Tag Archives: Political Commentary

To Say that there is to be No Criticism of the President is Unpatriotic and Treasonable

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I find it both interesting and troubling to listen to many supporters of President Trump castigate anyone for any criticism offered about the President, sometimes going as far to say that critics are being “unfair,” “disrespectful,”or most disturbing, “disloyal” or “treasonous.” Even the President tweets out those kind of accusations on a whim.

Admittedly some forms of criticism cross boundaries and are personally insulting and disrespectful of the President. In my writings I try, even when being very critical of his policies, words, or actions, to refrain from personal insults that could be considered disrespectful to the President because I am still on active duty.  As my readers know I am a historian as well as an theologian/ethicist and when I do write about the actions of the President and his administration I do so based on careful study and comparison with historical, ethical, or legal precedents. My views are likewise informed by my education and and belief in the principles of the Enlightenment, my belief in human rights as set out in the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the French Rights of Man and the Citizen, as well as my understanding of the Anglican Christian tradition of “Scripture, Tradition, and Reason” being the foundations of faith.

But it is not disloyal or treasonous to offer criticism of policies, legislative proposals, executive orders, or actions and words of the President or his advisers that could endanger the security of the United States, its citizens, and its alliances, or potentially be unlawful.

Even so I am occasionally criticized for offering historical examples that compare the President and his most ardent supporters in an unfair way, some even calling those disrespectful. I find their double standards and lack of appreciation of irony quite fascinating as most of these people have spent the last eight years or more disparaging and disrespecting President Obama with some of the most racist, vile, contemptible, and false accusations ever made against a sitting President, while at the same time condemning others for simply repeating what the President himself has said.

I found out last year when I had a couple of students criticize some of my teaching at Gettysburg when comparing the anti-immigrant Know Nothings of the 1830s-1850s to current anti-immigrant Trump supporters, and stated that some Trump Administration Civil Rights proposals to be a throwback to Jim Crow. My words then were not insulting nor disrespectful, but simply valid historical criticism; but some Trump supporters are so thin-skinned that they cannot abide any criticism of the President, despite dishing out incredibly racist and disgusting personal comments about President Obama, which were mostly devoid of any non-racially based political or ideological principles.

Unlike President Obama the current President is ensnared in numerous legal, criminal, and Constitutionally backed investigations which range from simply enriching himself as a public official (the emoluments clause) and his family, or more seriously collusion with not only Russian, but Saudi, and other nations to influence his election. The Senate committee investigating the Russian connection said that this actually happened and backed up the evidence submitted by U.S. law enforcement, military, and intelligence agencies concerning this. The Saudi and other Sunni Arab connections were just brought to public light last week. Lord knows how many other governments were involved with Donald Trump Jr., and others to seek to influence the 2016 elections and U.S. foreign policy since then.

Theodore Roosevelt had to defend himself in 1918 from such criticism from the supporters of President Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt was criticizing the Wilson administration because of how badly he thought they were pursuing the war effort against Germany. For this people were castigating him. People said that newspapers should not print what Roosevelt had to say as well as “He should stand by the President” and “He should be stood before a stone wall and shot.” Roosevelt ended up writing an op-ed in the Kansas City Star in which he noted:

“The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.”

This is exactly how I base any criticism I offer of the President, his policies, words, and actions. I heartily agree with the words of Senator Stephen A. Douglas when he battled President James Buchanan over the pro-slavery attempt to have Kansas admitted to the Union as a Slave State in 1858. Douglas said of his encounter with Buchanan:

“God forbid,” I said “that I ever surrender my right to differ from a President of the United States for my own choice. I am not a tool of any President!”

Sadly, there are very few GOP Senators who would have the moral courage to do what Stephen Douglas did in 1858. He did so even though it doomed his chances to be President.

I admire Stephan Douglas but there is a difference. Now there is a difference, I am not a Senator or elected Representative, I am an officer and must carry out the orders of the President. However, if I ever come to believe that I cannot in good conscience carry them out, or if I believe that they are un-Constitutional I will retire from the military in order to allow myself the freedom to speak out more openly. To ‘this point in time I have not to have been forced to Carr out any illegal or unconstitutional orders, and as a Chaplain I have been able to speak my thoughts openly, though I am careful in how I say them at least in order to maintain my respect for the office of the President.

