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New Year 2015: It’s Not 1984 so Long as Our Thoughts are Free

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Thoughts are free, who can guess them?
They fly by like nocturnal shadows.
No man can know them, no hunter can shoot them
with powder and lead: Thoughts are free! 

Die Gedanken Sind Frei (The Thoughts are Free) 

Welcome to 1984 yet again, only now it is thirty-one years later and Orwell’s 1984 almost seems quaint by comparison.

Okay, I know it’s now New Year’s Eve for 2015, but who really cares? so but bear with me.

I figured that the first post of the New Year should be about the reality that has been with us for years but most people didn’t recognize until the past few years. The NSA revelations of 2013, though shocking to many shouldn’t have been so shocking because almost every countries intelligence services are attempting to does similar things. Likewise the private sector both aids and abets the government intelligence and security services and do similar things themselves to their customers.

Technology is a great thing and we love it. We depend on it. Smart phones, internet, text messaging, blogs, electronic banking, finance and commerce, e-books, and even gaming technology has revolutionized the way that we live. Hell, I’ll a technophile I admit it, I love technology and I use it.

While technology itself is neutral, it can be used for good or evil and every point on the morality spectrum in between. Thus it can be used for good, for convenience and holds much promise for most people, even as a minority uses it to commit acts of terrorism as well as all sorts of criminal activity against otherwise honest and law abiding people.

The tension that exists between the good and evil uses of technology, especially after the attacks of September 11th 2001 has prompted different reactions from both civil libertarians and people trusted with security of nations, businesses and infrastructure networks.

The fact is I can understand and argue for a strong civil libertarian response as well as the security response. Honesty I wrestle with the tension between civil liberty, including the right to privacy and the need for security. I want both but the reality is that the world has changed since I grew up.  It is not that people, governments and businesses didn’t seek to impinge on personal freedom or privacy and that others did not seek to kill or disrupt the lives of others in times past. The difference is the vast advances in technology which enable all of them to have ever more influence over our lives.

Technology has made possible what George Orwell only imagined when he wrote 1984. Governments, business, the banking industry, private security firms, internet service providers and search engines, as well as criminals gather information for good and for bad purposes. For our security we use passwords and pins which others seek to crack, while those delicious cookies that are planted on our computers when we visit different websites contribute to our convenience while enabling others to collect incredibly detailed information about us.

It really is amazing and unfortunately I don’t have any answers because I am a realist. I am not a fan of the National Security State, nor am I a fan of the way business and other organizations collect information. That being said I also know that there are those in the world who desire to use the technology that we are so dependent on to kill or harm people or disrupt society.

Back in the day when terrorism was simply a matter of relatively small bombs, assassinations, hijackings, kidnappings and postal or wire fraud it was a nuisance. It was bad if you were in the path of it but for most people it was not a real threat. I lived with it in the 1980s in Germany with the Red Army Faction, the Baader-Meinhoff gang  and Libyan agents blowing up American and West German facilities and kidnapping and killing soldiers. We lived with it, daily searches of our vehicles at the front gate and extra guard duties, my wife and I almost were at the Frankfurt PX when it was bombed in 1985. But that was different…

Today with the advent of technology, even small and seemingly insignificant groups have unprecedented power to kill and destroy. The attacks on the Twin  Towers, the Tokyo subway system, the Madrid commuter trains, London transit system, the Moscow Subway system and theaters, hotels, restaurants and train stations in Mumbai India and the recent attacks on the Russian city of Volgagrad show our vulnerability to groups that use technology, old and new.  The ability of other groups to use chemical weapons, to shoot down large commercial airliners with surface to air missiles and to hack the information systems of banks, businesses and governments threatens the stability of nations. The ability of criminal organizations or individual criminals to use technology to gain access to massive amounts of financial and personal data as was demonstrated in the breaking of Target and several other major retailers show just how vulnerable we are. Just imagine instead of money they decided to hack power systems, the electronic distribution grid or water works?

We want absolute freedom, privacy and security. However absolutes are no longer possible. Absolute freedom has never been possible, though we like to imagine it, yet absolute security can only be achieved by sacrificing all freedom. Now days security usually trumps freedom especially when the potential losses in lives, property and treasure are so great.

My inclination is toward civil liberties and privacy but such in the modern world may be on way to extinction and not all because of technology. Yes the technological part is big, and as a realist I do not think as long as the capabilities that technology provides us exist and advance that we can go back to a point that they cannot be used against individual liberty, life or property. Again, they technology itself is neutral, but how it is used makes all the difference.

The more worrisome issue for me is the way that the freedom of thought is being extinguished not in the name of security or freedom but for efficiency. Various parties including government, political, religious, scientific and business interests all seek to control thought for their own purposes.

Thus even history is twisted, as Orwell wrote: “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” It used to be that conservatives complained about liberals doing revisionist history, but as a historian I find what I see coming out of some conservative circles much more frightening as history is twisted for the most gross political, religious and social ends. We allow half-witted poorly educated loudmouths like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck to think for us, promote fake history and conspiracy theories as they give credibility to fake historians like David Barton. If there is a danger to any real freedom of thought it is because we as a people have allowed ourselves to taken in by such charlatans. Likewise the corporate state uses academics and intellectuals to prop itself up but once it has them it refuses to let them function independently.

Chris Hedges wrote of the corporate state:

“It is one of the great ironies of corporate control that the corporate state needs the abilities of intellectuals to maintain power, yet outside of this role it refuses to permit intellectuals to think or function independently.”

While Ray Bradbury wrote in Fahrenheit 451:

“Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.”

I believe that in such an age that freedom of thought is the most important thing, even more than freedom of speech. Soren Kierkegaard wrote: “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”

In college I learned the words of the old German song Die Gedanken Sind Frei (The Thoughts are Free). It is an ancient song that during the days of Metternich was popular among student fraternities in Austria and the various German states. After the 1848 revolutions it was banned by many governments in their crackdown against democratic movements. It was a song close to many of the anti-Nazi resistance groups including the White Rose movement led in part by Sophie Scholl. In light of the terrifying possibilities of repression that exist with the technology of today and what will certainly come into being in the coming years it is important to realize that our liberty must always come from within. The third verse of the song goes like this:

And if I am thrown into the darkest dungeon,
all these are futile works,
because my thoughts tear all gates
and walls apart: Thoughts are free!

Bertram Russell wrote of the freedom of thought:

“Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth — more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid … Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.”

It took some time but 1984 is finally really here. That is the new reality, but do not lose hope so long as our thoughts still remain free.

So Happy New Year my friends!

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Prisoners of Hate

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“Prejudice makes prisoners of both the hated and the hater.”

I read something this week that struck me. A couple of nights ago I was continuing to read Randy Shilts’ book about the beginning of the AIDS crisis. And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic. As I did so I was struck by a single sentence “Prejudice makes prisoners of both the hated and the hater.”

