Tag Archives: ideologues

To Stand Up Against Zealots

 

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am not a fan of ideologues or the “fundamentalists” of any point in the political, ideological or religious spectrum. Their lack of courage, stunted intellectualism, and inability to see things from outside their limited field of view does not allow them to face really difficult questions that confront us today.  They claim to hold the keys to the universe but sadly are hold nothing more than the key to their high school gym locker.

The Iranian novelist Salman Rushdie who has been on the run from Iranian fundamentalist ideologues since he wrote the supposedly heretical Satanic Verses once noted:

“The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a religious belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.”

I believe that we are at yet another crossroads in Western civilization. This time a crossroads where the classic liberalism that was the basis for democratic societies is being stampeded by zealots of various persuasions who guided by the supposed infallibility of their ideological belief systems, deliberately and without remorse seek to destroy the institutions that are the guardians of liberty.

In my honest opinion I think that the worst of these are the conservative Christian theocrats and their seemingly ideological enemies the Ayn Rand following Social Darwinist “conservative libertarians.” They have no shame, their respective ideologies blind them to truth and turn them into sociopaths that only give a damn about their power and profits and they latched on to President Trump, prostrating themselves and the Republican Party to him in order that they might triumph.

Of course I will be the first to admit that there are some leftists who would be the first to put a bullet in the head of Lady Liberty to further their own cause.  But they are not the danger. They control nothing that would allow them to succeed and most cannot even agree among themselves to work together, they have nothing on Lenin, Stalin, Mao, the Iranian Mullahs, or even Hugo Chavez; may God give rest to his chubby cheeks.

Say what you want about him but President Trump is not an ideologue, he can’t be, he’s too much of a self-absorbed narcissist to be an ideologue. All he wants is the adulation of his audience and the power and wealth that come with it. He may be a sociopath but it is not for the sake of any ideology. If the issue was the President alone we could survive him; but his supporters of the Christian Right and the Ayn Rand Social Darwinists of the GOP are much more dangerous, because they are true believers who actually control many of the apparatuses of government at the local, state, and federal level.

We have seen the results of such movements in history before and each time they succeed in gaining power they have brought disaster to nations, and sometimes the world.

Proponents of ideological purity assume that their ideological bias is equivalent to sacred truth, be it a religious or secular truth. The promoters of such systems promote something more than their opinion, as Hannah Arendt noted: “For an ideology differs from a simple opinion in that it claims to possess either the key to history, or the solution for all the “riddles of the universe,” or the intimate knowledge of the hidden universal laws which are supposed to rule nature and man.”  

As such, ideology is not based on knowledge, but is distinct from it and the enemy of knowledge for it binds the mind in a straitjacket in which all thought must be submitted to the truth of the ideology. As Arendt noted such ideologies must be handled with caution as they “pretend to be keys to history but are actually nothing but desperate efforts to escape responsibility.”  

An ideology protects the true believer from having to think for himself, it allows the insecure to grasp at the protection that it allegedly provides, and allows the believer to deny reality, and to by definition declare everything that contradicts the ideology to be heretical, and opponents to be aligned with the devil himself, allowing the believer to hate the opponent. As Eric Hoffer noted, “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” 

As I have mentioned the past couple of days my favorite television character, Raymond Reddington, played by James Spader in The Blacklist once said “I know so many zealots, men and women, who chose a side, an ideology by which to interpret the world. But, to get up every single day and to do the hard work of deciding what to believe. What’s right, today? When to stand up or stand down. That’s courage.” The fact is, no matter how stridently they espouse their beliefs, ideologues are by definition not courageous, because courage takes critical thinking, something that ideologues of any persuasion are incapable of doing.

That is why knowledge and critical thought even when they are uncomfortable and take us out of our comfort zone are so much more powerful and important than ideologies that are followed blindly. My words to the ideologues of the Christian Right and the Ayn Rand followers of so many in the Republican Party is that of Samuel Adams who said:

“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.” 

It takes no courage to be an ideologue, and once a person surrenders to an ideology as his or her reason for existence, they sacrifice the ability to reason, the ability to think critically, and the capacity to acquire knowledge and in doing so they surrender to tyranny and servitude though they think they will end up on top.