One of my examples is the German General Ludwig Beck, who resigned as head of the German Army in 1938 over Hitler’s aggression and his plan to attack Czechoslovakia. He wrote something that I hold particularly important in my service at this point in history:

“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.” 

Unlike the current President who sought numerous deferments from entering the military in a time of war: Stephen Douglas put his political career on the line to follow the Constitution, Theodore Roosevelt resigned from his office as Assistant Secretary of the Navy Since to go to war and place himself in harms way, Ludwig Beck would die in the failed attempt to kill Hitler in July 1944. All three men were far more honorable than President Trump, and their words should be heeded by Americans regardless of their political affiliation.

I am still dealing with the effects of the water damage in our house I will wish you a good night.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Not People but Animals…

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Yesterday President Trump revealed something about himself that I have long suspected, the President believes that some human beings are not that, but in his words, “not people, but animals”. His first wife, Ivana said what back in 1990 that her husband kept a book of Adolf Hitler’s speeches at his bedside, and if you careful read his tweets, comments to the press, interviews, and immigration policies you can see a certain amount of genuine contempt for humanity in them, especially for those who are of a darker pigmentation.

Yesterday, in his remarks at an immigration roundtable the President said these words after an exchange with the Sheriff of Fresno County California in which she touched upon a number of subjects including members of the MS-13 criminal gang.

“We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — and we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals. And we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before. And because of the weak laws, they come in fast, we get them, we release them, we get them again, we bring them out. It’s crazy.

The dumbest laws, as I said before, the dumbest laws on immigration in the world. So we’re going to take care of it, Margaret. We’ll get it done.”

Today the President tried to clarify his statement that he was talking about MS-13. However, in the broader context of the President’s years long history of broad brushing Mexicans and other immigrants as criminals. In announcing his candidacy in 2015 the President said:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Sadly this is par for the course at Trump National. One cannot forget his “shithole country” comments, or his description of the White Supremacist violence in Charlottesville, and too many other examples to list here.

Please don’t get me wrong but members of MS-13 tend to be violent criminals, but they are still human beings, just as are criminals and murderers of other gangs and home grown White American groups. But if we want to go into other brutal and deadly crime syndicates we cannot leave out Russian and Eastern European syndicates. The Russians for God’s sakes are little different from MS-13 and often have ties to the Russian government and corporations.

But there is a big difference. The Russians are White, and the President has many Russian ties. Yet many of these Russian and Eastern European gangsters many are just as illegal in their immigration status as those of darker complexion who the President calls “animals.”

Back during the 2016 elections I lost quite a few friends because I openly called candidate Trump a “racist.” That is not because I disliked the man, but it was based on his words and policy proposals about ethnic minorities and immigrants, legal or not. He has now been in office for almost a year and a half and his race and religiously based policies of deporting or keeping from American soil have been out there for all to see. Yesterday was little different, except that the President himself, and not one of his appointees or media sycophants said the words.

His words were little different from Hitler and the Nazis who called the Jews, Slavs, and many other non-Nordic ethnic groups “Untermenschen” or sub-human. The Jews in particular were referred to as rats, vermin, and parasites. As such after years of propaganda many Germans became willing participants in the genocide of the Jews and mass extermination of what they called subhuman races.

The President has given his tacit approval to the basest and most vile aspects of American racial and religious prejudice by his constant dehumanization of Mexicans, other Latin Americans, Blacks, Arabs, Muslims, as well as members of the LGBTQ community, and his political opponents that it is having its intended effects. Incidents of race hatred, religious discrimination, and even politically motivated violence are on the rise.

I’m sorry but this is not making America great again, it is dragging the United States into the company the worst examples of humanity. As a Christian as well as a humanist I think back to the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer concerning the direction of our country:

“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, and straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?”

I’m tired of those who try to excuse the President’s behavior, especially Christians and based on history I can only imagine where this ends if he remains in power.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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If You Don’t Have Time to Read You don’t Have the Time or Tools to Lead

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

During the first week of March I took about a week off of regular writing and commended a new campaign of reading. This was not because I don’t read, I am always reading, but sometimes I don’t read enough, so that week I began to catch up on some reading. Since then I have read, and read, even as I began to write again, not that I ever really stopped. I fully subscribe to the words of American satirist Will Rogers who noted: “There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”

Honestly I prefer to learn by reading or observing, and reading has been part of my life since I was a child and I cannot imagine trying to write a single sentence without reading, as Stephen King noted: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” I would extend King’s observation to say that if you don’t have time to read you don’t have time or the tools to lead. Sadly the American President and many of his most devoted followers never challenge themselves by reading.

