Tag Archives: feet of clay

The Courageous Versus the Ideologues

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today is a bit of a detour following my last two articles dealing with the Reichstag Fire and Reichstag Fire Decree, but it does have some ties to them and I will pick up on the Reichstag Fire theme tomorrow.

Being an ideologue of any kind is easy, you adopt an ideology and then use it to interpret the world. That is why there are so many of them of so many different varieties: right wing, left wing, religious and so many more. In fact if you take a look at the most strident supporters of any ideology, politician, or religious leader you can see that they are little different from one another. But in terms of the ideologies they espouse the most enduring of them, and the only to have ever been the foundation of state power or those dealing with economics such as the Soviet Union; or race such as Nazi Germany or the American Southern Confederacy. Hannah Arendt wrote:

“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. Few ideologies have won enough prominence to survive the hard competitive struggle of persuasion, and only two have come out on top and essentially defeated all others: the ideology which interprets history as an economic struggle of classes, and the other that interprets history as a natural fight of races. The appeal of both to large masses was so strong that they were able to enlist state support and establish themselves as official national doctrines. But far beyond the boundaries within which race-thinking and class-thinking have developed into obligatory patterns of thought, free public opinion has adopted them to such an extent that not only intellectuals but great masses of people will no longer accept a presentation of past or present facts that is not in agreement with either of these views.” 

The fact is that there is a difference between people who lean a certain way politically or religiously, and the people Eric Hoffer called, the “true believers,” the people who chose a side and never wrestle with the hard choices of life. They simply declare all who oppose their ideology or theology to be unworthy of life.

I am a liberal and a progressive, but I often find left-wing ideologues to be as off putting as militant right wingers. I guess that is because despite everything I am a realist. I wake up every day to try to do the hard thing of deciding what is right and what to believe.

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. I see examples of this every day, especially in my Twitter feed and on Facebook.

While I’m sure that many, if not most of these people are good and well meaning people, they seldom display any originality of thought or true character. I had one left wing Twitter follower attack repeatedly me because to her I was supposedly a sellout. I have had right wing religious friends and followers on social media do the same.  While they attack me and each other from different ends of the political spectrum, the intellectual commonality they share is the fact that they are ideologues and zealots; and while they espouse different beliefs they are almost indistinguishable from each other in their inability to think critically and that wears me out.

I guess that is one of the things that bothers me the most about so much of what I see going on in the United States today. Too many ideologues, not enough critical thinkers. Too many people who value absolute consistently of thought without asking if what they preach is still true today, or if it might be tomorrow.

One thing that I have learned over the past eight years or so is that I have to ask what is right today, and make a choice of when to stand up, or to stand down. Sometimes, I don’t like those choices, but I make them.

I guess that is why I like reading about the lives of complicated and often conflicted people; men like T.E. Lawrence, William Tecumseh Sherman, and the fictional Raymond Reddington. I find much to admire and to criticize in all of them even as I empathize and understand each one of them. Interestingly, each of my heroes all have feet of clay. As Reddington said, “We become who we are. We can’t judge a book by its cover… But you can by its first few chapters, and most certainly by its last.” 

Have a great day, until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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F-Bombs and Feet of Clay: My Less than Saintly Life on Display

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am frustrated and angry tonight at people who I served with and considered to be friends because I dared to criticize the draft dodging, combat veteran mocking President when it was reported that he is forcing the Pentagon to give him a big military parade like Bastille Day in France. I made my comments on Facebook which I use to keep up with friends. I do post articles and occasionally comments on those articles but I make it a point never to go to my friends pages and attack them for their political, social, or religious beliefs, even when what they post attacks on things that I deeply believe in. For me it is not worth it, I would rather remember the good times with people than to attack them and their beliefs.

But tonight I lost it after repeated attacks and posted something that was not very Jesus like, something about fornicating the President and his minions. When I did that, one former shipmate who had been one of the instigators of my anger threw up my clergy status and noted that Jesus never said such things. I readily agreed with him and admitted that I am a bad seed. As far as what is written in the Bible goes I am sure that he is absolutely correct that Jesus never said such things. But that being said Jesus did kind of mess up the money changers in the Temple day when he when all sorts of crazy on them. Likewise, St Nicholas, tired of hearing heresy proclaimed at the Council of Nicaea punched the heretic Arius, an act that the Emperor Constantine had him stripped of his office as a Bishop and imprisoned. One has to admire punching saints. Likewise, the great German Reformer Martin Luther was probably at least as foul mouthed as me, especially after a good amount of beer.

Since I still struggle with belief and since I know that I am a very poor representative of Jesus in many ways it was offensive. On a good day I believe about 60% of the time which is a lot better than just a few years ago and that is not because how well I have been treated by supposedly Christian friends, rather it is because of the grace, love, and mercy I have been shown by others who don’t claim to be Christian, as well as Christians not afraid to rock the boat or embrace those who do, even if they disagree with them.

I guess that makes me a traitor to the President and his minions. If so I’ll live with it and I’m sure that when the President gets his Reichstag Fire moment that I will be terminated in one way or another. Since I have have had my life threatened by Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists going back to 2010 I wouldn’t be surprised at anything. I know too much about History and human nature to believe the best about anyone in times like this.

