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Religious Fanaticism and Politics: The Danger of the “True” Believers

dyer-hanging-1

“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The First Amendment of the US Constitution

“no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened 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.” Thomas Jefferson in the 1779 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

Those that read this site and have gotten to know me through it over the past few years know that I am passionately devoted to religious liberty.  I find it throughout the writings of our founders and and have written about it before numerous times and the comment was in regard to this article The Gift of Religious Liberty and the Real Dangers to It https://padresteve.com/2011/05/10/the-gift-of-religious-liberty-and-the-real-dangers-to-it/

That is why I tend to get spun up about the way that some people use their religion as a weapon in public life and politics. This happens around the world and frankly there is nothing good in it regardless of who is doing it or what religion they are using to subjugate or attempt to subjugate others, particularly religious minorities.

In fact it was on this day, October 14th 1656 the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where church and state were one enacted the first punitive laws against the Quakers, who they believed to spiritually apostate and subversive. The interesting thing is that the political and theological descendants of the Puritans who enacted those laws held a major political conference this weekend, they called it the Value Voter’s Summit. While religious liberty was a major theme of that conference it was not the religious liberty of all, simply theirs which they believe is superior to others and should be the established state religion.

Since I have written numerous other articles about the dangers that I see in what they term the Dominionist or Reconstructionist movement and the Seven Mountains theology I will not dwell on that here. Instead I will share some insights I have based on my interaction with individuals who believe that no religious rights except for their understanding of Christianity should be legal in the United States.

I do want to say up front that this article is in no way a denigration of those that believe, especially in this case since my critic claims to be a Christian a criticism of other Christians that are committed to their faith but also respect the religious liberties of others and that give God and his grace a little bit of credit to work in the lives of others that are different from them.

After I wrote an article about two years ago I received a comment on that post that I quote in part:

“I have a serious problem with anyone who calls themselves a Christian supporting the religious liberty of all those who are not Christians because by doing so you condone their worship of false gods which is idolatry. I would rather see all religious worship outlawed than to allow worshippers of false gods allowed to spew their demon inspired idolatrous lies in public.” (pingecho728 Jonathan) 

I found it amazing to see such words voiced over a subject that is so much a part of the fabric of our country.  Unfortunately with all the poisonous division in the country that religious liberty is in peril in some cases from left wing fanatics that despise all religion but is becoming more pronounced on the fanatical right particularly in the views of some parts of American Evangelical and Conservative Catholic Christianity.

But with that said this commentator was obviously a very angry person. So I decided to search Facebook and Google search and in about 5 minutes I found more than I wanted to know about this man. He is a fanatic who has flip-flopped in his passionate beliefs, responding to an atheist on another website in December 2010 regarding the irrationality of Biblical faith.

“PingEcho728  Dec 1, 2010 01:55 PM
I love what you wrote and agree wholeheartedly. Ironically I used to be once upon a time one of those religionist who was content with the “God did it” answer..if the Bible said it I believed it a hundred percent but once I opened my eyes and actually examined everything I had once easily believed to see why I had believed those things I found I had no good rational answer or evidence for believing those things. So I did the only thing a rational freethinking person could do, I abandoned beliefs for which I had no reason or evidence to support it.”

When I responded to the man and noted that everyone was someone else’s heretic and that even Conservative Christians might find his views heretical he responded: “There are certainly no Christians more conservative than me nor would any true Christian call me a heretic.”

Talk about flip-flopping, but this is typical among fanatics of every variety. They easily change sides because they need a cause bigger then them to provide meaning to their lives.  This man blasted the Founders in their views of religious liberty on a Tea Party blog: “I trust in the founders no more than I trust in any fallible man. The freedom to disagree is one thing to allow false religions to flourish in America is one that will undoubtedly lead to the destruction of America and the rise of the antichrist.”

baptistpersecutionvirginia01

Anglican Persecution of Virginia Baptists

Philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote in his book The True Believer about mass movements and their fanatical followers.  He did not see the followers of the different causes be they religious, secular, atheist, Fascist or Communist to be that different from each other. He saw them as brothers in a sense and their real opponent is the moderate, not the opposing extremist. Hoffer saw that the “true believers” were far easier to convert to an opposing view than you would think and he noted how fanatical Germans and Japanese often were converted to Communism while in captivity after the war.  It was their devotion to the cause not the cause that they became devoted to serving that was what gave meaning to their life.

Hoffer wrote:

“The fanatic is perpetually incomplete and insecure. He cannot generate self assurance out of his individual resources-out of his rejected self-but finds it only by clinging to whatever cause he happens to embrace. This passionate attachment is the source of his blind devotion and religiosity, and he sees in it the source of all virtue and strength. Through his single minded dedication is a holding on for dear life , he easily sees himself as the supporter and defender of the holy cause to which he clings….Still his sense of security is derived from his passionate attachment and not from the excellence of his cause. The fanatic is not really a stickler to principle. He embraces a cause not because of its justness and holiness but because of his desperate need for something to hold on to. Often, indeed, it is his need for passionate attachment which turns every cause he embraces into a holy cause. The fanatic cannot be weened away from his cause by an appeal to reason or moral sense. He fears compromise and cannot be persuaded to qualify the certitude of his holy cause. But he finds no difficulty in swinging suddenly and wildly from one holy cause to another. He cannot be convinced but only converted. His passionate attachment is more vital than the cause to which he is attached.”

Unfortunately there are many people on the extremes of the political spectrum that are like this. They can be found in the factions of the Tea Party and likewise some on the political left as well as other more extreme hate groups.  They are the kind of people that in the social, economic and political turmoil of the 1920s and 1930s were sucked into the great radical movements Communism, Fascism and Naziism.  In fact this has little to do with Christianity itself, even the most conservative expressions of it.  It is a matter that fanatics would rather destroy freedom for everyone than to give it to anyone that they disagree.

