Tag Archives: Mikey Weinstein

When Christians Break Bad: a Review Of “When Christians Break Bad: Letters from the Insane, Inane, and Profane” by Bonnie Weinstein


Friends Of Padre Steve’s World,

I had the chance to read and review the new book by Bonnie Weinstein entitled “When Christians Break Bad: Letters from the Insane, Inane, and Profane.” 

Bonnie is the wife of my friend, Mikey Weinstein, the founder and director of the  Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Last year Mikey and members of his legal team helped clear me of false charges of a member of my chapel congregation, charges, that if they were true could have ended up in me being tried by Court Martial. The man accused me of in a sermon of comparing President Trump to Hitler and The fact that the charges were untrue did not mean that the Navy was not obligated to investigate. I knew that I needed a good and experienced lawyer and I reached out to Mikey. The investigating officer did a thorough investigation and interviewed close to half of the congregation present that day. Mikey’s lawyer was stellar and the next day I was informed by the investigating officer that I had been exonerated. I later obtained a copy of the investigation from our legal officer. It was quite revealing as far as the political leanings of my congregation. For many, even those who defended me, it was not an issue of theology, or Biblical teaching, it was the fact that the subject material conflicted with their political ideology. But I digress, on to the book.

The book will be available on Amazon tomorrow. Mikey sent me a pre-publication version of the book. The first chapter should be mandatory reading for every person who actually cares about the First Amendment as well true religious liberty. Most of the rest of the book paints a terrible picture of the state of much of American Christianity. But the first chapter provides a truthful and transparent view of what our founders believed about established religions.

In each of the subsequent chapters some of the most hateful, vengeance ridden, and ignorant letters and emails from self identified Christians are shown in gory detail, as well as the responses of various MRFF staff and volunteers. The sad thing is that I used to live in that intolerant, theologically ignorant, and political driven culture. The letters and emails don’t surprise me, they are all too much like comments I have received on this site, and what I have experienced on social media when I criticized those that promote Christian Theocracy. I won’t give them the pleasure of repeating their comment, but invite you to read the book.

I remember the days when I took what they said about Mikey and MRFF as gospel. Supposedly he and MRFF were attacking the foundations of American religious freedom, especially that of Christians. However, 96% of the people Mikey and MRFF represent are Christians, and far from being an atheist, as he is often accused, Mikey is a practicing Jew. He is an also Air Force Veteran, a graduate of the Air Force Academy, whose father before him served in the Air Force with distinction as an officer.

Mikey, Bonnie, and the MRFF are more committed to the religious liberties of all Americans than are the loudest proponents of Christian Religious Freedom, which truthfully is a front for a modern version of medieval and Reformation era Christian Theocracy. The kind of religious freedom that brought about the Crusades, the trials of heretics, and the great religious wars that engulfed Europe for nearly a century and a half and led to nations with State Churches that many of our founders fled.

I am sure that Mikey and Bonnie would agree with the words of the great Virginia Baptist and friend of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the authors of the Virginia Declaration of Religious Liberty, and the First Amendment:

“Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear–maintain the principles that he believes–worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death, let him be encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more? A liberal man asks for nothing more of government.”

Likewise, the great American commentator, Civil War Officer, and atheist when it wasn’t popular, Robert Ingersoll, noted: “This is my doctrine: Give every other human being every right you claim for yourself.”  

This is exactly the kind of freedom that Mikey, Bonnie, and the rest of the MRFF team fight for, and unlike their legal opponents such as the ACLJ and nearly every other proponent of theocracy, they don’t have deep pockets.

Buy the book, it is both educational, and shocking in terms of how many conservative Christians view the role of government. Conservative Scion Barry Goldwater told John Dean:

“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.” November, 1994, in John Dean, Conservatives Without Conscience.

That has happened and they have taken the most Un-Christian President who has ever lived as their idol.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Freedom of Religion and the Yuck Factor: American Religious Theocrats

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The distinguished British Mathematician and Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote:

“Religion carries two sorts of people in two entirely opposite directions: the mild and gentle people it carries towards mercy and justice; the persecuting people it carries into fiendish sadistic cruelty…” 

I fully agree with him based on my knowledge of human history and behavior. I strongly support religious freedom, so long as it is not abused by people to harm others. I get sick of religious liberty hyperbole when it is used by theocrats of all religious stripes. I am kind of like James Spader’s character, Alan Shore in Boston Legal; but then, maybe there is a valid reason that my seminary classmates at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary asked me why I wasn’t in law school. They did not mean it as a compliment.