That is the danger of the blind ideologies that are consuming our world today and why as long as anyone who cares about freedom has a breath in them they must be opposed.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Ideological Opinion: The Enemy of Knowledge

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Salman Rushdie one wrote: “The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a religious belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.”

We seem to be at another crossroads in Western civilization, a crossroads where the classic liberalism that was the basis for democratic societies is being stampeded by zealots of various persuasions who guided by the supposed infallibility of their ideological belief systems, deliberately and without remorse seek to destroy the institutions that are the guardians of liberty.

We have seen the results of such movements in history before and each time they succeed in gaining power they have brought disaster to nations, and sometimes the world.

Proponents of ideological purity assume that their ideological bias is equivalent to sacred truth, be it a religious or secular truth. The promoters of such systems promote something more than their opinion, as Hannah Arendt noted: “For an ideology differs from a simple opinion in that it claims to possess either the key to history, or the solution for all the “riddles of the universe,” or the intimate knowledge of the hidden universal laws which are supposed to rule nature and man.”  As such, ideology is not based on knowledge, but is distinct from it and the enemy of knowledge for it binds the mind in a straitjacket in which all thought must be submitted to the truth of the ideology. As Arendt noted such ideologies must be handled with caution as theypretend to be keys to history but are actually nothing but desperate efforts to escape responsibility.”  An ideology protects the believer from having to think for himself, it allows the insecure to grasp at the protection that it allegedly provides, and allows the believer to deny reality, and to by definition declare everything that contradicts the ideology to be heretical, and opponents to be aligned with the devil himself, allowing the believer to hate the opponent. As Eric Hoffer noted, “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” 

My favorite television character, Raymond Reddington, played by James Spader in The Blacklist once said “I know so many zealots, men and women, who chose a side, an ideology by which to interpret the world. But, to get up every single day and to do the hard work of deciding what to believe. What’s right, today? When to stand up or stand down. That’s courage.” The fact is, no matter how stridently they espouse their beliefs, ideologues are by definition not courageous, because courage takes critical thinking, something that ideologues of any persuasion are incapable of doing.

It takes no courage to be an ideologue, and once a person surrenders to an ideology as his or her reason for existence, they sacrifice the ability to reason, the ability to think critically, and the capacity to acquire knowledge. That is the danger of the blind ideologies that are consuming our world today.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

padre Steve+

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The Courageous vs. the Ideologues 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

My favorite television character, Raymond Reddington, played by James Spader in The Blacklist once said “I know so many zealots, men and women, who chose a side, an ideology by which to interpret the world. But, to get up every single day and to do the hard work of deciding what to believe. What’s right, today? When to stand up or stand down. That’s courage.” The fact is, no matter how stridently they espouse their beliefs, ideologues are by definition not courageous, because courage takes critical thinking, something that ideologues of any persuasion are incapable of doing. I see examples of this every day, especially in my Twitter feed. While I’m sure that many, if not most of these people are good and well meaning people, they seldom display any originality of thought or true character. I had one left wing Twitter follower attack repeatedly me because to her I was supposedly a sellout. I have had right wing religious friends and followers on social media do the same, but the intellectual commonality they share is the fact that they are ideologues and zealots, and while they espouse different beliefs they are almost indistinguishable in their inability to think critically. 

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

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

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

Have a great day and weekend.

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

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Zealots and Ideologues

raymond-reddington-sunglasses

“In this world, there are no sides. Only players.”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I think my favorite character on television is Raymond “Red” Reddington, played by James Spader on the shoe The Blacklist. He is a very complex and troubling character, and the thing is I can understand him. His is a world of gray where he does the right thing for wrong reasons and the wrong thing for right reasons. His loyalties are personal and not ideological, he is a man of contradictions, as am I. Raymond Reddington one said, “Cultural peculiarities notwithstanding, I find cock fighting to be abominable. However, truth be told, I do love fried chicken.” I totally agree with that, sorry Vegan friends.

My regular readers know that I am a complex person as well. I am a Christian, a priest at that, who often doubts; a career military officer who hates war, but also realizes that as much of an evil as war is, that there are worse evils than war itself.  Likewise I am very liberal and progressive in my political and social beliefs, but I serve in a profoundly conservative institution that is not always welcoming to my beliefs. But that being said, even though I am a liberal and progressive at heart, my education as a historian and my life experience mitigates against me becoming an ideologue or zealot, and I am not a revolutionary.