The real thing that sets our nation apart from others is the fact that when it came to religious liberty that the Founders were quite clear that religious liberty was the property of every individual. It was not to be forced by the state or by religious bodies acting on behalf of the state. We are not Iran, Saudi Arabia or even Israel. Our founders knew the dangers of fanatical religion having seen the effect of it during the brutal religious wars in England which pitted Anglicans against Separatists and Roman Catholics in the 17th Century.  They harbored no illusions about the danger posed by well meaning “true believers” who would use the powers of the state to enforce their religious beliefs on others as well as those that would seek to obliterate religion from public life as happened during the French Revolution.

I will gladly take criticism from people that believe that I am not a Christian because I defend the religious liberties of others.  I am a Christian and make no apology but  I figure that this liberty is too precious to so despised by those that most depend on it.  Religion can and has often been abused and used as a dictatorial bludgeon. Those who now advocate so stridently for their faith to be made the law of the land should well remember the words of James Madison:

“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

I wish that they would consider this before they attempt to destroy the country in order to save it.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, faith, History, News and current events, Religion

Revisiting the Gift of Religious Liberty: The Danger posed by Fanatics

“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The First Amendment of the US Constitution

“no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened 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.” Thomas Jefferson in the 1779 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

Those that read this site and have gotten to know me through it over the past few years know that I am passionately devoted to religious liberty.  I find it throughout the writings of our founders and and have written about it before numerous times and the comment was in regard to this article The Gift of Religious Liberty and the Real Dangers to It  https://padresteve.com/2011/05/10/the-gift-of-religious-liberty-and-the-real-dangers-to-it/

I do want to say up front that this article is in no way a denigration of those that believe, especially in this case since my critic claims to be a Christian a criticism of other Christians that are committed to their faith but also respect the religious liberties of others and that give God and his grace a little bit of credit to work in the lives of others that are different from them.

A couple of days ago I received a comment on that post that I quote in part:

“I have a serious problem with anyone who calls themselves a Christian supporting the religious liberty of all those who are not Christians because by doing so you condone their worship of false gods which is idolatry. I would rather see all religious worship outlawed than to allow worshippers of false gods allowed to spew their demon inspired idolatrous lies in public.” (pingecho728 Jonathan) 

It is amazing to me to see such words voiced over a subject that is so much a part of the fabric of our country.  Unfortunately with all the poisonous division in the country that religious liberty is in peril in some cases from left wing fanatics that despise all religion but is becoming more pronounced on the fanatical right particularly in the views of some parts of American Evangelical and Conservative Catholic Christianity.

But with that said this commentator is a very angry person and a search Facebook and a Google search that took all of about 5 minutes told me more than I wanted to know about this man. He is a fanatic who has flip-flopped in his passionate beliefs, responding to an atheist on another website in December 2010 regarding the irrationality of Biblical faith.

“PingEcho728  Dec 1, 2010 01:55 PM
I love what you wrote and agree wholeheartedly. Ironically I used to be once upon a time one of those religionist who was content with the “God did it” answer..if the Bible said it I believed it a hundred percent but once I opened my eyes and actually examined everything I had once easily believed to see why I had believed those things I found I had no good rational answer or evidence for believing those things. So I did the only thing a rational freethinking person could do, I abandoned beliefs for which I had no reason or evidence to support it.”

When I responded to the man and noted that everyone was someone else’s heretic and that even Conservative Christians might find his views heretical he responded. “There are certainly no Christians more conservative than me nor would any true Christian call me a heretic.”  Talk about flip-flopping, but this is typical among fanatics of every variety. They easily change sides because they need a cause bigger then them to provide meaning to their lives.  This man who on other Tea Party blogs practically deifies the Founders says of them regarding religious liberty: “I trust in the founders no more than I trust in any fallible man. The freedom to disagree is one thing to allow false religions to flourish in America is one that will undoubtedly lead to the destruction of America and the rise of the antichrist.”

Philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote in his book The True Believer about mass movements and their fanatical followers.  He did not see the followers of the different causes be they religious, secular, atheist, Fascist or Communist to be that different from each other. He saw them as brothers in a sense and their real opponent is the moderate, not the opposing extremist. Hoffer saw that the “true believers” were far easier to convert to an opposing view than you would think and he noted how fanatical Germans and Japanese often were converted to Communism while in captivity after the war.  It was their devotion to the cause not the cause that they became devoted to serving that was what gave meaning to their life.

Hoffer wrote:

“The fanatic is perpetually incomplete and insecure. He cannot generate self assurance out of his individual resources-out of his rejected self-but finds it only by clinging to whatever cause he happens to embrace. This passionate attachment is the source of his blind devotion and religiosity, and he sees in it the source of all virtue and strength. Through his single minded dedication is a holding on for dear life , he easily sees himself as the supporter and defender of the holy cause to which he clings….Still his sense of security is derived from his passionate attachment and not from the excellence of his cause. The fanatic is not really a stickler to principle. He embraces a cause not because of its justness and holiness but because of his desperate need for something to hold on to. Often, indeed, it is his need for passionate attachment which turns every cause he embraces into a holy cause. The fanatic cannot be weened away from his cause by an appeal to reason or moral sense. He fears compromise and cannot be persuaded to qualify the certitude of his holy cause. But he finds no difficulty in swinging suddenly and wildly from one holy cause to another. He cannot be convinced but only converted. His passionate attachment is more vital than the cause to which he is attached.”

Unfortunately there are many people on the extremes of the political spectrum that are like this. They can be found in the factions of the Tea Party and in the Occupy Movement as well as other even more extreme groups.  They are the kind of people that in the social, economic and political turmoil of the 1920s and 1930s were sucked into the great radical movements Communism, Fascism and Naziism.  In fact this has little to do with Christianity itself, even the most conservative expressions of it.  It is a matter that fanatics would rather destroy freedom for everyone than to give it to anyone that they disagree.