During one episode dealing with a case regarding religious liberties Spader’s character (Whose God is it Anyway, Season Three Episode 5) said:

“I don’t know about you but I’m getting a little tired of the religious freedom thing. When did religion get such a good name anyway. Be it the Crusades, the reformation genocides, the troubles in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, mass slaughters in the name of Allah, the obligatory reciprocal retributions. Hundreds of millions have died in religious conflicts. Hitler did his business in the name of his creator. Religious extremism, it’s our greatest threat today, a holy jihad. If we’re not ready to strip religion of its sacred cow status, how about we at least scale back on the Constitutional dogma exalting it as all get out….

Everyone should get to believe in his God, pray to his God, worship his God of course. But to impose him on others, to victimize others in his name?  The founding fathers set out to prevent persecution, not license it…

At a certain point we have to say “enough with this freedom of religion crap. Yuck, yuck, yuck. I know, I’ll get letters….” 

At this time though I am doing my best to fight budget cuts that could harm the rights of Navy and Marine Corps personnel of their rights to practice their religion in base chapels, cuts that will harm the religious rights of the most vulnerable service members and their families. I don’t have to agree with their religion, politics or theology, but I follow the Constitution, and legal precedent, not my own opinions on faith.

Let me explain.

Those who follow my writings know how much I struggle with faith and doubt on a daily basis. I believe, but as the man told Jesus when he asked Jesus to heal his child “I believe, help my unbelief.” I no longer believe in the “absolute truths” that I once believed. Of course to some this makes me a heretic or worse. That being said, I have faith in a God I cannot see. I have faith in a God who clothes himself in human weakness and allows himself to be killed as a state criminal.

That being said I see many of my fellow Christians, not to mention those of other faiths who attempt to use their interpretation of what they believe are absolute truths and attempt to impose them on others. Using their houses of worship they indoctrinate believers into believing the “truth” including the judgment on non-believers.

I remember going through classes in my previous denomination which were entitled “The Government of God” and utilized Robert Bork’s book Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline as its primary text. Obviously the class had little to do with faith, but was a tool by which we were indoctrinated to believe the political-religious ideology of our church leaders. There were several more texts, which basically echoed Bork’s thought, but they were taught in a manner is if they were as important as the often contradictory Biblical tests or the writings of the church Fathers, the great saints, scholastics or Protestant Reformers. It was an exercise in political indoctrination based on religious ideology. At the time I had no idea that what the church leaders were appealing to was nothing more than a variation on Christian Dominionism. I will not mention it’s name because most of those who taught this are not alive to defend themselves, and one, though I disagreed with his theology, I knew that he really did love people.

However, such ideology is incredibly dangerous, even when it is taught by well meaning people, because when people in power take it to heart and act upon it, all pretense of fairness, justice and integrity is lost. Those who are simply different are persecuted, those who do not tow a particular party or religious line are suspect, and the innocent are presumed guilty. It has happened throughout human history in every corner of the world, and it still goes on today.

I ended up rejecting that view of faith and life after coming home from Iraq, and for voicing my disagreement on a number of issues was asked to leave that denomination in 2010.

I believe again, but my doubts are real. But even more I have a belief in justice, and I believe that that justice itself cannot be built on absolutes. As Captain Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) noted in the Star Trek the Next Generation episode Justice: 

“I don’t know how to communicate this, or even if it is possible. But the question of justice has concerned me greatly of late. And I say to any creature who may be listening, there can be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions.”

I have found that as Picard said, “that life itself is an exercise in exceptions.”  We all make them, and the Bible and the history of the church is full of them. So I have a hard time with those who claim an absolute certitude in beliefs that are built on faith and treat them as fact, despite the fact that they are not provable. Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted the problem well when he talked of this problem and described the dilemma of so many believers:

“Man no longer lives in the beginning–he has lost the beginning. Now he finds he is in the middle, knowing neither the end nor the beginning, and yet knowing that he is in the middle, coming from the beginning and going towards the end. He sees that his life is determined by these two facets, of which he knows only that he does not know them”

Even so believers of all faiths wrap themselves in the certitude of their faith. They espouse doctrines that at best are humanity’s best attempts to describe a God that is infinitely bigger and more complex than they believe. The contest then becomes not about God himself, but the manner that the human being who interprets God espouses as incontrovertible doctrine. Eric Hoffer wrote:

“A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”

That certitude and the belief that we absolutely know the mind of a God who claims that we cannot know is the height of arrogance and it ensures that when we speak in terms of absolutes that we do not understand God, nor do we believe in justice, because as Captain Picard so wisely noted “life itself is an exercise in exceptions.” Even the most devout of believers make exceptions, simply because they are human and can’t avoid it, unless they are sociopaths.

Henri Nouwen wrote something very profound that all who claim to know God’s absolute will or truth need to consider. Nouwen wrote: “Theological formation is the gradual and often painful discovery of God’s incomprehensibility. You can be competent in many things, but you cannot be competent in God.”

