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Stand up to Government Officials that Attempt to Silence Political Dissent and Criticism: Emma Sullivan Stands up for Freedom of Speech

The test of democracy is freedom of criticism. ~David Ben-Gurion

I have written about the Freedom of Religion and religious speech a number of times and in doing so have often touched on the broader aspects of the right of Freedom of Speech.  I find that tolerance for opposing views from both sides of the political aisle to be a disappearing commodity and nowhere was this more evident last week then deep in our nation’s heartland, the fair an flat State of Kansas where an 18 year old high school student named Emma Sullivan found herself the target of Governor Sam Brownback’s communications director.

And what did did the audacious and dastardly Ms Sullivan do? She “tweeted” that Governor Brownback “sucked.” If she was Ann Coulter, Keith Olberman or Rush Limbaugh she would have been paid good money and cheered to say that about a politician.

Who would think that a “tweet” from a teenager to her 65 Twitter followers was a threat to the good name and reputation of a governor or for that matter any elected official at any level of government. Such tweets take place millions of times a day around the the nation and for the most part they go in one ear and out the other. They are in a sense the new form of schoolyard chatter that back in my day took place between class periods or at lunch.  One kid tells another “hey I think that girl is hot” or “that guy sucks” and their friends agree, disagree or laugh.  It is part of the human experience, it is high school, heck I can remember some of that even today and if Twitter was around back then would have probably “tweeted” about the Jimmy Carter Playboy interview and probably the centerfold a Ms Patti McGuire. But now the advent of Twitter, Facebook and other social media have transformed how all of us communicate, especially young people who are far quicker to adopt and maximize new communication tools, oh too be young again.

However the advent of this new media scares people in power. The thoughts posted on these sites don’t get edited by the media elites and packaged to maintain market share.  They are media from below so to speak. In the Middle East the “Arab Spring” and the unsupported “Green Revolution” in Iran and “Jasmine revolution” in China were and are driven by young people using social media.  Yes there are other powers at work, business, government, finance, military and political/religious movements in all of these countries.  However, the key in making these revolts grow has been the ability of young people to use social networks to criticize their governments and organize themselves in ways that were never before possible.

This is why people in power fear the media of any kind. Napoleon Bonaparte commented that “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.” But even more feared by some governments and individuals within government is the thought that springs up outside the institutional press, the kind of ideas that prior to our revolution were talked about in the pubs and ale houses of Boston and Philadelphia as well as in churches around the colonies.  They were the ideas of individuals that could not be shuttered and made their way into print because printing presses were not the sole property of a media elite.

At the same time many people legitimately fear excessive government intrusion on the internet, especially by agents of the government, police, or intelligence agencies.  It is bad enough that businesses can track us via tasty “cookies” planted on our computers for marketing sake and use our personal information for almost anything that they desire, but for all their power businesses do not have the police power of government at their immediate disposal. They can go to court to silence critics or mount advertising campaigns but they do not have the government’s power through the police, judiciary, legislative and executive powers invested in it to silence their critics through force.  They may brutally use the courts and their own economic power to silence opponents but they are limited in what they can do. If a high school student says “Pepsi sucks” the Pepsi-Cola corporation cannot impose penalties on the student. But government officials, especially unscrupulous, thin skinned and petty ones who fear dissent do have power and seem to be willing to use that power in was that would frighten those that founded this nation.

This was very much in evidence last week when Emma Sullivan “tweeted” what she thought was was funny to her twitter followers, her high school friends. She had been to the Kansas State Capitol with the Youth in Government program. She joked that she had told Governor Sam Brownback “just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.” In fact people say to say worse about politicians of all parties, especially the President, key Congressional leaders and other major Presidential Candidates and do to tens of millions of listeners, readers or viewers every day and they make big money doing it, in some cases millions of dollars a year.  Most of us actually listen to at least the ones that we agree with or that say what we like to hear about people that we don’t like and don’t have the platform to say it ourselves. Sometimes these pundits cross the line and their employers tell them to tone it down or on rare occasions end their employment, but rude and crude they are free to speak as they want so long as their employers get enough advertising revenue from listeners to make money.

But woe betide the teenager that tweets to friends that the the governor of her state “sucks.” What she did is over the line and has to be crushed before it can damage the good name and reputation of the governor.  What happened to this teen after she sent her “tweet” out to her friends was one of the most Orwellian displays of the brute use of government power by an unelected public official that I have seen.  Governor Brownback’s communications director Sherriene Jones-Sonntag who is in charge of monitoring negative comments and criticism of the less than popular governor spotted the tweet and declared war.

Ms Jones-Sonntag contacted the organizers of the Youth in Government program and expressed her and presumably Governor Brownback’s outrage and indignation at the tweet. The organizers of the Youth in Government program instead of telling Jones-Sontag to pound sand and remember the First Ammendment contacted the Principal of Sullivan’s school.  The principal in turn scolded Sullivan for over an hour demanding a written apology to the governor by Monday morning.  Thankfully Sullivan did not oblige.  She refused and her cause became to use the language of the internet “viral.” This brought about an apology from Brownback who said “My staff over-reacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize.” Be assured there would have been no apology from the governor had Emma Sullivan bowed to her principal’s demands and the story gained national traction.

I find that the use of public tax dollars to pay public employees to peruse blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other social media in search of negative comments and then use their position to threaten critics as a mark of totalitarianism.  Unfortunately this is not just as Kansas thing because local, state and Federal government agencies, especially political appointees of both major parties routinely use their position to search out and work to counter or silence criticism but are usually much more nuanced in the way they do it in order not to be caught blatantly doing it. Most politicians have learned the lessons of Richard Nixon and are much more careful using surrogates, Political Action Committees, think tanks or political pundits that are not public employees to do their dirty work.  Almost every “talking head” on Cable TV news stations or the radio fits in category but they are not on the public payroll and not directly working for any particular government agency.