The real thing that sets our nation apart from others is the fact that when it came to religious liberty that the Founders were quite clear that religious liberty was the property of every individual. It was not to be forced by the state or by religious bodies acting on behalf of the state. We are not Iran, Saudi Arabia or even Israel. Our founders knew the dangers of fanatical religion having seen the effect of it during the brutal religious wars in England which pitted Anglicans against Separatists and Roman Catholics in the 17th Century.  They harbored no illusions about the danger posed by well meaning “true believers” who would use the powers of the state to enforce their religious beliefs on others as well as those that would seek to obliterate religion from public life as happened during the French Revolution.

I will gladly take criticism from people that believe that I am not a Christian because I defend the religious liberties of others.  I am a Christian and make no apology but  I figure that this liberty is too precious to so despised by those that most depend on it.  Religion can and has often been abused and used as a dictatorial bludgeon. Those who now advocate so stridently for their faith to be made the law of the land should well remember the words of James Madison:

“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, History, philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion

The Promise and Peril of Revolutionary Times: A Warning From History

“In a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end.” – Alexis de Tocqueville

“They who clamor loudest for freedom are often the ones least likely to be happy in a free society.”  Eric Hoffer – The True Believer

I don’t know about you but it seems that everywhere I look that revolution is in the air.  Revolutionary times can be exciting to watch or even to participate in because all at least initially cater to the hopes of people, the hope of change, freedom, justice and equity are common themes.   As a historian I find it fascinating to observe revolutions and to read about revolutions throughout history.  But I always have a concern about how even the most well intentioned revolts against real or perceived injustice often miscarry and create conditions ripe for civil war, dictatorship and even regional or world war.

The revolutions sweeping the world today and I include the proto-revolutionary movements of the conservative Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements as revolutionary movements are becoming mass movements.  As mass movements they share many things in common even if their ideologies and backers appear to be diametrically opposed.  We now have two diametrically opposed revolutionary movements seeking power in this country and neither side will be satisfied until they achieve it.

Those that dismiss or seek to tame the Tea Party or the Occupy Wall Street movement are foolish. The anger, resentment and the hatred that these movements have for the established order are too great to be easily dismissed.  The politicians that try to channel these movements for their own benefit or party or that attempt to encourage them without actually addressing their grievances will discover too late that lip service and cosmetic change will not be enough.  Peaceful nonviolent protests can turn violent in a moment with very unpredictable results.

In our country there is great dissatisfaction with the status quo on the right and the left which in large part is due to the actions of those in power in government, media, business and even religion to address the concerns of those on both sides of the political abyss.  Likewise it is the same entities that in order to maintain their power have used every opportunity to create enmity among Americans.

Similar events are occurring on the other side of the Atlantic as the crisis in Greece threatens the economic stability and quite possibly the viability of the European Union.  The extremists on the left and right are garnering support that they have not had in decades from people that until the current economic downturn were content with the status quo because they were doing alright.

Even those revolutions that bring positive change tend to bring in some form of social unrest and upheaval to include the maltreatment and sometimes exile of people that did not agree with the revolution.  One only has to take a look at the large numbers of British colonists in the 13 Colonies who were loyal to the British Crown and lost their place in society and many times their homes and livelihoods as they were no longer welcome.  Many fled to Canada, the British West Indies or had to return to England.

Revolutionaries do not take kindly to those that oppose them, especially when they are kinsmen.  Those officers or Federal officials that remained loyal to the Union during the American Civil War that hailed from Southern States often found that they were no longer welcome in their communities and sometimes disowned by their families.  This was the fate of General George Thomas who remained faithful to his oath despite being fromVirginia. His family turned his picture around and refused to have anything to do with him from that point forward even refusing financial assistance from him after the war.

The English Civil Wars of 1641-1653 were some of the most brutal to occur inEuropeand devastated Ireland which lost some 41% of its population and where the lingering scars are still seen today.

The French Revolution was a bloodletting that shaped France to the present day.  People tend to forget that the root cause of this revolution was a financial crisis brought about by the costs of the Seven Years War with England and the French support of the American Revolution which brought the country into more conflict with England. The antiquated and regressive French tax code put a heavy burden on the middle and lower classes but provided many exemptions to the nobility and the clergy.  When comptroller Jacques Necker proposed ending or reducing those exemptions he was fired.  But the crown was so week that it decided to call the Estates General into session for the first time since 1618 and when the three components of the assembly could not agree on credentials the lower assembly of commoners broke off and formed their own National Assembly and when it appeared that the King was bringing foreign troops to Paris it set off an armed revolt.

The revolution was brutal and unleashed an unprecedented series of wars which engulfed the European continent the West Indies and Egypt.  Eventually a young Army officer named Napoleon Bonaparte did much to secure the new regime’s security by a series of brilliant military victories.  He was so successful that he overthrew the government and became a dictator in 1799 and would proclaim himself Emperor in 1804.  The wars in Europe were devastating and would create a situation where a weakened Spain and Portugal would lose their colonies in Central and South America.

When Napoleon was finally defeated for the last time at Waterloo in 1815 the Congress of Vienna reestablished a conservative order and peace inEurope.  There was a brief revolutionary period in 1848 and the wars that led to the unification of Germany and the defeat of France by Prussia in 1870-71. But for the most part stability reigned until the First World War as European powers focused on using their power in imperialist ways in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.   The war set in motion revolutionary movements that would lead to the overthrow of empires and birth the mass movements of Communism, Fascism and Nazism that would be responsible for some of the most destructive wars and crimes against humanity ever seen by the world.

