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“Together, There is no Other Way” Lyndon Johnson at Gettysburg and a Challenge to Democrats Today

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am about to finish Historian John Meacham’s inspiring history United States politics and the leadership of different Presidents, The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels. I have to say that in light of Meacham’s remarks at the Funeral of the late President George H.W. Bush, Meacham’s book has inspired me and encouraged me in the dark era of President Trump and his supporting cast of Angels of Darkness, men and women who, to paraphrase historian Timothy Snyder tell us we are the best while encouraging us to be our worst.

While reading Meacham’s book over the weekend I read about the Civil Rights crusade of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who had he not gone into Vietnam would probably be considered one of the greatest President’s who ever lived. Johnson would have been considered by many to be an unlikely champion of Civil Rights, though he supported Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal would not have been considered a pioneering Civil Rights advocate.

Those who read this blog know my attachment to Gettysburg, the Battle Of Gettysburg, and President Abraham Lincoln and his Gettysburg Address. Until I read Meacham’s book I had never known that as Vice President, Lyndon Johnson also spoke at Gettysburg. His words came on Memorial Day 1963, and in part they were an answer to Dr Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” It was an incredible and courageous speech. Johnson was a Southerner, a Democrat, and many Southern Democrats were fighting President Kennedy on Civil Rights issues. Kennedy was much too understanding and polite to hold their ball to the fire, but Johnson for all of his other flaws wasn’t and he used his Gettysburg speech to remind the nation of the unfinished legacy of Gettysburg and the still unfulfilled “new birth of freedom” that Lincoln so eloquently spoke in his few remarks at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Military Cemetery.

Johnson spoke these words:

On this hallowed ground, heroic deeds were performed and eloquent words were spoken a century ago. We, the living, have not forgotten–and the world will never forget–the deeds or the words of Gettysburg. We honor them now as we join on this Memorial Day of 1963 in a prayer for permanent peace of the world and fulfillment of our hopes for universal freedom and justice.

We are called to honor our own words of reverent prayer with resolution in the deeds we must perform to preserve peace and the hope of freedom. We keep a vigil of peace around the world. Until the world knows no aggressors, until the arms of tyranny have been laid down, until freedom has risen up in every land, we shall maintain our vigil to make sure our sons who died on foreign fields shall not have died in vain.

As we maintain the vigil of peace, we must remember that justice is a vigil, too–a vigil we must keep in our own streets and schools and among the lives of all our people–so that those who died here on their native soil shall not have died in vain.

One hundred years ago, the slave was freed. One hundred years later, the Negro remains in bondage to the color of his skin. The Negro today asks justice. We do not answer him–we do not answer those who lie beneath this soil–when we reply to the Negro by asking, “Patience.”

It is empty to plead that the solution to the dilemmas of the present rests on the hands of the clock. The solution is in our hands. Unless we are willing to yield up our destiny of greatness among the civilizations of history, Americans — white and Negro together–must be about the business of resolving the challenge which confronts us now.

Our nation found its soul in honor on these fields of Gettysburg one hundred years ago. We must not lose that soul in dishonor now on the fields of hate. To ask for patience from the Negro is to ask him to give more of what he has already given enough. But to fail to ask of him–and of all Americans–perseverance within the processes of a free and responsible society would be to fail to ask what the national interest requires of all its citizens.

The law cannot save those who deny it but neither can the law serve any who do not use it. The history of injustice and inequality is a history of disuse of the law. Law has not failed–and is not failing. We as a nation have failed ourselves by not trusting the law and by not using the law to gain sooner the ends of justice which law alone serves.

If the white over-estimates what he has done for the Negro without the law, the Negro may under-estimate what he is doing and can do for himself with the law. If it is empty to ask Negro or white for patience, it is not empty–it is merely honest–to ask perseverance. Men may build barricades–and others may hurl themselves against those barricades–but what would happen at the barricades would yield no answers. The answers will only be wrought by our perseverance together. It is deceit to promise more as it would be cowardice to demand less.

In this hour, it is not our respective races which are at stake–it is our nation. Let those who care for their country come forward, North and South, white and Negro, to lead the way through this moment of challenge and decision. The Negro says, “Now.” Others say, “Never.” The voice of responsible Americans — the voice of those who died here and the great man who spoke here–their voices say, “Together.” There is no other way.

Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men’s skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact. To the extent that the proclamation of emancipation is not fulfilled in fact, to that extent we shall have fallen short of assuring freedom to the free.

If Johnson was alive today in the age of Trump, and in the fighting form that enabled him to go against fellow Southerners to get the Civil Rights Act Of 1964 and the since emasculated Voting Rights Act Of 1965 passed by overwhelming bi-partisan majorities, and to pass other bills that benefited all Americans, he would not be silent. He would be adding his voice to those of Blacks, Latinos, Arab Americans, Asians, Women, LGBTQ people, and non-Christian Religious minorities whose constitutional rights are under threat by a President whose despises those rights, and a Party which was reborn when the segregationists Democrats Of Johnson’s time became Republicans in 1964 under the white supremacist campaign of Barry Goldwater and the 1968 Southern Strategy Of Richard Nixon. In those years the Democratic Party became the true successors of Lincoln, Grant and the early Republican Party Vision of freedom, while the Republicans under the direction of men like Goldwater, Nixon, Pat Buchanan, Roger Ailes, and a host of others including former Democrats and Dixiecrats like Strong Thurman became the Party of the Lost Cause, the Noble Confederacy, and Jim Crow. Under President Trump the pathetic rump of that once great party, predominantly made of Conservative Christians and a growing violent White Supremacist movement attempt to claim to be the Party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, but are the Party of Jefferson Davis and the later Dixiecrats.

If he were alive today Lyndon Johnson would be using his legislative expertise to push forward responsible but unpopular policies.

I can only ask, who among today’s Democrats will do that? I honestly don’t know, but I believe that such a man or woman much come forth to challenge Trump and his Cult for the Presidency in 2020. To quote Johnson:

“In this hour, it is not our respective races which are at stake–it is our nation. Let those who care for their country come forward, North and South, white and Negro, to lead the way through this moment of challenge and decision.

The Negro says, “Now.” Others say, “Never.” The voice of responsible Americans–the voice of those who died here and the great man who spoke here–their voices say, “Together.” There is no other way.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Duggared: The Moral Implosion of the Christian Right

There was a time when child molestation was considered a sin by conservative Christians and there was a time when multiple criminal acts of a sexual nature committed against children would have been condemned by anyone even claiming to be a Christian. Of course that that didn’t mean that such acts did not happen, but at least in public Christian leaders condemned the criminal acts that we used to call mortal sin, even if they offered the offender a chance at repentance and reconciliation.

But that was before the days of “culture war” proclaimed by Pat Buchanan and the Christian “jihad” to use the terms of Roman Catholic theologian Peter Kreeft, a convert from Evangelical Protestant Calvinism to the Catholic faith in his book Ecumenical Jihad. For Buchanan, Kreeft and others like them defending the indefensible is the norm if it supports the dominance of Christians over their non-Christian neighbors. Kreeft’s whole thesis follows the premise that the “liberal elites” are attacking the very basis of Christian civilization, as such the “culture war” and “fanaticism” perfectly acceptable. While Kreeft does not openly endorse violence as a response, his thesis does not necessarily condemn it. The reason for this is that  Kreeft promotes the idea of a militant Church that is linked to the state and has the power to punish and persecute its enemies.  Of course this is a page that Kreeft borrows from radical Islam and by doing so he does’t seem to mind throwing out the teachings of Jesus. Instead Kreeft, Buchannan and many others, especially Christians who follow “Dominionist” theology return to the model of the imperial church in which believers have all right to rule over unbelievers because God wants it that way.

Interestingly enough the Duggars have been out there preaching the same message, which is why I had to mention it.

As a person who cut his teeth during the heady early days of the Christian Right’s march to power I am astounded to see the moral implosion of what properties to call itself “conservative Christianity” in the United States. This implosion has been on full display in the situation involving the Duggar family, a fundamentalist Christian family who due to their ability to breed like rabbits have enjoyed a near cult like status with the Christian Right, complete with reality television show, book deals and political influence with many of the 2016 Republican Presidential contenders.