So tonight I wanted to take a few minutes and catch you up on the newest additions to my reading rainbow. I finished reading German historian Paul Carrel’s Unternehmen Barbarossa im Bild (Operation Barbarossa in Pictures) in which the text is in German and Max Boot’s The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale an the American Tragedy in Vietnam. 

I took on Carrel’s book because I had read many of his histories of the German Army in the Second World War in English and I wanted to use this large German volume to improve my German vocabulary. It’s an excellent volume first published in 1976 but unless you have a moderate familiarity of German it I don’t recommend it despite the vast number of photos that I have not seen elsewhere and his honest commentary and reflections on the moral, social, and political disaster that was Operation Barbarossa.

I also finished Max Boot’s outstanding volume of the life of General Edward Lansdale. This is really a good account of U.S. involvement in the Philippines and Vietnam from 1945 until 1975. Lansdale was deeply involved in one of the few successful counter-insurgencies of the 20th Century, that against the Communist supported Huks in the Philippines  by Lansdale who worked closely with political reformers and sought to understand and win over insurgents without engaging in massive military sweeps. However successful he was he was distrusted by much of the CIA and military establishment and his efforts in Vietnam were undercut by them. Boot treats Lansdale’s story well without attempting to hide his many flaws. Lansdale has been referred to as an American T. E. Lawrence and Boot gives an excellent account of his life in the context of the CIA, American actions in Indochina, and American politics in the from the mid 1950s until the early 1970s. The book is well worth the read.

On the Vietnam front I read the late Michael Herr’s Dispatches, his classic account of his time serving as a war correspondent in Vietnam at Hue, Khe San, and other battles over the course of 18 months. Having been to war I highly recommend it.

On the more contemporary American political situation I read conservative and former Bush Administration advisor, David Frum’s book on the Trump Era, Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic. It is well worth the read for anyone but I highly recommend that conservatives read it. I don’t always agree with some of Frum’s political positions, but his take on the corrosive effects of Donald Trump on the United States and how Republicans have aided and abetted him.

Continuing down that road I read Michael Isikoff and David Corn’s masterpiece of investigative journalism Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump. Trump loyalists will hate this book because their work continues to be verified by every new discovery about the Russians and their role in the 2016 elections. It gives the reader a superb understanding of the key players  in this drama and help the reader to put in context the daily revelations of the investigation being conducted by Special Prosecutor Robert Muller and the actions of the President’s words, actions, and policies toward Russia and Putin as well as when he melts down on Twitter. In time it might be ranked with All the President’s Men. 

As a matter of contextualizing the present I read the late historian Tony Judt’s Ill Fares the Land which was written following the collapse of 2008. Judt discusses how we have not learned the lessons of the Twentieth Century and the problems related to the failures of both the right and left to learn those lessons. It is well worth the read but it is not a book designed or written to comfort partisans on any side of the political spectrum.

Going back to look at history I took the time to read Walter Lord’s sequel to his classic book on the sinking of the Titanic, A Night to Remember by reading his book The Night Lives On: The Untold Stories and Secrets of the “Unsinkable” Ship – Titanic. The second volume was published some three decades after Lord’s first volume which I think is the best account of the event ever written.  To follow it up I ordered and watched the film A Night To Remember which was also well worth watching. While not as technically accurate nor filled with “A list” stars the film captures the the tragedy of the ship in a way I don’t think that James Cameron’s masterpiece Titanic really gets.

I re-read Lord’s book on the integration of Ol’e Miss The Past that Would Not Die which though it recounts events of 1962 seems amazingly relevant in the present day.  The account of the admission of Air Force veteran James Howard Meredith in the face of the political opposition of Mississippi’s Governor and Legislature, armed White Supremacists against Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and civil rights activists. The event was a crisis that brought to the present the memories and ideology of secession and revolt against the Federal Government and Constitution in the name of preserving a history of white supremacism. Likewise I also re-read British historian and military theorist B. H. Liddell Hart’s little book Why Don’t We Learn from History? 

