Tag Archives: evil the absence of empathy

Judgmental Christians, Hurricane Matthew, and the Absence of Empathy

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday I wrote about the reactions of some supposedly Christian preachers and pundits who claimed that Hurricane Matthew was a “God’s judgment” on the nation for extending basic rights to Gays rather than killing them and against Hillary Clinton supporters.

Personally I cannot fathom such hate coming from supposed Christians who are claiming to speak for God. It makes no sense to me. It’s like the preachers including the late Jerry Falwell who said that the attacks of September 11th 2001 where “God’s judgment” on the United States. I just don’t get it. How people can have such hate for their neighbors that they can rejoice in disasters that affect so many people makes no sense to me, it is perverse.

But then I realize that such people have no empathy for their fellow human beings, even those who share their faith. I am reminded of the words of the Army Psychologist at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, Gustave Gilbert when he said:

“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.”

I have to agree with that. A basic lack of empathy, it is the one thing that connects anyone who can rejoice when disasters strike and claim that it is God doing the work. Such people are sociopaths. Sadly, if by some chance Donald Trump takes power we will have a certifiable sociopath for a President.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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True Believers & Terrorism

An SUV with its windows shot out that police suspect was the getaway vehicle from at the scene of a shooting in San Bernardino, California is shown in this aerial photo December 2, 2015.  Gunmen opened fire on a holiday party on Wednesday at a social services agency in San Bernardino, California, killing 14 people and wounding 17 others, then fled the scene, triggering an intense manhunt and a shootoutout with police, authorities said. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - RTX1WX2P

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have just a few words today. I am still attempting to comprehend the terror attacks in Paris as well as the terrorist attacks in Colorado Springs and San Bernardino.

All were committed by people devoted to killing in the name of their God. The attacks in Paris and San Bernardino by Moslems, Colorado Springs by a Christian. People of those religions can disown them and say that they do not represent their religion but that is what they claim to be. The fact is until religious leaders start owning these kinds of people as their own this terror will continue. 

The fact is that I have become sick of people who kill in the name of their God, but that seems to be a universal constant anymore, not that it ever wasn’t. Name the religion and do just a little research and you will find true believers who have killed and committed terrorist acts in the name of their God. In fact, I am getting sick of people who hide behind their religion and use it to bludgeon, kill, and terrorize those who are not the elect. I am tired of seeing people in this country, in the name of Jesus and the Christian religion using the government and the legislative process to disenfranchise and discriminate against others. I cannot imagine Jesus ever blessing such actions and I’m sure that if Jesus was to show up and start speaking in most churches that he would be throw out.

I am now convinced that many people who speak for God the loudest and probably the furthest away from God, if there is one. Having gone through the wilderness of doubt and unbelief have to admit that there are times that I doubt more than I believe. Today is one of those days.

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 bred 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 my friends is the truth. That is what allows the terrorists to do such things and for people to shrug their shoulders and simply say “oh how terrible, I’ll pray for the victims” and go on their way, even as more terror acts are committed by these true believers. Where are the religious leaders who will do more than condemn attacks? Yes, I admit that there are some that do, but they seem few and far between. More often I have seen religious leaders speak out of both sides of their mouth when it comes to terrorists of their own faith. They use arguments of moral equivalency, saying “we do not condone the actions of the terrorists, but….” I saw this coming out of the lips of some Christian leaders and Christians who I know on social media after the assault on the Planned Parenthood clinic.

The more I see of this the more I am becoming convinced that God must not make very much difference in the lives of his most devout followers. But then maybe it is because they are more interested in building walls out of doctrine than they are of actually dealing with complexity and the contradictions of faith. 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.”

I am appalled at the total absence of empathy, and the near sociopathic rantings of the true believers of almost every religion. They seem to have no capacity to feel for fellow human being, as Army Psychologist Gustave Gilbert said at Nuremberg, “In my work with the defendants 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.” 

I see a lot of words, I hear a lot of religious mumbo jumbo, but I only sense a nearly complete absence empathy. If you wonder why I struggle so hard to believe, I think that is your answer.

Until tomorrow, pray for me a sinner,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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#Je Suis Charlie and the Conservative Christian Absence of Empathy

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The horrific terrorist murders and the butchery committed by radical Islamist agains the staff of the French satire paper Charlie Hebdo has brought much comment and discussion. I wrote about it yesterday and pointed out that a leading figure of the Catholic part of the American Religious Right, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, took the time to let everyone in his audience know that the cartoonists had brought the attacks on themselves. How? Well they insulted the prophet Mohammed. While Donohue gave lip-service that killing the journalist was wrong, he blamed the victims. 