I tend to be able to see and appreciate arguments of multiple points of view on almost every issue, and I wrestle with them, doing the best I can to do the right thing. Whether it is for the right reason or not, I don’t pretend to know. Maybe that is one reason I have friends on all sides of the political, religious, and ideological debates that rage about this country and in the world. But as always I digress…

In the last episode of season three of The Blacklist, Reddington tells an assistant FBI director who he has been helping solve crimes, “I know so many zealots, men and women, who choose a side, an ideology by which to interpret the world. But, to get up every single day and do the hard work of deciding what to believe. What’s right, today? When to stand up or stand down. That’s courage.” From my experience I believe that to be the truth, and truthfully, I would rather deal with people that wrestle with this difficult world than rather than those whose beliefs are shaped by their ideology first, regardless of facts, divergence of opinions, history, science, reality, and experience.

But what bothers me in what I see going on in this country and around the world is that mass movements of ideologues and zealots of every persuasion, political and religious, those that have seized or are trying to seize power in many nations, and foment revolution. Captivated by ideological purity, they are unwilling to compromise and frequently label anyone that disagrees with them or the leader of their movement, even in the slightest manner as traitors or evil. Many times the zealots take no time to evaluate the quality of the merits of their movement or those that oppose them, their cause is right, their opponents are evil and need to be destroyed. I think the most distressing case is where the Nazis and German Communists worked together to destroy the Weimar Republic in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Eric Hoffer wrote,  “The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world.” Likewise, Hoffer noted something that I observe almost every day, that the zeolots and ideologues of mass movements use anger and hatred to unify their followers. Hoffer noted, “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” Believe, me, ask any ideologue of any type, and he or she will tell you who their devil is. But sadly history demonstrates that a mass movements of any type, political, ideological, or religious has achieved powe, all opponents, especially those closest to them ideologically or religiously are the enemy, or to use Hoffer’s words “a devil.” The opponents closest to the ideologues ideology have to be destroyed or discredited first, before they can move on to battle their real opposites. Just look at history.

The ideologue cannot lose because he already knows his answer, the classic fundamentalist Christian quote, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it”  is very much descriptive of other ideologically driven mass movements be they conservative or liberal. The ideologue’s attitudes are derived from their ideology and are often not subject to facts. I see it every day, especially on social media where partisans of evil persuasion fire broadside after broadside at all opponents, regardless of the facts, or even the fact that there may be more than one equally valid viewpoint on a subject. But then I tend to see everything in various shades of gray and not in black and white absolutes, and ideologues of all types frighten me, even those whose unbending beliefs are sugarcoated with millennial or utopian sentiments of the perfect world that will follow their victory. I know from history that such is not the case, in far too many instances first thing that radical, or self-proclaimed revolutionaries do after achieving absolute power is to kill.

Maybe that is why I like Raymond Reddington. I really do think that real courage is to wrestle with reality every day and do the hard work of deciding what to believe; and today that may be different then tomorrow, but it will be based on reality and tempered by my often contradictory beliefs. Of course a true political ideologue or religious fundamentalist will condemn me to their version of hell of being that honest, but it is true. That is my uncomfortable reality, it may not be right, and my vision may be skewed and distorted, but it is what it is, and as Reddington said, “In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Clear and Present Danger of Unrepentant Ideologues

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“The followers of Christ have been called to peace. . . . And they must not only have peace but also make it. And to that end they renounce all violence and tumult. In the cause of Christ nothing is to be gained by such methods. . . . His disciples keep the peace by choosing to endure suffering themselves rather than inflict it on others. They maintain fellowship where others would break it off. They renounce hatred and wrong. In so doing they over-come evil with good, and establish the peace of God in the midst of a world of war and hate.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.”The Barmen Declaration Article Three.

I have become amazed at the penchant for many Christians to sublimate the Gospel to their political ideology.  This is not a new phenomena at all, in fact since the Christian faith was legalized by the Emperor Constantine and made the State religion of the Roman Empire Christians have often done this with a great deal of gusto. There is a terrible tendency for Christians to turn the Gospel on its head by using it to justify their political, social and even military goals.  Frankly as a Priest and a historian I find this troubling especially when I see Christians all around me doing this not only blessing the leaders they support but many taking the lead in the often vile and hateful campaigns against those that they and their political benefactors oppose all while claiming to be “Biblical.”