The fact is that no one can be competent in God, and that those who claim to are either hopelessly deluded b their ignorance, or worse, are evil men masquerading as good. Those who pro port to know absolutes and want to use the Bible or any other religious text as some sort of rule book that they alone can interpret need to ask themselves this question, posed by Commander Riker to Captain Picard when he talked about absolutes and life: “When has justice ever been as simple as a rulebook?” 

Sadly too many people, Christians, Moslems, Jews, Hindus, and others apply their own misconceptions and prejudices to their scriptures and use them as a weapon of temporal and divine judgement on all who they oppose. However, as history, life and even our scriptures testify, that none of us can absolutely claim to know the absolutes of God. As Captain Picard noted “life itself is an exercise in exceptions.” 

Thus our human justice, as feeble as it often is must take this into account: It takes true wisdom to know when and how to make these exceptions, wisdom based on reason, grace and mercy. Justice, is to apply the law in fairness and equity, knowing that even our best attempts can be misguided and if based on emotion, hatred, racism or vengeance all clothed in the language of righteousness can be more evil than any evil it is supposed to correct.

Does it matter if we are doing it the sake of law and order, or for love of country, or to defend the faith; if at the heart of it what we call justice, or moral absolutes is nothing more than the implementation of an agenda to crush the powerless under our heel and promote even more injustice? If we lean toward the view that we are implementing the absolute law and will of God then we had better be sure, as Nouwen so well noted we can be competent in many things, but we cannot, as much as we deceive ourselves, be competent in God.

But we see it all too often, religious people and others misusing faith to condemn those they do not understand or with whom they disagree. As Patrick Stewart playing Captain Jean Luc Picard noted in the Start Trek Next Generation episode The Drumhead:

“We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.”

Believe me, American religious theocrats, who have the ear of President Trump are using those rights to persecute and restrict the liberties of fellow citizens. That I cannot abide, because last year I was on the receiving end of it. I try not to go there because it brings up so many unpleasant memories, but I was reminded of them as I wrote this post. I will not revisit them as I wrote about them last July after I had been exonerated of the false charges.

But I will not stop fighting for the religious liberties of all, including the rights of non-believers. I admire the work of Mikey Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Despite how they are characterized by many Christian theocrats, they supported me when I was under attack and well over 90% of their clients are Christians.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Accused and Threatened by a Christian Trump Cultist

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Saul Steinberg wrote:

“Baseball is an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex, and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem.” 

Last night I watched what turned out to be an magnificent MLB All Star Game. I had a very good day going into it and anticipated it with the same glorious expectations that I have done since the 1970 All Star Game. For me the MLB All Star Game is an event with nearly religious significance. Baseball is a game that helps me connect spiritually with God as well as exhibits some of the best traits of what until now has defined the United States, as reflected in the words of Steinberg.

For me that was comforting and until last night Saul Steinberg’s words comforted me and allowed me to believe a myth about the inherent goodness of America. Despite our flaws, our mistakes, and yes, even many malevolent policies I still believed that we are basically good people. I don’t think that I believe that anymore, even as I still believe that most Americans want to be good people. We like to think that we are the good guys.

As the game went on I developed a terrible headache and I began to become incredibly depressed. I could feel myself slipping down like I haven’t for a few years. I got up this morning doing better but after a good Staff meeting at our base headquarters began to walk to my car and during that time I began to sink into the pit again. I pulled into my parking spot at the chapel and I was terrified until one of my Catholic parishioners came in to talk to me for a few minutes. She’s a sweet English lady and her kindness is always a blessing and today it made a big difference. My Chief came in to me with a laundry list of things that I needed to help with and then I found out that three young Chaplain Candidate Officers were coming to see me. That put me back in my element because over the past couple of years I have come to realize that the most important thing that I do is to mentor young men and women, especially Chaplains or those aspiring to be Chaplains. I didn’t tell them anything of what I am writing tonight, but I was able to give the, good advice and invite them to contact me any time even if I was no longer on active duty.

The game was a fantastic game but I didn’t enjoy it because I was too caught up in something that happened to me two weeks ago when I received the news that I was being investigated for the allegations of violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice made by a member of my Chapel, a retired Navy Officer.

The man accused me of the violation of Article 88 Contempt for an Official in this case the President of the United States, and of Article 133, Conduct Unbecoming an Officer for the content of my sermon. He accused me of “comparing the President to Adolf Hitler” and “the actions of those enforcing the laws of the nation as Nazis or Nazi Sympathizers.” He accused me of “engaging in political activism on the job.”

Because of his allegations to the command my Commanding Officer had to launch a preliminary investigation. If the allegations were found to be true I could have been charged and tried by Court Martial. My career of 37 years of Army and Navy service including two combat tours and multiple deployments and family separations could have been ended had I been charged or convicted of such an offense.