In the book, Shilts, a journalist and author, discussed the impact of hatred on people. The part of the book I was reading  was about the release from prison of Dan White, the San Francisco city councilman who murdered the legendary Gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone on January 7th 1984.

Shilts reflected on how that reciprocal hatred between White, his supporters, and the Gay community harmed all. Back then Gays were angry about how a man who murdered two other men in cold blood and got off on a ludicrous defense based on White’s consumption of Hostess Twinkies.  That anger was compounded by how many Gays felt about the AIDS epidemic, which at the time the cause was still unknown.  When White was released, angry Gays protested, some even calling for White’s death. White was out of prison but he was a prisoner of his actions, he killed himself a number of months later. Shilts noted in his book that: “Prejudice makes prisoners of both the hated and the hater.” At the time neither the Gay community, nor its detractors could get around the hate.

When I read the quote I was struck with just how timeless it was. The fact is that though Shilts was discussing something the Gay community was experiencing in 1984, it can be applied in almost every instance where there is anger about real or perceived injustice.

In the past couple of months we have seen the anger of the African American community towards law enforcement in the case of Michael Brown and other instances where police killed unarmed blacks and suffered no legal repercussions. While most protestors were peaceful, some were not.

Last week black man traveled from Baltimore to New York boosting on instagram that he was going to put wings on police. Baltimore police attempted to warn New York, but by the time the message arrived the man had brutally murdered two New York City Police Officers as sat in their patrol car. Before he left Baltimore he shot his girlfriend. The man had a long history of criminal behavior, belonged to a prison gang that advocated killing police and had a long history of severe mental illness. However, because he was black and because he had publicized why he was going to kill the officers, the protestors and other critics of police who abuse their authority were blamed for causing the action.

Since then the invective has only increased, despite the efforts of people, mainly those who support the protestors to scale back the rhetoric and seek reconciliation. Sadly, it only seems to get worse, especially from those who seek to only see one side of the problem and blame one group. I have a military physician friend who wrote something on her social media page that I agree very much with:

“I support police officers and first responders. I also support equal rights and believe discrimination based upon race, creed gender, sexuality, etc. is wrong. Am I allowed to support both these now-a-day?”

A week or so ago I asked a similar question. I have been in the military the bulk of my life and I have a strong affinity to those who put themselves in harms way be they in the military, law enforcement, fire, rescue, EMS or other first responders. At the same time I also know that not everyone in those organizations are law-abiding, and some harbor terrible prejudice against people whose race, religion, social or economic status, or lifestyle they oppose. Sadly some of them use the power they have been entrusted with to persecute or harm others and in many cases are never held accountable.

That being said I know that people who face very real prejudice, discrimination, inequity and persecution, including that of some in the law enforcement community grow angry and frustrated. Most remain peaceful, even in the use of civil disobedience, but even then they are often attacked or set upon by the very law enforcement agencies who are also supposed to serve and protect their rights as citizens. And some do lash out and cause harm to people and property.

Honestly I do not know what can be done at this point to change the direction that our society is heading. I wonder like my friend if it is possible to support law enforcement and at the same time ensure that they too obey the laws they are sworn to enforce, and the people they are sworn to serve. It was then that I remembered the words of Nelson Mandela. He said, reflecting on the 25 years that he was wrongly imprisoned by the Apartheid government of South Africa:  “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”  

Maybe that is too idealistic for most of us today. Maybe we have become so embittered by what we see that we simple decide whoever disagrees with us must be at fault for everything. Today I noticed a comment on a post I had written about a military subject. The writer of the comment was definitely parroting everything that he listens to on the right wing media circuit, Fox News, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and so many others, not to mention the allegedly “Christian” religious extremists who parrot them. The man wrote:

“Love the page. BTW there is nothing progressive about socialism. The “Progressives” in the USA are in fact socialists. It is regressive. There is nothing democratic about it either, it is top down dictatorial. There is no life liberty and pursuit of happiness when the people belong to the state. The Soviet Union, China, Cuba, North Korea, East Germany, Fascist Italy, Venezuela and even Nazi Germany (socialist workers party) are all good examples of where socialism leads. Lets not bring this kind of progressive to the USA.”

Of course this is complete hogwash and I politely but bluntly told him so.

However, his words came out of the same echo chamber that blamed peaceful protestors and their supporters for the deaths of the two New York police officers. Since on occasion I have gotten death threats and other lesser forms harassment from the most extreme elements of this right wing movement I am a bit sensitive to crap like this.

That being said I commit myself anew to the message Nelson Mandela because no matter what happens to me I do not want to be bound in the dungeons created by my the hate of others, or what hatred that on occasion that I might feel toward them. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

How do we get to where President Mandela or Dr. King believed was the true path to freedom? I think like both both of these men realized that it is about forgiveness, forgiveness even in the midst of injustice. As Dr. King said: “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” Such an attitude however requires genuine empathy, and sadly many people cannot feel empathy for others and as Captain Gustave Gilbert noted about what made the leaders of the Third Reich evil, wrote: “Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.” 

Sadly, that lack of empathy makes everyone a prisoner of hate.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Friday Morning Myth Busting before a Trip to Gettysburg

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Dear Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I head up with my class to Gettysburg for our Staff Ride. Of course this comes on the heals of the San Francisco amazing game seven victory in the 2014 World Series, and if you read this site you understand that I was up until the wee hours of the morning because I was much too excited to sleep. This is actually, despite the lack of sleep a blessing because most of the time that I don’t sleep it is because of anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks and night terrors that torment me. As Gouverneur Warren, one of the heroes of Gettysburg wrote after the war:

“I wish I did not dream that much. They make me sometimes dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish to never experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”

But last night was different, to was hard to get to sleep because of the excitement of one of the best World Series games in history. That being said I am tired. I revised my chapter on the ideological nature of the American Civil War, and I should have another chapter revision on the Confederate decision to allow Robert E. Lee to invade Pennsylvania in the late spring of 1863 done by the time that I leave tomorrow. But those chapters, which are around 80 pages long are now too big to post in one fell swoop here.

However, in my readings I encountered a quote by historian Drew Faust Gilpin, as well as another that was part of a Methodist tract from 1860 that both seem absolutely timely today. I included both in the chapter, but I am going to post it here as well, because in the religious-historical myth that has become the staple that frauds like David Barton, Glenn Beck and their political and media allies flood the the airways and internet with, it is timely. Gilpin wrote:

“Sacred and secular history, like religion and politics, had become all but indistinguishable…The analogy between the Confederacy and the chosen Hebrew nation was invoked so often as to be transformed into a figure of everyday speech. Like the United States before it, the Confederacy became a redeemer nation, the new Israel.”

The Methodist tract noted:

“Confederate independence, explained a Methodist tract quoting Puritan John Winthrop, was intended to enable the South, “like a city set on a hill’ [to] fulfill her God given mission to exalt in civilization and Christianity the nations of the earth.”

