will again be a sacrificial victim especially because a part of the American electorate which allegedly supports Israel, Evangelical Christians only do so because their theology requires the sacrifice of the Jews and Israel at the hand of the Anti-Christ during Christ’s Second Coming.  Sadly, these are the same people who unabashedly support a President that mocks their faith and Christ in word and deed, and whose often disparaging tone toward American Jews is well known. As such I cannot help but think that it could indeed happen here. If this is what it means to make America Great again then we are deep trouble. Snyder wrote: “When exactly was the “again” in the president’s slogan “Make America great again”? Hint: It is the same “again” that we find in “Never again.”

Milton Mayer wrote in his book They Thought They Were Free about a German colleague during the 1950s that had lived through the Hitler years as an academic. The man tried to explain how changes were so gradual that people like him who should have known better did not take action, if they did at all until it was too late. The man asked Mayer:

“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.”

With what is happening on the border of Israel in Syria I am very much afraid that there will be a backlash against American Jews, as well as American Muslims from both the political left and right. The precedent of the Holocaust is indeed eternal and it is incumbent on us to ensure that it does not happen again. That being said if it does and some of us have the courage to resist and even risk martyrdom it will not be the martyrdom of the innocent. Sadly, most of us regardless of our ideological or political point of view have contributed to the situation that we see today. Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke these words as the Nazi Party became the largest and most powerful in Germany before Hitler was appointed Chancellor by Hindenburg:

“the blood of martyrs might once again be demanded, but this blood, if we really have the courage and loyalty to shed it, will not be innocent, shining like that of the first witnesses for the faith. On our blood lies heavy guilt, the guilt of the unprofitable servant who is cast into outer darkness” 

I am one of those unprofitable servants because for some thirty years I supported the party and policies that brought about Trump and turned a blind eye toward the consequences until I saw the terrible results of the polices that I supported when I went to Iraq in 2007 and 2008.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Look for the Liberal Label: My Journey to the Left

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

A couple of days ago I received a comment on my Political Commentary tab from an old baseball player who played with the Detroit Tigers in the 1960s. He made some comments that I took to heart as he noted some of the apparent contradictions in my actions, words, and beliefs over the years. He said that I was about as “liberal” as Ricard Nixon. Sadly what he commented on had not been updated since 2009 so I was still in the initial stages of my transformation from being a lifelong Republican to a progressive (liberal) realist in Wonderland.

I am definitely a liberal or progressive now, though I think that I am pretty moderate all things considered, and no I don’t think that my views are particularly Nixonian, though when it comes to foreign policy dealing with the Soviet Union and china he was pretty sharp, his record in Vietnam was quite the opposite.

However my views are probably more like Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, or John F. Kennedy. Of course saying that means that I will certainly contradict myself at times and that is part of life. That being said that while I was a Republican for 32 years of my life (1976-2008) I have been on an ever more progressive trajectory since 2008 and somewhere along the path from conservatism, to moderation, to progressivism I got labeled.

I got labeled with the “L” Word. no, not the Lesbian one, the other less socially acceptable one, the Liberal label…and to tell the truth though I consider myself a moderate in terms of my progressiveness I actually fall on the Liberal side of most parts of the political and religious spectrum; both in domestic and foreign policy.

It actually surprised me when I figured out that I had become a liberal. To tell the truth I don’t know how it happened. I cheered the demise of Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Mike Dukakis and even Al Gore. I listened to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity as much as I could. During his first term and early in his second I was defending “W” against what I thought were unfair assaults from the left.

But a funny thing happened between 2004 and now. It was a place called Iraq, where I began to question the unquestionable questions of conservative orthodoxy in a number of forums. I became a moderate and a passionate one at that, although truthfully I am probably better described as one of those nasty liberals.

I think being a moderate or a liberal, for those who really are moderates or liberals, is really a tricky thing. Back when I was in seminary during the pre-Fundamentalist takeover of Southwestern Baptist Seminary I remember hearing a big name Fundamentalist preacher say that “middle of the road moderates were only good to be run over.”  One of my professors who would be a casualty of the takeover of the seminary said that for many in the Southern Baptist Convention of the time that “Liberal means anyone to the left of me.”

Now I do have to confess, unlike a lot of people when they get older and become more conservative I have become more “liberal” in the way I do life. I am more accepting of people different than me. The late great manager of the Baltimore Orioles, Earl Weaver noted: “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” That is a fact.