Of course Donohue doesn’t give a damn about Moslem feelings, he is only looking for an excuse to excoriate anyone who would also dare to make satire of his rigid faith, even Pope Francis. But then Donohue will unite his cause, the destruction of secular democracy and pluralism with what Peter Kreeft described as an Ecumenical Jihad where Catholics, conservative Protestants, especially Evangelicals, Orthodox Christians, Jews and Moslems would fight secularism. You see for “true believers” like Donohue, and many leaders and pundits of the Christian right the current enemy is secular democracy, because it alone stands against theocracy of every kind.

Eric Hoffer wrote in his book The True Believer 

“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.”

Last night I complemented a friend of mine, a conservative Christian theologian and pastor who defended the rights of the journalists of Charlie Hebdo on his Facebook page. That post elicited a lot of commentary and I voiced my opinion supporting my friend and told my story. My story includes being, taunted, ridiculed, threatened with physical harm and even death by people who profess to be Christians on this site and on Facebook. I have to say that it interesting to note that I have never been threatened by a Moslem, Jew, Wiccan, Buddhist, Hindu or secularist of any kind, just Christians.

So when I see people like Bill Donohue, and other pundits, preachers and politicians of the Religious Right blame the victims who were killed by radical religionists (this time Moslems) I get nervous.

I guess I shouldn’t have even entered the conversation, but I felt that defending my friend’s post was the right thing to do. That was a mistake, for once again I found myself ambushed by a conservative Christian who listened to nothing that I said, mocked and belittled me and when I stood up for myself condemned me. It didn’t matter that I had been threatened even with death by alleged Christians, I was told that “blasphemers against Christianity have nothing to fear in the West.” When I said that I didn’t blaspheme I was met with derision. When I told my story and told her that since she didn’t know me to shut up, of course I was told by her: Not very Christian to tell people you don’t agree with to shut up.” Of course she had already for all intents and purposes told me to shut up without using those words. 

I am sorry, but I would rather have a completely secular society than to deal with theocratic religionists of any kind, Christian, Moslem, Jew, in any way. I totally agree with Eric Hoffer about true believers, they are dangerous and they will stoop to anything to silence dissent, even terrorism and murder.

It is true in the west just is it is true in places like Iraq where Sunni and Shia Moslems kill each other with abandon. I remember secular Iraqi Moslem Army officers telling me how they wished they had Christian priests like me to care for their soldiers because they did not trust the Sunni and Shia Mullahs who had helped destroy that country after we Americans did our part in 2003.

So if that offends any religionist of any sect, even people who profess with they lips to be my Christian brother or sister but could’t care if I lived or die, I don’t care, the truth matters more.

But then maybe I do, care too much…

But, when I think of it, Eric Hoffer was right. To this lady and many conservative Christians I am evil, because I will not toe their line and put up with their bullshit. Perhaps I will meet this lady in heaven or hell and we can have a bar fight.

But I am a realist. I do know that the external threat if Islamic radicals is a danger, but sadly, I felt safer on Iraqi bases with small groups of Americans than I do today among most conservative American Christians. The Iraqi military men that I knew, Sunni and Shia were much more welcoming of dialogue, relationships and capable of empathy than the vast majority of those who call themselves conservative Christians. Likewise, most of them had a more sincere faith in Jesus than many who I see in this country who use Jesus and the Christian faith as a wedge issue to promote their political power and position.

Gustave Gilbert, the American Army Jewish psychologist who worked with the major German war criminals at Nuremberg said that “evil was the absence of empathy.” Sadly, empathy is a quality that many, if not most const conservative American Christians have. Frankly, life was easier before I learned to feel compassion and have empathy for those who I thought were the enemies of God. When you honestly believe that you are the elect, that you are a “true believer” and all others are suspect, life is easy and Eric Hoffer nailed it.

So I need to have some beer and calm down, maybe watch a movie.

Have a nice night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

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And the Band Still Plays On: Religion, Politics, HIV and Ebola

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‘“At the beginning of the AIDS epidemic many Americans had little sympathy for people with AIDS…The feeling was that somehow people from certain groups ‘deserved’ their illness. Let us put those feelings behind us. We are fighting a disease, not a people.”C. Everett Koop, Surgeon General 1986

I met someone with AIDS for the first time, at least knowingly for the first time in the summer of 1987 while serving as a Medical Service Corps personnel officer at the Academy of Health Sciences, Fort Sam Houston Texas. I was the Adjutant for the Academy Brigade, which is the unit that all medical training courses fell under for administrative and command and control issues. My job normally was consisted of basic personnel administration, working with commanders and legal officers when court-martial proceedings were needed, appointing investigating officers for different purposes, reviewing line of duty investigations and running duty rosters. It was nothing to write home about.