Personally I cannot imagine anymore hatful projections of the Christian faith, but then I was reminded by the Fox News Channel resident Shrink, Dr Keith Ablow, that the United States needs to be conducting it’s own Jihad, its own wars of conquest to impose the American way on the rest of the world. Of course the blowhard shrink Ablow who has no skin in the game doesn’t seem to mind putting the sons and daughters of the nation in harm’s way, to die in unjust, unrighteous, illegal, immoral and certainly un-Christian wars to satiate his bloodlust. Ablow revels in diagnosing the pathologies and motivations of people that he has never met, not a very professional way of doing business as a shrink, but just watching Ablow’s rants on television and reading what he puts out on the internet I wonder if he is a sociopath, a man without empathy, a man who does not seam to be motivated by the desire to help people, nor by the upholding the Hippocratic oath, to do no harm.

I find it fascinating to read what General and later President Ulysses S Grant said about such ideas:

“As the United States is the freest of all nations, so, too, its people sympathize with all people struggling for liberty and self-government; but while so sympathizing it is due to our honor that we should abstain from enforcing our views upon unwilling nations and from taking an interested part, without invitation, in the quarrels between different nations or between governments and their subjects. Our course should always be in conformity with strict justice and law, international and local.”

But that my friends is why history matters, and why you should take your time to study it, including the uncomfortable things that destroy the myths perpetuated by the Lost Causers of the modern “Conservative Christian” revisionists and their allies who sell their crap as truth to people who want to believe it because they have been conditioned by thirty years and more of propaganda, that the myth is true.

Clothed in  the garb of faith and patriotism these lies, and the political, military and economic consequences  that they have spawned over the past thirteen years, have cost more American lives and treasure, as well as destroyed our stature in the world than any series of events in our history. heretical These filthy and polluted ideas helped destroy what could have been a renaissance in international relations because their proponents painted everything in terms of black and white and you either are for us or against us. Yes let me say it, President George Bush’s, uninspired,misguided and down right ignorant  religious world views have taken us to the abyss.

This my friends is why history matters. Sometimes it may seem dry and dusty, and no you cannot get rich as a real historian, while the fake ones like Barton, Beck and Bill O’Reilly are able to make a lot of money because they appear to what people want to hear by lying, by so linking their religion with their politics and their distorted view of history that the reality of history is ground to dust under the heals of their designer jackboots.

So, tomorrow, or is it already today now, I head up to Gettysburg where the brave men of the Army of the Potomac, whose veterans, like those of other Union armies engaged in the struggle for freedom helped give our nation a “new birth of freedom.” 

I think that how the Army of Tennessee, a Union army in the West described the war is at the heart of the issue.

“The Society of the Army of the Tennessee described the war as a struggle “that involved the life of the Nation, the preservation of the Union, the triumph of liberty and the death of slavery.” They had fought every battle…from the firing on the Union flag Fort Sumter to the surrender of Lee at Appomattox…in the cause of human liberty,” burying “treason and slavery in the Potter’s Field of nations” and “making all our citizens equal before the law, from the gulf to the lakes, and from ocean to ocean.”

It is amazing what the study of history and going to the places that it was made can do in someone’s heart. For me, the study of the Battle of Gettysburg and the American Civil War, and not just the military aspects of it has motivated me to be more forceful and speak up against the lies of those like Barton, Beck, O’Reilly, Ablow and the hosts of pundits, preachers and politicians who spread their lies as truth.

But then for me, truth matters. In this I am reminded of a quote from Star Trek the Next Generation. It is from an episode called “The First Duty.” In it the seasoned Captain Jean Luc Picard confronts his young protege Wesley Crusher after a disastrous accident that leaves a Star Fleet Academy cadet dead. Picard tells the young Crusher that “the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, historical truth or personnel truth…

To me, as a miscreant priest, and career officer that quote strikes home. I have a duty to the truth, believe it or not it does matter to me, and sometimes that means that I have to be a myth buster and call out the professional liars who posit themselves as historians, political scientists or experts on military strategy, when none of them have either the education or the experience to be experts in anything but being able to lie for fun and profit.

You see when I go to Gettysburg, and I stand where so many men died do make others free I become ever more inspired to confront the liars.

But now I am preaching and I try not to do that. I do need to attempt to get some sleep, so have a nice night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Schadenfreude: Who Doesn’t Love the Exposure of Unrepentant Racists?

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Note to readers: It has been a while since I waded into the morass that is American politics of 2014 but I need to get my two cents in for what it is worth. My long time readers know my background, my newer readers may not. If you are a new reader take a look on my civil rights section to see what I believe about racist attitudes and actions. 

I am amazed. Freeloading rancher and welfare prince Cliven Bundy flat out demonstrated that he is an unrepentant racist who would have just loved the Ante-Bellum days before the Civil War when “good blacks” were happy as clams to be slaves. Now Bundy who managed to call together every form of anti-government, anti-Federal Government and just plain wacko racist militia type to his side in his fight to avoid paying over a million dollars in back taxes shows his real hand.

Not that he hadn’t before. Heck, even Glenn Beck was a voice of sanity compared to Sean Hannity in the build up to this fiasco, but Bundy’s own words showed that he is for all practical purposes an unrepentant racist, secessionist freeloader who only cares about himself. The 68 year old “rancher” who for use of lands that he does not own and is making money on made incredibly stupid comments that not only showed his racism, but also his historical ignorance.

Bundy’s comments were so full of irony. Bundy has been making money by grazing his cattle for free on land that he does not own and not paid taxes and fees initially approved by the Reagan administration. So in one of his daily “news conferences” he went on the attack to condemn poor blacks on various forms of Federal assistance. It was the Pot calling the Kettle “Black,” or maybe better calling the Kettle “Negro.”

It was a wondrous thing to behold as all sorts of right wing politicians, pundits and preachers had to back track from their support of Bundy. Frankly I loved it. To me Bundy is no hero, no patriot or anything of the sort. He is a wealthy man who has lied his way to fame in order to embarrass that “Negro” in the White House.

Lies lies and lies….Bundy claimed that his family has been grazing his cattle on the land since before the Federal Government owned it, actually since the late 1800s. Funny thing is that according to court and real estate records Bundy’s family didn’t even purchase the land where there ranch is until 1948. Those nasty legal documents always get in the way of lies… but I digress…

You see Bundy is no hero, he is no patriot. In fact he is little different from Edmund Ruffin, the secessionist leader who fired the first shot at Fort Sumter back in 1861 or Alexander Stephens the Vice President of the Confederate States of America who said in his “Cornerstone Speech” of 1861:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition….”

Based on what Bundy has said I have no doubt that he would wholeheartedly agree with Stephens. The people supporting Bundy include “true believers” like the heavily armed militiamen protecting him who long for bloodshed in order to create martyrs for their cause and their media allies. The militia types are quite interesting because many are either blatantly racist or affiliated in some way with White Separatist, Neo Nazi or Neo Confederate groups all itching for a bloody battle with the Federal Government that it is scary to comprehend.