We are now in what the Liturgical year is called Ordinary time.  It is a time of focus on the Christian life and our relationships with family, neighbors, other Christians and those that come across our paths, especially aliens, prisoners, the poor, the disenfranchised and those persecuted by the powerful regardless of their social class, race, citizenship or religious or political affiliation. In fact the term “Ordinary time” is often interpreted to mean less important than the rest of the liturgical year.  However such an interpretation is dismissive of the importance of the season which lasts from Pentecost until the Sunday before Advent, Christ the King.  In fact Ordinary time actually focuses on the “doing” aspects of the Christian life.

Unfortunately for some it will be a time of misplaced activity, not activity centered on prayer, good works and giving voice to the least, the lost and the lonely even as we renew our faith in the Crucified One. Instead for many, especially in the preliminary stages of a Presidential election cycle the focus in not this at all but rather in transitory political, social and ideological agendas advanced by people with no other goal than seeing the triumph of their ideology which often has little to do with the Gospel.

Hermann Maas

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.

Ideologues love times of crisis and turmoil because they are able to turn them to their advantage and co-opt people of faith by appearing to be their worldly saviors from their “ungodly” opponents.  Even the most faithful Christians can be lured in and deceived by such “saviors.”  Martin Niemöller a leader in the German Evangelical church noted how he was taken in by Hitler.

 Martin Niemöller

“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.”

Like Niemöller well meaning Christians have been seduced into the false promises of ideologues of various persuasions that have no real interest in the Gospel but political or economic power be they conservative or liberal, capitalist or socialist. In fact one of the most heinous genocides of the late 20th Century was carried out by the good Christians of Rwanda’s Hutu and Tutsi tribes days after they worshiped together to celebrate Easter.  In many cases church leaders were complicit in mass murder.

The seductiveness of these ideologies appeals to the passion and emotion of people stoking the fires of fear with the fuel of hatred.  This is often true regardless of people’s political or religious persuasions when become enamored with ideology and reinterpret life, faith and relationships to fit the ideology.  When this happens to Christians this can lead to twisting Scripture and Tradition to fit the ideology much as did the theologians, pastors and lay people in German churches in the late 1920s and 1930s.

When two powerful ideologies collide as did Communism and National Socialism in Germany, Socialism and Gaullism is France or contemporary Liberalism and Conservatism in the United States the conflict often spills out and over into Churches and other religious institutions.  Well meaning people sublimate their faith beneath the ideology and political ethos that they most agree with and ideology overrides faith.  As fear and hatred is stoked the leaders of religious institutions and individuals within them conform their faith not to Christ crucified but to ideologies which are antithetical to the Gospel.

It really does not matter if the ideology is “liberal” or “conservative” because ultimately these poisonous ideologies now defended by pastors and theologians and “baptized” with Scripture are often set against the Gospel and seek to use the Church, Christians and others simply as pawns to sacrifice in their quest for total unadulterated political, social or economic power.

In our contemporary American culture the loudest and most prominent voices are the political ideologues of the right and the left who inhabit talk radio and the various cable television news networks.  Far too often well meaning Christians and others assume everything being spoken from lips of pundits, politicians and politically compromised preachers, the unholy Trinity is compatible with the faith.  However just because Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, Keith Olberman, Chris Matthews or any other commentator on the airwaves claims that they are speaking for Christians does not mean that they are even when we agree with them. Likewise political party leaders and Presidential candidates who echo our passions and feed our fears about the other party does not mean that what they say is Christian or compatible with the Christian faith even and especially when those individuals claim the mantle of being a “Christian” leader.

The adoption and blessing of the often perverted theological ideas of media personalities, talking heads and politicians by individual Christians, Church leaders and denominations can only result in their enslavement by the individuals and organizations to which they give their blessing.  The ideologues will readily support social or policy goals of the religious groups but only to gain their vote and those that think otherwise are sincerely deluded.

This is proven by history and experience.  One only has to look at how German Christians of various traditions were seduced by the promises of Hitler and the Nazis. Germans had from November 1918 seen their society ripped apart by military defeat, economic humiliation, internal revolution and societal change which threatened the values that they held dear.  In reaction to Nazi promises many sold themselves and their country to the devil. This type of thing has happened in other countries but is most glaringly seen in the transition from the WeimarRepublicto the Nazi era.