Because of that I am more willing to accept things that back in the days when I knew everything that I would attack without exception. When I worked up the guts to openly state that I questioned political conservative orthodoxy almost eight years ago I got thrown out of the church that I was first ordained as a priest.  That was less about matters of actual Christian doctrine than political orthodoxy masked in religious language. But despite that experience I still believed that I was somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum but I was obviously wrong. In fact today what I considered based on my more traditional Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy beliefs was no longer moderate but radically liberal and progressive, especially on social and economic issues.

So let me without equivocation in this age of Trump state:

I think that racism is still alive and well and that Jim Crow lives, thus the job of the Civil Rights movement is not done. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “dream” has not been fulfilled and it is in danger.

I think that gays and lesbians should have the same right to marriage and civil rights that heterosexuals have and that those constitutional rights should not be abridged based on the religious beliefs of their opponents.

I think that the bankers and the Wall Street people who practically destroyed the economy back in late 2008 should be in jail and I think that neither Congress, the Obama administration, and especially the Trump administration have done or will do enough to prevent the next economic implosion.

I think that multinational corporations that enjoy the benefits of all this country offers and that the taxpayers provide should pay their fair share of taxes instead of being allowed to make their money here and shelter it offshore. Sadly, because of the Trump tax reforms they will be able to do more of this.

I think that the environment matters and that we should do all that we can to protect it. Unfortunately the Trump administration, the GOP dominated congress, and their Evangelical Christian sycophants are doing their damnedest to promote the destruction of the environment.

I believe that the poor, minorities, the elderly and others with no power need the help and protection of the government from predatory businesses, banks and others that would seek to impoverish them even more.

I think that there is a place for strong organized labor to protect the rights of people who either produce the goods or provide the services that make others rich and this nation prosperous.

I think that the leaders of the Bush administration who took us to war in Iraq are war criminals and would have hung at Nuremberg if Justice Robert Jackson had had them in the dock. Likewise I think that the opposition of the GOP and the Trump administration to the International Criminal Court (ICC), other international organizations, and to our partners and allies around the world and cooperation with dictatorships and authoritarian regimes beginning with Putin’s Russia is damnable.

 

I think that Fox News lies when it calls itself “fair and balanced” and that much of what it airs is nothing more than political propaganda designed to help its political allies and keep people riled up against that black man in the White House.

I think that the crass social Darwinism of the followers of Ayn Rand is evil, needs to be called what it is  and condemned by those who call themselves Christians.

Likewise, speaking of Christians I think that many American Christians have sold their faith to political hacks that call themselves pastors or religious leaders while pocketing the money of their followers laughing all the way to the bank. This is especially true of their relationship to President Trump.

Finally as a Christian I don’t think that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, and in that I am backed by the Founders and their Christian allies like Virginia Baptist leader John Leland. I think that we as a society have a responsibility to care for the least, the lost and the lonely.

So while I am moderate in the way that I do life, I am certainly a liberal, a progressive, and a realist.  I am okay with people that disagree with me because it is a free country but that being said I won’t be bullied.

So where did I go left?

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Heresies and Drumheads: Evangelicals and Trump through the Lens of Star Trek

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The German theologian, pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“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”  

There is an episode of Star Trek Voyager called Distant Origin where a scientist of a race in the Delta Quadrant believes that genetic evidence indicated that their race originated on Earth. His thesis is challenged the doctrine of his species and he was accused of “heresy against Doctrine” for positing something different than his people believed. He ends up being persecuted and punished for his beliefs.

Now I want to be diplomatic about this. I am not someone who simply is contrary to established doctrines, be they theological, scientific or even military theories. That being said I think it is only right to question our presuppositions, as Anselm of Canterbury did through faith seeking understanding.

That understanding as a Christian is based on the totality of the message of the Christian faith. Hans Kung said it well:

“Christians are confident that there is a living God and that in the future of this God will also maintain their believing community in life and in truth. Their confidence is based on the promise given with Jesus of Nazareth: he himself is the promise in which God’s fidelity to his people can be read.” 