Now let me be clear. I have nothing against large families, people sharing their faith, or even endorsing political candidates.  As for the Duggars as I do not know them. I only know them by their carefully crafted media image which is in the process of coming apart. That being said, what is going on here is a disaster for people who actually value the Christian faith and do9 what they can to share the love of Jesus in word and in deed with their neighbors. It is a disaster for the Christian culture that the Duggars supposedly defend.

The story has all of the elements, except murder, that make a great crime novel: admitted sexual crimes of the family’s oldest son Josh, who admits to molesting, not one, not two, not three, but four of his sisters and, at least one other girl, some of them while they were asleep. The story features a father and mother who covered up the crime and refused to get their son any real mental health treatment, and a police Department that did nothing about the situation even after they were notified. To add some spice it features a host of politicians, pundits and preachers, which remind one of the townspeople in he classic film Inherit the Wind.  Interestingly enough almost all of these people boast of their Christian moral superiority and routinely condemn other people’s supposed sexual sins, especially Gays.  Not only do they do this, they throw all of their political and moral capital into ensuring that Gays and Lesbians do not have the same rights as they have.

Since the story broke the political hacks of the Christian Right have been working overtime to spin the story as “Christian persecution” by the supposedly “Left Wing media.” Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist preacher was among the first to defend the Duggars and make this claim. But he has to do this, the Duggars are among his most influential supporters.  The pictures Huckabee smiling with Josh Duggar all over the internet in the wake of Huckabee’s candidacy announcement make for great copy if the scandal goes away. If not they are a liability. But the Huckster isn’t alone in defending the Duggars. Supposedly conservative “Christian” pundits, politicians and preachers have been coming out of the woodwork, not to condemn the crimes which are admitted to and documented, but to attack those who throw the bullshit flag on the Duggars.

This my friends is an important distinction, because if the Duggars were some poor family with no money or influence the Christian Right would never defend them. However, the Duggars are not some poor family that is just out there minding its own business, who had a child commit sexual crimes. They are a family that has used its fame and fortune to mercilessly attack anyone who disagrees with their cultish view of the Christian faith. Of course this is almost always on display at political rallies and meetings where they incessantly condemn the Gays and fight against marriage equity, where quite often it was the perpetrator of the crimes in the Duggar family, Josh, who was leading the charge. After their sins and crimes came to light the parents had the nerve to trot out two of their daughters to defend Josh and say that it was minor molestation. When I saw that I realized that this family has no regard for real Christian morality or faith. Sadly they will stoop to anything to protect their franchise and keep the money coming in. But why should we be surprised at any of this. 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.” 

Though their television show has been cancelled they are getting a lot of air time as the Fox News Network does all that it can to defend them. Likewise the Duggar family’s “image crisis” is being managed by Mike Huckabee’s long time adviser Chad Gallagher of Legacy Consulting.

But even then, a few Fox commentators, Greg Gutfield and Geraldo Rivera took the time to go off the reservation and condemned the Duggars. Gutfeld dared to ask what the Duggars defenders would be saying if the Duggars were not Christians, while Rivera asked viewers to take religion out of the equation and ask what they would think of any family that allowed such crimes to happen and then to cover them up. Note that Gutfeld and Rivera are not Christians. Rivera is Jewish, and and Gutfeld, a former Catholic altar boy is an “Agnostic Atheist,” thus, unlike many of the Fox hosts, neither has a need to defend “Christianity” by defending criminals.  I think that this gives them a bit more objectivity in the matter, despite the fact that they work for Fox.

While the fight the Christian Right is waging involves the Duggars, who they are desperately trying to rehabilitate, it is bigger than that. The the political leaders of the Christian Right are waging an ideological war on all comers, something that Pope Francis recently condemned. The Pope said:

“In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements. The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh?”

Pope Francis nails the issue. The more that these supposedly Christian leaders do to defend the indefensible behaviors of their own people and the more that they do to attempt to use the police power of the state to enforce their beliefs on others, the more people they will drive away from the faith. Most people tend to like what they see in Jesus, even non-believers often admire his teachings, but they do not like the leaders of the Christian Right and are fleeing the churches in astronomical numbers.

So, these leaders can keep Duggering around with their Jihad, making a mockery of faith, of friendship and inciting hatred in the name of God while defending actions for which there is no defense. I have to wonder where it will stop.