Other revolutions have caused immeasurable suffering, the Cultural Revolution in China, the Iranian revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia to name a few. The Spartacus revolution in the early days of the Weimar Republic helped doom it and led to the Nazi revolution in Germany. The Nazi revolution was brought about through legal means with the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor after which his revolutionary policies were put in place.

The revolutions in the Soviet Union and Warsaw pact in aftermath of the Cold War have brought a multiplicity of outcomes, some which appear to have brought forth societies where human rights and individual liberties are respected and others which have become or are in the process of becoming dictatorships.

And so today we live in an age of revolution which is heightened and moves across the globe like a wind fanned wildfire due to the instantaneous nature of the communication and media that we now enjoy.  There is the Arab Spring and the beginnings of revolutionary movements in Europe, Asia and now even North America.  Governments seem impotent to do anything about the conditions that have moved these revolutionary groups to action and have given the ideologues on the left and right respectability that they could have never enjoyed before.  The ideologues make their money by providing a platform for the airing of the grievances of their readers or listeners real and imagined by playing on the need for hope.  The motive of the listener or follower is finding something to believe in a hope and promise, hope around the corner not hope deferred.  Eric Hoffer noted “To have a grievance is to have a purpose in life. It not infrequently happens that those who hunger for hope give their allegiance to him who offers them a grievance.”

The extremists on both sides of the line in the United States have held sway so long that they have turned the extreme into the mainstream inspiring one of the most amazing displays of left-right groupthink that I have ever seen.  I read a lot of conservative and liberal blogs and websites,some which are considered mainstream by their proponents.  I believe that you can tell a lot about movements by what the rank and file write or share.  One thing that I notice is how interchangeable these blogs are and how much they mirror the talking points of their respective echo chambers.  There is little creative though only the endless repetition of talking points. If one ventures a dissenting opinion on one of these sites he or she will find themselves shouted down and demonized and it doesn’t matter if the site is left wing or right wing, religious or secular.  The purity of ideology and necessity of conformity to the group-think ensures that opposing points of view be shouted down.

I first started noticing this when I returned fromIraqin 2008. At that time I was still listening to conservative talk radio on a regular basis and I started noticing that with minor differences all the talk show hosts sounded alike, the same talking points driven home day after day.  Alternative viewpoints even those that differed only slightly from the party line were ridiculed and demonized. That was eye opening to me and I noticed a similar tone emanating from the left.  Both emphasize that they are being oppressed or persecuted and the rank and file believe that they are oppressed and gladly allow themselves to become parts of these mass movements.

It is the real and perceived feelings of oppression or persecution provide these disparate movements their most fervent followers and energy.

One attitude prominently displayed is an absolute hatred and distain of moderation.  Both have an absolute distain of dialogue and neither appear to want a win-win situation to develop simply because to both sides only absolute victory for themselves and destruction of all that that they oppose matters.  It is a nihilistic zero sum game that both sides play.  Both sides are slaves to their doctrine and the vast majorities of the followers of these mass movements are absolutely unaware of this.  Philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote “A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”

Revolutionary movements of themselves can be transforming and in the long run quite beneficial but for every one that is such there are many more that in succeeding bring about tyrannies as bad or worse than the ones that they ended.  The evidence of this is widespread.  Much of this is due to a desire not for freedom but for revenge as those that viewed themselves as oppressed or persecuted turn their new found power into a weapon of revenge and retaliation.  Hoffer wrote “It is doubtful if the oppressed ever fight for freedom. They fight for pride and power — power to oppress others. The oppressed want above all to imitate their oppressors; they want to retaliate.”

History shows that in more cases than not that when revolutionaries take power they become oppressors themselves and are perfectly willing to crush dissent by force. They become the conservative faction resistant to change and opposed to dissent.  Hannah Arendt observed that “The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.”

Eric Hoffer understood mass movements as few in the last century have.  Hoffer’s book The True Believer (1951) is a study of mass movements and since Hoffer had witnessed the mass movements of the 1920s and 1930s that defined the age, Fascism, Communism and Nazism.  Hoffer notes similarities between political, social and religious mass movements and when it was written in 1951 President Dwight D. Eisenhower praised it.  It is well worth the read.  Hannah Arendt also understood how individuals in mass movements could participate in evil including genocide and think that they were just doing their job and helping society.  Her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.

Revolutionary times are filled with promise and peril. The wise in Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street and other movements around the world need to understand that crucial truth.  Movements such as these can be co-opted and driven in ways that those that began them can little anticipate and the leaders of such movements often become victims of the very movement that they helped create.  The names of such instigators that have become victims is too long to list.

As a historian I find the process that we see unfolding as simply fascinating and I cannot predict how this revolutionary era will play out.  I just hope and pray that things don’t get too sporty.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, News and current events, Political Commentary

An Unnecessary Condition of Affairs

“The war… was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.” Robert E. Lee

I am always attracted to military leaders with a tragic and honorable history, men who maintain honor and humanity even when the nations that they serve was on the wrong side of history.  There have been such men in almost every war and I admire them even in defeat more than I do those that win victories at all costs and in the process lose their souls. This puts me in a select minority and minorities are not always appreciated we tend to make people uncomfortable just by existing. Since I have been threatened by threatened by Neo-Nazis, called weak, a heretic, apostate and sometimes worse by fellow Christians even being tossed from my former church for now being “too liberal” I am now officially used to this even when it comes from friends Romans and countrymen and the occasional nutty European, Asian or Islamist from abroad.

Today we stand at a political divide not seen since the days leading up to the American Civil War but it didn’t have to come to this had our political and corporate leadership been responsible and acted with wisdom the past 40 years or so. Robert E Lee a man unquestioned integrity was torn by his desire to see the Union preserved and his allegiance to it and his loyalty to his own family and the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Lee is a tragic figure a true man of courage, faith and decency, a man of moderation who maintained a profound respect and love for the United States even while leading the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.  He had his flaws as well but on the whole he was one of the truly great men in American history. When the war was lost he was an advocate of reconciliation between the deeply divided North and the conquered South.