Ms Jones-Sonntag on the other hand is a paid public employee. Tax dollars paid by the citizens of Kansas pay her salary.  She is not only influential in the information management of the Governor’s Office but a key part of the executive branch of the state government in particular the Governor.  A call from her to a school principal’s office is enough to for a spineless educational bureaucrat to attempt to force force a student to apologize for crude but still protected political free speech. That is something that should send a chill down every American of every political point of view’s spine.  The capricious and dictatorial method employed by Jones-Sonntag against Emma Sullivan is something that every American that values their own freedom of speech, religion and association should rally against. In doing so we send a message to others like her that we will not tolerate a public employee of the executive branch no matter what their political party or ideology would use their government office to silence dissent, criticism or opposition.

Emma Sullivan stood up for her beliefs.  Whether one agrees with her or not it takes much more courage to stand up for those beliefs even when the result is further bullying from those that support the right of the government to suppress criticism.  Her criticism of the Governor Brownback was rather crude and juvenile but it is protected by the Constitution.

To his credit Governor Brownback apologized but that does not remove the threat posed by people like Ms Jones-Sonntag who prowl the internet on behalf of those in power to silence dissent.  If elected officials feel so emboldened that they can employ people for the purpose of not only spinning stories but actively trolling for dissent in order to crush it we are not far from Orwell’s  vision of 1984.  The sad thing is that had Ms. Jones-Sonntag and the Principal of Emma Smith’s school ignored this it would have never become an issue at all.  But those prone to love political power seldom pass the opportunity to go after people that they think will simply roll over. It happens all the time I’m sure if she had said the same thing about the President or a Democratic party Governor and had a White House aide or Democratic governor’s communication’s director try to silence her she would be cheered and defended by many of those that curse her now.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Return to the Great Montana Dude Ranch Sleepover: Padre Steve’s Cure to Politics as Usual

I wrote this about a year ago and after the fiasco that we have endured during this long and all too painful year think that it is time to revisit the topic. Since I have been rather morose of late I figure that this should break things up a bit.

I don’t know about you but as a passionate moderate I am fed up with the nasty politics as usual that is killing our country.  Our political ruling class appears to be hell bent on destroying the country all to satisfy their respective need for power and to satisfy the basest wants of their most strident supporters. The corruption and malevolence of the career politicians on both sides of the aisle have bankrupted the country, cost American lives in war, cost American jobs, destroyed our manufacturing base, placed the interests of financial traders who produce nothing except promote the evil practice of usury because it makes them money which they in turn contribute copious amounts of said money to their political patrons.  Then to top it all off they pass laws that make no sense and that you have to have an army of lawyers to understand.  They are out of touch with the everyday concerns of real Americans and have done their best to destroy the fabric of our society in their quest for power and they are many times an unseemly lot who do things that regular people could never get away with. The number of ethics violations, criminal charges and convictions and resignations due to shady financial dealings, backroom deals, sexual scandals and sometimes rather nasty criminal cases are too numerous to catalogue unless you are Matt Drudge.  I won’t list them here but they include notable Democrats as well as Republicans, nor will I go into all the idiotic things that our government, both Democrat and Republican controlled administrations or congresses have done as the task would be ginormous. Since we all get spun up about different issues usually in tune with our own political or social viewpoints I leave it to you my readers to fill in the blanks and comment on what you think they are screwing up.

Part of the problem is that our political ruling class, the Federal Government particular is completely out of touch because they live in the netherworld ofWashingtonD.C.  This city has become the symbol of all that ails the country and since our political class only leaves it to raise money for their next campaigns they have no earthly clue of what the rest of us are experiencing.  Thus they can coddle up to their big financial supporters and most demented party extremists and unseemly lobbyists representing some of the vilest elements of our society.  As a result for at least the past 10 years and I am sure a lot more they have for the most part forgotten the people that they are supposed to represent. The political class doesn’t live in our world, thus they do everything that they can not to look at what is best for the country but rather what is best for them, for their party, their supporters and their agendas.  If you ask me its all out of whack and they really all should be whacked.

Since they all spend far too much time inWashingtonor raising money to stay there it is high time that they get out of Dodge so to speak.  This is my idea of how we fix this situation.  My suggestion is definitely not politics as usual.  Instead it is based on relationships built from shared suffering and since we are suffering why shouldn’t they suffer too? So here’s my idea. First we shut down the government for a month. Now before you think that you won’t get what the government owes you I don’t mean the people that actually do the work.   What I mean is both houses of Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court.   We shut them down.  Let the clerks of the court do their thing, let the White House staff do its job and congressional aides deal with constituents.  Give the Russians and Chinese, the Iranians, Al Qaida, the European Union and everyone else a message that we’re busy the next month so don’t bother us.  We’ll tell them that if they mind their own business that our stand ins with itchy fingers won’t nuke them. where is Al Haig when you need him the most?  Hey MAD (mutual assured destruction)  worked during the Cold War, after all nothing like an ICBM loaded with multiple nuclear warheads to keep people in line and not do anything really stupid.

So do you hear me Mahmoud and Osama? Do you hear me?  All that would come between you and nuclear annihilation are a few disgruntled civil servants with road rage that just got to work after being stuck in Beltway traffic for 3 hours. Go ahead make our day.

Once we shut the place down we put all of these guys and gals on Greyhound buses packed to the gills.  Each bus would have a mix of members of each party really making sure those that hate each other most sit next to each other.  Secret Service and FBI agents on the buses would have the option to Taser anyone that tries to switch seats.  Then we drive them all to some big assed dude ranch inMontana, outfit them in silly looking cowboy clothes with boots that are a bit too tight and leave them there in the charge of a bunch of cowboys at least two of which have had a recent “BrokebackMountain” experience.

They would have no cell phones, computers or communications with the outside world or even their minions back in D.C., nope, just them and Mother Nature sharing the experience of high plains living.  In fact to liven the place up we need to bring a few folks back into the mix, some former Presidents and Speakers of the House would do fine. Also the addition of the most strident Cable TV and radio talking heads and commentators would be good too, but I digress, too many extras might spoil the moment.  Maybe we should have a separate sleepover of Rush Limbaugh and Maureen Dowd or Sean Hannity and Keith Olberman later?  No, we’ll throw them into this one to make it more fun.

This dude ranch living would be a bit Spartan. Since most of these folks a Spartan way is driving in a luxury car or SUV, having to fly First Class, staying in a luxury suite or eating at a 4 star restaurant they might have a hard time with what I propose but that would just be tough.    They made this mess and by God we’re going to get them back in touch with the real world and in the process get them to build real relationships with each other instead of the artificial life that they have led inside the beltway for years.