The Duggars and their supporters are sowing the wind, and in doing so they will reap the whirlwind and they are blind to what they are doing.

So that is all for today,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Election 2016: The Coming Christian Holy War

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My friends, there is a Holy War that is about to overwhelm us, and it is not an Islamic Jihad. No it is a very American and allegedly Christian version of jihad, without the beheadings, at least for now. Pat Buchanan announced it in 1992 during the Republican National Convention:

“There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself.”

For those that do not know me well and just think that I am a run-of-the-mill liberal type, they need to understand that I was at one time a solid Republican who had strong ties to the religious right and though moderate almost always followed the party line on the issues supported by the political preachers of the religious right.

Frank Schaefer, the son of the late Dr. Francis Schaefer was one of the leaders of that movement. Eventually, he left it and has become a stalwart critic of the rabidly political nature of conservative Christianity in the United States, Evangelical and Roman Catholic alike. Schaefer has written and talked about how he and other leaders of the religious right in the 1970s and 1980s worked to build an alliance with the then, relatively secular Republican party. Though conservative, may Republicans, including men like Barry Goldwater, a conservative icon were suspicious of and opposed the goals of religious conservatives. In 1994, Goldwater who was the leader of the conservative takeover of the GOP told John Dean something that made Christian conservatives profoundly different from secular conservatives:

“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.”

The problem is unlike 1994 when the preachers were on the outside attempting to force the GOP into their ideological mold, they now are the leadership of the GOP. There is not one of the leading potential candidates that the GOP will field for the 2016 Presidential campaign who are not either wholly or in part either a leader, an ally or completely controlled by the religious faction of the GOP. Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, Jeb Bush, Rick Perry and probably Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin as well. Some like Huckabee rate not only political leaders, but former pastors and religious leaders as well.

If Barry Goldwater was alive today he would oppose them all. He understood, even as an unabashed conservative that they were a dangerous crowd.

He contrasted them with old line conservatives:

“Well, I’ve spent quite a number of years carrying the flag of the ‘Old Conservatism.’  And I can say with conviction that the religious issues of these groups have little or nothing to do with conservative or liberal politics.  The uncompromising position of these groups is a divisive element that could tear apart the very spirit of our representative system, if they gain sufficient strength.” 

I came to realize that in 2008 when I returned from Iraq after having believed the lies for decades. When I finally began to speak out about what I saw I was kicked out of the very conservative and evangelical Anglo-catholic denomination that I had served as a priest for 14 years. Why? Because I openly stated that I believed that Gays could be Christians, that women should be allowed to be priests and that not all Moslems were bad. Since that time I have been castigated by many in my former denomination, including people who I thought were friends, not to mention of host of other Christian fanatics.

The fact is that to them, anyone who they think deviates from their interoperation of God’s law is the enemy. In fact if the religious conservatives now running the GOP every took all their reigns of government, after quashing all secular or religious dissent that they opposed would turn on each other. The alliance would split along ancient and unresolved theological lines, Catholics against Evangelicals in a struggle to establish the true government of God.

Most Democrats, progressives, secular conservatives or Libertarians cannot understand how such people think and what motivates them, simply because they are much more pragmatic and less motivated by religious ideology. President Obama is a good example. He like many others are willing to defy his liberal base to compromise, even if he does not get all that they want. This was a fatal flaw of what is now know as Obamacare. Instead of simply expanding Medicare for all, Obama used the plan of the Heritage Foundation which Mitt Romney used in Massachusetts. Obamacare is not socialized medicine. Far from it, it is a hand out to insurance companies who now feed at the government tax money feed stalls that they never had access to before.

But you have to understand the mindset, the theology, the history and the sense of destiny motivated by faith that these people bring to the table, even the most cynical and openly hypocritical of them.

Religious conservatives cannot do this, because for them it is not merely about temporal politics, it is about establishing “God’s law ” (as they interpret it) as the norm and are willing to use every means, constitutional or not, fair or unfair, kind or evil to accomplish their goals. Why can’t they compromise? Simply put, because to do so would be to deny God.

Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who oversaw the prosecution of the major war criminals at Nuremberg noted:

“[I]n our country are evangelists and zealots of many different political, economic and religious persuasions whose fanatical conviction is that all thought is divinely classified into two kinds — that which is their own and that which is false and dangerous.” 

