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“Sometimes the Bible in the Hand of One Man is Worse than a Whiskey Bottle in the Hand of Another” The Evangelical Responsibility for Trump

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

One of my favorite films is To Kill a Mockingbird. I am a convinced that many people that call themselves “conservative Christians,” are so busy protecting their place and power in society that they despise anyone not like them. For decades before and now a year and a half after the election of Donald Trump the same collection of conservative Christian Supremacists have played fast and loose with the truth, scammed billions of dollars from desperate followers, and drove almost every moderate there ever was out of the Republican Party with their ideology of Christian Dominionism.

I have written about this before. In light of my experience with them I imagine that some of these folks will, now that they have help a man that they belief will fully support their agenda, “kill the Mockingbird” in order to ensure that they keep their privileged position in society. Traditionally the Mockingbirds are those people that they have condemned to social inferiority and discrimination and eternal punishment simply because they are different. To today’s theocrats, the most frequent targets of their wrath are gays and the LGBT community, as well as Muslims, other non-white immigrants, women, and the disabled. The fact that just because someone else gets equal rights doesn’t mean that they lose any rights equality before the law, except to persecute them, seems to be beyond their capability to understand.

This is especially the case of the preachers, pundits and politicians that crowd the airwaves and internet with their pronouncements against Gays, immigrants, Arabs, poor blacks, political liberals, progressive Christians, and for that matter anyone who simply wants the same rights enjoyed by these Christians. This makes me fear them more far more than I fear Donald Trump. They represent a majority of the Republican House caucus and there quite a few in the Senate. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, whose racist sentiments were so reprehensible that kept him from appointment as a Federal Judge during the Reagan administration is the Attorney General is also one. He has been acting with draconian ruthlessness to weaken civil rights statutes, voting rights laws, protections for refugees and others. Sarah Huckabee Sanders is the daughter of the preacher turned politician turned pundit Mike Huckabee who no problem with habitually lying to cover the misdeeds of the President and while she is at it engage in demonizing the press and any opponent of the President.  Education Secretary Betsy De Vos is trampling the line between Church and State in regard to education and uses her power to reverse long standing affirmative action regulations that help the poor, minorities, women, the disabled and others get education. Former EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt used his Biblical beliefs to dismantle environmental protections even while enriching himself and his family by breaking one ethical rule after another. I could go on and on and on. but the fact is that these men and women are proving on a daily basis what the great Republican conservative Barry Goldwater said:

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.” 

In the book and film To Kill a Mockingbird there is a line spoken by Miss Maudie Atkinson, a neighbor of Atticus Finch and his children. She says to Atticus’s daughter Scout:

“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of another… There are just some kind of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”

As I survey the world of Christian conservatives I become surer of this every day. I’ve often wrote about my own fears in regard to dealing with such people as well as the troubling trends that I see. Those are not unfounded, I had a recent experience with one that I cannot share publicly but which posed a threat to my career and freedom.

Over the years I have written articles on the trends that I see in the church, trends toward greed, political power, social isolation and the active campaign of some to deny basic civil rights to people that they hate on purely religious grounds.

The language of some like Matt Staver of Liberty Counsel, Tony Perkins of the American Family Association and a host of others describe actions of governments and courts to ensure equal treatment of all people under the law as threats to Christians, affronts to them and of course to God. Their words are chilling.

Before the Obergfell v. Hodges decision, Matt Staver that if the Supreme Court upheld marriage equity for gays that it would be like the Dred Scott decision. Of course that is one of the most Orwellian statements I have heard in a while, for the Dred Scott decision rolled back the few rights that blacks had anywhere in the country and crushed the rights of non-slave states.

These men are now pushing to ensure that President Trump does their will, and a few have pledged to turn against him if he doesn’t fully support their every demand. So far he has shown little need to do that because they are his most faithful supporters. They are the ones who embody what he said during the early days of his campaign “that my supporters would support me even if I shot someone on 5th Avenue.” They will be the ones that would follow him to hell if need be as they sold their souls for political power long before Trump ever emerged on the political landscape.

Back in 1981 Barry Goldwater said on the Senate Floor “The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent.”

Again, as a reminder to readers, especially those new to the site, I spent a large amount of my adult Christian life in that conservative Evangelical cocoon. I worked for a prominent television evangelist for several years, a man who has become an extreme spokesman for the religious political right. I know what goes on in such ministries, I know what goes on in such churches. I know the intolerance and the cold hearted political nature of the beast.

Years ago I knew and went to church with Randall Terry, the former head Operation Rescue. He once said: “Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…” I have walked in those shoes, and at one time I was as whipped into a frenzy of hate by those preachers, and their colleagues in right wing talk radio. That was before I went to and returned from Iraq. Thus I fully understand them and now I reject them and their intolerant creeds.

As Atticus Finch told his children:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

Thus I total reject the message of such people now, not out of ignorance, but because I have walked in their shoes. At times I supported their causes, not to any extreme, but all too often my crime was simply said nothing when I knew that what they preached, taught and lived was not at all Christian, but from the pits of Hell.