Likewise there are others who have been deceived by the constant fear mongering of men like Sean Hannity into thinking the Federal Government they have a say in electing is their enemy who fell for Bundy’s outrageous lies hook line and sinker. Thus when men like Bundy reveal in excruciating and painful detail just who they really are I like it.

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Then there is the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers Basketball team who makes big money off of the efforts of some really outstanding African-American basketball players. The owner, Donald Sterling told his girlfriend that he doesn’t want her hanging out with blacks or having her picture taken with them, including men like Magic Johnson. I don’t have to mention but will that Sterling had to pay a lot of money to settle previous discrimination complaints and lawsuits, all of which had substantial racial overtones.

I like it because there is a cottage industry of right wing myth makers who like to say that there is no such thing as racism, that it it is a thing of the past or even that it is a product of liberals, liberalism or even the Civil Rights movement. When guys like Bundy or Sterling betray their lies it gives me a certain sense of schadenfreude. When I see college dropout Sean Hannity have to run for cover and condemn men like Bundy that he has helped to build up it really makes me happy.

The fact is that many Americans love the myth that racism no longer exists and that what is left is simply a fabrication of the “liberal media.” If that was true why would there need to be such concerted efforts to roll back civil rights and voting rights to disenfranchise African Americans, Hispanics and poor whites? Why would there be such a concerted media campaign to demonize minorities, women, the poor and yes even Moslems and gays?

If there wasn’t a big streak of racism, sexism, and other prejudice and discrimination still why would the pundits, politicians and preachers be working to hard to disprove it? Why would a political-media and even religious cottage industry be working overtime with lobbyists who support the most wealth people in the country in their quest to disenfranchise the bulk of Americans, even those who are their unwitting foot soldiers?

The fact is and I hate to admit it, but many attitudes haven’t changed that much since the days of Edmund Ruffin and Alexander Stephens, they have just become more suave and savvy. But every once in a while idiots like Bundy and Sterling show up and remind us that this is still all too real and that my friends as distasteful as it is, is a good thing. We like our racism and other prejudices hidden and unspoken so they don’t embarrass us.

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Baseball hero Jackie Robinson was a Republican. But in 1964 he found that the party of Lincoln was no more. After the 1964 Republican Convention where he supported Nelson Rockefeller he wrote:

“I wasn’t altogether caught of guard by the victory of the reactionary forces in the Republican party, but I was appalled by the tactics they used to stifle their liberal opposition.  I was a special delegate to the convention through an arrangement made by the Rockefeller office. That convention was one of the most unforgettable and frightening experiences of my life. The hatred I saw was unique to me because it was hatred directed against a white man.  It embodied a revulsion for all he stood for, including his enlightened attitude toward black people.

A new breed of Republicans had taken over the GOP.  As I watched this steamroller operation in San Francisco, I had a better understanding of how it must have felt to be a Jew in Hitler’s Germany….”

Robinson was right even though most people didn’t realize it at the time. The Republican Party of today is not the party of Lincoln, it is the party of Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens. As distasteful as the Bundy affair has been and will unfortunately continue to be, it does allow us as individuals and a society to look in the mirror and reevaluate who we are as Americans.

Personally I would rather stand with Jackie Robinson than men like Bundy, Sterling or Hannity.

Anyway, that’s all for tonight. Another Gettysburg article tomorrow unless I get derailed.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Happy New Year: Welcome to 1984, 30 Years Late; But Our Thoughts are Free

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Thoughts are free, who can guess them?
They fly by like nocturnal shadows.
No man can know them, no hunter can shoot them
with powder and lead: Thoughts are free! 

Die Gedanken Sind Frei (The Thoughts are Free) 

Welcome to 1984.

Okay, I know it’s 2014 but bear with me, I figured that the first post of the New Year should be about the reality that has been with us for years but most people didn’t recognize until 2013. The NSA revelations though shocking to many shouldn’t have been because almost every countries intelligence services are attempting to do similar things. Likewise the private sector both aids and abets the government intelligence and security services and do similar things themselves to their customers.

Technology is a great thing and we love it. We depend on it. Smart phones, internet, text messaging, blogs, electronic banking, finance and commerce, e-books, and even gaming technology has revolutionized the way that we live.

Technology itself is neutral, it can be used for good or evil and every point on the morality spectrum in between. Thus it can be used for good, for convenience and holds much promise for most people, even as a minority uses it to commit acts of terrorism as well as all sorts of criminal activity against otherwise honest and law abiding people.

The tension that exists between the good and evil uses of technology, especially after the attacks of September 11th 2001 has prompted different reactions from both civil libertarians and people trusted with security of nations, businesses and infrastructure networks.

The fact is I can understand and argue for a strong civil libertarian response as well as the security response. Honesty I wrestle with the tension between civil liberty, including the right to privacy and the need for security. I want both but the reality is that the world has changed since I grew up.  It is not that people, governments and businesses didn’t seek to impinge on personal freedom or privacy and that others did not seek to kill or disrupt the lives of others in times past. The difference is the vast advances in technology which enable all of them to have ever more influence over our lives.

Technology has made possible what George Orwell only imagined when he wrote 1984. Governments, business, the banking industry, private security firms, internet service providers and search engines, as well as criminals gather information for good and for bad purposes. For our security we use Passwords and Pins which others seek to crack, while those delicious Cookies that are planted on our computers when we visit different websites contribute to our convenience while enabling others to collect incredibly detailed information about us.

It really is amazing and unfortunately I don’t have any answers because I am a realist. I am not a fan of the National Security State, nor am I a fan of the way business and other organizations collect information. That being said I also know that there are those in the world who desire to use the technology that we are so dependent on to kill or harm people or disrupt society.

Back in the day when terrorism was simply a matter of relatively small bombs, assassinations, hijackings, kidnappings and postal or wire fraud it was a nuisance. It was bad if you were in the path of it but for most people it was not a real threat. I lived with it in the 1980s in Germany with the Red Army Faction, the Baader-Meinhoff gang  and Libyan agents blowing up American and West German facilities and kidnapping and killing soldiers. We lived with it, daily searches of our vehicles at the front gate and extra guard duties, my wife and I almost were at the Frankfurt PX when it was bombed in 1985.

But with the advent of technology even small and seemingly insignificant groups have unprecedented power to kill and destroy. The attacks on the Twin  Towers, the Tokyo subway system, the Madrid commuter trains, London transit system, the Moscow Subway system and theaters, hotels, restaurants and train stations in Mumbai India and the recent attacks on the Russian city of Volgagrad show our vulnerability to groups that use technology, old and new.  Likewise the ability of criminal organizations or individual criminals to use technology to gain access to massive amounts of financial data as was demonstrated in the breaking of Target’s retail system demonstrates our vulnerability.