What we have to admit is that our belief is rooted in our faith, faith which is given to us through the witness of very imperfect people influenced by their own culture, history and traditions. Even scripture does not make the claim to be inerrant, and the Bible cannot be understood like the Koran or other texts which make the claim to be the infallible compendium of faith delivered by an angel or dictated by God himself. It is a Divine-human collaboration so symbolic of the relationship that God has with his people, often confusing and contradictory yet inspiring.

themiddle

There is a certain sense of relationship between God and humanity within scripture and that relationship creates certain tensions between God and those people. The interesting thing is that Scripture is a collection of texts which record often in terrible honesty the lack of perfection of both the writers and their subjects. They likewise record the sometimes unpredictable and seemingly contradictory behavior of God toward humanity in the Old Testament. They bear witness to the weaknesses, limitations and lack of understanding of the people of God of the message of God but even in that those limitations and weaknesses that God is still faithful to humanity in the life death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

The real fact of the matter is that fixed doctrines are much more comfortable than difficult questions than honestly examining the contradictions that exist within Scripture, history and tradition. The fact is this makes many people uncomfortable and thus the retreat into the fortress of fixed and immutable doctrine found in the various incarnations of Fundamentalism.

The fact is the world is not a safe place, and our best knowledge is always being challenged by new discoveries many of which make people nervous and uncomfortable, especially people who need the safety of certitude. So in reaction the true believers become even more strident and sometimes, in the case of some forms of Islam and Hinduism violent.

Picard

Christianity cannot get away unscathed by such criticism. At various points in our history we have had individuals, churches and Church controlled governments persecute and kill those that have challenged their particular orthodoxy. Since Christian fundamentalists are human they like others have the capacity for violence if they feel threatened, or the cause is “holy” enough. Our history is full of sordid tales of the ignorance of some Christians masquerading as absolute truth and crushing any opposition. It is as 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.”

This is the magnetic attraction of fundamentalism in all of its forms, not just Christian fundamentalism.  Yet for me there is a comfort in knowing that no matter how hard and fast we want to be certain of our doctrines, that God has the last say in the matter in the beginning and the end. We live in the uncomfortable middle but I have hope in the faith that God was in the beginning. Besides as Bonhoeffer well noted “A God who let us prove his existence would be an idol” 

But there some Christians who now faced with the eloquence of men like Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye who make legitimate challenges respond in the most uncouth and ignorant manners. The sad thing is that their response reveals more about them and their uncertainty than it does the faith that they boldly proclaim.

Our doctrines, the way we interpret Scripture and the way we understand God are limited by our humanity and the fact that no matter how clever we think we are that our doctrines are expressions of faith. This is because we were not in the beginning as was God and we will not be at the end, at least in this state. We live in the uncomfortable middle, faith is not science, nor is it proof, that is why it is called faith, even in our scriptures.

We are to always seek clarity and understanding but know that it is possible that such understanding and the seeking of truth, be it spiritual, historical, scientific or ethical could well upset our doctrines, but not God himself. As Henri 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.” Is that not the point of the various interactions of Jesus with the religious leaders of his day? Men who knew that they knew the truth and even punished people who had been healed by Jesus such as the man born blind in the 9th Chapter of John’s Gospel.

vasily-surikov-christ-healing-the-man-born-blind

“You are that man’s disciple; we are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know where this one is from.” The man answered and said to them, “This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him. It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.” They answered and said to him, “You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” Then they threw him out.”

The interchange between the religious leaders and the man is not an indictment on Judaism, but rather on religious certitude in any time or place. The fact is that the Pharisees are no different than those who ran the Inquisition, or those who conducted Witch Trials or those who attempt to crush anyone who questions their immutable doctrine no matter what their religion.

They were and many of their theological and ecclesiastical descendants still are true believers. That has been demonstrated over and over again in regards to biblically and theologically challenged yet politically fanatical American Evangelical Christians who have willingly surrendered any pretense of following Christ to paying obeisance to President Trump; a would be dictator who plays to their perpetual sense of victimhood in order to cement his power over them and to use them as his willing foot soldiers.

What Trump has done has turned the Gospel on its head, the Christian faith has become a political bludgeon to support laws and policies that are in diametric opposition to the message of Jesus. Sadly, a large majority of Evangelicals and their leaders have become Trump’s willing accomplices.

In the episode of Star Trek the Next Generation called The Drumhead Captain Picard counsels Lieutenant Worf after their encounter with a retired admiral who turned an investigation involving a Klingon exchange scientist into a witch hunt aboard the Enterprise. That episode is well worth watching especially because it anticipates what is going on in the United States today, where a President, his party, and a reactionary fear filled cabal of religious followers has declared war on all who oppose them.