As far as them being entitled to hold whatever opinion they want, even if I disagree, yes that is their right. But as Atticus said:

“People are certainly entitled to think that I’m wrong, and they are entitled to full respect for their opinions. But before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The only thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

My conscience will not allow me to be silent when I see men like Staver, Perkins, Franklin Graham and so many others preach hatred towards those who are different than them. In 2010 that caused me to be thrown out of a church I had served faithfully from over 14 years as a priest and chaplain. These people are viscous and need to be opposed at all costs. It is a Christian duty to do so. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”

In the movie and the book the Mockingbird was Tom Robinson, the black man falsely accused of rape and assault and Boo Radley; a shy recluse feared by his neighbors, a man who stories were made up about; stories that turned a simple man into a monster in the eyes of people who did not know him. Today they are others who fit the Mockingbird role, people who just want to get along and live in peace, but who endure discrimination and damnation from those who call themselves Christians as well as the President who is unconstrained by his party which has abandoned every principle for they once stood.

Jem Finch, the son of Atticus asks his sister a question in the book and the film:

“If there’s just one kind of folks, why can’t they get along with each other? If they’re all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other?”

I ask the same question on a daily basis and I wonder how it can happen again and again.

Peace

Padre Steve

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The Lure of Trump’s Cross of Gold

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

In the post-election euphoria of the prosperity preachers who very Donald Trump as a political savior, and the President Elect’s stacking of his cabinet with billionaires of the first order, most of whom have no experience in the cabinet positions or are opposed to the missions of the departments they are to head one wonders what the 80% plus of self-identified Evangelical of Conservative Christians were thinking. But then, the answer is not that hard to find. For decades many of these people have been taught by their leaders that government policies that actually protect and benefit them are evil, and that God himself is basically a survival of the fittest Social Darwinist, that is basically the Gospel that they have been taught for decades. I used to be a clergyman in a denomination where many people believed and practiced such a faith.

So let me ask if you remember when conservative Christian politicians and preachers actually supported working people? I am not kidding, there was a time when some did exactly that and did so in the highest reaches of their political parties. Unlike today’s preachers they were not just lobbying for more tax cuts for the most wealthy, and extolling the job “creators” over the the people whose labor actually produces products, instead they spoke boldly on behalf of regular people. Sadly today all of the major political figures as well as most of the minor ones who claim to be “conservative Christians” have more in common with the greedy Robber Barons than one of the most celebrated conservative Christian politicians who has ever lived.

William Jennings Bryan was one of the most influential politicians of his era. Bryan served as Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson, he was a Senator and three time Presidential Candidate. He was also a very conservative Fundamentalist Christian perhaps most famous, or perhaps infamous now as one of the prosecuting attorneys at the Scopes “Monkey” Trial of 1925. In fact I can find that Bryan’s handling of that case played to the basest religious and social hatred of his day and though he thought that he was defending “Biblical” values  ended up making Christians look but small minded, intolerant and hateful. The movie Inherit the Wind, though a fictional account of that trial, shows how decent Christians can become consumed with hatred in the name of righteousness.  It is a sad thing that Bryan is most remembered for the Scopes Trial than when he bucked the political system of both the Republican and Democratic parties to speak up for workers and small businessmen. Personally I cannot imagine Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio or any other supposedly Christian political leader, especially the President Elect doing what Bryan did.

Whether one agrees on Bryan’s fundamentalist religious doctrine regarding the creation of the earth or the manner of how God created the earth,  one has to admit that of pre-Great Depression politicians he was quite amazing. Especially in how he saw through the Godlessness of unbridled capitalism and the devaluation of workers by valued capital over the people that actually produced anything.

As an American and a Christian I have to look at the body of work and life of a man. I don’t have to agree with all that they stood for or did and though I find much fault in Bryan and his supporters in the Scopes Trial I do not throw out the good things that he did and got right.

I think the apex of Bryan’s political thought is encapsulated in his speech at the Democratic National Convention of 1896, what is now called the Cross of Gold Speech.

When one looks at it now it really is timeless. Bryan saw through the charade that was being played out by politicians and the big money Wall Street types that they represented with great verve. It was a speech that one might have heard come from a prophet in the Old Testament.

HD_WilliamJenningsBryan1896

I am just going to quote a couple of pertinent sections from the speech to trigger the thought of anyone reading this article. I think that they could be spoken today in light of the way that many conservative Christians both Evangelical and Fundamentalist Protestants, Roman Catholics and those that preach the so called “Prosperity Gospel” have thrown their support behind ideas that are nothing more than unvarnished, crude materialism of the worst kind. In fact I believe that it is nothing more than the “baptism” of such thought by Christians are among the biggest reasons for the massive exodus of people from the churches and the rise of the “Nones,” or those with no religious preference.