Goldwater stated on the Senate floor in 1981 about the danger of the religious conservatives, of which I was an early convert thanks to the Dominionist theology promoted by the Presbyterian Church that attended in college: Goldwater said:

“There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. 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. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D.’ Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of ‘conservatism….

Being a conservative in America traditionally has meant that one holds a deep, abiding respect for the Constitution.  We conservatives believe sincerely in the integrity of the Constitution.  We treasure the freedoms that document protects. . .  “By maintaining the separation of church and state,” he explained, “the United States has avoided the intolerance which has so divided the rest of the world with religious wars . . .  Can any of us refute the wisdom of Madison and the other framers?  Can anyone look at the carnage in Iran, the bloodshed in Northern Ireland, or the bombs bursting in Lebanon and yet question the dangers of injecting religious issues into the affairs of state?’ ”

Well my friends, those religious leaders now own the Republican Party. Those religious leaders are one in the same as the politicians they are influencing, and dare any stray from the reservation, as did Eric Cantor, they will be cast aside and replaced with a Christian religious extremist.Such is only possible where people adopt the theocratic presuppositions of the Christian Dominisionists, as so many have. Gary North, one of the prominent leaders of this movement whose reach goes to the heart of the “Conservative Christian” political movement and who has served as an advisor to both Ron and Rand Paul wrote:

“We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”

My God, in what country could a disgraced, pathological liar, who had been court-martialed and cashiered by the Navy be elected to any office? But Gordon “Dr. Chaps” Klingenschmitt, was elected to the Colorado State Senate by a sizable margin and still keeps his extreme radio program. How can that be unless Goldwater was right?

Such people, even supposed faithful Roman Catholics  even condemn Pope Francis when he disagrees with their political ideology. Their hatred and need for control knows no bounds.

I came to realize too late the dangers of these people. I scoffed at Goldwater in the 1980s, and hesitated to believe him in the 1990s. Sadly it took me a tour in Iraq, visits to the Balkans, a lot more study, and getting thrown out of a church that I had faithfully served, to realize that I had been deceived. Sadly, I don’t think that most of my Christian brothers, smothered in the hateful dualistic “us versus them” ideology of the religious right will understand this.

Martin Niemoller, a German War hero of the First World War who became a pastor and hated the secular Weimer Republic. Out of that hate, Niemoller initially supported Hitler realized too late the evil that he had helped put into power. He ended up being jailed and put in a concentration camp for the duration of the war. He wrote:

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

Niemoller’s fate will be the fate of the people who elect any of these religious extremists to the Presidency. My advice to any is neither to fall for their promises nor disbelieve their most hateful and incendiary proposals. Those lay at the heart of the movement, and millions of otherwise faithful Christians have already been decided by them. In fact, look around around you. You probably know a few.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Christian Culture Warriors Versus Pope Francis and Boarding the Wrong Train

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gordon Klingenschmitt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Niemöller would say it well in this poem:

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

If Christians would only learn that lesson.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Social Justice from the Prophet Amos and Pope Francis

holy-saturday

Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land!

“When will the new moon be over,” you ask, “that we may sell our grain,

and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat? We will diminish the ephah,

add to the shekel, and fix our scales for cheating! We will buy the lowly for silver,

and the poor for a pair of sandals; even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!”

The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done! Amos 8:4-

There is a certain joy and challenge to having to preach every week, especially when one follows the lectionary instead of making things up as we go based on our favorite theological biases or interests.

Thus coming back to a place where I am having to preach each week it is a challenge. It is interesting for me to see what the Bible has to say on issues that Christians including me like to ignore. The funny, but not so funny thing is that those parts of the Bible that many conservative American Christians of all denominations, but especially Evangelicals like to ignore are the kinds of passages that are more the norm than the exception. Thus we tend to ignore the really challenging things and focus on what tickles people’s ears. Now I have never been a fan of having my ears tickled but evidently some do or the Apostle Paul wouldn’t have not warned Timothy about it.

In the United States Christians have it good. As rich and fashionably well to do entitled Christians we love to cite verses that talk about prosperity.  Those more theologically adept love to misuse the writings and theology of John Calvin to show who our material success somehow equals God blessing us. The sad thing is in order to do that many of us will totally ignore most of Jesus’ teachings about the misuse of wealth and the abuse of the poor as well as those of Paul, James, and the vast majority of the prophets of the Old Testament in such matters. But then what do they know? They didn’t study Ayn Rand did they?