In an age of bitterness brought about by defeat and the repression of the draconian measures of Reconstruction Lee was a man that understood that as Americans it was necessary to put aside bitterness.  After the defeat he was accosted by a woman professing her hatred of the North. His reply to her would be a good start for all of those today who hate their fellow Americans be they Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians or Tea Partiers on the basis of political ideology and the raw quest for power.  Lee said to this woman “Madam, don’t bring up your sons to detest the United States Government. Recollect that we form one country now. Abandon all these local animosities, and make your sons Americans.”

Unfortunately among certain parts of the electorate the Government of the United States is detested and some even call for revolution if not at the ballot box if need be by violence.  The rhetoric is certainly pointing that direction as conservatives and liberals alike turn up the heat on this witches cauldron that our country has become. Compromise is considered anathema by both sides especially by the Tea Party movement and the fact is that we are at war with ourselves the national fabric is broken even worse than or economic state or moral state.  We may not be shooting at each other yet but unless we see some kind of national decision by all Americans to stop the political fratricide and work together to solve the problems that have been festering for decades it may come to down to bullets and the tragedy will be worse than that of the Civil War because despite the tragedy of it some good did come, the end of slavery and an understanding of being Americans rather than simply New Yorkers or Virginians. Lee writing about the war said “What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world.”

This political fratricide is in large part due to the manner in which our politicians, political parties and even religious institutions are the servants of multinational corporations and financial groups. When everything comes down to it all of these institutions are deeply subservient to the whims of special interests especially multinational corporations and financial institutions.  It is no wonder that leaders as diverse as Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Napoleon Bonaparte recognized the threat that they pose to nations and in the case of the United States to democracy itself. Jefferson wrote “The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.”

Roosevelt noted quite rightly, much to the chagrin of his fellow Republicans “Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of today.” While Napoleon cut to the heart of the matter when he wrote “When a government is dependent upon bankers for money, they and not the leaders of the government control the situation, since the hand that gives is above the hand that takes. Money has no motherland; financiers are without patriotism and without decency; their sole object is gain.”

Yet in the midst of our political fratricide there seems to be one special interest group above all which always seems to win even when the people of the country suffer. That group is the multinational corporations and financial institutions.  It doesn’t matter what party is in power they somehow come out with a big fat profit margin and get treatment that regular people could never hope to get. Now since the Supreme Court has ruled that big corporations (and labor too) now have no limits on what they can contribute to political campaigns you can bet your ass that politicians of all ilk’s will be suckling lucrative money milk from the tits of these corporations which will dispense billions of dollars to political campaigns in the coming year and a half leading up to the 2012 election.  We expect this of Republicans and Democrat but rest assured my friends that even Tea Party candidates will line up for their turn in order suckle at this tit to keep their newly acquired offices or gain more in the coming election. Such is the nature of politics in our fair country.

Meanwhile both parties dither about a budget that if they had been doing their jobs would have been completed months ago had Nancy Pelosi bothered to submit a budget for 2011 while Speaker of the House.  Now about three months into the new Congress both parties are posturing on the next year’s budget all the while the government lurches toward a shutdown of unpredictable consequences.

Yes we have to deal with the mess that these same people of both parties aided and abetted by their special interest group supporters have made over years to get us in this mess. Administration after administration and Congress after Congress have kicked this can down the road and now they have kicked it and the country into the ditch. Now something has to be done and Democrats seem loathe to step up to the plate and take political risks  while Republicans, particularly the Tea Party leadership are acting like the Jacobins during the French Revolution even threatening even their own party leadership if they don’t get everything that they want. All seem to ignore the fact that the vast majority of the country just wants both sides to figure the damned thing out and fix the problem for real even if it means personal sacrifice rather than seeing these people pursue the policy of mutually assured destruction.

Why does this seem so personal to me? Let me tell you. When I came back from Iraq after seeing the results of unbridled hatred in that country and having travelled in the Balkans after the Yugoslav Civil War I became frightened when I saw politicians of both parties speaking with the same invective as I saw in those countries. Nothing like seeing the effects of a real live shooting civil war to give one pause when political enemies threaten to cross that same line in this country.  Don’t dismiss this out of hand. For years certain pundits, politicians and preachers on both sides of the political chasm have been dehumanizing their opponents and once people are no longer seen as human it is very easy to resort to violence against them. Just take a look at the ordinary Germans who took part in the extermination of the Jews under the Hitler regime.

Am I forgetting something here? Yes I almost forgot, in 2008 we saw the housing crisis in which the very institutions caused the crisis were bailed out by both President Bush and President Obama with Congress willing and lovingly joining in to approve billions and billions of dollars for them. This included huge amounts of money which went to foreign financial institutions. Meanwhile regular people had their home value and credit slashed even as unemployment skyrocketed and in the following years we have seen the same banks seizing the foreclosed homes in record numbers while millions of others now owe far more on their loans than their homes are worth. It’s a great deal for the banks. Approve loans for people who will have a hard time repaying them, crash the economy have the government bail you out and then take the homes and sell them while still collecting the cash from the unfortunate former owners. Well to quote a great line from the Roman Empire segment of Mel Brooks’ classic comedy History of the World Part One

Leader of Senate: All fellow members of the Roman senate hear me. Shall we continue to build palace after palace for the rich? Or shall we aspire to a more noble purpose and build decent housing for the poor? How does the senate vote?
Entire Senate: F*** THE POOR!

It’s funny how a comedy from the late 1970s offers such remarkable political and social insights for us today. But then Teddy Roosevelt said of the Roman Republic as a warning to us back in 1903 “The death-knell of the republic had rung as soon as the active power became lodged in the hands of those who sought, not to do justice to all citizens, rich and poor alike, but to stand for one special class and for its interests as opposed to the interests of others.”