Once we get them to the big assed Dude Ranch we pair them up the best we can with a liberal and a conservative in each cabin.  We would try to keep the cabins of the same gender not to cause too much scandal but would make a few exceptions to that rule.  Now by cabins I don’t mean those really nice cabins that people take real vacations at, no I mean really rustic, Spartan tiny cabins with no amenities and only one bed, a full sized bed that our new roommates would need to share. The cabins would have no couches, easy chairs or love seats, no sleeping bags not even a bearskin rug, nope nothing else but the bed.  They would have a rather rustic communal outhouse to share with everyone else over a deep pit latrine and share their meals in a rather dilapidated chow hall eating off of tin plates and drinking from tin cups.  There would be a camp saloon but it would be like those of the old west, nothing but rotgut whisky, no mixed drinks, no foo-foo appetizers, no micro-brew beer. They would sleep together, eat together and have to participate in trail rides, fly fishing, Grizzly Bear hunting, rodeo events such as bull riding and calf roping as couples, odd couples, but couples nonetheless.  This togetherness would be enforced. Those Secret Service and FBI agents with their tasers… they’ll be out there too.  Anyway when our leaders go on the overnight trail rides the fun really starts.  After they eat their beans from tin plates, sing really bad western songs and take a swig or two or more of rotgut whiskey and then relieve themselves in the manner that the cowboys did in the old West they would get to curl up together in their own two person pup tent, a really small one and spoon.  This would help break down the walls that separate them and force them to get to know each other, some possibly in the Biblical sense of the word, but in the spirit of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell I won’t go there.

There is something about shared suffering to bring people together and make them realize that there is more to life than their own narcissistic agendas and power trips.  No this wouldn’t be prison for them as much as a lot of Americans think that prison would be fitting for them; prison is far too easy for our political class. Instead this would build character, character that if once they had they lost over their years inside the Beltway.

Of course they would not get to pick their room-mates so here are some of my suggestions:

President Obama and Rush Limbaugh: I know I said that the media should have their own version of this but since Limbaugh is the leader of the conservative movement he has to come and buck with his pal Barry.

Harry Reid and Orrin Hatch: They’re both Mormons so they can at least pray together.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Rachel Maddow: I don’t know it just sounds right.

Nancy Pelosi and Antonin Scalia: Sure it’s an opposite sex pairing but they are both Italians they should have fun.

Tom Tancredo and Janet Napolitano: Let’s make a run for the border and mend some fences together

Russ Feingold and Ron Paul: Government control and Libertarianism two great tastes that go great together

John Ensign and Barbara Boxer: He can’t seem to hold it in and she looks like that she could use some loving

Al Franken and Clarence Thomas: A comedian and a straight man…what a combination

John Kerry and John McCain: Both Vietnam Veterans, they understand the value of camaraderie

Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer: The just look like they need to be together

Diane Feinstein and Michael Savage: ASan Francisco treat

Barbara Milkulski and Kay Bailey-Hutchinson: Why not?

Joe Lieberman and Tim Pawlwnty: Not opposites but they seem to go together

Samuel Alito and Maureen Dowd: It just sounds right

Eric Holder and Glenn Beck: I sense real chemistry here

Hillary Clinton and Newt Gingrich: He’s running and she’s not but why not?

Barney Frank and Sean Hannity: They debate on his show often enough let them really get to know each other

Sarah Palin and Joe Biden: Not a recognizable cognitive thought between them all hormones and testosterone

Sheila Jackson-Lee and Ann Coulter: Salt and Pepper

Ruth Bader-Ginsberg and Pat Buchannan: It can’t get any better than this

John Boehner and Joe Biden: I think that they could really come to love each other

Plus some new additions

Allen West and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz: Bringing Florida together

Michelle Bachmann and Ed Schultz: That Heartland feeling

Herman Cain and Kieth Ellison:  Building bridges of faith

Rick Santorum and Lawrence O’Donnell: It can’t get any better

Unfortunately some of our more interesting members of our political class have passed on I would have loved to throw Teddy Kennedy, Robert Byrd, Jesse Helms, Ronald Reagan and any number of others into the mix, but what can I say?

So after 30 days our political elites would board their buses and go back to their home districts or home towns.  Then they would have some real town meetings as couples, holding hands, looking dreamily into each other’s eyes and bringing peace to the political landscape.   With those pesky Secret Service and FBI agents and their tasers at the ready our leaders would have to listen to their constituents and not the lobbyists. Speaking of lobbyists they all get sent toNew Guinea.   As for the Congressmen and Senators they and their new found friends would have to spend 8 months a year living in their home state or district. The would give up their palatial estates in favor of homes that are in the median real estate price for their area. They would send their kids to public schools, go to PTA meetings, coach little league or soccer, deal with local government officials as the rest of us are forced to do.  They would have to do their own grocery shopping, fight lines at  Wal-Mart, take out their own garbage and spend time sitting in traffic behind the wheel of their average car or SUV. They would fly coach or business class and go through the TSA checkpoints like the rest of us, maybe even getting the full body scan once in a while. They would sit in the drive through line at Wendy’s, make a run for the border, Taco Bell that is and shop for the lowest priced gasoline.   The four months that they spend inWashingtonDCwill be devoted to actually fixing things that they have fouled up over the years.  They would have to pass non-pork laden budgets passed, reduce the deficit and do everything that they can to bring industry back into this country, rebuild the manufacturing base, protecting the environment as they rebuildour nation’s infrastructure and eliminate the barriers that keep small businesses and entrepreneurs from developing solutions to the challenges that face the country.  Likewise they would need to repeal all of the draconian laws that intrude on the everyday life of ordinary Americans. I want the Federal government out of our churches, out of our local public schools, out of our bedrooms and out of everything that they don’t belong in. Freedom baby, I love it.

Finally just to make sure that our now properly schooled public servants don’t forget the lessons of the Great Montana Dude Ranch Sleepover they would for two weeks each year have to do this again. Maybe it could be a trail ride inTexasandOklahoma, a swamp safari inLouisianacomplete with no mosquito repellent. Perhaps a winter camp out at the Donner Pass, a gang- reenactment camp in East L.A. or an Appalachian family get together, still building and moonshine making contest in some holler in West Virginia or Eastern Kentucky. The possibilities in our great country are endless after all learning should be a lifetime event.