I can only imagine what Amos, a prophet from Judah whose ministry was primarily directed at the Kingdom of Israel in about 750 BC would be if he walked among American Christians today. I mean really, think about it. Amos almost sounds like he is talking about the Prosperity Preachers and those in the church who for the sake of partisan political power are willing to ignore or even worse to sacrifice the most vulnerable people in society for their own place at the seat of power.

How Constantinian of them. Yet Amos and most of the other prophets seem to have a most egregious disregard for the issues that contemporary Christians have sacrificed on the altar of political power and expediency. Yes “Christian Right” I and they are talking about you.

Pope Francis is nailing the issue. For too long the Christian Church in the United States and western Europe have been engaging in the so called “culture wars.” While some of the issues are legitimate including some of the pro-life related issues, they are actually subordinated to a broader and much more insidious agenda which is neither Christian or for that matter American, at least in the sense understood by the religiously tolerant and pluralistic founders of the country understood.

Ever since Nazi apologist Pat Buchanan (See his book Hitler Churchill and the Unnecessary War) declared the beginning of the “Culture Wars” in 1992 and long after the foundations were laid by others on the Christian Right the Church, Evangelical Protestant and Roman Catholic decided on the Christian version of Jihad to achieve political goals. In fact men like Catholic theologian Peter Kreeft actually wrote books like Ecumenical Jihad to define their strategy and goals. Clothed in the veneer of Constantinian virtue these people helped lead the church into an abyss that from which may not be able to extricate itself in our lifetimes.

Unfortunately the problem is that the culture wars are more often fought with the goal of maintaining the political power and influence of Christians while ignoring the very tenants of what writer after writer, prophet after prophet and even Jesus made foundational issues of their day. We Christians have sold out the Gospel in order to be co-opted by the very people and interests who hate the kind of justice that Jesus and  the prophets preached about.

When Pope Francis talked this week about those “culture wars” this week in a number of ways. He decried the manner in which some bishops were more at war with the culture than caring for the people of their own dioceses and how in terms of caring for and loving people “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules…” He said that in regard to the focus that many Catholics have had on abortion and homosexuality. Pope Francis said: “The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.” To finish the week, or rather to start this week on a high note Francis attacked the culture of greed which many in the church have blessed and furthered.

I am all in with Pope Francis on this because he is speaking the truth. The fact is that he is saying things that most of us do not want to hear. Francis is talking about redemption, the fact as the Apostle Paul wrote in 2nd Corinthians that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself counting men’s sins not against them.”

Yes these are tough words, but the proof of their validity is in the pudding. Non-believers want nothing to do with the church, even if they happen to like what Jesus says and many believers are fleeing the church and not coming back. And yes this is different than the days when young people would leave the church for a few years and then come back. The folks leaving now for the most part have no desire to return. The reasons are self evident. It is not Jesus, nor is it even doctrine. It is how Christians and the Church treat the world. Something that Pope Francis seems to understand while many of his Bishops as well as leaders of Evangelical Christian Churches in the United States seem oblivious.

George Barna, an Evangelical Christian who runs one of the most respected polling agencies around has done a number of polls on this very subject. Sad to say his polls, which are scientific in the way they are conducted line up with what I am saying here and what Pope Francis is speaking about.

One Barna poll asked the words which most describe Christianity. The results: Hypocritical, anti-homosexual, insincere, sheltered and too political. Another Barna study dealing with why young people are leaving the church included that nearly 25% of young people said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” while 20% said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” while 22% said that “church is like a country club, only for insiders” and 36% said that they were unable “to ask my most pressing life questions in church.”  That survey was of young people of Christian backgrounds, people for the most part raised in the church.

Frank Schaeffer, son of the late Dr Francis Schaeffer noted in his book Crazy for God: “I personally came to believe that a lot of the issues that were being latched onto by the Christian Right, whether it was the gay issue or abortion or other things, were actually being used for negative political purposes. They were used to structure a power base for people who then threw their weight around.” Schaeffer should know, in the 1970s and 1980s he was a key player in the growth of the political Christian Right.