Karl Barth

Swiss-German theologian Karl Barth was an outspoken opponent of the Nazis. He lectured about how ideology can become its own idol and the purveyors of ideology can themselves make it an idol from which they cannot separate themselves and to which they become willing accomplices.  Their ideology becomes an absolute from which no deviation is allowed, even when deviation from them is more in line with the Gospel.  As Barth so poignantly stated:

“[Ideology] comes about as [one] thinks he can and should ascribe to the presuppositions and sketches he has achieved by his remarkable ability, not just a provisional and transitory but a permanent normativity, not just one that is relative but one that is absolute, not just one that is human but one that is quasi-divine.  His hypotheses become for him theses behind which he no longer ventures to go back with seeking, questioning, and researching.  He thinks that they can be thought and formulated definitively as thoughts that are not merely useful but instrinsically true and therefore binding.  His ideal becomes an idol.  He thinks that he knows only unshakable principles and among them a basic principle in relation to which he must coordinate and develop them as a whole, combining them all, and with them his perceptions and concepts, into a system, making of his ideas an ideology.  Here again the reins slip out of his hands.  This creature of his, the ideology, seems to be so wonderfully glorious and exerts on him such a fascination that he thinks he should move and think and act more and more within its framework and under its direction, since salvation can be achieved only through the works of its law.  This ideology becomes the object of his reflection, the backbone and norm of his disposition, the guiding star of his action.  All his calculations, exertions, and efforts are now predestined by it.  They roll towards its further confirmation and triumph like balls on a steep slope.  Man’s whole loyalty is loyalty to the line demanded by it.  He thinks that he possesses it, but in truth it already possesses him.  In relation to it he is no longer the free man who thought he had found it in its glory and should help to put it on the throne.  He now ventures to ask and answer only within its schema.  He must now orient himself to it.  He must represent it as its more or less authentic witness and go to work as its great or small priest and prophet. At root he no longer has anything of his own to say.  He can only mouth the piece dictated to him as intelligibly as he can, and perhaps like a mere parrot.  His own face threatens already to disappear behind the mask that he must wear as its representative.  He already measures and evaluates others only from the standpoint of whether they are supporters of this ideology, or whether they might become such, or whether they might at least be useful to it even without their consent, or whether they must be fought as its enemies. Its glory has already become for him the solution not only to the personal problem of his own life but to each and all of the problems of the world.” ~ Karl Barth, The Christian Life: Church Dogmatics IV/4, Lecture Fragments, 225.

Barth saw good people surrender their faith to a hateful and destructive ideology. It is imperative during this season of Ordinary time that we should not take this danger lightly. This season is a time to acknowledge our need for the grace and mercy of God and find forgiveness for ourselves while extending the same grace, love and mercy shown to us to our neighbor, even the neighbor who does not agree with the ideologues that we prefer.

Our challenge in a time of turmoil and conflict is not to be seduced by the shameless appeals of ideologues but to return to faith in the God who comes to us, suffers for and with us and in himself provides the promise of redemption and the forgiveness of sins.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in a sermon on Second Corinthians 2:9:

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

Unfortunately it seems that many of those leading the “Christian” parties of theUnited Stateshave forgotten that even those that proclaim their faith the loudest.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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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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Alleluia Christ is Risen!

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, `He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Matthew 28:1-10