Of course my pairings of political bedfellows may not work for you, maybe you have better ones.  If so feel free to add them as a comment and on this one no pairing will be denied because it’s all about togetherness.  Because as I see it everything comes down to relationships and if we can just get these folks out of Washington to share some hardship, to eat together, ride together and even spoon together after all who can’t say that they don’t feel closer to someone after spooning together?

Now before you think that I am advocating that they all have higgily-piggily sex together I am not.  However if it does happen and they get right with each other and start to work together for us what can be wrong with it? Half have probably had nasty sex with people that aren’t their spouses anyway so what difference does it make? It would be a sacrifice that they make for us, their fellow Americans.  I know that I don’t want to sleep with any of them and figure that you don’t either and I really don’t want to know what happens when they spoon.  Don’t ask don’t tell baby, don’t ask don’t tell.  Besides would you want to know what happens when Sean Hannity and Barney Frank spoon? I don’t. I’ll say it again, don’t ask, don’t tell that’s my rule for life.

If this works maybe just maybe that they will finally start looking to the issues that Americans care about. Maybe they will finally understand the desire that we all have to see our children grow up to have the opportunity to outdo us, that our children might have a better future and that the country that we live in would come together like we did in the Second World War to overcome all the obstacles that stand between us and a better future. Call me a genius or call me crazy, chalk it up to Mad Cow, after all I can’t give blood because I lived inEuropeand ate too much beef. But remember “Padre Steve” is a “Uniter” not a divider, a decider not a ditherer and a real American for real Americans.

Padre Steve: a passionate moderate with radical ideas.  Sleepover anyone?

Peace and laughs

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

Loathe is Never Having to say You’re Sorry: Pundits and Politicians Point Fingers and Deny Responsibility for the Fruit of anything that they Say or the Climate that they create

Being a political hack means never having to say that you are sorry. Two days after the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the killing of 6 others including Federal Judge John Roll and the wounding of 13 others we are subjected to the incessant finger pointing and denial of responsibility by politicians but even more so by political pundits and talk show hosts. Partisans on both sides are pointing fingers at the other and attempting to place blame on others for the acts of a mentally disturbed individual who seems to have a rather eclectic set of influences.

Liberals have blamed the Tea Party and conservative talk show hosts without a clear connection between them and the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner. Conservatives immediately, like on Saturday jumped on a singular statement of a person that knew Loughner in high school who had not seen or talked to him since 2007 to label him a “dope smoking liberal” and even a “Democrat.”

Of course we know very little about Loughner other than to know that he is obviously quite disturbed with a diversity of political influences from the Communist Manifesto to Mein Kampf.  Loughner ranted almost incoherently vague references to the Constitution and unconstitutional Federal and State laws, the Gold Standard, illiteracy, distrust of the current government and government controlled currency as well as alleged government mind control.  In other words this angry and disturbed young man who also seems to come from a pretty strange family I might add does not fit your traditional liberal or conservative archetype.  In spite of this pundits and politicians of all stripes have made haven’t missed a beat in placing the blame on their political enemies. I don’t say their political opponents because they actually do hate each other and are intent on destroying each other and the country as we know it I might add.

I thought it unwise for Democrats to try to pin this on the Tea Party without evidence and I thought it was absurd and incendiary for those on the right to make hay of a singular statement by someone that hasn’t seen Loughner in 4 years that Loughner is a liberal Democrat.  For crying out loud both of these charges without conclusive evidence were blatant attempts to gain political leverage out of a tragedy by throwing out innuendo as if it were fact and then ignoring any repercussions.

There was a brief moment when many hoped that the vicious rhetoric would be toned down after the terrible evil perpetuated by Jared Lee Loughner in Tucson.   That is not the case and I said it would not be so. Like I have said before it seems that the extremists on both sides are willing to destroy the country in order to save it to borrow and slightly modify the phrase from the Vietnam War. It doesn’t matter if it is Keith Olberman or some Democrat Congressman on the left or Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Neil Boortz, Michael Savage or Ann Coulter on the right there is simply no regard for truth. It is all about destroying the other side, demonizing them and finding some way to gain a political advantage from tragedy.

The political Left is guilty of some pretty crass and opportunistic behavior in many cases but the loudest and most heard voices are on the right particularly the “conservative” talk radio hosts. This is a fact as all of them proudly proclaim.  By their own proclamation they are the ones making the impact and who people are listening to and ratings show it.  For goodness sakes the Left has so little clout in this country it is not even funny despite claims of “media bias” so loudly chanted by the Right. Which is the most popular Cable News Channel? Fox News I think. Who gets the biggest radio rating? Limbaugh followed by Hannity, Savage and Boortz I think. Which are the most popular political websites? I think that internet traffic points to Worldnetdaily.com, Newsmax.com and Townhall.com.  For conservatives to complain about media bias is ludicrous now. They own the airwaves. Thanks to people like Dan Rather much of the “mainstream” media is discredited in the eyes of the American people.  Yet almost to a man those on the right keep crying about anyone who claims that they might be responsible on the intellectual level of people, both the sane and the insane who commit heinous acts which correspond with things that they preach.

In particular in the case of Congresswoman Giffords who protested outside her office? I think that it was the Tea Party. When was her office door shot out? I think that it was after she voted for the Health Care bill if I am correct. Who opposed the Health Care bill? I think it was conservatives. Who dropped a handgun at one of her rallies? Maybe it was a liberal supporter of the congresswoman? Not hardly. Which former Vice Presidential candidates PAC put a gun sight target over her district and left it up after the election? I think that was Sarah Palin. Whose Republican opponent urged his supports to come out with their M-16’s to support him? I think that it was Mike Kelly who ran against her in 2010. Need I say more?

Yes Jared Lee Loughner is a paranoid nutcase and probably will be ruled insane at some point. But people like him roam the streets easily influenced by extremists and radicals that stoke the fires of hatred. I don’t want to sound pessimistic but we are jumping headlong into the abyss and those of us moderates who want to see us back away from it are derided and in the case of Gabrielle Gifford shot in the head after repeated violent threats. I know what it is like to be threatened by violent deranged Neo Nazis on this website. It is frightening as hell to have people say that they will find you and harm you, hell I felt safer in Iraq than I do in this country. It is appalling yet the extremists don’t give a damn. They will destroy us all, even people that agree with them on some points.