I wrote about that sermon last month and the allegations were scurrilous, unsubstantiated and purely of his own making. If there was any political motivation it was this retired officer’s allegations which were an attempt to silence legitimate Christian preaching on social justice issues. I found the complaint ironic because one of my predecessors preached against the end of the Defense of Marriage Act and the end of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. That Chaplain attacked the character of President Obama and pledged to disobey any orders to support marriage equality. But not one person in the congregation complained.

Yet when I criticized President Trump’s words in which he described immigrants and refugees as “animals”, called them an “infestation” and linked all of them to being violent murderers, rapists, and associated with the MS-13 criminal gang as being dehumanizing, against the teachings of the church and similar to the words that Hitler used to demonize and dehumanize the Jews, that was wrong. When I criticized the Attorney General for his misuse of Scripture to defend those polices in front of the Catholic Bishops and the complicity of the White House Press Secretary and Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church Dallas in defending those remarks I was a criminal in the mind of my accuser.

The fact that I was preaching within a prophetic Christian social justice tradition as Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Martin Luther King Jr. was irrelevant to my accuser. The fact that I could make legitimate historical comparisons, not only with Nazi Germany but American slavery, the Black Codes, Jim Crow, the extermination of Native American tribes, and the internment of Japanese Americans was irrelevant. It was the fact that I deviated from the Christian Trump Religious cult claims that brought about these scurrilous charges.

When I was called in for an interview by the investigating officer, who I know is a very fair, honest, and decent man I sensed that he was uncomfortable in having to question me as we have worked together over the past year. I told him that I could not submit to an interview and without an attorney present.

I left and immediately called Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, or MRFF. Mikey took my call immediately and connected me with one of his exceptional attorneys. That was on July 3rd and I spent Independence Day wondering if my military career was about to end. On July 5th I was asked by the Investigating Officer for names of other parishioners who had heard the sermon. I was able to give him a few names, all retired African American Chief Petty Officers or Army and Marine Corps Senior NCOs. He interviewed them and my attorney contacted him. The next morning I was called by the Investigating Officer and the Base Executive Officer to let me know that I had been exonerated and the investigation was over. Both seemed happy for me.

I was supported during the ordeal by the regional Chaplain who is much more conservative than me, and this was not a witch hunt by my command. They as well as my commanding officer are all men of integrity who respect and appreciate my work. If they had not been such men my life could have much more difficult. I was fortunate, but I know other officers who have not been so fortunate or had as solid and feared legal counsel as I received from MRFF. Some of them were convicted of crimes that they did not commit or as in the case of one officer was the victim of a witch hunt by his service chief after his command and civilian police officials had determined that there was no evidence that he had committed any crime. His service overruled them and had him tried by a jury and judge of their choice. I know this because I was called as a character witness. I was flown overseas and within two hours of landing I was thrust onto the witness stand without rest or so much time as to shower or shave. He was convicted anyway. However, during my testimony during the sentencing phase the next day which was not impeached or overruled I told the truth, that the only reason that the officer was on trial and been convicted was because he was gay and not because of the evidence. It was a travesty of justice and I am glad that it didn’t happen to me.

That being said I was fortunate that I have a command that has integrity and seeks the truth. The investigation proved that the charges of the retired officer we’re false and more related to his political allegiance than to any Christian teaching or tradition.

However the most disturbing part of this experience was how that it continues to effect me. The fact is that this retired officer couldn’t even follow the clear commands of Jesus or the Apostle Paul to deal with disagreements between brothers privately or within the Church. Never did any New Testament writer or any of the Ante-Nicene Fathers instruct Christians to turn in other Christians that disagrees with them to the State. What happened to me reminded me of the accounts of German Protestant and Catholic Priests who were turned in to the Gestapo by informants in the Church.

I think that is why I went into such a deep depression last night. The situation in our country has even taken away my ability to enjoy a baseball game and made me incredibly suspicious of the members of my chapel congregation.

Sadly, based on other comments on my Facebook page by some other officers I realize that one cannot reason with members of the Christian Trump Cult even using Scripture and the Christian tradition. Like the German Christians who followed Hitler to his Götterdämmerung they will follow Trump even as he shoots someone on 5th Avenue.

Maybe I will write about the All Star Game tomorrow, but if I don’t it will be first time in nine years on this blog that I haven’t. I think that is one of the worst things about my experience, living on such an edge and under such a real threat that I can no longer enjoy things that used give me such joy and peace.

If this is what it means to Make America Great Again I want nothing to do with it or those who pledge their allegiance to Trump over the Constitution or Christ.

I have more to say but will live it at this for the night.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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