We want absolute freedom, privacy and security. However absolutes are no longer possible. Absolute freedom has never been possible, though we like to imagine it, yet absolute security can only be achieved by sacrificing all freedom. Now days security usually trumps freedom especially when the potential losses in lives, property and treasure are so great.

My inclination is toward civil liberties and privacy but such in the modern world may be on way to extinction and not all because of technology. Yes the technological part is big, and as a realist I do not think as long as the capabilities that technology provides us exist and advance that we can go back to a point that they cannot be used against individual liberty, life or property. Again, they technology itself is neutral, but how it is used makes all the difference.

The more worrisome issue for me is the way that the freedom of thought is being extinguished not in the name of security or freedom but for efficiency. Various parties including government, political, religious, scientific and business interests all seek to control thought for their own purposes.

Thus even history is twisted, as Orwell wrote: “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” It used to be that conservatives complained about liberals doing revisionist history, but as a historian I find what I see coming out of some conservative circles much more frightening as history is twisted for the most gross political, religious and social ends. We allow half witted poorly educated loudmouths like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck to think for us, promote fake history and conspiracy theories while giving credence to fake historians like David Barton. If there is a danger to any real freedom of thought it is because we as a people have allowed ourselves to taken in by such charlatans. Likewise the corporate state uses academics and intellectuals to prop itself up but once it has them it refuses to let them function independently.

Chris Hedges wrote of the corporate state:

“It is one of the great ironies of corporate control that the corporate state needs the abilities of intellectuals to maintain power, yet outside of this role it refuses to permit intellectuals to think or function independently.”

While Ray Bradbury wrote in Fahrenheit 451:

“Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.”

I believe that in such an age that freedom of thought is the most important thing, even more than freedom of speech. Soren Kierkegaard wrote: “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”

In college I learned the words of the old German song Die Gedanken Sind Frei (The Thoughts are Free). It is an ancient song that during the days of Metternich was popular among student fraternities in Austria and the various German states. After the 1848 revolutions it was banned by many governments in their crackdown against democratic movements. It was a song close to many of the anti-Nazi resistance groups including the White Rose movement led in part by Sophie Scholl. In light of the terrifying possibilities of repression that exist with the technology of today and what will certainly come into being in the coming years it is important to realize that our liberty must always come from within. The third verse of the song goes like this:

And if I am thrown into the darkest dungeon,
all these are futile works,
because my thoughts tear all gates
and walls apart: Thoughts are free!

Bertram Russell wrote of the freedom of thought:

“Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth — more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid … Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.”

It took some time but 1984 is finally really here. That is the new reality, but do not lose hope so long as your thoughts remain free.

Happy New Year!

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, News and current events, philosophy

The Historic “Christian” War on Christmas

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“The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small…” Dr Seuss How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Yes my friends I hate to admit it there is a war on Christmas. However unlike those that want to blame it on all of those Godless types I have to say that the real war on Christmas has been waged by Christians for centuries.

Now I do have to be fair. There are some people in the secularist camp who file lawsuits against municipalities that have Christmas displays on public property and even some who will push those lawsuits to exhibits on private property.  However, despite the media attention these are nothing in comparison to what Christian Grinches have done over the years.

So despite the efforts of some I do not fear for Christmas because the celebration of Christ’s Incarnation and Nativity has survived far worse even from those within the faith.

Now let me be fair here. Some of the things that the Christian Grinches have protested are frivolous and at their heart not very spiritual. But that tends not to be the case today. As Christians we seem perfectly at home in the crass materialism and consumerism of our modern Christmas celebrations even within the walls of our churches. It seems that as long as we are willing to put a nativity scene made by Third World slave laborers in the middle of an otherwise completely capitalistic consumer orgy we don’t care. But God forbid an Atheist object or a member of a minority religion demand equal time and space for their display in the otherwise crassly materialistic celebration. But I digress….

Let us go back and look at some history. Not that fake David Barton and Glenn Beck history but real history. You know, stuff that actually happened and that we have documentary evidence to support, not stuff that we pull out of thin air.

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Back in the the 1600s a religious group influential in our nation’s early development hated the celebration of Christmas. I am not kidding. These were the Puritans, who by their name we must assume were pretty pure.

Since the Puritans already believed that they were the “elect” based on the Calvinist doctrine of double predestination they knew they were right. For those that don’t know what this doctrine means let me explain. The idea was that the Puritans and other strict Calvinists believed that they were the elect. In other words they believed that they were pre-ordained by God before the foundation of the world to go to heaven. Now that isn’t uncommon in religion but they also believed based on the same doctrine that all other people were destined to go to Hell because God decided they would before the creation of the world.

But there was another interesting part of this doctrine that wasn’t about heaven. They also believed that they had the “Biblical Mandate” to rule for God on earth. Their successors in the modern Christian Dominion or 7 Mountains Theology movement believe the same thing. They believed that sine it was God’s will that they rule that whatever they they said that others needed to obey, after all God put them in charge.

The Puritans came out of the Protestant Reformation in England. Unlike today the English took religion pretty seriously.  Now despite the cultured accent that we hear on the BBC or CNN World the English of that day were actually more like unruly football fans only worse. When it came to matters of religious tolerance and loving their neighbors they were pretty un-Christian.

English Protestants of the non-monarchical Reformation type like the Puritans did their best to rid the Church of England of anything that appeared to even look Catholic, especially Christmas. Of course this cleansing of the church often included real people including the few remaining stick in the mud Roman Catholics and Anglicans who still liked Catholic stuff.

But to be fair to the Puritans back then the English of all Christian denominations tended to be a bit intolerant. They would lop off the heads of, burn at the stake or crush with heavy stones anyone that deviated from their beliefs first and ask questions later. It was kind of like the fans of the Premier League only not as well behaved.

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Oliver Cromwell

Early in their history the Puritans were a persecuted group. Militant, intolerant, exclusive  who could not find reasons not to like them? But when the Puritans took power when Oliver Cromwell overthrew the monarchy they took their revenge and they enjoyed it. They didn’t just decide to lop, crush and burn their opponents of all denominations, but they also decided to outlaw the celebration of Christmas.

Christmas law 1658

Of course they did so for noble reasons such as ridding the country of anything that smelled Catholic or did not fit within their rather harsh and purist views of the faith. Thus when they took power they did their best to ensure that everyone was as miserable as them. This included banning the celebration of Christmas. They were kind of like the Taliban in a sense, except they were not Moslems.  But that being said they ruled in a similar manner and made most other people miserable.

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In 1652 it was declared that no Observation shall be had of the Five and twentieth day of December, commonly called Christmas-Day; nor any Solemnity used or exercised in Churches upon that Day in respect thereof’.

In 1647 the Puritan dominated Parliament backed up by the brute force of the Army and Police led by Oliver Cromwell simply abolished the Christmas feast and all that went with it, including the Roast Beast. Gone were such nasty pagan ideas such as Christmas Trees, feasting, caroling, and decorations. And let’s not forget the favorite target of Grinch’s everywhere, Nativity scenes. Of course the Puritans had a different reason than modern secular Grinches for banning them. Nativity scenes were banned because they were “idols.” Not content with banning the outward festivities the Puritans even frowned on the use of the word Christmas because they believed that it was akin to taking the Lord’s name in vain.