I know something about the spirit of conservative talk radio. I was an avid listener from the mid-1990s until I returned from Iraq. I listened to Rush, Hannity, Boortz and Savage as often as I could and I can tell you that they are experts at manipulating facts and words to stir up the raw emotion of hatred of the left.  They all ask for hours of peoples time with good reason. When someone listens to the same message for hours on end eventually that is what they believe to be the truth.  When that is multiplied for 3, 6 or even 10-12 hours a day there is no other truth to believe.  From personal experience I can say that their tactics work well. They work their listeners into a rage against their political opponents creating anxiety and a sense of being victimized by the left wing media and political alliance.  I know I listened for years and my wife can attest to how angry I was.  When I came back from Iraq with a changed perspective I realized what had happened to me in those years. I have also listened to the left wing equivalents and with the exception of the invective of Keith Olberman they are little match for these guys. They command the airwaves and their internet presence is amazing and with a Republican-Tea Party controlled House they will not be silenced even if the left calls for the reinstatement of the so called fairness doctrine.

One of the last Chancellors of the Weimar Republic was General Kurt Von Schleicher. Von Schleicher who saw the dire threat posed by the extremes on the left represented by the Communists and the right by Hitler’s Nazi Party attempted to piece together a coalition of moderate parties which fell apart. Schleicher was then betrayed by conservative Franz Von Papen who then arranged for President Paul Von Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as Chancellor. After he took power Hitler swiftly eliminated opposition parties and during his purge of his own radical SA Brownshirts exacted his revenge of previous political opponents including Von Schleicher who was killed at his home along with his wife. So much for moderation, what good is it anyway?

The night before she was shot Gabrielle Giffords wrote this e-mail to her friend Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, a Republican, after he was named Director of Harvard University’s Institute of Politics:  “After you get settled, I would love to talk about what we can do to promote centrism and moderation, I am one of only 12 Dems left in a GOP district (the only woman) and think that we need to figure out how to tone our rhetoric and partisanship down.”

Von Schleicher was killed, Giffords grievously wounded. Unfortunately that is the fate of moderates in any country where extremists battle for power. That is history and the verbal bloodlust being perpetrated by the extremes but in particular the right which has been much more militant of late than the left which will destroy our Republic. Mark my words. If I’m wrong I will admit it and plead forgiveness, but I know from history where we are going and it will not be kind. God help us all.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under History, philosophy, Political Commentary

The Great Montana Dude Ranch Sleepover: Padre Steve’s Solution to Politics as Usual

Sleepover on a Dude Ranch anyone?

I don’t know about you but as a passionate moderate I am fed up with the nasty politics as usual that is killing our country.  Our political ruling class appears to be hell bent on destroying the country all to satisfy their respective need for power and to satisfy the basest wants of their most strident supporters. The corruption and malevolence of the career politicians on both sides of the aisle have bankrupted the country, cost American lives in war, cost American jobs, destroyed our manufacturing base, placed the interests of financial traders who produce nothing except promote the evil practice of usury because it makes them money which they in turn contribute copious amounts of said money to their political patrons.  Then to top it all off they pass laws that make no sense and that you have to have an army of lawyers to understand.  They are out of touch with the everyday concerns of real Americans and have done their best to destroy the fabric of our society in their quest for power and they are many times an unseemly lot who do things that regular people could never get away with. The number of ethics violations, criminal charges and convictions and resignations due to shady financial dealings, backroom deals, sexual scandals and sometimes rather nasty criminal cases are too numerous to catalogue unless you are Matt Drudge.  I won’t list them here but they include notable Democrats as well as Republicans, nor will I go into all the idiotic things that our government, both Democrat and Republican controlled administrations or congresses have done as the task would be ginormous. Since we all get spun up about different issues usually in tune with our own political or social viewpoints I leave it to you my readers to fill in the blanks and comment on what you think they are screwing up.

Part of the problem is that our political ruling class, the Federal Government particular is completely out of touch because they live in the netherworld of Washington D.C.  This city has become the symbol of all that ails the country and since our political class only leaves it to raise money for their next campaigns they have no earthly clue of what the rest of us are experiencing.  Thus they can coddle up to their big financial supporters and most demented party extremists and unseemly lobbyists representing some of the vilest elements of our society.  As a result for at least the past 10 years and I am sure a lot more they have for the most part forgotten the people that they are supposed to represent. The political class doesn’t live in our world, thus they do everything that they can not to look at what is best for the country but rather what is best for them, for their party, their supporters and their agendas.  If you ask me its all out of whack and they really all should be whacked.

Since they all spend far too much time in Washington or raising money to stay there it is high time that they get out of Dodge so to speak.  This is my idea of how we fix this situation.  My suggestion is definitely not politics as usual.  Instead it is based on relationships built from shared suffering and since we are suffering why shouldn’t they suffer too? So here’s my idea. First we shut down the government for a month. Now before you think that you won’t get what the government owes you I don’t mean the people that actually do the work.   What I mean is both houses of Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court.   We shut them down.  Let the clerks of the court do their thing, let the White House staff do its job and congressional aides deal with constituents.  Give the Russians and Chinese, the Iranians, Al Qaida, the European Union and everyone else a message that we’re busy the next month so don’t bother us.  We’ll tell them that if they mind their own business that our stand ins with itchy fingers won’t nuke them. where is Al Haig when you need him the most?  Hey MAD (mutual assured destruction)  worked during the Cold War, after all nothing like an ICBM loaded with multiple nuclear warheads to keep people in line and not do anything really stupid.

So do you hear me Mahmoud and Osama? Do you hear me?  All that would come between you and nuclear annihilation are a few disgruntled civil servants with road rage that just got to work after being stuck in Beltway traffic for 3 hours. Go ahead make our day.