But that summer, after years of ignoring the issue the Reagan administration, which had made light of the disease and refused to do anything about it following the initial clinical diagnosis of it in 1981, belatedly, directed the Defense Department to start testing servicemen and women for the disease and to develop personnel policies for infected personnel.

Since it was considered by most in the mainstream to be a “gay” disease the Reagan administration treated it with distain, during some of the White House press conferences, Press Secretary Larry Speakes mocked and laughed about it to reporters who asked questions about it.

On October 15th 1982 this exchange took place: in the White House Briefing Room.

Q: Larry, does the President have any reaction to the announcement—the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, that AIDS is now an epidemic and have over 600 cases?

MR. SPEAKES: What’s AIDS?

Q: Over a third of them have died. It’s known as “gay plague.” (Laughter.) No, it is. I mean it’s a pretty serious thing that one in every three people that get this have died. And I wondered if the President is aware of it?

MR. SPEAKES: I don’t have it. Do you? (Laughter.)

Q: No, I don’t. MR. SPEAKES: You didn’t answer my question.

Q: Well, I just wondered, does the President—

MR. SPEAKES: How do you know? (Laughter.)

Q: In other words, the White House looks on this as a great joke? MR. SPEAKES: No, I don’t know anything about it, Lester.

Q: Does the President, does anybody in the White House know about this epidemic, Larry?

MR. SPEAKES: I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s been any—

Q: Nobody knows? MR. SPEAKES: There has been no personal experience here, Lester. Q: No, I mean, I thought you were keeping—

MR. SPEAKES: I checked thoroughly with Dr. Ruge this morning and he’s had no—(laughter)—no patients suffering from AIDS or whatever it is.

Q: The President doesn’t have gay plague, is that what you’re saying or what?

MR. SPEAKES: No, I didn’t say that.

Q: Didn’t say that?

MR. SPEAKES: I thought I heard you on the State Department over there. Why didn’t you stay there? (Laughter.)

Q: Because I love you, Larry, that’s why. (Laughter.)

MR. SPEAKES: Oh, I see. Just don’t put it in those terms, Lester. (Laughter.)

Q: Oh, I retract that.

MR. SPEAKES: I hope so.

Q: It’s too late.

Read more: http://www.alan.com/2014/10/18/that-time-the-reagan-white-house-press-briefing-erupted-with-laughter-over-aids-13-times/#ixzz3GcMPItu7

The late Congressman from San Francisco, Phil Burton told those seeking government help in diagnosing and treating the new disease that:

“I’ll introduce a bill. But if all the angels came dancing down to earth like the Rockettes, even they couldn’t get a dime out of this administration for anything with the name “gay” on it.”

I seriously doubt had Reagan’s friend, Rock Hudson, a closeted homosexual who was a cinematic idol in his day had not died of AIDS in October of 1985 if the administration would have even acted then. Their intentional disregard and negligence was criminal. But they finally did act, and the military acted to begin testing for the disease and to develop personnel policies for infected service members.

Back then no one wanted to deal with AIDS or the people infected by it. This was especially true in much of the military. Since I was the junior Medical Service personnel officer at the Academy of Health Sciences I was told that I would coordinate all services to those infected and work with those appointed by the Army Surgeon General’s office to develop appropriate personnel policies. People in the office joked that I was “CINC AIDS.” That was not a compliment.

When a soldier was diagnosed then they were given a form by their physician stating that they would let any partners know that they were HIV positive and that if they had sex they would only have protected sex. These were a host of other restrictions given in that medical “counseling” and all of these were reinforced as each soldier was then given an order by their commander to the same effect. The difference was that what the doctor gave was “counseling” and what the commander gave was an order, which if disobeyed could result in punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

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The Author in 1987 shortly after becoming “CINC AIDS” at the Academy of Health Sciences 

Following this they were sent to me to discuss assignment limitations and career options. When people saw a soldier sitting outside my door, they pretty much knew what the person was there to see me for, as my job became more and more about dealing with those infected with HIV. As I took the job I read everything that I could and discussed the matter with physicians dealing with the disease.