Tonight I am angry, I am disgusted, and I am discouraged; but I won’t stop speaking out. If I stop speaking out I will be no better than the Wehrmacht Officers who turned away from the Weimar Constitution, who turned the other way when Hitler gave them what they wanted and eliminated the opposition, and who planned and executed his wars of aggressive conquest and genocide, and when the war was over blamed it all of the SS.

General Ludwig Beck who first supported Hitler’s military build up but resigned his post rather than to execute orders to invade Czechoslovakia noted:

“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.”

Thankfully one of my former now retired subordinates sent me a personal message asking me to take my most incendiary comment down promising to copy and paste it on his timeline without attribution. The comment was admittedly over the top and posted out of anger, not that I didn’t mean it; but he was right to tell me to take it down in order to protect me. It was a scathingly brilliant idea. I removed the post and the comments and he posted my comment without attribution. You have to appreciate people who “look out for your six.” Thank you my friend for doing so.

The last two glasses of wine and the support of other friends have taken the edge off my anger. The Apostle Paul wrote “be angry and do not sin” while the Martin Luther, a man as foul and melancholy as I will ever be wrote his faithful friend and lieutenant Philip Melanchthon:

“If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides.”

I don’t hide behind my clerical collar, or the cross on my uniform. I know that I am deeply flawed and certainly not an imaginary sinner. I sin and when I do it tends to get noticed, and I’m sure that God is watching and that She knows it too. I don’t know if I can be angry and not sin because my mostly Irish and Scottish DNA combined with my life experience and PTSD mitigates against it. My ugly and beat up feet are definitely made of clay.

That being said I’m not going to be some namsy-pamsy that lets people walk over him. Feet of clay or not I do fight back and when I turn the other cheek I frequently emit foul odors.

So until tomorrow when I write about the substance of what set me off, not the attacks or the people,

Peace,

Padre Steve

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Filed under christian life, ethics, faith, Loose thoughts and musings, Political Commentary

The Courageous vs. the Ideologues 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Being an ideologue of any kind is easy, you adopt an ideology and then use it to interpret the world. That is why there are so many of them of so many different varieties: right wing, left wing, religious and so many more. In fact if you take a look at the most strident supporters of any ideology, politician, or religious leader you can see that they are little different from one another. 

The fact is that there is a difference between people who lean a certain way politically or religiously, and the people Eric Hoffer called, the “true believers,” the people who chose a side and never wrestle with the hard choices of life. They simply declare all who oppose their ideology or theology to be unworthy of life. 

It’s funny, I am a liberal and a progressive, but I often find left-wing ideologues to be as off putting as militant right wingers. I guess that is because despite everything I am a realist. I wake up every day to try to do the hard thing of deciding what is right and what to believe. 

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. I see examples of this every day, especially in my Twitter feed. While I’m sure that many, if not most of these people are good and well meaning people, they seldom display any originality of thought or true character. I had one left wing Twitter follower attack repeatedly me because to her I was supposedly a sellout. I have had right wing religious friends and followers on social media do the same, but the intellectual commonality they share is the fact that they are ideologues and zealots, and while they espouse different beliefs they are almost indistinguishable in their inability to think critically. 

I guess that is one of the things that bothers me the most about so much of what I see going on in the United States today. Too many ideologues, not enough critical thinkers. Too many people who value absolute consistently of thought without asking if what they preach is still true today, or if it might be tomorrow. 

One thing that I have learned over the past eight years or so is that I have to ask what is right today, and make a choice of when to stand up, or to stand down. Sometimes, I don’t like those choices, but I make them. 

I guess that is why I like reading about the lives of complicated and often conflicted people; men like T.E. Lawrence, William Tecumseh Sherman, and the fictional Raymond Reddington. I find much to admire and to criticize in all of them even as I empathize and understand each one of them. Interestingly, each of my heroes all have feet of clay. As Reddington said, “We become who we are. We can’t judge a book by its cover… But you can by its first few chapters, and most certainly by its last.” 

Have a great day and weekend.

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

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History is made by Feet of Clay

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Character is a terrible thing to judge. Mostly because those doing the judging also suffer from flaws in their own character and truthfully I don’t think that any of us are exempt from doing this, at least sometimes. Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted: “Nothing that we despise in other men is inherently absent from ourselves.” I think is somewhat freeing to realize that, thus to grasp this is to be united with humanity, as well as loose ourselves from the shackles that would inhibit us from achieving what we are capable.

Yet somehow the temptation is for us to stand as judge, jury and character executioner on those that we find wanting. As a culture we like tearing down those that we at one time built up, in fact we have industries that exist in order to build up and then destroy people.

It is a rather perverse proclivity that we have as human beings, especially if we can find some kind of religious justification for it.

I think that is part of the complexity of the human condition. As a historian I find that the most exalted heroes, men and women of often-great courage both moral and physical, intellect, creativity, humanity and even compassion have feet of clay.