Bryan said:

“We say to you that you have made the definition of a business man too limited in its application. The man who is employed for wages is as much a business man as his employer; the attorney in a country town is as much a business man as the corporation counsel in a great metropolis; the merchant at the cross-roads store is as much a business man as the merchant of New York; the farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day, who begins in spring and toils all summer, and who by the application of brain and muscle to the natural resources of the country creates wealth, is as much a business man as the man who goes upon the Board of Trade and bets upon the price of grain; the miners who go down a thousand feet into the earth, or climb two thousand feet upon the cliffs, and bring forth from their hiding places the precious metals to be poured into the channels of trade are as much business men as the few financial magnates who, in a back room, corner the money of the world. We come to speak of this broader class of business men.”

His words are striking in their directness and honesty. They are not only Christian but they are deeply American. He called on his Democratic party, which had been as bad as the Republicans during the age of the unregulated Robber Barons who used the Gold Standard to manipulate the markets and eliminate silver as currency to their benefit to be different:

“Upon which side will the Democratic Party fight; upon the side of “the idle holders of idle capital” or upon the side of “the struggling masses”? That is the question which the party must answer first, and then it must be answered by each individual hereafter. The sympathies of the Democratic Party, as shown by the platform, are on the side of the struggling masses, who have ever been the foundation of the Democratic Party.”

His arguments could be called true Christian populism. Bryan talked about two ideas of diametrically opposed types of government and economics:

“There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that, if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.”

He concluded his speech with this statement.

“Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

When I hear the unholy trinity of politicians, pundits and preachers who extol the virtue of capital over labor and the worship of wealth as the highest good I wish that there would be some that would remember that the people who actually make things, grow things, fix things and maintain things are not just human capital, but people.

Despite his rigid anti-science beliefs, as well as his often pro-Jim Crow positions, one almost wishes for the day that a man like William Jennings Bryant spoke for Christians rather than seeing Christians throw themselves at the feet of a man who has pulled the wool over their eyes, emasculated them, and will doom them and their churches to irrelevancy as more and more people abandon the the Christian faith.

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Today that unholy trinity is poised to take over every branch of the Federal Government because of the fact that Evangelical and Conservative Christians abandoned all principle to elect a man who despite his words during the campaign has a history of standing against everything that they believe. And after all, it is people that matter and sadly that doesn’t seem to matter to the sycophants who cheer every word of the President Elect even as he and his billionaire cabinet members enact policy after policy that will destroy them.

That is something to think about.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Scourge of Dehumanization


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

One of the things that I fear today is the open resurgence of race hatred being preached by the nicely dressed “intellectual” Nazis of the self-named Alt-Right.

Now that Donald Trump has been elected President, and baring a miracle in the Electoral College, I expect the openly racist, anti-Semetic, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and anti-LGBT rhetoric to skyrocket. I also expect that attack on minorities will continue to increase.

But what I fear more than anything, that should there be a major terrorist attack, or a real or imagined  national security crisis, is that xenophobic leaders, instill fear and terror about people who are different from the majority. It is shockingly easy to do, and is part and parcel of every human culture. In doing so they use language which enables people, often very good people, to view others as less than human, a process known as dehumanization. Right now we see the results of this. On one hand there are the fanatics of DAESH and other Muslims extremist groups that use propaganda to dehumanize anyone that does not adhere to their beliefs. On the other hand there is the response of some American and European politicians, preachers, pundits and media organizations which in responding to the extremists, dehumanize all Muslims and suggest the most severe measures to deal with what they call the problem of Islam.

David Livingstone Smith wrote, “Dehumanization isn’t a way of talking. It’s a way of thinking—a way of thinking that, sadly, comes all too easily to us. Dehumanization is a scourge, and has been so for millennia. It acts as a psychological lubricant, dissolving our inhibitions and inflaming our destructive passions. As such, it empowers us to perform acts that would, under other circumstances, be unthinkable.”

Once someone has succumbed to the idea that certain others are no longer fully human, or less than human the unthinkable becomes not only possible, but probable. Of course this process takes time, and usually comes from years of exposure to propaganda that first demonizes, and then dehumanizes those that the propagandists despise. At Nuremberg, Julius Streicher, the publisher of the Nazi tabloid Der Sturmer was asked by a prosecutor, “And do you think to call them “blood-suckers,” “a nation of blood-suckers and extortioners– do you think that’s preaching hatred?” Streicher replied, “No, it is not preaching hatred; it is just a statement of facts.”

In Hitler’s Third Reich it was the Jews and others who were viewed as sub-human. When one reads the testimony of the major war criminals at Nuremberg, every single defendant admitted to the role that decades of anti-Semitic propaganda had in shaping their worldview.