Well if these present rulers don’t get their act together parts of the government will shut down and your military which is currently involved in four wars, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and the nearly forgotten War on Terrorism in lots of places that the media doesn’t mention will not get paid. Ain’t that a hoot?  But mind you as military personnel try to salvage the wars that our politicians have plunged us into we still serve even if we won’t get paid.  Yet when push comes to shove we are cast aside by the political ruling class for their short term political gain.  I remember a quote of Robert E Lee which speaks volumes on this subject. Lee was besieged at Petersburg, his haggard and outnumbered Army deprived of food, ammunition and replacements was dying in the cold mud of the trenches when he went to seek help from the Confederate Congress. After his visit he remarked “I have been up to see the Congress and they do not seem to be able to do anything except to eat peanuts and chew tobacco, while my army is starving.”

Seems that nothing really changes, does it? This unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides. When will we ever learn?

God help us all,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under History, laws and legislation, leadership, Military, philosophy, Political Commentary

Passionate Moderates Arise!

“All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” Thomas Jefferson

The Reign of Terror, the End Result of Extremist Ideologies

Everywhere I look I see extremism winning. It doesn’t matter which corner of our furry world you look it seems that some sort of extremist group or bunch of radicals is dominating the landscape.  It doesn’t matter what realm of life it is the radicals and extremists dominate be it religion, politics, foreign policy, social issues, the environment, the worldwide economy and the media. I’m sorry to me it is a very unseemly environment and unfortunately will probably get far worse before it gets better.

Just take a look around the country and the world and you can see it. We have Muslim fundamentalist extremists committing acts of terror in the name of their faith against anyone that they oppose. There are Christian fundamentalists in Africa advocating killing homosexuals just because they can with the full support of some American fundamentalist groups.  In India Hindu fundamentalists burn Christian villages and kill the inhabitants. In Iran anyone that disagrees with the Islamic regime is a target of the Revolutionary Guard, in China dare disagree with the Communist party.  There are environmentalists that advocate killing off most of humanity to “save the planet” using the Vietnam war logic of “we had to destroy the village to save it.” I could go on naming example after example but that would simply be beating the dead horse so to speak and I would rather kill farting cows.

In the politics of American real moderates were pretty much driven from the Democratic Party and for the past 20 years or so the Republicans have been driving moderates from their ranks. Many of those that call themselves “moderate” still in political power simply pander and meander to stay in power giving the rest of us a bad name.  Now if you want to gauge just how much moderates are held in derision by these self proclaimed ideological purists just look around the blogosphere and you will see people on the right and the left use the same language and invective to castigate moderates. At least they can find something to agree about, maybe there is hope.   Let’s face it even Hitler and Stalin agreed about crushing Poland.

With all of the extremists about the world is lurching, no plunging into anarchy. As any student of history knows that anarchy is unsustainable because people in nations suffering under it will eventually give up and surrender freedom for the “security” that tyrants provide.  I don’t know about you but while tyrants provide order they also tend to repress the people that helped them into power, crush dissent at home and wage aggressive campaigns against their historic enemies who might have actually become friends in more civil times.  In a sense we have reverted to totalitarian tribalism in almost all areas of life where those of the political, ideological and religious extremes attempt to ensure that those views are dominant and all others crushed.

I remember once when I was attending seminary hearing a fundamentalist preacher remark that moderates that were recognizable by the tire tracks on their back and deserved to be run over. That was back in about 1990 or 1991.  As a moderate I was appalled because this preacher was fairly well known.  Now no moderate is safe.  In the United States true moderates as opposed to the pandering politicians than claim to be moderates are unwelcome in either of the major political party. In the religious world moderates are being driven from their churches or religious organizations because they do not adhere to the prevailing theological, social or political leanings of their particular religious faith.  Allegedly since moderates are not doctrinally ideologically pure they are not moderate at all but watered down versions of what they ideologues on the right and left view as their enemies.  In fact they are despised even more than their actual ideological or theological opponents.  I have seen atheists state that religious moderates are worse than fundamentalists and similar things said by religious fundamentalists regarding religious moderates. Even Hitler viewed moderates the same way these Jacobins and used such terms. It doesn’t matter what the issue is be it moral, social, political or dealing with other nations we now live in a world where alleged ideological or theological “purity” thumps everything and woe betide the person that raises his or her voice against the extremists. Mind you the ideological, political or theological purity that the radicals espouse is usually some bastardized form of the original because ideologues are as brazen liars in regard to truth as they come, except they claim to own the truth.

In fact such people cannot back down from their own propaganda because if they do they believe that they lose their corner on the truth. Adolf Hitler said in regard to this: As soon as by one’s own propaganda even a glimpse of right on the other side is admitted, the cause for doubting one’s own right is laid.

It used not to be this way in the United States.  Americans used to be appalled by extremists and our Founding Fathers feared extremists like the French Jacobins who conducted the reign of terror during the French Revolution. Moderation was considered a virtue and was the glue that held American society together during times of worldwide upheaval.  In the past we found common things to agree on even when we debated very divisive and explosive subjects.  We were the epitome of religious freedom of expression and tolerance and we found ways to appreciate the cultural contributions of immigrants from around the world.  Yes we had problems and still do but overall we did pretty well when we still valued one another.

Moderation meant that we respected the Constitution and the liberties that it promises to all citizens.  Moderation meant that the hate filled ideologies of Fascism, Nazism and Communism never found a home here, at least beyond that of limited enclaves of society.  We never had a Hitler or Stalin because we respected each other as Americans enough not to embrace such types of individuals and their hate driven ideologies.  Moderation meant that four Army Chaplains, two Protestants, a Catholic and a Jew gave away their life jackets to soldiers without on a doomed transport torpedoed by a U-Boat. Those chaplains after giving up their life jackets were seen embracing each other and praying as the ship went down.  Moderation meant that our politicians could go to the mat against each other on the campaign trail or in the halls of Congress but when all was said and done could still be friends and even grieve when an opponent passed away. As Thomas Jefferson said “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” Now we have elected leaders as well as political pundits of both major parties calling the other side the enemy and hurling the vilest of epithets at one another to include the wish that their opponents would die.