I find that I am attracted to those characters that find themselves off the beaten track; the visionaries often at odds with their superiors, institutions, and sometimes their faith and traditions. Men and women who discovered in themselves visions for what might be and pursued those visions, sometimes at the costs of their families, friends, and in quite a few cases their lives.

Throughout my studies I have been attracted to men as diverse as Peter the Apostle, Martin Luther, Thomas Aquinas, T.E. Lawrence, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Erwin Rommel, Admiral Horatio Nelson, Abraham Lincoln, John F Kennedy, Dwight D Eisenhower, Franklin Roosevelt, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jackie Robinson, Teresa of Avila, Golda Meir, Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel, and Emir Feisal Hussein of the Arab Revolt. All had flaws and the list could go on and on and on.

Some of these men and women, saints and sinners alike had fits of temper and violence, others sexual escapades, mistresses, affairs, greed, avarice, and a host of other unseemly characteristics.  Some of them stretched law and morality in their quest to achieve their goals. But all are considered great men and women.

They all had feet of clay, and who among us doesn’t have them? But them I think that I would rather have feet of clay than a heart of stone, an unchallenged mind, or a lack of courage to do the right thing even when it does not directly benefit me.

I love the cinema classic Lawrence of Arabia. Peter O’Toole plays Lawrence in a most remarkable manner, showing his brilliance, courage, diplomatic ability and understanding of the Arabs with whom he served. In the film, Jack Hawkins who played General Allenby, perhaps the best British General of the war looked at Lawrence’s dossier and said “Undisciplined… unpunctual… untidy. Knowledge of music… knowledge of literature… knowledge of… knowledge of… you’re an interesting man there’s no doubt about it.” 

There are many people, leaders and others that we encounter in life or that we study. Even the best of the best are flawed and there is no such thing as a Saint who never sinned. But we love destroying them and their memory when to our “surprise” when we find that their hagiographers built them into an idol.

I am a great believer in redemption and the weight of the whole of a person’s life. Thus I try to put the flaws, as they are called in perspective and their impact both positive and negative in history. Studying in this way gives me a greater perspective on what it is to be human and to place my own clay feet in appropriate perspective.

As Lawrence said, “Immorality, I know. Immortality, I cannot judge.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Feet of Clay of the Best and Brightest

lawrence-3

General Allenby: [leafing through Lawrence’s dossier] “Undisciplined… unpunctual… untidy. Knowledge of music… knowledge of literature… knowledge of… knowledge of… you’re an interesting man there’s no doubt about it.” 

Character is a terrible thing to judge. Mostly because those doing the judging also suffer from flaws in their own character and truthfully I don’t think that any of us are exempt from doing this at least sometimes. Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted: “Nothing that we despise in other men is inherently absent from ourselves.” I think is is somewhat freeing to realize that.

Yet somehow the temptation is for us to stand as judge, jury and character executioner on those that we find wanting. As a culture we like tearing down those that we at one time built up, in fact we have industries that exist in order to build up and then destroy people.

It is a rather perverse proclivity that we have as human beings, especially if we can find some kind of religious justification for it.

I think that is part of the complexity of the human condition. As a historian I find that the most exalted heroes, men and women of often great courage both moral and physical, intellect, creativity, humanity and even compassion have feet of clay.

I find that I am attracted to those characters who find themselves off the beaten track. Visionaries often at odds with their superiors, institutions, and sometimes their faith and traditions. Men and women who discovered in themselves visions for what might be and pursued those visions, sometimes at the costs of their families, friends, and in quite a few cases their lives.

Throughout my studies I have been attracted to men as diverse as Peter the Apostle, Martin Luther, Thomas Aquinas, T.E. Lawrence, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Erwin Rommel, Admiral Horatio Nelson, Abraham Lincoln, John F Kennedy, Dwight D Eisenhower, Franklin Roosevelt, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Jackie Robinson, Teresa of Avila, Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel and Emir Feisal Hussein of the Arab Revolt. All had flaws and the list could go on and on and on.

Some of these men and women, saints and sinners alike had fits of temper and violence, others sexual escapades, mistresses, affairs, greed, avarice, and a host of other unseemly characteristics.  Some of them stretched law and morality in their quest to achieve their goals. But all are considered great men and women.

Feet of clay. Who doesn’t have them? But them I think that I would rather have feet of clay than a heart of stone, an an unchallenged mind, or a lack of courage to do the right thing even when it does not directly benefit me.

I love the cinema classic Lawrence of Arabia. Peter O’Toole plays Lawrence in a most remarkable manner, showing his brilliance, courage, diplomatic ability and understanding of the Arabs with whom he served.

There are many people, leaders and others that we encounter in life or that we study. Even the best of the best are flawed and there is no such thing as a Saint who never sinned. But we love destroying them and their memory when to our “surprise” when we find that their hagiographers built them into an idol.

I am a great believer in redemption and the weight of the whole of a person’s life. Thus I try to put the flaws as they are called in perspective and their impact both positive and negative in history. Studying in this way gives me a greater perspective on what it is to be human and to place my own clay feet in appropriate perspective.

As Lawrence said: “Immorality, I know. Immortality, I cannot judge.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

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