I took up Jason Stanley’s excellent How Propaganda Works. This is an excellent book for academics but I do not recommend it for the casual reader because it presupposes a knowledge of political philosophy and history that most people don’t have. It was a long and tiring read for me and I liked it. It provides a lot of insights into the mechanics of propaganda. For me it gave me a different level of understanding of the propaganda being used by the Russians agains the United States and the machinations of the American President to discredit opponents through both official government pronouncements and the official unofficial White House propaganda network, Fox News.

I am currently reading a number of books. I am about a quarter of the way through John Dower’s The Bloody American Century, about a third of the way through Timothy Snyder’s The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America, and have just started Tony Judt’s Thinking the Twentieth Century and Ron Chernow’s biography of Ulysses S. Grant.

So anyway. Have a great night and see you tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Crisis of Character: Trump Emulates Kaiser Wilhelm II and War Beckons

Two of a Kind: Kaiser Wilhelm II and President Trump

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

With every passing day the words of Theodore Roosevelt keep echoing in my mind. The President and hero of San Juan Hill noted: “Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.” That is especially true as we all await to see if the actions of President Trump live up to his Tweet storms to defy the Constitution, and unleash missiles on Syria and the forces of Russia and Iran located in that suffering country.

I could never in a million years believed that I would see the day when the manifold transgressions of an American President threaten the both the Constitution and potentially the very existence of the United Staes.  First growing number of  of crises involving multiple indictments of Trump surrogates involved with the supposedly non-existent Russian interference and the President’s threats against the press, political opponents, prosecutors, and his own Department of Justice regarding the Trump campaign collusion with Russia are frightening on their own merits. But then there is the of potential nuclear war with North Korea. But for just a dash of spice let’s mention the President’s tweets of looming strikes on Syria and taunts against Russia. Frankly as recipes for disaster go this is like adding Ghost Peppers to a Sarin laced cheesecake, but I digress…

I think that it is important to see the President’s words and actions in light of a number of factors. The first and foremost of those is character, just as Theodore Roosevelt noted. President Trump may be a character; he may even be a hoot when he gets peed on by Putin paid prostitutes (if such rumors are true) but he shows little evidence of actually having character or being a man of honor.

That dear reader is really the problem, thus it is important to know how the character other leaders at other historical  influenced how they treated people, reacted to criticism, and led their nations into disaster.

In the American experience one is hard pressed to find a President with a similar temperament and character that corresponds to Donald Trump. Yes, Nixon had some similarities, Jackson as well, but both men even at their worst did, at least in public restrain themselves and Nixon, when confronted with the reality of certain impeachment did the country a favor by resigning. Of course American history is replete with other Presidents and leaders with a corresponding lack of character but none tweeted with their iPhone in one hand and the nuclear football in the other, although I assume that he has to put at least one down to eat his friend chicken as he gets his political strategy and intelligence briefings from Sean Hannity and Steve Doocey.

But the times have changed. At onetime there were leaders in the Republican Party who chose to honor the Constitution and their oaths over blind party loyalty or their determination to pass a certain legislative act. Their resistance to President Nixon was instrumental in his resignation in 1974. But there seem to be few current members of the GOP congressional delegations willing to stand either for fear of the Trump base, or blind determination to press on with tax cuts even if it means the sacrifice of the Constitution, nuclear war, or their own integrity.

But all that being said I do think that there is a leader from historywho in temperament was much like President Trump, who ended up helping to lead his nation and the world to the abyss of World War. That is not Adolf Hitler who many people often compare the President. I think that Trump’s authoritarian tendencies and his reliance on his radicalized base, including armed mobs in the street, and hyper-partisan allies in the right wing media, especially Fox News and Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp which serves as his de-facto state media are similar, but they do not speak to the President’s unstable, narcissistic, and paranoid behaviors. I think that the better comparison is to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany with whom the President seems to share many similarities, both in temperament and words.

As tensions built in the lead up to the First World War Kaiser Wilhelm alternated between threatening Russia with destruction and pleading with his cousin Czar Nicholas II for peace.

In his book The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, Christopher Clark wrote of Wilhelm in words that are strikingly reminiscent of the President.

“It was one of this Kaiser’s many peculiarities that he was completely unable to calibrate his behaviour to the contexts in which his high office obliged him to operate. Too often he spoke not like a monarch, but like an over-excited teenager giving free rein to his current preoccupations.