Despite that in the beginning it was a scary experience. I attended a local mega-church and much of what I heard, read and listened to on Christian radio was full of paranoia, conspiracy theories and an attitude that could only be explained as an almost joyful gloating that the “homosexuals” were being judged by God. Not only that since HIV was determined to come from Africa, there was a tremendous amount of “old South” racism interspersed with their theological pronouncements.

Dr. James Dobson and Dr. D. James Kennedy, early leaders of the political religious right were particularly vindictive. These unscrupulous leaders helped spread much disinformation about HIV from the a book published by a charlatan named Gene Antonio who wrote what was then a popular book called “The AIDS Cover Up,” They claimed that AIDS could be spread by kissing, mosquito bites or even by touching surfaces that had been touched by those infected. These men were bolstered by their allies in the Reagan White House, Secretary of education Bill Bennett and his assistant Gary Bauer who were the official administration spokesmen regarding AIDS.

They marginalized the Surgeon General, Dr C. Everett Koop who noted in the early days of the epidemic was “completely cut off from AIDS” by Bennett and others in the Reagan Administration. They were so wrong that Koop, who was by no means a liberal took them to task on their hateful, dishonest and un-Christian proclamations. Koop told a journalist:

“the Christian activity in reference to AIDS of both D. James Kennedy and Jim Dobson is reprehensible. The first time that Kennedy ever made a statement about AIDS, I saw it on television. It was so terrible, so homophobic, so pure Antonio that I wrote him a letter.”

Koop said of Dobson, who he had worked with earlier on HIV/AIDS: “I don’t know what happened to him. He changed his mind, and last August in his paper he attacked me for two pages as leading people down the garden path. But again his arguments were full of holes. I just cannot believe the poor scholarship of so many Christians.”

But that was the world that part of me lived in. The other world was one of logic and reason, informed by human compassion, so unlike what I was being fed by church leaders and the “Christian” media that I immersed myself.

The sad truth of the matter is then, as today, that far too many Christians, especially influential leaders intentionally and malevolently spread lies to bolster their position. For them it is far easier to profit from demonizing people than it is to work with people they hate, to find solutions that help everyone. In my view many of these supposedly “Christian” leaders, apart from their fashionable clothes, are no different than the Nazis who blamed the Jews, Socialists and homosexuals for every ill in society; or the Japanese leaders who organized the Kamikaze Corps to send true believers to their deaths in a hopeless cause simply to maintain their power.

There is no love, there is no care and there is no empathy in any of them. As Army psychologist Captain Gustave Gilbert noted at Nuremberg “evil is the absence of empathy.”

When you do not know or have never have met someone being demonized by religious people it is easy to surround yourself in comfortable theology. However, when a family member, friend or colleague becomes one of those being demonized it tends to blow up your comfortable theology unless you are a sociopath.

I never will forget the day in the late summer of 1987 when an officer came to my office. He was the first person who I had ever met who was HIV positive. He was a medical professional, an Army Captain who had been selected for promotion to Major. He was married, had children and was a “born-again Christian.” He had contracted HIV when dealing with a combative drunk patient, who was HIV positive. The patient smashed glass, cutting himself severely and started bleeding. The shattered glass cut this officer as he tried to intervene and subdue the man. The officer was infected by the man’s infected blood, which entered him through his own wounds. Though he attempted to disinfect himself by normal protocols he became infected. I was looking at a man, just a few years older than me. A man who loved God, loved his family, who had did all the right things but had become HIV positive.

Even now I can see and hear this man, his face is etched deep into my memory, struggling to fit what happened to him into the message of God’s judgment that his fellow Christians and church members said was the cause of his disease. As I talked to him I realized that what I was being told by men who I was listening to every day on the way to work, as well as what I was reading by “Christian” authors and what I was hearing in church was a lie.

My worldview was forever changed that day. I realized that this man had done nothing wrong, in fact he was trying to do his job as a medical professional to keep a patient from further harm. I was able to help him get into a Master’s degree program in Healthcare Administration since he was no longer allowed to serve in a clinical environment. I have no idea what happened to him after I left the active duty Army to attend seminary in late 1988, but I presume since the mortality rate for HIV/AIDS was so high back then that he probably died years ago. I would hope that by some miracle that this man was fortunate and like NBA great Ervin “Magic” Johnson has not only survived but continues to do well. But I know that the odds were not in his favor.

When he left my office we shook hands, something that my fellow Christians said that I needed to avoid. Not only did I shake his hand, but I gave him a hug and I did not wash my hands or disinfect myself. I figured that God wanted me to get HIV from caring for and accepting someone infected with it than it didn’t matter.