The sad truth is that Hitler is not alone. Such beliefs and actions are all too common. In 1830s to the 1850s in the United States it was Irish and German Catholics; in the ante-bellum and the Jim Crow South it was African Americans who were said to be an inferior race; in the 1860s to the early 1900s on the west coast it was the Chinese. After Pearl Harbor, the Japanese who we put in internment camps. Let us not forget the protracted campaign to exterminate the Native Americans, something that Rush Limbaugh mocked in 2009 saying, “Holocaust? Ninety million Indians? Only four million left? They all have casinos — what’s to complain about?” Those are just European and American examples. One can see the same language and action in Rwanda, the Sudan, the Middle East, the Japanese campaign in China, the Soviet starvation and massacres of Poles and Ukrainians during the 1930s; and the list can go on and on.

One of the ways that they make it easy for their followers to approve of draconian measures is to dehumanize their victims and euphemistically refer to the situation as a question, a question that must have an answer or a solution. In the Third Reich it was the Jewish question, and the answer became the apocalyptic Final Solution.

The Nazis referred to the Jews as sub-human, a bacilli, or cancer. Today leading politicians in the United States and Europe are referring the Syria refugees, as well as other Moslems in a similar manner. Some of the worst offenders are men who beat on their chest and claim to be Christians. Mike Huckabee referred to the Syria refugees as “spoiled milk,” Ben Carson called them “rabid dogs.” The mainstream British columnist, Katie Hopkins called them “rats and cockroaches.” Plenty of other less prominent politicians, pundits and preachers have voiced similar opinions, and you cannot visit Facebook without seeing scores of memes and comments echoing those thoughts, and Carson has been nominated to be the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Michael Flynn, the soon to be National Security Adviser to the President called Islam a “cancer” and a “political ideology” that “definitely hides behind being a religion.” Others in or close to the Trump transition team openly refer to Jews in a desultory manner and like the Nazis of old talk of a Jewish, Freemason conspiracy to rule the world. 

But others, particularly the media and already elected officials use other language to dehumanize people. The language of natural disasters, or war is common. Politicians, preachers and the media couple refugees and migrants with words such as influx, occupation, invasion, flood or flow. All of these terms are used to stoke fear in the minds of their listeners or followers. Floods must be controlled, invasions, defeated, occupations, ended. Eventually people just take it for granted that such threats must be dealt with, such questions, answered.

This language encourages their followers to approve of draconian measures is to dehumanize their victims. Somewhat euphemistically they refer to the situation as a question, a question that must have an answer or a solution. In the Third Reich it was the Jewish question, and the answer became the apocalyptic Final Solution. The Nazis preached that there would have to be a showdown between their pure “Aryan” race, and the Jews. Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz noted the Himmler stressed “that if Germany was to survive then World Jewry must be exterminated and we all accepted it as truth.”

Höss told American Army psychologist Gustave Gilbert about how he accepted the orders f0or the Final Solution based on his beliefs:

“That was the picture I had in my head, so when Himmler called me to him, I just accepted it as the realization of something that I already accepted – not only I, but everybody. I took it for granted that even though this order, which would move the strongest and coldest nature – and at that moment this crass order to exterminate thousands of people (I did not know how many) – even though it did frighten me momentarily – it fitted in with all that had been preached to me for years. The only problem itself, the extermination of Jewry, was not new – but only that I was the one to carry it out, frightened me at first. But after getting the clear direct order and even an explanation with it – there was nothing left to do but carry it out.”

Gilbert asked Höss, “So, that was the background for accepting a mass murder order?” Höss  replied, “Yes, when I think of it all, it is hard to figure out – but at the time I didn’t think of it as propaganda, but as something one just had to believe.”

But that is what millions of people are being asked to believe today in terms of all Muslims. It is not the fact that some Muslims are fanatical killers bent on war, and that we are at war with them; but that Islam itself, and thereby all Muslims are the enemy, and must be destroyed. The continual preaching of this will lead to, persecution, mass murder, and maybe even genocide, and it will be done by people like Höss, who are convinced that they are doing the right thing.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Will We Crucify Humanity on a Cross of Gold?

cross

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Do you remember when conservative Christian politicians and preachers actually supported working people? I am not kidding, there was a time when some did exactly that and did so in the highest reaches of their political parties. Unlike today’s preachers they were not just lobbying for more tax cuts for the most wealthy, and extolling the job “creators” over the the people whose labor actually produces products, instead they spoke boldly on behalf of regular people. Sadly today all of the major political figures as well as most of the minor ones who claim to be “conservative Christians” have more in common with the greedy Robber Barons than one of the most celebrated conservative Christian politicians who has ever lived.

William Jennings Bryan was one of the most influential politicians of his era. Bryan served as Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson, he was a Senator and three time Presidential Candidate. He was also a very conservative Fundamentalist Christian perhaps most famous, or perhaps infamous now as one of the prosecuting attorneys at the Scopes “Monkey” Trial of 1925. In fact I can find that Bryan’s handling of that case played to the basest religious and social hatred of his day and though he thought that he was defending “Biblical” values  ended up making Christians look but small minded, intolerant and hateful. The movie Inherit the Wind, though a fictional account of that trial, shows how decent Christians can become consumed with hatred in the name of righteousness.  It is a sad thing that Bryan is most remembered for the Scopes Trial than when he bucked the political system of both the Republican and Democratic parties to speak up for workers and small businessmen. Personally I cannot imagine Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio or any other supposedly Christian political doing what Bryan did.