‘I am the sole master of German policy,’ he remarked in a letter to the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII), ‘and my country must follow me wherever I go”

“Wilhelm frequently –especially in the early years of his reign –bypassed his responsible ministers by consulting with ‘favourites’, encouraged factional strife in order to undermine the unity of government, and expounded views that had not been cleared with the relevant ministers or were at odds with the prevailing policy.

“It was in this last area –the unauthorized exposition of unsanctioned political views –that the Kaiser achieved the most hostile notice, both from contemporaries and from historians. There can be no doubt about the bizarre tone and content of many of the Kaiser’s personal communications in telegrams, letters, marginal comments, conversations, interviews and speeches on foreign and domestic political themes. Their exceptional volume alone is remarkable: the Kaiser spoke, wrote, telegraphed, scribbled and ranted more or less continuously during the thirty years of his reign, and a huge portion of these articulations was recorded and preserved for posterity…”

Max Hastings wrote that Wilhelm “was a brittle personality whose yearning for respect caused him to intersperse blandishments and threats in ill-judged succession.” Sean McMeekin in his book July 1914 wrote that Wilhelm had an “insecurity complex, a need for constant attention and acclaim. As one of his many critics put it, the kaiser needed to be “the stag at every hunt, the bride at every wedding, and the corpse at every funeral.” He also noted “Eager for praise, taking offense at the merest slight, the kaiser was a difficult man to work for. Bismarck had disdained to gratify Wilhelm II’s fragile ego after he became emperor in 1888, which led to his sacking two years later.”

Like President Trump the Kaiser did experience some push back from different governmental ministers, and was somewhat restrained during the month leading up to the war, but his constant belligerence, instability, and unscripted remarks helped set the diplomatic and governmental crisis that led to the war. Of course this was not his fault alone, the Austrian-Hungarians, Serbians, Russians, French, and British all had a hand, but the Kaiser, through his words and actions during the three decades preceding the war bears much responsibility for what happened in 1914. If the Kaiser had had a Twitter account he would have certainly used it in a similar manner to President Trump.

But Germany had no checks and balances to restrain Wilhelm. He was an absolute monarch. Americans do still have institutional checks and balances to Presidential overreach or abuses should we choose to follow the Constitution, but for that to happen the leadership of the Republican Party must also act, as did their predecessors during the Nixon administration to put principle or party, and rule of law over blind obedience. This is not about partisanship; it is about the Constitution, our form of government, and yes, even the prevention of nuclear war, that being said I don’t think that todays Republicans would pass the test that Wilhelm’s advisors failed in 1914.

Character and temperament are very important in times of crisis and elevated tensions. Character is also fate. We should all tremble when we think of the lack of character and maturity shown by our President.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, History, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary, world war one

“Don’t Try to be Like Me, I didn’t Always Get it Right” Rest In Peace Billy Graham

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

No matter how one viewed him Billy Graham was both a legend, a remarkable man, and a truly historic figure in terms of the Evangelical Christianity that he popularized more than any other preacher before or after him. His legacy will be debated for years and I think that it is very possible that in death he will become larger than he was in life; mostly because those who attempted to follow him were poor imitations or politically motivated hucksters that Graham himself would later have nothing to do with.

Though many knew him as “America’s Pastor” he only briefly served as the pastor of a small church before he became an evangelist, a role for which he was particularly suited, he was the entire package. Graham was young, good looking, and could communicate a simple evangelical message with conviction, passion, and grace in a way that few evangelists before or since have been able to do. He was also incredibly adept in understanding the potential of television and the broadcasting of his message world wide.

When I was a kid his crusades were a staple of television. I had an aunt in Stockon California who when she wasn’t watching Lawrence Welk she was watching Billy Graham crusades. Whenever we visited her viewing habits didn’t change, no wonder my uncle Ted spent so much time in at his favorite local bar, but I digress…

That being said, even when I was eleven or twelve years old Reverend Graham’s crusades were amazing to watch. First was the fact that despite the simplicity of his message he was exceptionally talented in delivering it. To see thousands of people responding to his call for conversion or rededication to Christ as George Beverly Shea led choirs singing the invitational hymn Just as I Am was a thing of rare beauty when it comes to evangelical crusades and altar calls. Billy Graham was a master of manipulating emotions to bring people down the aisle, and I do not mean anything malicious by that.