Once we shut the place down we put all of these guys and gals on Greyhound buses packed to the gills.  Each bus would have a mix of members of each party really making sure those that hate each other most sit next to each other.  Secret Service and FBI agents on the buses would have the option to Taser anyone that tries to switch seats.  Then we drive them all to some big assed dude ranch in Montana, outfit them in silly looking cowboy clothes with boots that are a bit too tight and leave them there in the charge of a bunch of cowboys at least two of which have had a recent “Brokeback Mountain” experience.

They would have no cell phones, computers or communications with the outside world or even their minions back in D.C., nope, just them and Mother Nature sharing the experience of high plains living.  In fact to liven the place up we need to bring a few folks back into the mix, some former Presidents and Speakers of the House would do fine. Also the addition of the most strident Cable TV and radio talking heads and commentators would be good too, but I digress, too many extras might spoil the moment.  Maybe we should have a separate sleepover of Rush Limbaugh and Maureen Dowd or Sean Hannity and Keith Olberman later?  No, we’ll throw them into this one to make it more fun.

This dude ranch living would be a bit Spartan. Since most of these folks a Spartan way is driving in a luxury car or SUV, having to fly First Class, staying in a luxury suite or eating at a 4 star restaurant they might have a hard time with what I propose but that would just be tough.    They made this mess and by God we’re going to get them back in touch with the real world and in the process get them to build real relationships with each other instead of the artificial life that they have led inside the beltway for years.

Once we get them to the big assed Dude Ranch we pair them up the best we can with a liberal and a conservative in each cabin.  We would try to keep the cabins of the same gender not to cause too much scandal but would make a few exceptions to that rule.  Now by cabins I don’t mean those really nice cabins that people take real vacations at, no I mean really rustic, Spartan tiny cabins with no amenities and only one bed, a full sized bed that our new roommates would need to share. The cabins would have no couches, easy chairs or love seats, no sleeping bags not even a bearskin rug, nope nothing else but the bed.  They would have a rather rustic communal outhouse to share with everyone else over a deep pit latrine and share their meals in a rather dilapidated chow hall eating off of tin plates and drinking from tin cups.  There would be a camp saloon but it would be like those of the old west, nothing but rotgut whisky, no mixed drinks, no foo-foo appetizers, no micro-brew beer. They would sleep together, eat together and have to participate in trail rides, fly fishing, Grizzly Bear hunting, rodeo events such as bull riding and calf roping as couples, odd couples, but couples nonetheless.  This togetherness would be enforced. Those Secret Service and FBI agents with their tasers… they’ll be out there too.  Anyway when our leaders go on the overnight trail rides the fun really starts.  After they eat their beans from tin plates, sing really bad western songs and take a swig or two or more of rotgut whiskey and then relieve themselves in the manner that the cowboys did in the old West they would get to curl up together in their own two person pup tent, a really small one and spoon.  This would help break down the walls that separate them and force them to get to know each other, some possibly in the Biblical sense of the word, but in the spirit of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell I won’t go there.

There is something about shared suffering to bring people together and make them realize that there is more to life than their own narcissistic agendas and power trips.  No this wouldn’t be prison for them as much as a lot of Americans think that prison would be fitting for them; prison is far too easy for our political class. Instead this would build character, character that if once they had they lost over their years inside the Beltway.

Of course they would not get to pick their room-mates so here are some of my suggestions:

President Obama and Rush Limbaugh: I know I said that the media should have their own version of this but since Limbaugh is the leader of the conservative movement he has to come and buck with his pal Barry.

Harry Reid and Orrin Hatch: They’re both Mormons so they can at least pray together.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Rachel Maddow: I don’t know it just sounds right.

Nancy Pelosi and Antonin Scalia: Sure it’s an opposite sex pairing but they are both Italians they should have fun.

Tom Tancredo and Janet Napolitano: Let’s make a run for the border and mend some fences together

Russ Feingold and Ron Paul: Government control and Libertarianism two great tastes that go great together

John Ensign and Barbara Boxer: He can’t seem to hold it in and she looks like that she could use some loving

Al Franken and Clarence Thomas: A comedian and a straight man…what a combination

John Kerry and John McCain: Both Vietnam Veterans, they understand the value of camaraderie

Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer: The just look like they need to be together

Diane Feinstein and Michael Savage: A San Francisco treat

Barbara Milkulski and Kay Bailey-Hutchinson: Why not?

Joe Lieberman and Arlen Spector: Not opposites but they seem to go together

Samuel Alito and Maureen Dowd: It just sounds right

Eric Holder and Glenn Beck: I sense real chemistry here

Hillary Clinton and Newt Gingrich: He’s out of office but they both want to be President

Barney Frank and Sean Hannity: They debate on his show often enough let them really get to know each other

Sarah Palin and Joe Biden: Not a recognizable cognitive thought between them all hormones and testosterone

Sheila Jackson-Lee and Ann Coulter: Salt and Pepper

Ruth Bader-Ginsberg and Pat Buchannan: It can’t get any better than this

John Boehner and Chris Dodd: I think that they could really come to love each other

Unfortunately some of our more interesting members of our political class have passed on I would have loved to throw Teddy Kennedy, Robert Byrd, Jesse Helms, Ronald Reagan and any number of others into the mix, but what can I say?

So after 30 days our political elites would board their buses and go back to their home districts or home towns.  Then they would have some real town meetings as couples, holding hands, looking dreamily into each other’s eyes and bringing peace to the political landscape.   With those pesky Secret Service and FBI agents and their tasers at the ready our leaders would have to listen to their constituents and not the lobbyists. Speaking of lobbyists they all get sent to New Guinea.   As for the Congressmen and Senators they and their new found friends would have to spend 8 months a year living in their home state or district. The would give up their palatial estates in favor of homes that are in the median real estate price for their area. They would send their kids to public schools, go to PTA meetings, coach little league or soccer, deal with local government officials as the rest of us are forced to do.  They would have to do their own grocery shopping, fight lines at  Wal-Mart, take out their own garbage and spend time sitting in traffic behind the wheel of their average car or SUV. They would fly coach or business class and go through the TSA checkpoints like the rest of us, maybe even getting the full body scan once in a while. They would sit in the drive through line at Wendy’s, make a run for the border, Taco Bell that is and shop for the lowest priced gasoline.   The four months that they spend in Washington DC will be devoted to actually fixing things that they have fouled up over the years.  They would have to pass non-pork laden budgets passed, reduce the deficit and do everything that they can to bring industry back into this country, rebuild the manufacturing base, protecting the environment as they rebuildour nation’s infrastructure and eliminate the barriers that keep small businesses and entrepreneurs from developing solutions to the challenges that face the country.  Likewise they would need to repeal all of the draconian laws that intrude on the everyday life of ordinary Americans. I want the Federal government out of our churches, out of our local public schools, out of our bedrooms and out of everything that they don’t belong in. Freedom baby, I love it.