Whether one agrees on Bryan’s fundamentalist religious doctrine regarding the creation of the earth or the manner of how God created the earth,  one has to admit that of pre-Great Depression politicians he was quite amazing. Especially in how he saw through the Godlessness of unbridled capitalism and the devaluation of workers by valued capital over the people that actually produced anything.

As an American and a Christian I have to look at the body of work and life of a man. I don’t have to agree with all that they stood for or did and though I find much fault in Bryan and his supporters in the Scopes Trial I do not throw out the good things that he did and got right.

I think the apex of Bryan’s political thought is encapsulated in his speech at the Democratic National Convention of 1896, what is now called the Cross of Gold Speech.

When one looks at it now it really is timeless. Bryan saw through the charade that was being played out by politicians and the big money Wall Street types that they represented with great verve. It was a speech that one might have heard come from a prophet in the Old Testament.

HD_WilliamJenningsBryan1896

I am just going to quote a couple of pertinent sections from the speech to trigger the thought of anyone reading this article. I think that they could be spoken today in light of the way that many conservative Christians both Evangelical and Fundamentalist Protestants, Roman Catholics and those that preach the so called “Prosperity Gospel” have thrown their support behind ideas that are nothing more than unvarnished, crude materialism of the worst kind. In fact I believe that it is nothing more than the “baptism” of such thought by Christians are among the biggest reasons for the massive exodus of people from the churches and the rise of the “Nones,” or those with no religious preference.

Bryan said:

“We say to you that you have made the definition of a business man too limited in its application. The man who is employed for wages is as much a business man as his employer; the attorney in a country town is as much a business man as the corporation counsel in a great metropolis; the merchant at the cross-roads store is as much a business man as the merchant of New York; the farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day, who begins in spring and toils all summer, and who by the application of brain and muscle to the natural resources of the country creates wealth, is as much a business man as the man who goes upon the Board of Trade and bets upon the price of grain; the miners who go down a thousand feet into the earth, or climb two thousand feet upon the cliffs, and bring forth from their hiding places the precious metals to be poured into the channels of trade are as much business men as the few financial magnates who, in a back room, corner the money of the world. We come to speak of this broader class of business men.”

His words are striking in their directness and honesty. They are not only Christian but they are deeply American. He called on his Democratic party, which had been as bad as the Republicans during the age of the unregulated Robber Barons who used the Gold Standard to manipulate the markets and eliminate silver as currency to their benefit to be different:

“Upon which side will the Democratic Party fight; upon the side of “the idle holders of idle capital” or upon the side of “the struggling masses”? That is the question which the party must answer first, and then it must be answered by each individual hereafter. The sympathies of the Democratic Party, as shown by the platform, are on the side of the struggling masses, who have ever been the foundation of the Democratic Party.”

His arguments could be called true Christian populism. Bryan talked about two ideas of diametrically opposed types of government and economics:

“There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that, if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.”

He concluded his speech with this statement.

“Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

When I hear the unholy trinity of politicians, pundits and preachers who extol the virtue of capital over labor and the worship of wealth as the highest good I wish that there would be some that would remember that the people who actually make things, grow things, fix things and maintain things are not just human capital, but people.

And after all, it is people that matter…

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Dehumanization & Genocide

sturmer-display

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

One of the most terrible things about a national security crisis, real or imagined, is that xenophobic leaders, instill fear and terror about people who are different from the majority. It is shockingly easy to do, and is part and parcel of every human culture. In doing so they use language which enables people, often very good people, to view others as less than human, a process known as dehumanization. Right now we see the results of this. On one hand there are the fanatics of DAESH and other Moslems extremist groups that use propaganda to dehumanize anyone that does not adhere to their beliefs. On the other hand there is the response of some American and European politicians, preachers, pundits and media organizations which in responding to the extremists, dehumanize all Moslems and suggest the most severe measures to deal with what they call the problem of Islam.

David Livingstone Smith wrote, “Dehumanization isn’t a way of talking. It’s a way of thinking—a way of thinking that, sadly, comes all too easily to us. Dehumanization is a scourge, and has been so for millennia. It acts as a psychological lubricant, dissolving our inhibitions and inflaming our destructive passions. As such, it empowers us to perform acts that would, under other circumstances, be unthinkable.”

Once someone has succumbed to the idea that certain others are no longer fully human, or less than human the unthinkable becomes not only possible, but probable. Of course this process takes time, and usually comes from years of exposure to propaganda that first demonizes, and then dehumanizes those that the propagandists despise. At Nuremberg, Julius Streicher, the publisher of the Nazi tabloid Der Sturmer was asked by a prosecutor, “And do you think to call them “blood-suckers,” “a nation of blood-suckers and extortioners– do you think that’s preaching hatred?” Streicher replied, “No, it is not preaching hatred; it is just a statement of facts.”