American moderation sets the ideal of the Constitution and rights of fellow citizens over any ideology or theology that would trample those rights from the left or the right of the political, social or religious spectrum.  American moderation believed in an ideal of consensus, the consensus of the governed and the government to build a more perfect Union.  Of course consensus does not mean perfection or ideological purity thus we evolved from a country that believed that blacks were only 3/5ths of a person and could be enslaved to a country that fought a war to end that practice and then fought another 100 or so years to ensure that African Americans had equal rights. We have had similar, although not nearly as egregious examples of discrimination that we have fought to eliminate and not just racial. While not perfect we have aimed to ensure equal rights for all, but there are people that would use their political or religious (including Atheists) that would attempt to impose their beliefs on others, so the fight goes on. For those that want perfection you are not going to see it on this earth no matter what extremist promises that it can happen. America was great because it was a nation whose exceptionalism was not found in political or economic power but in our very form of government which promoted individual liberty as well as the common good.  Our founders believed strongly in majority rule but not at the expense of the minority. As Jefferson said: “All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.”

This worked because Americans made it work and resisted for the most part the temptation to abuse those liberties for the sake of one political party or religious sect’s gain.  Andrew Jackson said: “Americans are not a perfect people, but we are called to a perfect mission.”

That era has ended and thus real moderates need to stand up and become passionate for the ideals of individual liberty and the common good before those are savaged by extremists of every kind that promote their way as the only way. Moderates cannot be like the sham moderate politicians who sell their vote to the highest bidder while claiming to be non-partisan or moderate when in reality the only thing that they are concerned is maintaining their office and the power that goes with it. That is not moderation and our founders would spin in their graves at the thought of this. I would dare say that James Madison who was as great of a moderate and champion of liberty and the common good as any man that has ever lived would be appalled by what is going on today in the United States but also in the world.  Andrew Jackson saw the danger in his own day when he said: “I weep for the liberty of my country when I see at this early day of its successful experiment that corruption has been imputed to many members of the House of Representatives, and the rights of the people have been bartered for promises of office.” I know that many if not most politicians are susceptible to this but when those that proclaim that they are “moderate” do it they bring even more shame to their office.

If moderates not only in the United States but around the world do not start passionately promoting this kind of moderation they will end up like the fundamentalist preacher said with “tire tracks down their backs,” but I think that they might have worse in their backs, perhaps knives or bullets.  If moderates do not stand up for individual rights and the common good and build real consensus that works for liberty we are doomed to political, social and religious fratricide and anarchy that will only end when one group of extremists wins and sets up a tyranny that oppresses all in the name of their ideology.

Look at us today we stopped dreaming and have given in to fear mongers of every imaginable persuasion. These fear mongers have no compunction in communicating that if things are not done their way that calamity will be the result and they use every form of media to communicate that to a populace in despair. They play on the fears that they create and gain support of people that are desperate. The result is that they are destroying the fabric of this nation every day.

Unfortunately that my dear readers is happening every day and it seems that no one has the wherewithal to stand up against it.  We live in an age where the world is in turmoil and “leaders” of all types actively seek to bring about the despair that increases their power over those that they govern. The world is going down the road that ends up in tyranny faster than the speed limit allows and the ones driving the bus are the are the radicals and extremists, the descendants of the Inquisition, the  Jacobins, Lenin, Stalin and Hitler, the perpetuators of genocide around the world and the Ayatollahs, Al Qaeda.  They hail from every country on the planet and are found among all religions including the Atheists, all political persuasions and economic point of view and mind you wherever you live on this big blue marble their desire is to gain and maintain power for themselves because they honestly believe that there is no other way but theirs.

True moderation is not just borrowing from the extremists and trying to find a “middle way” between them. That has been the trap of those who desire to be moderates for millennia. John Adams said: “In politics the middle way is none at all.” Moderates must not be looking for the middle way but be about forging a consensus built around truth and dare I say tolerance. Moderates must always seek the truth wherever it may be and not be afraid of those that chastise them for doing so simply because they do not fit one group or another’s ideological or doctrinal template. If moderates pursue such a life and maintain such an ethos they will be opposed by all extremist but have nothing to fear because truth is on their side.

However my friend’s true moderates are a dying breed in our land and in the world. I saw some analysis of voting patterns and exit polling from the last few elections and it appears from being some latent massive force that real moderates comprise only about 10-15% of the population.  I hope that those numbers are not true and only a passing phenomena.  Of course that is the result of several decades of bitter and acrimonious fighting that have so divided Americans that it is hard to imagine things going back to a better time.  The extremists have intentionally done everything that they can to rip apart the social, political and religious fabric of our nation just as extremists have done throughout history.  They do this because they know that such action serves to destroy consensus in order that they and their faction can gain absolute power.

If men and women of good will practiced the kind of moderation that I write about they would have nothing to fear.  In fact this kind of life promotes optimism. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy.”

Americans used to dream and imagine a better world and were willing to work together to make it happen. The words of President John F. Kennedy still resonate in my heart “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Likewise when the rest of the world was falling to totalitarianism in the 1930s as a result of the Great Depression when fear and panic gripped much of the nations, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” and though many disagreed with his policies Republicans worked with him and a number served in his cabinet.

It is time that we returned to such an ethos. We live in an age where the world is in turmoil and “leaders” of all types actively seek to bring about the despair that increases their power over those that they govern.