But I digress…. Soren Kierkegaard noted “The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.”

The fact is that if we actually decide to look at the way we do life, faith, politics and ethics in light of the writings of men like Amos, James and even Paul to some extent not to mention Jesus we might have to actually repent. But then, when all that matters is maintaining our political and social power who needs repentance?

But I digress, after all, repentance in our American Christian culture is never having to say your sorry. It is no wonder that Mark Twain noted: “If Christ were here there is one thing he would not be—a Christian.” 

I think that old Amos might just be talking to us as much as he was talking to the people and leaders of Israel. But hey, I could be wrong.

Peace

Padre Steve+

PS. I do plan on doing some articles over the next few weeks about how people of all religions attempt to use the political and police power of the state to advance their beliefs and to demonize dissenters.

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Europe on the Edge: France and Greece Point to Dangerous Times Ahead

New French President Francois Hollande

The people of France and Greece have repudiated the European Union’s austerity mandate and Europe stands on the edge of chaos.  Maybe not immediate chaos but chaos that will engulf the continent as country after country elects for its own history, culture, tradition and economic freedom.

This is nothing new. In fact the situation in Europe resembles the period of the early 1930s as the Great Depression brought about the rise of political extremist on the Right and Left in very new and fragile democracies, as well as more established democracies.  Parallels can be found in many European nations. In France the election of Francois Hollande of the Socialist Party over Nicolas Sarkozy sent a shiver through the EU. Combined with the implosion of the conservative and liberal coalition in Greece in and results of other European elections the reality is that the European Union could be on the verge of breaking up. The Greek situation is especially foreboding as any coalition government will have to deal with the election of both hard line Communists and Neo-Nazis to parliament.

Greek Neo-Nazis

Now how it breaks up is not pre-determined, however it is obvious that the most strident voices in many European countries are people and parties that in good times are relegated to the political fringe. However social crisis driven by long term economic problems, especially high unemployment and reductions in support to those displaced by the economy are things that have historically brought about revolutions and dictatorships.

The European Union: Can it Survive?

Despite the Socialist win in France the trajectory of Europe is toward anti-democratic, ultra-nationalist and Xenophobic regimes.  Such will bode ill for the world economy as well as peace and the treatment of ethnic and religious minorities. Europe’s long term record on these issues is dreadful and the ghosts of that record seem to rise up almost every time that you think it is safe to go out in the water.

Germany under Chancellor Merkel and her allies in Brussels are attempting to hold together a creation that can only hold together when times are good and money easy.  When the hard times come, nations as well as individuals return to their basest and most primal concerns, not any utopian ideal.

The Hitler apologist and radical conservative pundit Pat Buchanan seems to think that this is a good thing in his latest column. He seems to revel in the potential collapse of the European Union. But then for a man that defend’s Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939 and blames everybody but Hitler for the war this is not surprising.  While he may diagnose some of the problems inherent in the EU he also forgets that the EU held as its model the United States, the creation of a United States of Europe.

Nazi Election Poster

While I have always thought that the rush to admit nations to the EU in the 1990s and early 2000s was ill-conceived the threat posed by its break up is worse. This is simply because history shows us time and time again that such break ups are fraught with danger.

Likewise the same forces are at work in the United States. Long term economic difficulties are leading people to embrace extremes that in good times they would never consider.  We are not all that different from the Europeans in this. Looking back to the period before the Nazi takeover of Germany one observer told historian William Sheridan Allen that “Most of those that joined the Nazis did so because they wanted a radical answer to the economic problem. Then too, people wanted a hard, sharp, clear leadership- they were disgusted with the eternal political strife of parliamentary party politics.” (The Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of a Single German Town 1922-1945 Revised Edition, Franklin Watts Publishers, New York, London 1965, 1984 p.86)

These are dangerous times. It is not time to look to extremists of any stripe that promise simple and radical solutions to the solve the crisis. To do such is to make a deal with the devil.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Deal is Done and are We? There are Always Results

Spartacist revolutionaries and Freikorps in action. Is this our fate? 