Graham’s message was simple in its traditional evangelical message. All have sinned, and that means all of us; Christ died to save sinners; repent, believe, and confess Jesus as your savior. The message was not new, it had been preached by Christians in a variety of forms and in many cultural variations for about 1900 years before Graham ever began his first crusade, but Graham’s were much more of the simplistic fundamentalist evangelicalism that has been part of the American landscape since the Second Great Awakening. It had been a staple of Fundamentalist revival preachers for decades before Graham but unlike the hellfire and brimstone message of previous preachers like Billy Sunday Graham focused on the love of God, and unlike so many his sincerity in preaching that message came through whether in person or on television.

His message was grounded in the theology of Pre-millennial Dispensationalism of Irish Anglican Priest John Darby which found its way to North America where it was popularized by American C.I. Schofield. The message was simple and based on the belief the the return of Christ to judge the world was imminent: accept Christ and avoid the wrath to come.

His message was no different than thousands of other preachers like him, but he was better at it and understood the role of media, particularly television in spreading the message. Likewise while he encouraged Christians to become more politically active in the 1950s and 1960s though when Jerry Falwell and other fundamentalist preachers formed a political movement that became the current Christian Right he warned against it. In 1981 he said:

“I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form. It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.”

He had learned the hard way, while he was a gifted evangelist, he was not a prophet and in the first two decades of his career, Graham, the North Carolina Democrat allowed himself to become captive to Republican Presidents. He compared Dwight D. Eisenhower’s first foreign policy speech to the Sermon on the Mount and said that Richard Nixon was “the most able and best trained man for the job in American history.”

To his credit Graham did not seek the friendship or companionship of Presidents, except for Nixon, but every President after John F. Kennedy regardless of Party sought Graham’s counsel, advice and spiritual support. That being said the low mark of his career and ministry was when tapes of him and Richard Nixon emerged in 2002 in which while they agreed with their support of Israel, disparaged American Jews and their supposed control of the media, to which Graham added the Jews support for pornography. When that came to light Graham apologized and tried to put his remarks in context of those of President Nixon but his retractions for that was well as his remarked in a letter to Nixon to “bomb the dikes” in order to flood North Vietnam irregardless of civilian casualties demonstrated a ruthlessness in support of American military power being used against civilians damaged his credibility for many people.

In terms of civil rights and race relations Graham desegregated his crusades, even personally taking down the ropes that separated whites and blacks at one location. He told one audience in Mississippi that “there was no room for segregation at the foot of the Cross.” He supported Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to a degree but when Dr. King was jailed in Birmingham Alabama and wrote his classic Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Graham told reporters that King should “put the brakes on a little bit.” His unwillingness to take risks in supporting civil rights later in life was something that would also damage his reputation among Christians and non-Christians alike.

In the 1980s he said that AIDS was the judgement of God, a comment that he quickly walked back. Later he realized his mistakes in being too close to Presidents and avoided Washington and the White House. That did not keep him from befriending or caring for Presidents including Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barak Obama.

To his credit Graham could admit his mistakes with a display of humility that is lacking in most big time preachers and evangelists. When Jonathan Merritt asked Graham how people could be more like him Graham responded: “First, I’d say, don’t try to be like me, because I didn’t always get it right.”

Likewise, in 2007 when he was asked why he never supported or was affiliated with the Moral Majority or other Right Wing Christian Evangelical political groups he said:

“I’m all for morality, but morality goes beyond sex to human justice. We as clergy know so very little to speak with authority on the Panama Canal or the superiority of armaments. Evangelists cannot be closely identified with any particular party or person. We have to stand in the middle in order to preach to people, right and left. I haven’t been faithful to my own advice in the past. I will be in the future.”

I only wish that those who pretend to be the leaders of the Christian Right today, including Graham’s son Franklin and daughter Annie would be wise enough to heed his advice.

I could go on and try to evaluate the other parts of his life and ministry both positive and negative, and those debates could could go in for decades.

As for me, I always found Reverend Graham to be a genuine, yet flawed man. Whether one agreed with his theology, style of ministry, or positions on different issues he wasn’t a fake. He was exactly who he was, he believed the message that he preached. He was neither a prophet or theologian, and he approached the political world with a certain naivety that unscrupulous politicians like Richard Nixon exploited.