Finally just to make sure that our now properly schooled public servants don’t forget the lessons of the Great Montana Dude Ranch Sleepover they would for two weeks each year have to do this again. Maybe it could be a trail ride in Texas and Oklahoma, a swamp safari in Louisiana complete with no mosquito repellent. Perhaps a winter camp out at the Donner Pass, a gang- reenactment camp in East L.A. or an Appalachian family get together, still building and moonshine making contest in some holler in West Virginia or Eastern Kentucky. The possibilities in our great country are endless after all learning should be a lifetime event.

Of course my pairings of political bedfellows may not work for you, maybe you have better ones.  If so feel free to add them as a comment and on this one no pairing will be denied because it’s all about togetherness.  Because as I see it everything comes down to relationships and if we can just get these folks out of Washington to share some hardship, to eat together, ride together and even spoon together after all who can’t say that they don’t feel closer to someone after spooning together?

Now before you think that I am advocating that they all have higgily-piggily sex together I am not.  However if it does happen and they get right with each other and start to work together for us what can be wrong with it? Half have probably had nasty sex with people that aren’t their spouses anyway so what difference does it make? It would be a sacrifice that they make for us, their fellow Americans.  I know that I don’t want to sleep with any of them and figure that you don’t either and I really don’t want to know what happens when they spoon.  Don’t ask don’t tell baby, don’t ask don’t tell.  Besides would you want to know what happens when Sean Hannity and Barney Frank spoon? I don’t. I’ll say it again, don’t ask, don’t tell that’s my rule for life.

If this works maybe just maybe that they will finally start looking to the issues that Americans care about. Maybe they will finally understand the desire that we all have to see our children grow up to have the opportunity to outdo us, that our children might have a better future and that the country that we live in would come together like we did in the Second World War to overcome all the obstacles that stand between us and a better future. Call me a genius or call me crazy, chalk it up to Mad Cow, after all I can’t give blood because I lived in Europe and ate too much beef. But remember “Padre Steve” is a “Uniter” not a divider, a decider not a ditherer and a real American for real Americans.

Padre Steve: a passionate moderate with radical ideas.  Sleepover anyone?

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Filed under Just for fun, laws and legislation, philosophy, Political Commentary

Giving Up Ideology for the Cross…Entering Into Lent

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

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and for many it will be as any other day.  For others it will be a religious event that is done because we have always done it and it is a part of the liturgical life of the Church.  For others it will be a time of commitment to a cause, a belief or in some cases ideology to base their lives upon.

Lent is a penitential time, a time to take stock of our lives and in the Christian faith in which it has a important place a time where over a period of seven weeks we seek to again renew our faith in Christ, examine our lives in light of the Gospel and learn again how to experience the grace love and mercy of God in the simple words of Jesus to the woman at the well “Your sins have been forgiven, go and sin no more.”

While this is the crux of Lent for some it will be a time of misplaced activity, not activity centered on prayer, good works and renewing faith in the Crucified One but rather in transitory political, social and ideological agendas that often have little to do with the Gospel, but are rather activities where well meaning people have been seduced into the false promises of ideologues of various persuasions who have no real interest in the Gospel but political or economic power be they conservative or liberal, capitalist or socialist.  The seductiveness of these ideologies appeals to the passion and emotion of people who regardless of their political or religious persuasions become enamored with the ideology and then 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 will spill out and over into Churches and other religious institutions.  Well meaning people will sublimate their faith beneath the ideology and political ethos that they most agree with.  The ideology overrides faith even as the religious institutions and individuals within them conform their faith not to Christ crucified but to ideologies which may have merit and benefit but ultimately, despite the protestations of tier loudest purveyors have little actually to do with the faith and which embraced in their totality are the antithesis of the faith and the enemies of Christ.  It matters not if the ideology is “liberal” or “conservative” because ultimately these ideologies even when defended by pastors, theologians and “baptized” with Scripture, and despite some qualities which may be complimentary to the Gospel 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 and those which have more influence on churches and individual Christians are the political ideologues of the right and the left who inhabit talk radio and the various cable television news networks.  It seems too often that well meaning Christians and others assume everything being spoken from media personalities and entertainers that they like and agree with is compatible with the faith.  However just because Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Keith Olberman, Chris Matthews or any other commentator on the airwaves says, nor because our political party leaders and Presidential or Vice Presidential candidates 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 and tradition even when those individuals claim the mantle of 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 whit they give their blessing.  When this happens the ideologues will readily support social or policy goals of the religious groups but only to gain their vote.  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 during a time since November 1918 their society had been ripped apart by military defeat, economic humiliation, internal revolution and societal change which threatened the values that they held dear and in reactions to the Nazi promises 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 Weimar Republic to the Nazi era.

Swiss-German theologian Karl Barth, a leader of the Confessing Church was an outspoken opponent of the Nazis 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 mouthpieces for as they bend their deeply held belief’s to the ideology.  The ideology itself becomes an absolute from which no deviation is allowed.  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’s words which are the result of seeing good people surrender their faith to ideology should not be taken lightly as we enter into the Lenten season.  The season of Lent 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 of all stripes 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.