“but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. it is hushed indeed for the moment. but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. a geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.” Thomas Jefferson on the Missouri Compromise

I believe that Thomas Jefferson in describing the results of the Missouri Compromise aptly describes the mood of our times and the consequences of politicians that lead us to the dark abyss of hatred and civil war.   There are times that I wish that I was not a historian or theologian for then I could simply be ignorant of the place that our elected leaders are leading us.

Yesterday and today I sat convalescing at home trying to stay off of my injured leg as the final actions were taken in the House and the Senate on the Debt Ceiling Compromise. I felt as if I was watching a national tragedy being marketed as by some as a triumph of cooperation.  I was amazed that talk which was paired with the opponents of the measure in both parties.  I felt that those praising their actions to pass the increase and related budgetary cuts were saying it all for show even as they sharpened their swords for the next battle even as the vast majority of Americans expressed anger and frustration with the behavior of their elected officials.  A Pew Research poll indicated “72 percent of American characterized the recent budget negotiations as “ridiculous, disgusting, stupid, and frustrating.”

But we have no one to blame but ourselves. We voted them all into office and we have encouraged their repugnant behavior with our votes which more often than not were purchased by the fear mongering engaged by each side and our desire to have our special interests and or ideology come out on top. We have been engaged in what conservative columnist Pat Buchanan declared a “culture war” for the past two decades and wars be they cultural, ideological, and economic or military have consequences.  The longer they go on the worse and more violent they become until one side finally loses and the landscape is destroyed. A conservative German newspaper noted “It is this war-like rhetoric that has so poisoned American politics.” The Germans should know something of this.  The “Kulturkrieg” and the violent hatred of their countrymen in the wake of the defeat of the First World War and humiliation of Versailles brought about civil war.  The pursuit of radical ideologies in the following years is what doomed the ill-fatedWeimarRepublicwhen the economic calamity of the Great Depression struck and led to the tragedy of the Nazi takeover and ultimately led to World War Two.

I believe that the actions of all parties in this forced crisis were a disservice to the citizens of this country, the memory of all who have gone before us and done more to damage our standing in the world than I could ever imagine.  It is as if the leaders of the country have forgotten why they are even in Washington.  There is no unity of purpose, only the language of war being used against fellow Americans.  A German newspaper wrote “No one can forget the Civil War atmosphere in which this debt fight has taken place. It weighs on America’s international reputation. From the point of view of financial markets, the dysfunctional nature of Washington is a risk factor that must be calculated for in the future.”

The sad thing is that there is so much work that has to be done and it is more than reducing Federal Government spending. Our industries have been shipped wholesale overseas using the treaties that business has foisted upon their willing accomplices in both parties in the name of “free trade.”  Our unemployment continues to rise and many economic experts believe that we are entering a “double dip” recession which some believe could easily become a depression. The infrastructure of the nation crumbling with the businesses that benefit from them refusing to contribute to their maintenance unless they receive government contracts and money in return.  We are committed to long term ground wars that have sapped the economy and worn out the military which now seem to serve little strategic purpose.   In fact the position of the Army in Afghanistan could be disastrous if Pakistan decides to stop cooperating and not allow us to supply the Army through it.

It is apparent to me that those that can afford it the least and the military will bear the brunt of the cuts that will come and that it will be a long time before this crisis passes.  No one seems to be addressing the major issue of unemployment or economic growth without which there is no recovery.  I heard the President and Senate Majority Leader McConnell repeat what they have said for years but no plans and no action.  As for the military we are worn to a nub, our equipment needs to be replaced and modernized and our troops still deserve the best that we can give them, but even this is on the chopping block, military retirement is called “an expensive entitlement program” by those advocating that the military adopt a private sector pay and benefit plan of little value especially to those that have spent 10 years at war paying with their minds, bodies and spirit fighting wars that the Wall Street bunch has benefited from, the same Wall Street leaders that now call for reductions in military pay and benefits.  It is obscene.

I would like to believe that this is a rough patch that we will get through, but right now with the terrible acrimony present in Washington and all the State Capitols I have a hard time believing that we will.  The President has failed to enunciate any kind of plan or vision and the Tea Party leadership is acting like the Jacobins in Revolutionary France.

I have no idea who will “win” this “culture war” and does it really matter? The result will be a Pyrrhic victory with the winners celebrating on the ruins of the country.  I only know that we all lose.

God help us,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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