Charles Templeton who traveled with Graham and frequently roomed with him in various crusades eventually parted ways with Graham and became an agnostic. Templeton, who died in 2001 was asked about Graham and said something that resonates with how I feel about him and his influence:

“I disagree with him profoundly on his view of Christianity and think that much of what he says in the pulpit is puerile nonsense. But there is no feigning in him: he believes what he believes with an invincible innocence. He is the only mass evangelist I would trust. And I miss him.”

Honestly, I don’t think there will be another like him, certainly among those who have tried to emulate him or take up his mantle in the now hyper-political world of American Evangelicalism. Graham learned lessons in dealing in the political world that those who have followed him, including his son Franklin have ignored, and when American Evangelicalism crumbles under the weight of political, social, and financial malfeasance and painfully shallow theology it will be their fault.

Later in life Graham moderated some of his views on salvation. When asked by John Meacham in 2006 whether he believes heaven will be closed to good Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or secular people, Graham said:

“Those are decisions only the Lord will make. It would be foolish for me to speculate on who will be there and who won’t … I don’t want to speculate about all that. I believe the love of God is absolute. He said he gave his son for the whole world, and I think he loves everybody regardless of what label they have.”

As I reflect on his passing I think that he will understand the implications of eternity more than any of us will and whether I agreed with him or not I will miss him and wish that his son and other Evangelicals would take heed and learn from his experiences rather than to keep digging the Church into the abyss.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“It Merely Required No Character” The Truth About Trump’s Evangelical Cheerleaders

Catch-22 (1970) Alan Arkin Mike Nichols 24

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

When I see the political-religious leaders of the Christian Right defend the indefensible actions of President Trump I am reminded of the words of Joseph Heller in his classic novel Catch 22  who wrote about the Chaplain:

“The chaplain had mastered, in a moment of divine intuition, the handy technique of protective rationalization, and he was exhilarated by his discovery. It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.” 

As much as I doubt I am still a Christian, even if I wasn’t already a Christian I couldn’t think of a single reason to follow the false God of men like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, or any of the host of big name Evangelical Christian preachers who excuse the behaviors of President Trump and his decadently despicable defenders, including people that I once thought that I knew.

I used to think that most people like to believe that religion is a benign or positive influence in the world. As much as I want to believe the positive aspects I have to admit based on the historical and sociological evidence that this is not so, especially during unsettled times of great change. We live in such an era and when it comes to identity, God is the ultimate trump card.

If one wonders why the most fanatical individuals and groups on earth are tied to religions, whether it is the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, Orthodox Jews, radical Hindus and Buddhists as well as militant Christians. Of course all of these groups have different goals, but their thought and philosophy are quite similar.

Robert Heinlein wrote:

“Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.”

Heinlein, the author of the classic Starship Troopers was absolutely correct. Just look at any place in any time where any religion, sect or cult has gained control of a government. They are not loving, they are not forgiving and they use the police power of the state to persecute any individual or group that is judged to be in error, or even worse has the gall to question their authority.

Since the Christian groups tend to thrive in the West, they only speak in terms of violence, most, with the exception of Russian Orthodox Christians, do not have a government to translation of those words into action. Many, especially conservative Catholics and some Evangelical and Charismatic Protestants seem for a long for the day when they can assume control of a theocratic government.

Samuel Huntington wrote in his book The Clash of Civilizations:

“People do not live by reason alone. They cannot calculate and act rationally in pursuit of their self-interest until they define their self. Interest politics presupposes identity. In times of rapid social change established identities dissolve, the self must be redefined, and new identities created. For people facing the need to determine Who am I? Where do I belong? Religion provides compelling answers….In this process people rediscover or create new historical identities. Whatever universalist goals they may have, religions give people identity by positing a basic distinction between believers and non-believers, between a superior in-group and a different and inferior out-group.”

Huntington was right, you see the true believers, those who follow their religion without question and believe that it is superior to all others also believe that their religion entitles them to be atop the food chain, others who don’t believe like them be damned, if not in this life, the next. That is the certitude of the true believer, especially the religious one. Secular or atheistic fanatics could care less about the next life, for this life is all that they have. But the religious “true believers” are not only interested in destroying someone in this life, but ensuring that in the next that they suffer for eternity, unless they believe in the annihilation of the soul after death, which really spoils the whole Dante’s Inferno perspective of the damned in the afterlife.