In Hitler’s Third Reich it was the Jews and others who were viewed as sub-human. When one reads the testimony of the major war criminals at Nuremberg, every single defendant admitted to the role that decades of anti-Semitic propaganda had in shaping their worldview.

The sad truth is that Hitler is not alone. Such beliefs and actions are all too common. In 1830s to the 1850s in the United States it was Irish and German Catholics; in the ante-bellum and the Jim Crow South it was African Americans who were said to be an inferior race; in the 1860s to the early 1900s on the west coast it was the Chinese. After Pearl Harbor, the Japanese who we put in internment camps. Let us not forget the protracted campaign to exterminate the Native Americans, something that Rush Limbaugh mocked in 2009 saying, “Holocaust? Ninety million Indians? Only four million left? They all have casinos — what’s to complain about?” Those are just European and American examples. One can see the same language and action in Rwanda, the Sudan, the Middle East, the Japanese campaign in China, the Soviet starvation and massacres of Poles and Ukrainians during the 1930s; and the list can go on and on.

One of the ways that they make it easy for their followers to approve of draconian measures is to dehumanize their victims and euphemistically refer to the situation as a question, a question that must have an answer or a solution. In the Third Reich it was the Jewish question, and the answer became the apocalyptic Final Solution.

The Nazis referred to the Jews as sub-human, a bacilli, or cancer. Today leading politicians in the United States and Europe are referring the Syria refugees, as well as other Moslems in a similar manner. Some of the worst offenders are men who beat on their chest and claim to be Christians. Mike Huckabee referred to the Syria refugees as “spoiled milk,” Ben Carson called them “rabid dogs.” The mainstream British columnist, Katie Hopkins called them “rats and cockroaches.” Plenty of other less prominent politicians, pundits and preachers have voiced similar opinions, and you cannot visit Facebook without seeing scores of memes and comments echoing those thoughts.

But others, particularly the media and already elected officials use other language to dehumanize people. The language of natural disasters, or war is common. Politicians, preachers and the media couple refugees and migrants with words such as influx, occupation, invasion, flood or flow. All of these terms are used to stoke fear in the minds of their listeners or followers. Floods must be controlled, invasions, defeated, occupations, ended. Eventually people just take it for granted that such threats must be dealt with, such questions, answered.

This language encourages their followers to approve of draconian measures is to dehumanize their victims. Somewhat euphemistically they refer to the situation as a question, a question that must have an answer or a solution. In the Third Reich it was the Jewish question, and the answer became the apocalyptic Final Solution. The Nazis preached that there would have to be a showdown between their pure “Aryan” race, and the Jews. Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz noted the Himmler stressed “that if Germany was to survive then World Jewry must be exterminated and we all accepted it as truth.”

Höss told American Army psychologist Gustave Gilbert about how he accepted the orders f0or the Final Solution based on his beliefs:

“That was the picture I had in my head, so when Himmler called me to him, I just accepted it as the realization of something that I already accepted – not only I, but everybody. I took it for granted that even though this order, which would move the strongest and coldest nature – and at that moment this crass order to exterminate thousands of people (I did not know how many) – even though it did frighten me momentarily – it fitted in with all that had been preached to me for years. The only problem itself, the extermination of Jewry, was not new – but only that I was the one to carry it out, frightened me at first. But after getting the clear direct order and even an explanation with it – there was nothing left to do but carry it out.”

Gilbert asked Höss, “So, that was the background for accepting a mass murder order?” Höss  replied, “Yes, when I think of it all, it is hard to figure out – but at the time I didn’t think of it as propaganda, but as something one just had to believe.”

But that is what millions of people are being asked to believe today in terms of all Moslems. It is not the fact that some Moslems are fanatical killers bent on war, and that we are at war with them; but that Islam itself, and thereby all Moslems are the enemy, and must be destroyed. The continual preaching of this will lead to, persecution, mass murder, and maybe even genocide, and it will be done by people like Höss, who are convinced that they are doing the right thing.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Again & Again: The Reality of History, Human Nature & Genocide

mass killing einsatzgruppen

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Some people reading my site the past week or so probably believe that I am obsessed the Holocaust, genocide, and mass murder. I know that the subject is extremely uncomfortable and that most people would rather not be reminded of it, but the further we get from the Holocaust and the further it recedes into memory, the more danger we face of more genocides. 

While these may not involve the Jews, we cannot assume the Jews are completely safe. The fact is that large percentages of people in many countries, and not just Middle Eastern Moslem countries harbor significant anti-Semitic attitudes. The highest percentages of anti-Semetic feeling outside of the Middle East are in Eastern Europe, Central and South America, and parts of Asia, including South Korea, something which suprised me. 