At the end of the episode Lieutenant  Worf comes to Captain Picard’s office. He is apologetic about having believed and cooperated with the Admiral. The dialogue is striking and should be heeded, especially by Evangelical Christians and others who have with open eyes sacrificed their faith even as they tear up the Constitution thinking that they are defending it.

WORF: Am I bothering you, Captain?
PICARD: No. Please, Mister Worf. Come in.
WORF: It is over. Admiral Henry has called an end to any more hearings on this matter.
PICARD: That’s good.
WORF: Admiral Satie has left the Enterprise.
PICARD: We think we’ve come so far. The torture of heretics, the burning of witches, it’s all ancient history. Then, before you can blink an eye, it suddenly threatens to start all over again.
WORF: I believed her. I helped her. I did not see what she was.
PICARD: Mister Worf, villains who wear twirl their moustaches are easy to spot. Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are well camouflaged.
WORF: I think after yesterday, people will not be as ready to trust her.
PICARD: Maybe. But she, or someone like her, will always be with us, waiting for the right climate in which to flourish, spreading fear in the name of righteousness. Vigilance, Mister Worf, that is the price we have to continually pay.

And that is true and despite the certitude of the true believers that we do live in the uncomfortable middle.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Trump and the Evangelical “Outburst of Folly”

D.Bonhoeffer im Gefaengnis Berlin-Tegel

D.Bonhoeffer im Gefaengnis Berlin-Tegel Bonhoeffer, Dietrich evang. Theologe, Widerstandskaempfer Breslau 4.2.1906 – (hingerichtet) KZ Flossenbuerg 9.4.1945. – Bonhoeffer im Hof des Wehrmachtunter- suchungsgefaengnis in Berlin-Tegel, Sommer 1944. – Foto.

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I watch those who bend over backwards to defend the indefensible actions and words of President Trump, especially those who are very prominent “Christian” leaders I shake my head.

The naked aggression and reveling in their new found political power seems to have made many Evangelical Christians fools who will sacrifice all to bow in obeisance to a man who while delivering what they want, mocks the very Savior that they say they serve.

Observing this I am reminded of the words of the German Pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer who died at the hands of the Nazis in Flossenburg Concentration Camp on April 9th 1944 on the express order of Adolf Hitler. From prison Bonhoeffer penned these words which are most descriptive of our times:

“If we look more closely, we see that any violent display of power, whether political or religious, produces an outburst of folly in a large part of mankind; indeed, this seems actually to be a psychological and sociological law: the power of some needs the folly of others. It is not that certain human capacities, intellectual capacities for instance, become stunted of destroyed, but rather that the upsurge of power makes such an overwhelming impression that men are deprived of their independent judgment, and…give up trying to assess the new state of affairs for themselves.” 

President Trump found in Evangelicals people who would blindly follow him in actions that they would have never tolerated in any other political leader. Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church of Dallas Texas defended Trump on Fox News saying that Trump paying hush money to silence porn-star Stormy Daniels:

“And let’s be clear — Evangelicals still believe in the commandment: Thou shalt not have sex with a porn star,” Jeffress continued. “However, whether this president violated that commandment or not is totally irrelevant to our support of him.” 

But he is not alone. As a whole Evangelicals have been the most loyal of all of Trump’s supporters and regardless of his actions they are willing to look past them because he dishing out policies that they approve; even if the majority of those policies go completely against the Gospel, the words of Jesus, the condemnations of the Old Testament prophets, the writers of the New Testament, and the words of every martyr of the ante-Nicene era; before Constantine made the Christian Church the State Church. Since men like Jeffress and countless others like him are complete Theocrats who desire to overthrow the religious liberty of the First Amendment propounded by our Founders the see nothing wrong with it.

Trump may be a scoundrel, but they are fools, and dangerous ones at that.

Bonhoeffer wrote:

“So the fool, as distinct from the scoundrel, is completely self- satisfied; in fact, he can easily become dangerous, as it does not take much to make him aggressive. A fool must therefore be treated more cautiously than a scoundrel.”

Their outburst of folly in support of the President has the potential to doom all of us.

This is something that any thinking person regardless of their faith or ideology must be aware of and must resist. So until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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