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Wassailing 

Likewise the Puritans were not content with inflicting their beliefs on church going people, they inflicted them on the majority of the people who simply wanted some relief for the drudgery of daily life in 17th Century England. The Puritans even banned the poor from the tradition of Wassailing. Wassailing was a custom in which the rather pungent poor would go from house to house, begging for treats in exchange for drinking a toast to the family.  The drink called wassail, was a hot spiced wine.  Now this was not a vintage Napa Valley or French wine but a pungent English wine, thus the need for spices and heat. Wassailing sometimes ended up in an out of control scene of drunken revelry, much like current English Football match celebrations, which is why the Puritans objected so strenuously. They didn’t like football either. No kidding, back then it was known as Mob Football and didn’t have very many rules. It was particularly popular at Christmas which meant that it must be of the Devil.

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Mob Football

Be it known that the Puritans did had no sense of fun as we know it. They viewed any religious practice that might include something fun harmful and as such religious practices such as these needed to be removed from public life altogether.

Well this situation lasted until 1660 a year after the Lord Protector and head of the Army and Police Oliver Cromwell kicked the bucket. The anti-Christmas laws were quickly overturned and the populace went back to simply lopping, burning and crushing and everyone, save those being lopped, crushed or burned was happy because Christmas was back.  People were so happy to bring Christmas back that the new rulers in England exhumed Cromwell’s body from Westminster Abbey and executed him posthumously. Since they had a flair for decorating they lopped off Cromwell’s head and displayed it outside Westminster Hall for about four years.

A popular verse of the time said:

Now thanks to God for Charles’ return,
Whose absence made old Christmas mourn;
For then we scarcely did it know,
Whether it Christmas were or no.

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Not to be outdone the Puritan colonists in the Massachusetts Bay Colony enacted similar laws to their brethren in England. In 1659 through the newly appointed Governor Sir Edmund Andros. The laws remained on the books until 1681. During the time that the laws were in force everyone had a grand time. Like others in places like Cromwell’s England, Stalin’s Soviet Union, the Ayatollah’s Iran and the Taliban’s Afghanistan the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony banned the celebration of Christmas and other such holidays at the same time it banned gambling and other lawless behavior.

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Grumpy Puritan and Revelers 

Grouping all such behaviors together the court placed a fine of five shillings on anyone caught feasting or celebrating the holiday in a manner that might be construed as fun. Things like taking time off from work, feasting, partying, wassailing, playing Mob Football or anything else. The law read like this:

“For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county.”

That sounds lovely doesn’t it? At least they didn’t go lopping, burning or crushing with heavy stones unless you were proven to be a Christmas celebrating witch. Unlike England where the lifting of the ban was celebrated with the aplomb given to a World Cup championship the Colonists up in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and their descendants frowned upon the celebration of Christmas until the 1820s. That was  when enough Irish showed up in Boston to turn the place around and make it the fun town that it is now.  Coincidently the last “State Church” in the United States was the Congregational Church in Massachusetts. It wasn’t disestablished until 1833.

So the next time you hear about those that want to impose their beliefs to quash Christmas regardless of their religious or non-religious reasons please realize that this isn’t a new thing at all. Christians have been doing it for centuries.

Let us also remember that some of the un-fun Fundamentalists screaming about the “war on Christmas” actually want to re-establish the Puritan view of faith which would in effect eliminate any celebration of Christmas if they could only convince the corporations that profit off of Christmas but otherwise support their political causes to go along with it.

But for now we only have to suffer those fun and sentimentality deprived army of Grinch’s that without the religious flair of the Puritans attempt to crush the spirit of Christmas. Thankfully, more people like all the tinsel and bells as well as the presents and time off regardless of their religion or lack thereof and so the Christmas celebration as we know it will survive.

Maybe in doing so a few people will discover the humble, less than pretentious babe laying in the manger. One can always hope.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, History, News and current events, Religion

Christian Culture Warriors Versus Pope Francis and Boarding the Wrong Train

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“If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It has been amazing for me to watch and listen to influential leaders of the Christian Right vilify Pope Francis for “being liberal” and “surrendering in the culture war.” I find it amazing because for the past 30 years I have been watching the culture warriors fight this war.

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It was in 1992 when Pat Buchanan announced at the Republican National Convention that “There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself.”

I had deep ambivalence that speech back then and I was a conservative Republican and moderately conservative Christian. I had already seen how vicious the politically driven Christian conservatism was when I attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary during the early part of the Fundamentalist takeover of that school.

When I was ordained as a Priest in a more conservative Episcopal denomination back in 1996 I became part of a denomination at the time that had fully embraced the ideas of the culture war. When we went to clergy conferences our textbooks were those of Buchanan, Robert Bork, and Thomas Sowell as well as many others which espoused the necessity and rightness of the religious and culture war. Leadership indoctrinated us in this.

However as a military chaplain I had deep qualms about what was going on in this because I was already seeing the practical effects this was having on those who I served. I remember talking to some of the other chaplains in the denomination, a number who had similar concerns.

Gordon Klingenschmitt

So for many years I operated in the nether world of representing a denomination which by the day was growing more deeply aligned with the culture warriors. It began to come to a head in 2006 when Gordon Klingenschmitt, a Navy Chaplain on active duty began a campaign which ended caused a great uproar among religious conservatives and caused chaplains from many conservative denominations great grief as people in our churches looked to Klingenschmitt as a some kind of hero. In fact he was not. He was and is a pathological liar who has been on a Jihad since even before he entered the Navy as a Chaplain in 2003. I saw the unbridled vicious and unethical behavior exhibited by Klingenschmitt and his allies in the extreme Christian right and the right wing political hacks and pundits who use the Christian faith and unwitting but sincere Christians to advance an agenda which is neither Christian nor faithful to the vision of our founding fathers.

It was after that that I deployed to Iraq where what I saw and experienced changed me in profound ways. Suffering from chronic and severe PTSD I suffered a collapse of faith and for two years was for all intents and purposes an agnostic just hoping that God existed. Only my strong sense of vocation and the grace and mercy of God kept me going. But when faith returned it was different and as I began to write about it I realized who much I had changed. In September 2010 I was told by my Bishop that I needed to leave the church because I was “too liberal.”

So now when I see the same right wing political hacks, pundits, preachers and politicians who have been stoking this Christian version of Jihad against a plethora of enemies, Moslems, Gays, women, Liberals, progressives in fact anyone that they want to label as different then them or “enemies” of God or “America” I get my hackles up.