The great American philosopher, Eric Hoffer wrote:

“The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is the surrendering and humbling of the self breed pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

That is why they, the religious true believers of any faith are capable of such great evil, and why such people can murder innocents in the most brutal manner simply because they do not believe correctly. In fact today when I see the words and actions of these supposed Conservative Christians.

Please do not get me wrong. I am a Christian, a priest, a historian and a theologian, but I also know just how insidious those who hold their religion over those of others can be. While I hold faith dear, I know that it can be abused for the claim of some to have God as their final authority is a sort of trump card with which they are able to justify the most obscene and evil acts against others.

Likewise I struggle with faith every day. If you have read this blog from the beginning you will see chronicle my struggles with faith and its practice, especially in life and politics.

I guess that is why I am even more frightened of religious true believers than non-religious true believers. While the non-religious true believer may sacrifice everything for the sake of power and control in this life, and may in fact commit the most heinous crimes against humanity, their hatred is bounded in space and time to this earth. The religious true believer is not content with that; their enemies must be damned and punished in this life, but for eternity, without hope of salvation.

When they look at people like me or Yossarian they believe as Heller wrote:

“Morale was deteriorating and it was all Yossarian’s fault. The country was in peril; he was jeopardizing his traditional rights of freedom and independence by daring to exercise them.” 

With that I wish you a good day.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Shaking My Head

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past day or so the news out of Washington D.C. becomes ever more surreal and I I really don’t know what to say that hasn’t been said by others more eloquently than I could ever hope to do. That being said I really think that our country is heading for a major constitutional, political, military, and possibly economic crisis as the President continues to melt down as he has on Twitter with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, as well as former advisors, most recently Stephen Bannon, the Jabba The Hutt like advisor who left the White House last year and since has been campaigning for candidates revolting against the old line mainstream GOP. Even after he left the White House Bannon was reportedly in frequent contact with the President until the Roy Moore debacle in Alabama.

Now in a new book Bannon has been quoted regarding Donald Trump Jr., and Jared Kushner’s contacts with Russian agents in Trump Tower in 2016 and suggested that the President had to know about it. He even labeled the meeting as “traitorous.” In response the President went on yet another Twitter tirade attacking Bannon. The whole incident reminded me of two monkeys flinging feces at each other. This was in the wake of the President having a dick waving contest with the North Korean dictator regarding who had the bigger nuclear button even as Lil’ Kim and the Norks scored diplomatic points by providing an opportunity for South Korea to attempt to deescalate the crisis.

I’m sorry but no matter what the President’s flacks on Fox News are saying, the man is not stable and his actions are endangering the country, the Constitution, and the office of the Presidency itself. If it was just him I might think that this is just an unfortunate blip in our history, but there are close to 30-35% of the population who are absolutely and unreservedly loyal to the President. They are the people that the President said during the campaign would support him even if he “shot someone on 5th Avenue.” Likewise there are the Republicans in Congress, including some who at one time were called “Never Trumpers” who even when they criticize the President still remain obedient to his demands on legislation.

I just cannot believe what I am seeing and unlike many I have been predicting this crisis since before the election even as I hoped and prayed that the President would grow into the office. Likewise when I see some of the fawning comments of old friends and military comrades about the President and their condemnation of any opponents of him on various social media sites I shake my head because they should know better.

The President’s actions, his words, and yes his Tweets are going to either destroy his Presidency or the country, maybe both; and that should be concerning to both Trump’s supporters and opponents.

I was actually surprised to see Bannon’s words in print and the quotes from the book publicized on Bannon’s Breitbart site. To me it looks like Bannon and Trump are about to go to war with each other, a prospect that is going to terrify the GOP rebels Bannon has supported who still want the blessing of Trump. These things are going to get really interesting and one wonders if Bannon might have cut a deal with Special Prosecutor Bob Mueller. Regardless of the motives of either man this is not going to end well for the country or the Presidency.

Anyway, it is late and I am prevented from going to work in the morning due to blizzard conditions which means that I will be catching up on housework while adoring two of our three Papillon (Izzy and Pierre) dogs while my wife and our other Papillon, Minnie wait for an opportunity to return home having taken a friend back to her home out of state following a Christmas and New Years visit. Izzy still loves the snow, and Pierre in his first real winter has decided that it is definitely not for him.

So until the next time,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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