For me this Lent will involve a more premeditated effort to encounter Christ in all that I meet and rebuilt spiritual disciplines that suffered when I went through the crisis of faith that dominated my life for nearly two years.  I do pray that for those who elect to observe this season that it will not be a time of legalistic obedience under which we chafe but rather a time of returning to our first love and forsaking the idols of ideology that can so poison our life and relationships with those that we live and interact with on a daily basis.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Offensively Offending the Chronically Offended

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We live in a country that has transformed itself into one of the thinnest skinned, easily offended and offendable bunch of folks in the world.  It doesn’t seem to matter what political affiliation, religion, race, gender, socio-economic group or Dodger’s fan a person is now days they are bound to be offended at something.  However, we now seem to live where almost everyone is offended at something and it matters not a whit what it may be, hell I even offend myself sometimes.  There are some people who almost seem to live with a chip on their shoulder.  They are the chronically offended who are quite often easily offensively offended. While most of the time trying not to give offense I have been known to offend the chronically offended, the merely offendable, and even the totally unaware with twisted or sarcastic comments and oddball humor which Judy tells me is not always as funny as I think it is.  Nonetheless there are patently many people who are both chronically offended and very angry. I am assured by the Deity Herself that such is not a good and virtuous combination.  Especially on those occasions when I am one of the guilty parties questioning the parentage and Oedipal tendencies of the idiots who move across four lanes of traffic without signaling on I-264.  At times I wish this was Iraq in 2007 so my turret gunner or RP2 Lebron could shoot them.  Thankfully my newly honed skills using the force that I developed in Iraq, which I am told is actually hyper vigilance, does allow me to sense and avoid these Kamikazes before I even see them.

I remember once when I was a civilian hospital chaplain and stopped by a grocery store to pick up some food to take to work.  An older gentleman was going toward the sliding automated door and out of simple politeness I said “Sir, please, after you.”  Hell, the way I walk, which is as those who see me rapidly racing down the long halls of our medical center without breaking into a jog can testify is pretty fast, it was a safety thing too.  I could have run the gentleman down had I not stopped to let him through first.  That would not have been cool.  I could have seen the newspaper headline in that town:

LOCAL HOSPITAL AND ARMY RESERVE CHAPLAIN SLAMS ELDERLY MAN TO GROUND TRYING TO BEAT HIM THROUGH KROGER DOOR

That would not have been good.  The man, instead of smiling and thanking me stops in front of the door, turns around and says: “Why are you calling me sir? Why are you disrespecting me?” He said it very loud, very sharply and I was wondering what the hell was going on.  So I kind of defused the situation by using humor.  I said, “Sir, I call everybody sir, even ma’ams.”   The man cocked his head, gave me the most confused look that I could imagine shook his head and went through the door.  I didn’t know that being polite and respectful could be taken as offensive and disrespectful.  Maybe when some young guy does that to me someday I will understand.  Of course only after whack him with my tazer from my motorized scooter because I think he is being disrespectful and watch him writhing in pain and twitching all over the place.

I knew a young Chaplain who was spouting off in a public forum once in a manner that did not offend me, but which I thought if certain other people read it could affect him and his career in a negative manner.  This is no one that I have worked with past or present, only someone that I happen to know in passing.  I was concerned for the young man, so I contacted him just to let him know to be careful.  I was surprised at the venom with which he reacted to my comment which was only meant to help keep him out of potential trouble.  No good deed goes unpunished.  Maybe he will go to a self-help course, but then again, selves are very difficult to help.

Now I think everyone at some time has been offended by something or someone.  Crap we are human; we can’t help but be, though I do find the Romulan that resides in me very appealing.  However, to live my life is a perpetual state of offendedness is something that I refuse to do, even though I both give and take offense probably every day, especially during the morning or afternoon commute.  Hell, judging by the number of people I have lost as friends on Facebook after I have written articles on this site I know I give offense, even when I don’t mean to.  Mea Culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa, pray for me a sinner.

Our offendedness is not helped by the litigious nature of our society where lawsuits are as common as business suits.  Someone gets offended and someone sues them.  Then someone else gets offended and sues and pretty soon Anne Coulter and Keith Olberman are mud wrestling on Larry King Live, while the ladies on The View come to fisticuffs. Pretty soon offensensitivity reigns and it is like half the country are Frank and Estelle Costanza.  What is bad about this is that people are now so spun up by the loudest and most shrill accusatory voices in the media and society that it is hard to turn off.  Politics especially has become venom filled and hatred driven.  A lot of our electorate is now so polarized and offended by anything anyone else says that there is almost a civil war going on.  Albeit this is a without weapons marching armies and crashing cannon, but instead one waged with great energy on the airwaves and the internet. There is occasional talk of secession or armed revolt by one side or the other depending on who’s in power.  Politicians and political parties are no longer opponents, they are mortal enemies. Often times interest groups within the various parties opt for a no-quarter approach to how they do business to advance their cause and push their parties further to the extreme.  Caricatures and sound bites suffice for truth for many people regardless of them being on the left or right wing of the body politic.  It is true at least as far as practice that the extremists in both major parties have more in common with each other than they do the middle where traditionally most Americans live.

Thus with a highly divided, hypersensitive and easily offended populace we are heading for big trouble unless people stop taking themselves so seriously and get about with finding a way to cooperate and make things work.  I know that is important to remain principled, but there is also a duty to be civil and respectful even when critical of a person’s position or presentation.

I was reminded of this fact recently when I criticized a pastor’s non-theological remarks on this site.  My criticism was unduly harsh and cynical in tone.  When this was pointed out I modified the article to make the same point without purposely sky lining the individual in what could be seen in a disrespectful, uncharitable and even un-Christian fashion.  I may be a passionate moderate but it is important for me to keep a sense of decorum in what otherwise could be an unseemly brawl.  The criticism of how I handled the initial post was valid and sometimes I have to tell myself that restraint, respect and civility is a virtue, even if I think I am right.  So please don’t take offense if you deem me offensive or if I have offended the chronically offendable. After all, restraint, respect and civility are one the one thing that separates us from the Cable News Media, prickly pundits and Talk Show Hosts.

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Peace, Steve+

Post Script: A friend sent me an e-mail which made a point that I want to ensure that my readers understand.  He reminded me that people “would really discern the difference between having a “bad day” response to a situation and those who, perpetuate the historical hatred both past and present of our nation….And then attempt to minimize actions/responses through humor or referring to others as “hypersensitive….this article missed the mark and seemingly inferred …a mocking of responses toward inequality and hatred.”

Of course I assured him that in no way was I at all minimize such actions or refer to those who have been the target of hatred, injustice and discrimination as “hyper-sensitive”  or mock actual repsonses to inequity and hatred, regardless of who it is directed toward.  That is something that I could never do.  The post is a more humorous look at how divided our country has become and how in our dividedness everything is now offensive to someone. Peace, Steve+

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