When I heard Pat Buchanan and Sarah Palin condemning Pope Francis for his alleged liberalism I realized that no Christian leader was safe from their foolish and shortsighted agenda. Pope Francis has chosen the way of Jesus, he is embracing people that conservative Christians have not only marginalized, but have persecuted for years and are still attempting to do so in the United States and elsewhere. There are times that I fear for the life of Pope Francis because there are people who believe so strongly that they would kill him if they believed that God wanted them to, and when people like Buchanan accuse Francis of surrendering in the culture war they help justify people wo will kill in the name of God.

What seems to me that most of these people lack is a real sense of historical context, not only of the importance that the founders of the United States placed on the freedom of religion and freedom from religion as well as the history of other countries.

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One of my special areas of study is the Weimar Republic and the Nazi period of German history. Religious conservatives were often willing partners with Hitler and the Nazi movement because of their opposition to socialism and what they saw as an atheistic movement in Germany, which many lamed on the Jews. Martin Niemöller was a prominent pastor in that era. His writings reflected the feelings of many. He wrote:

“I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”

Niemöller was a war hero.  He had served on U-Boats during the First World War and commanded a U-Boat in 1918 sinking a number of ships.  After the war he resigned his commission in the Navy in opposition to the Weimar Republic and briefly was a commander in a local Freikorps unit. His book Vom U-Boot zur Kanzel (From U-boat to Pulpit) traced his journey from the Navy to the pastorate. He became a Pastor and as a Christian opposed what he believed to be the evils of Godless Communism and Socialism.  This placed him in the very conservative camp in the years of the Weimar Republic and he rose in the ranks of the United Evangelical Church of the Old Prussian Union.  Active in conservative politics, Niemöller initially support the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor.

However, he quickly soured on Hitler due to his insistence on the state taking precedence over the Church.  Niemöller was typical of many Germans of his era and harbored ant-Semitic sentiments that he only completely abandoned his anti-Semitic views until after he was imprisoned.  He would spend 8 years as a prisoner of the Nazis a period hat he said changed him including his views about Jews, Communists and Socialists.  Niemöller was one of the founding members of the Pfarrernotbund (Pastor’s Emergency Federation) and later the Confessing Church. He was tried and imprisoned in concentration camps due to his now outspoken criticism of the Hitler regime.

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Herman Maas was another Evangelical Pastor.  Unlike Niemöller, Maas was a active participant in the ecumenical movement, built bridges to the Jewish community and defended the rights of Jews as German citizens.  He received a fair amount of criticism for his attendance of Reichspräsident Friedrich Ebert’s funeral.  Ebert was both a Socialist and avowed atheist.  Maas too was active in the Pfarrernotbund and the Confessing church, and unlike Niemöller maintained his opposition to anti-Semitism and the Nazi policies against the Jews. He would help draft the Barmen declaration.  He too would be imprisoned and survive the war.  Maas was the first non-Jewish German to be officially invited to the newly formed state of Israel in 1950. In July 1964 Yad Vashem recognized the Maas as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer a young Pastor and theologian would also step up to oppose the Nazis and offer support for the Jews.  He helped draft the Bethel Confession which among other things rejected “every attempt to establish a visible theocracy on earth by the church as a infraction in the order of secular authority. This makes the gospel into a law. The church cannot protect or sustain life on earth. This remains the office of secular authority.”  He also helped draft the Barmen declaration which opposed and condemned Nazi Christianity.  Bonhoeffer would eventually along with members of his family take an active role in the anti-Nazi resistance as a double agent for Admiral Canaris’ Abwehr.  For this he would be executed after his final sermon in the concentration camp at Flossenburg just a month prior to the end of the war.

Another opponent of the Nazis in the Confessing Church was Swiss-German theologian Karl Barth.  Barth went into exile as a Swiss citizen but remained active in the criticism of the Nazi regime.

Bishop Galen of Münster and others including Father Rupert Meyer in Munich who opposed Hitler in the early 1920s would also oppose the Nazi policies toward the Church and the Jews.  They would also end up in concentrations camps with some dying at the hands of the Nazis.

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All these men took risks to defend the Jews who were religious minority group that had been traditionally discriminated against inGermany.  They opposed the Nazi policies which were widely supported by much of the German populace making them unpopular in their own churches as among the traditionally conservative supporters of the Evangelical and Catholic Churches.  The Jews were not simply discriminated against as a racial or religious group but also identified with the political left, especially the Social Democrats, Independent Socialists, Communists and the Spartacists. Since the Independent Socialists, Communists and Spartacists were all involved in attempts to create a Soviet state during the early tumultuous years of Weimar and been involved in many acts of violence against traditional German institutions and the state, they were viewed by Hitler and others as part of the Bolshevik-Jewish threat toGermany.  Karl Liebnicht and Rosa Luxembourg were among the high profile leaders of this movement in Germany and both were Jewish.  The fact that many in the leadership of the Bolshevik movement in theSoviet Union were Jewish added fuel to the fire that the Nazis stoked inGermany.  Hitler and the Nazis played on the historic, but muted prejudice against German Jews who in many cases were more secular and German than religious and had assimilated well inGermany.  Hitler’s rhetoric as well as that of other Nazis and Nazi publications helped identify the Jews as part of the “Stab in the back” myth that was commonly used by the German right to explain the defeat in the First World War.  Thus they were painted as a political and social threat to Germany.

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When Hitler took power persecution of the Jews began in earnest. Jews were along with Communists, Trade Unions and Socialists enemies of the state.  They were banned from the military, civil service and other government employment, professional associations and forced to wear a gold Star of David on their clothing.  Their property was seized, many were abused by SA men acting as deputized auxiliary police and many times their businesses, Synagogues and homes were vandalized, burned or seized by the state.  Many would be forced to flee in order not to be sent to ghettos and concentration camps.  Even those leaving only escaped with the minimum of their possessions as the Nazi regime extorted anything of value from them as they leftGermany.  This was all done because Hitler and those like him portrayed the Jews as not only an inferior race, but enemies of the state and the German people.

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Today we face a similar movement in conservative circles in the United States.  This time it is not the Jews but Moslems, Homosexuals, and “Liberals” who are the targets of the xenophobic and ideological rage vocalized by many influential members of the “conservative” media including Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and numerous others.

Their support for “Christian morale values” such as being against abortion has ingratiated them with conservative Christians.  It is so bad that that many “conservative” Christians cannot differentiate between their vitriolic and un-Christian rage against Moslems, Gays and Lesbians, trade unionists, Democrats or anyone else portrayed by the big media talkers and the Gospel.

It is if they have become an appendage to Republican or “conservative” politicians rather than a Christian church.  It is not uncommon to see Christians on the web or on the call in talk radio programs identify lock stock and barrel with Limbaugh and others identifying the crass materialism and social Darwinism of “pure” Capitalism and the anti-Christian policy of pre-emptive war.   That may seem harsh, but many of these people in the “Conservative Bible Project” seek to re-translate the Bible into their own political, social and economic policies even seeking to change or minimize any Scripture that might be equated with the “Social Gospel.”  Unfortunately many Christians and others have jumped in on the anti-Moslem and anti-immigrant crusades launched by those on the far right.