Real moderates do stand for something and I for one am tired of those that decry moderates in favor of narrow self serving ideologies which promote the seeds anarchy, tyranny and oppression. It’s time to stand up. Andrew Jackson said: “Americans are not a perfect people, but we are called to a perfect mission.”

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, History, philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion

Randall Terry and the Death of the Pro-Life Movement

Randall Terry continued his reckless campaign of self-promotion today following the murder of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas City.  While continuing to refer to Tiller as a mass-murderer Terry spoke of the tactics that he believed were necessary for the anti-abortion movement to succeed.  At the National Press Club Terry is quoted by the Washington Post as saying:

Terry said abortion opponents “have to be confrontational” and “have to use highly-charged rhetoric” to advance their movement.

“The pro-life movement right now is at a crossroads,” Terry said at a midday news conference at the National Press Club. “We have become steadily politically irrelevant, our leadership is graying, retiring and dying, and many of the new leaders do not have the fortitude and clarity of thought to not flinch in an hour of crisis like this. So the words that I’m going to say today are specifically geared towards shoring up the pro-life movement.”

Terry has become a liability to the Pro-Life movement.  His actions and statements convey sentiments that are harming the movement as a whole.  He has driven those in the middle of the country who are pivotal to the success of legislative efforts away from mainstream and non-violent pro-life groups because all people see is Terry.  These groups have had some measure of success in their lawful and peaceful efforts to enact laws to limit abortion at the state level.

Terry’s comments today show that he is either totally ignorant of the effects of his rhetoric or is desperate to keep himself in the limelight.  I do not believe the Mr. Terry is ignorant of anything. He is a shrewd political operator who has kept himself in the limelight for over 20 years.  From his actions over the past few months in which he has protested Catholic Bishops in Washington DC and Baltimore being arrested for “leafleting” at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Washington DC.  Following this Terry went to Rome interviewed Archbishop Burke and then came back to the US to misuse the footage of Archbishop Burke against his fellow bishops, something for which Burke had to apologize to them. (Catholic News Agency Column at:  http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/column.php?n=717 )  His actions showed a callous disregard of his own Church and make me wonder if Terry believes himself superior to the Bishops of the Catholic Church.  I am wondering why he has not been silenced or censured by them for these actions.

Terry’s actions at Notre Dame to attempt to disrupt the graduation speech of President Obama only made Obama look more reasonable to many people than Terry.  Since Terry has been the “face” of the pro-life movement his every action, positive or negative affects the movement as a whole.  His protests at Notre Dame, where he and others attempted to shout down the President showed a reckless disrespect for the office of the President.  There was a time that Christians held the office of the President in respect even if they disagreed with the policies of the man in office.  This too, an interruption of the graduation of college students showed a lack of civility that has been his trademark.

Likewise fellow travelers in the anti-abortion movement including past and current leaders of Operation Rescue, the group that Terry founded and then left in 1991 years ago.  They and Terry have had a running battle of words which moved into to courts in 2008 when Terry sued them over the rights to the name Operation Rescue.  I will not weigh in on the merits of either side, except to note that this seems to be the battle over a name that brings with it real and potential monetary donors.

I do believe that Terry is wrong in stating that the pro-life movement must “be confrontational” and “have to use highly-charged rhetoric” to advance their movement. It is clear to me that the most successful tactics of the pro-life movement have been genuine efforts to provide alternative services to women undergoing unplanned pregnancies.  The best of these include actual care for the woman after delivery.  The other is the use of the legislative process.  While slow this is the legal way to change things in the United States.  As an example the actions of William Wilberforce to eliminate slavery in England used the parliamentary process.  It took time but slavery was eliminated without the trauma of the Civil War.

It is my belief that the type of protests favored by Terry to include the confrontation and highly charged rhetoric has contributed to the violence that occurred this week.  As such he is contributing to the marginalization and “political irrelevancy” of the pro-life movement.  In light of his actions I hope that Catholic Bishops will silence him for the good of the movement as a whole.  Fellow pro-life activists should distance themselves from him and find alternatives to the strategy of confrontation which do not compromise their beliefs but find a way to be redemptive and forgiving to those that practice abortions.

Unfortunately I think that what happened on Sunday was a watershed.  The Rubicon has been crossed.  As I said in my post yesterday, it will be the end of the pro-life movement because Terry and people like him will keep pushing until the entire movement is declared a domestic terrorist organization.  It is incumbent upon leaders of the pro-life movement to try to correct course now, if they do not it will be too late.  Daniel Kupelian or World Net Daily, with whom I seldom find any agreement states the danger quite well and pro-life leaders should take this and quickly change the tactics of their organizations.

“pretty soon some group may decide it can’t take it anymore. Its members might become so enraged that they conclude it’s time to start the next armed revolution. Seeing their nation being raped and envisioning no solution other than violence, they delude themselves that they’re the modern counterparts of America’s revolutionary founders. Making explosives and conspiring in secret – all the while quoting Jefferson to each other about “watering the tree of liberty” from time to time with “the blood of patriots and tyrants” – they murder some federal judges or blow up a government office building in an attempt to fight back. In reality, all they succeed in doing is murdering and maiming a bunch of their fellow Americans (or, as McVeigh did in Oklahoma City, massacring a room full of toddlers in daycare – which he later coldly termed “collateral damage”).

And what would follow? A massive official crackdown on “domestic terrorists” and a severe assault on freedom in America.

Amazing what hatred can accomplish, isn’t it? Exactly the opposite of what was supposedly intended. The “dark side of the force” is very clever.

As the blood-drenched, vengeance-driven French Revolution proved, when “patriots” are full of hate, they’re no better than the corrupt government they’re rebelling against – and maybe worse. Therefore, whether their uprising succeeds or fails, either way they usher in a new “reign of terror.” (See World Net Daily: http://www.worldnetdaily.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=99787 )

Peace, Steve+

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