If such events like the Holocaust were limited to history they would simply be a tragic footnote on the road of human progress, but they are not. Sadly, these events continue with startling regularity and most of us bury our heads in the sand of our culture of entertainment and denial. The fact is it is easier that way. Yehuda Bauer a leading scholar of the Holocaust wrote, “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.” The tragic thing is that we are not even decent bystanders, we just turn our backs and look the other way.
Paul Theroux wrote, “As for the sanctimony of people who seem blind to the fact that mass murder is still an annual event, look at Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur, Tibet, Burma and elsewhere-the truer shout is not “Never again” but “Again and again.”

How many times must it happen and how many times will we allow our politicians to label other people, other groups as undesirable, less than human, or unworthy of being our neighbors or even of life itself? When I hear politicians talk groups of people in using very generic and neutral terms like “problem, or question” I get worried. This is the language of exclusion, and of dehumanization. Thus when I hear a very popular presidential candidates as well as the pundits and preachers who support them talking about the “immigrant problem”, the “Mexican problem”, the “Moslem problem”, the “Black problem”, “Gay problem”; the word “problem” being a euphemism to dehumanize the people in question, I know that it can happen again, even in this country. For when they talk about the problem or question, they then begin to seek a solution, another nice and neutral word. In the current climate there are talks of walls, massive deportations, camps, denial of rights, even of citizenship, or even basic human rights like housing, subsistence, and medical care. Christopher Hitchens wrote:

“Die Judenfrage,’ it used to be called, even by Jews. ‘The Jewish Question.’ I find I quite like this interrogative formulation, since the question—as Gertrude Stein once famously if terminally put it—may be more absorbing than the answer. Of course one is flirting with calamity in phrasing things this way, as I learned in school when the Irish question was discussed by some masters as the Irish ‘problem.’ Again, the word ‘solution’ can be as neutral as the words ‘question’ or ‘problem,’ but once one has defined a people or a nation as such, the search for a resolution can become a yearning for the conclusive. Endlösung: the final solution.”

armenian genocide

This is not just an issue of the past, be it foreign countries like Germany, Rwanda, Cambodia, and Armenia. It is not simply an issue that is happening in other nations today, like in the areas controlled by the so-called Islamic State; but it has happened in the United States. We cannot wash our hands of genocide when our ancestors committed it on a massive scale, and when for much of our history we have turned our backs on it in other parts of the world. We have pundits like Rush Limbaugh who famously said, “Holocaust? Ninety million Indians? Only four million left? They all have casinos — what’s to complain about?”

Likewise there is the supposedly Christian “historian” David Barton has justified genocide of Native Americans as necessary for the spread of capitalism and Christian civilization “People complain about the fact that the American military and buffalo hunters went out and wiped out all the buffalo in the western plains. Doing that was what brought the Indians to their knees because the Indians lived on those wide western plains where there were very few towns; Indians didn’t go into town to buy supplies, they went to the buffalo herds, that’s where they got their meat, that’s where they got their coats, the hides provided coats, they provided covering for their teepees. If you don’t have the buffalos, those Indians cannot live on the open western plains without those buffalo and so what happened was the military wiped out the supply line by wiping out the buffalo. That’s what brought those wars to an end, that’s what brought the Indians to their knees and ended all the western conflict.” Of course back in 2011 current presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said that all Americans “should be forced at gunpoint” to listen to Barton.

Hitler himself drew inspiration from the American example. As a child he read German translations of American Western novels, a practice that he maintained even as his Reich collapsed around him.

He told people at dinner regarding his conquest of Russia, “Above all, no remorse on the subject! We are not going to play children’s nurses; we’re absolutely without obligation as far as these people are concerned… There’s only one duty: to Germanize this country by the immigration of Germans, and to look upon the natives as Redskins…. In this business I shall go straight ahead cold bloodedly…. I don’t see why a German who eats a piece of bread should torment himself with the idea that the soil that produces this bread has been won by the sword. When we eat wheat from Canada, we don’t think about the despoiled Indians.”

Other minimize the systematic enslavement of African-Americans, the persecution of Asian immigrants and the later imprisonment of Japanese Americans, all committed by White Americans in the name of economics, security, or prosperity.

I could keep going on but I think that you get the point, which is that it can happen again and we always have to be on guard. It would not take much, in times of crisis, and desperation people, even the best and brightest can delude themselves into the commission of terrible crimes against others. That is the lesson of history, and we should not forget it, lest it happen again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Mass Movements, Devils & Tipping Points

anti-jewish poster

The Nazis made the Jews their “Devil”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great American philosopher, Eric Hoffer once wrote, “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.”

Hatred is an amazing emotion. I the day and a half that I have been home from Europe I have been almost overwhelmed by the amount of hatred being posted on social media, blogs, and by supposedly Christian preachers, politicians and pundits. Of course if you want find a politician, pundit and preacher all wrapped into one person look no further than Baptist preacher, conservative media pundit, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, but I digress…

It is funny when you even mildly disconnect from this climate for even a week, just how overwhelming returning to this can be, and how easy it would be to respond in kind, because unlike love, hatred is easy to conjure up. It is kind of like what you need to build a fire; fuel, oxygen and heat. To generate hatred on a massive scale all you need is a disaffected populace, a convenient target, and an agent to ignite the mixture.