It is Easter at last and Christians around the world sing the triumphant message “alleluia Christ is risen, he is risen indeed!”  Just as the first disciples walked with Jesus we too have walked with Jesus through the penitential season of Lent beginning on Ash Wednesday where we remembered that “we are but dust and to dust we shall return.” With each thing that we abstained from or added to our spiritual discipline we in a small way were reminded that we are to “deny ourselves, take up our Cross and follow.”  In Holy week we experienced the nearly schizophrenic emotions of triumph and tragedy of Palm or Passion Sunday, the solemnity that comes on Holy or Maundy Thursday as we recall the institution of the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper and the humility of Jesus as he takes on the mantle of a lowly servant and washes the feet of his disciples.  Leaving that we enter into the suffering of Jesus on Good Friday and see how even his friends betrayed or abandoned him with only a thief on an adjacent cross and the officer in charge of the crucifixion realizing just who was on that middle cross.  We wait overnight Friday and through Saturday in the uncomfortable middle between the crucifixion and resurrection that so often mirrors events in our own life where we sometimes experience what we feel to be forsaken by family, friends, church and sometimes even God.  Yet in the pre-dawn darkness of that first Easter morning we like the disciples awake to find that something has happened, that the stone is rolled away, the tomb is empty and Jesus is raised from the dead crushing sin death and hell.  We are greeted by Jesus who tells us not to be afraid but to go and tell others what has happened.  He greets us on the road to Emmaus and breaks bread with us even as we tell him about the tragedy of his death and then our eyes are opened.  Jesus is the victor and in his death burial and resurrection we have the forgiveness of sins.  The event is also eschatological in that it opens the door for him to return in glory and for him to be revealed in his people For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God;  “for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Romans 8:20-21

Likewise it is in this series of inseparable events that Christ establishes our redemption by the forgiveness of sins “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8.

It is a universe changing event whereby Christ sets his people free and destroys the power of his enemies. Karl Barth wrote: “Look once again to Jesus Christ in his death upon the cross.  Look and try to understand that what he did and suffered he did and suffered for you, for me, for us all.  He carried our sin, our captivity and our suffering, and did not carry it in vain.  He carried it away.  He acted as the captain of us all.  He broke through the ranks of our enemies.  He has already won the battle, our battle.  All we have to do is to follow him, to be victorious with him.  Through him, in him we are saved.  Our sin no longer has any power over us.  Our prison door is open…when he, the Son of God, sets us free, we are truly free.” This is the redemption that the world awaits, not a redemption that is to be hoarded by believers but a redemption that extends beyond the present redemption for all people, especially those who believe and the people of God are to toil and struggle for this “For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” 1 Timothy 4:10

The Cross and Resurrection are to be a new and purifying wind in the world and the people of God are to be the vehicle for this wind empowered by the Holy Spirit of God.  It is not simply about mastering the art of dying as Socrates did but experiencing resurrection.  Christ did not merely die but he overcame the last enemy which is death itself. (1 Corinthians 15:26)  The power of this is not to be taken lightly in its possibilities for real change for as Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote “If a few people really believed that and acted on it in their daily lives, a great deal would be changed. To live in the light of the Resurrection—that is what Easter means.”

While we live in the reality of the light of the Resurrection we simultaneously live under the shadow of the Cross of Christ as well as the cross that we are obliged by God to carry in our own lives. In the duality and unity of the Cross and Resurrection we have hope and in that hope we are not to be overwhelmed by events in the world that we cannot control.  Nor are we to be consumed by false “gospels” presented by various ideologues of the right and the left who may identify themselves as “Christian” but place their ideologies, social, political, national and economic over the Gospel itself.  Ideologues who quote scripture to buttress their arguments so that their ideology and the “Gospel” are one in the same much as Satan did during the temptation of Jesus to provide a veneer of Christianity to ideologies that are often opposed to the message of the Gospel. Such an idea is much like the message on German soldier’s belt buckles in the Second World War proclaimed “Gott Mit Uns” even as their nation made war on the world and executed an evil ideology of death upon the Jews and others unfortunate enough to be considered the enemies of the Nazi Party.

It is the ideologues who now endanger the Church and Gospel itself for many choose to remain inside the walls of the church and attempt to turn it into a tool of their ideology and in doing so these ideologues measure and evaluate “others only from the standpoint of whether they are supporters of this ideology, or whether they might become such, or whether they might at least be useful to it even without their consent, or whether they must be fought as its enemies. Its glory has already become for him the solution not only to the personal problem of his own life but to each and all of the problems of the world.” But the Cross and resurrection cry out “NO!” to such ideas even when they are drenched with so called “Biblical” support.

The Cross and the Resurrection bring us to life and promise that Christ who died and was raised will come again and in doing so will complete the redemption of the world for which he suffered and died. It is the real world for which God cares for enough to live suffer and die to save, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer so eloquently wrote “God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”

It is God’s unfathomable love that Easter proclaims as victorious and allows us will all people to cry out “Alleluia Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed!”

Peace and Happy Easter

Padre Steve+

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