Since that time I have worked with, cared for and ministered to more victims of HIV/AIDS, their families and their friends than I can count. Many of them have made significant impressions on me, my life, and my faith. Without them my life would not be as rich as it has been. I continued to deal with case after case and it is interesting to read he citation from my end of tour award for my time as the Adjutant of the Academy Brigade. It is almost all about AIDS.

So we fast forward to 2014. I’m still in the military, only now I am not a Medical Service Corps Officer in the Army but a Navy Chaplain. I have spent about eight years in the critical care environment of major medical center ERs, trauma departments and ICUs. I have a rather unique perspective having experience with AIDS and other highly infectious diseases, as well as the ethics of treatment.

Since I was previously qualified as a Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense officer when I served in the Army in the 1980s, I understand the importance of, as well as the limitations of personal protective equipment and decontamination procedures. Of course because I know a good number of physicians who specialize in critical care, infectious diseases and pandemics and try to remain current in regard to such diseases, their causes, and the vectors by which they spread.

Thus I realize when I see and hear the Trinity of Evil; the politicians, pundits and preachers who make their living promoting fear, panic and hatred to keep their jobs and obscene profits coming in are at work in demonizing President Obama, the CDC and NIH and poor Africans in Liberia, Ghana and other countries. Like the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s, the same cast of disingenuous, unscrupulous and dishonest preachers, pundits and politicians are at work today as we wrestle with the Ebola crisis, which is neither an epidemic nor a judgment from God.

Sadly, these people are not limited to their own religious networks to spread their lies, propaganda and hate. They have the full buy in from a major cable news network and countless political “news” services, “think tanks” and Political Action Committees; who are their fellow travelers in their quest to demonize those that they hate and dominate society.

The Ebola crisis has provided these same people, this Trinity of Evil, and their followers; with the avenue to create havoc without taking any personal or corporate responsibility to demonize people, to hinder rational and reasonable solutions to meet the crisis and to ensure the political destruction of the Black man in the White House who they hate with a hatred beyond comprehension.

Their words and actions, often clothed in the language of faith may seem to some as a demonstration of righteousness; only now they are even more closely linked to political and economic entities that simply want more power and profit and use them to achieve their malevolent purposes.

The sad thing is that while the leaders of the “Religious Right” benefit from this deal, their followers do not. In fact should Ebola ever reach epidemic or pandemic status in the United States because of their actions which have helped to hinder the government’s response to it; they don’t have to worry, they have good healthcare coverage which is paid for by their followers; and little threat of exposure. On the other hand their followers will have to fend for themselves, paying exceptionally high insurance rates if they can even afford it all the while the people that they support fight to ensure that they do not have affordable, or reliable access to health care.

The sad thing is that Ebola, as bad is it is, is a hard disease to catch, unless you happen to get blasted by a load of the massively infected vomit or bodily fluids of someone in the final stages of it. In fact Ebola is a lot harder to catch many forms of the Bird or Swine Flu, which are airborne viruses and highly contagious. History has shown that both are far more deadly in terms of numbers killed than either Ebola or AIDS have ever been.

Sadly, the same people who fought against treating HIV/AIDS and Ebola are the same people who mock public health experts and agencies when they warn of potential Influenza epidemics or pandemics, and fight against reasonable vaccination and prevention programs and education.

The actions of these religious and political leaders and their media supporters are unethical, irresponsible and at odds with measure of human compassion. It is like they have a death wish for the planet. But truthfully I have to say that it does not look to me that they seem to care so long as they reap a political and economic benefit from it.

Dr Koop was condemned by fanatical extremists like Phyllis Schlafly who said that Koop’s recommendations in his report about preventing AIDS looked “like it was edited by the Gay Task Force” and Schlafly, ever the loving, honest and ethical Christian that she is accused Koop of advocating that third-graders learn the rules of “safe sodomy.”

Koop replied in a very courageous manner to Schlafly, who in my view is one of the most loathsome people to ever unite religion and politics: “I’m not surgeon general to make Phyllis Schlafly happy. I’m surgeon general to save lives.”

In 1988 Dr Koop said something that most people in positions of any public responsibility, be they public health officials, medical professionals, politicians or even loathsome preacher should abide:

“I separate ideology, religion and other things from my sworn duty as a health officer in this country.”

But then as it did in the 1980s, the band continues to play on… and those that unite religion and their hatred of others continue to do everything that they can to ensure that people die as they lie. As for me, I am glad that finally saw the truth about these people and I thank people like that HIV positive Army officer who walked into my office in 1987 who humanized that terrible virus, and for helping me see the light.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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