There are those on the far right that advocate eliminating all Moslems from the military, government, security intelligence and police forces and even universities as did Timothy Rollins of “The American Partisan.”

“this can best be done by enacting the Great Muslim Purge from our military and other national security apparatuses. These people need to be removed from every security post, even to be completely removed from all levels of government employment, be it federal, state, county, city or other municipality. This applies especially to universities….”

Glenn Beck made this comment about a people reacting against Moslems:

“When things—when people become hungry, when people see that their way of life is on the edge of being over, they will put razor wire up and just based on the way you look or just based on your religion, they will round you up. Is that wrong? Oh my gosh, it is Nazi, World War II wrong, but society has proved it time and time again: It will happen.”

Doug Giles a seminary educated columnist for Townhall.com a leading conservative opinion site made this comment

“Please note: If Christ wasn’t cool with irrigating irate Islamicists for facts, I must admit, I would still have to green light our boys getting data from enemy combatants 007 style. Stick a fire hose up their tailpipe and turn it on full blast. I don’t care. I’m not as holy as most of you super saints or as evolved as some of you progressive atheists purport to be. Security beats spirituality in this scenario, as far as I’m concerned.”

Similar threats are made against non-European immigrants especially those from Mexico or Latin America.  I have a friend; a Navy Officer who served a year in Iraq that was confronted by a member of the “Minutemen” in Texas to show his Green Card and threatened simply because he is Mexican.   Others especially conservative Christians suggest criminalizing homosexuality, jailing homosexuals and even deporting them. Some Christian political action groups are going overseas to Russia and Africa to help enact laws against homosexuals and recently the same people have been hosted by members of Congress to promote their ideology.

These actions and proposed laws are so similar to the Nuremberg Laws and the Aryan Paragraph issued by the Nazis that it is scary.  Likewise the threats to American Moslems of placing them “behind razor wire” as we did to American Japanese citizens in World War II are chilling.  I wonder how Christians would react if an atheist or someone on the political left suggested all conservative Christians or members of pro-Life groups be imprisoned for the actions of Christians or pro-Life movement members like Scott Roeder or Eric Rudolph who killed to stop abortion or Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church?

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This new found militancy has swept up the “Christian right” and others since 9-11 and has reached proportions that I could never have imagined. After my tour in Iraq I realized that much of what these people were saying was not Christian at all and when taken to their logical conclusion would be a police state in which anyone who opposed them would be persecuted.  I question the motivations of the leaders of the movement but believe that most of the Christian conservatives have been caught up in the anger and the emotion of the times versus being true believers in what these men say.  That being said, you don’t have to be a true believer to be a willing accomplice in actions that first are not Christian and second trample on the Constitutional rights of American citizens.

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I could keep citing examples but if someone can show me where this is condoned in the Gospels I would like to know. The fact is that Christians are to place God first and defend the rights of others, even non-believers.  This is found not only in Scripture but runs through the Christian tradition across the denominational spectrum.

What the good people who suggesting these “collective guilt” actions against American Moslems do is dangerous, not just for Moslems and other minorities but ultimately for them.  American and English law is based on legal precedence.  Once something has been determined to be legal, or constitutional it is considered by the law to be settled law.  This is a point made by Chief Justice Roberts regarding Roe v. Wade at his confirmation hearings.  If Christians want to use the law against Moslems or for that matter any other minority be it religious or political they tread on very dangerous ground.  Not only do they make a mockery of the Gospel command to love our neighbors, care for the foreigners among us and to be a witness to non-Christians support policies or laws that if enacted could and very well would be used against them by their opponents.

Law is all about precedent and if such laws were enacted and upheld by the courts they would be settled law that could be used against anyone.   What these dear brothers and sisters fail to realize is that such laws can be turned against them if the state should ever decided based on the statements of actions of some that the Christian community is a threat to state security of the public welfare.  With the actions of some radical Christians who have committed murder and violence against political, social and religious opponents it would not be hard for the government to label whole churches as enemies of the state.  The law is a two edged sword and those who want to use it to have the state enforce their religious, social, ideological or political beliefs on others need to remember what comes around goes around.

The Confessing church understood this and many were imprisoned, exiled or killed for this belief.  The founding fathers of this country understood this too, that is why there is the Constitution protection of Religion in the First Amendment.  This was put in because Virginia Baptists who had been persecuted by Anglicans lobbied James Madison for the amendment in the Bill of Rights threatening to withdraw their support for his candidacy if he did not.  Niemöller would discover the depths of his earlier folly in prison telling one interviewer after the war:

“I find myself wondering about that too. I wonder about it as much as I regret it. Still, it is true that Hitler betrayed me. I had an audience with him, as a representative of the Protestant Church, shortly before he became Chancellor, in 1932. Hitler promised me on his word of honor, to protect the Church, and not to issue any anti-Church laws. He also agreed not to allow pogroms against the Jews, assuring me as follows: ‘There will be restrictions against the Jews, but there will be no ghettos, no pogroms, in Germany. I really believed given the widespread anti-Semitism in Germany, at that time—that Jews should avoid aspiring to Government positions or seats in the Reichstag. There were many Jews, especially among the Zionists, who took a similar stand. Hitler’s assurance satisfied me at the time. On the other hand, I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”

It is easy for well meaning people Niemöller to be bought with promises of support by politicians and media types who speak the words they want to hear in difficult times.

So today I suggest the formation of an ecumenical Pastor’s Emergency League which will not be bought by the empty and godless promises of hate mongers on the right or the left.  Such a group of men and women spanning the breadth of the Christian tradition and others that see the danger of extremism of all types is becoming necessary.  Such a step is becoming necessary due to the militancy of the Christian right as well as the militancy of atheist groups who lobby against all public religious expression by any religion.  Such a League would respect the various creeds and statements of faith of each member’s denomination.  The movement of the right has set a dangerous course fraught with perils that they do not comprehend. Just allow those that they believe are oppressing or persecuting them now to be empowered with the precedent of laws discriminating against specific religious groups against the Christians that supported them in the first place.  It will be a bitter poison indeed when that happens to them later if American Moslems were to be targets by such laws.

We have entered a dangerous phase of American history.  These movements have the potential not only to oppress law-abiding and patriotic American Moslems, Gays, Secularists and others and to crush the religious freedoms of all in this county. Suggesting that American citizens, including those who serve the county in the military or government of entire religious, ethnic, political or religious affiliation, sexual preference be jailed, banned from office or fired is totalitarian and dare I say Nazi like.

Christian culture warriors have become so enamored with political power and using the state to enforce their beliefs. They  have forgotten that the people are not converted by religious laws enforced by the police power of the state but on the love shown by God’s people to others. They have forgotten that the sword that they desire to use against those that they despise can easily be turned against them. Many German Christians found this out far too late.

Niemöller would say it well in this poem:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

If Christians would only learn that lesson.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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