Shrewd politicians, preachers, and pundits do this well. They demonize the target group or population and then let the hatred of their disaffected followers flow. The leaders need that disaffected and angry base in order to rise to power; such was how Hitler, Stalin, and so many other despots gained power. They took advantage of a climate of fear, and found others to blame. For Hitler it was the Jews; while for Stalin it was various groups like the Ukrainians, or the Poles who were the devil to be feared and destroyed. Timothy Snyder in his book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin wrote:

“Dead human beings provided retrospective arguments for the rectitude of policy. Hitler and Stalin thus shared a certain politics of tyranny: they brought about catastrophes, blamed the enemy of their choice, and then used the death of millions to make the case that their policies were necessary or desirable. Each of them had a transformative utopia, a group to be blamed when its realization proved impossible, and then a policy of mass murder that could be proclaimed as a kind of ersatz victory.”

Snyder is quite correct, demonizing a people and making them some kind of “other”, “they”, or “them”, is a wonderful way to blame a group of people for the ills of society. It is also a good way to deflect the blame for the corporate failures of societies and governments onto a convenient scapegoat; and to blame others for the personal failures and petty jealousies of the people doing the demonizing. It also allows people to abandon ethics and the simple notion of the Golden Rule an engage in genocide.

Mass movements and their leaders; of which the contemporary “Christian Right” is one, love to use this technique; especially when using it against those of other races or religions. The technique is not at all new, it has been used from antiquity but has become much more dangerous in the modern era with the spread of instant communications technology. History shows us all too clearly how it has happened and how easily it can happen again. Witch hunts, slavery and Jim Crow, the extermination of the Native Americans which inspired Hitler in his campaign of genocide and the Holocaust; the Soviet gulags and ethnic cleansings, the Rape of Nanking, the Chinese Communist “Cultural Revolution” the Rwandan genocide, Srebrenica, the Turkish genocide of the Armenians, and the current crimes against humanity of the so called Islamic State. Sadly, the list can go on and on.

All of these events simply required the elements of a disaffected population, a devil or scapegoat to blame, and a leader or leaders to ignite the volatile mixture; fuel, oxygen and heat. Hoffer was quite correct that “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” The really successful leaders of such movements understand this. For Hitler it was the Jews and other untermenschen; for American Southerners after the Civil it was the Blacks and their white supporters. For the American “Know Nothings” of the 1840s and 1850s it was immigrants, especially Irish and Germans who were Catholic; for Stalin it was non-Russian ethnic minorities. For the leaders of the Islamic State, it is Jews, Shi’ite Moslems, less than “faithful” Sunnis, Christians and well for that matter anyone who does not line up one hundred percent with them on every issue. The examples are so plentiful to support this fact that it is almost overwhelming.

The problem is that when any society, or government begins to label or stigmatize a race, religion, ethnicity, sexual preference, or political ideology, and then in the process demonize those people to the point that they become less than human we have reached a tipping point. We reach the point where we are just one crisis away from all of those crimes against humanity that we believe that we are no longer capable of doing. But sadly, we human beings are not nearly as evolved as we think and I think that the tipping point in the United States may be far closer than we could ever imagine.

Those that follow my writings on this site know how much I love the various Star Trek television series and movies. There is an episode (The Siege of AR-558) of Star Trek Deep Space Nine where the Ferengi bartender Quark, makes a truly astute observation during a battle for survival at an isolated outpost:

“Let me tell you something about Hew-mons, Nephew. They’re a wonderful, friendly people, as long as their bellies are full and their holosuites are working. But take away their creature comforts, deprive them of food, sleep, sonic showers, put their lives in jeopardy over an extended period of time and those same friendly, intelligent, wonderful people… will become as nasty and as violent as the most bloodthirsty Klingon. You don’t believe me? Look at those faces. Look in their eyes.”

I really do not think that we are too far from some tipping point where the politicians, pundits and preachers; especially those of the political right and the media whores who are more concerned about market share than truth, decide that their “devils” must be exterminated. Of course when they will do they will claim a higher moral, religious, or racial, purpose; or perhaps use the language of Manifest Destiny, the Lost Cause, or the Stab in the Back or some other historical myth that suffices to justify their actions.

In the Star Trek the Next Generation episode entitled The Drumhead Captain Picard has to warn his security officer, Lt Worf about the dangers of rampant paranoia. Worf starts: “Sir, the Federation does have enemies. We must seek them out.”
 

Picard pauses and then notes:

“Oh, yes. That’s how it starts. But the road from legitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia is very much shorter than we think. Something is wrong here, Mister Worf. I don’t like what we have become.”

To claim Picard’s words for myself after being somewhat off the grid in Europe the past week and having come home to the fusillade of hatred being spewed forth, I have to admit that I don’t like what we have become either.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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