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The Poetry of Fear: Nightmares and Moral Wounds

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Tombstone at the British Cemetery, Habbaniyah Iraq

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Stephen King wrote: “Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear.”

I prefer physical pain and physical injury to moral, emotional, and spiritual injury. I agree with Alexander Dumas who wrote in the Count of Monte Cristo“Moral wounds have this peculiarity – they may be hidden, but they never close; always painful, always ready to bleed when touched, they remain fresh and open in the heart.”

That is how I feel over ten years after returning from Iraq in 2008. No matter how well I am doing there are times when things going on in the present fill me with terror and evoke the ghosts of my past. As much as I want to put my war and other wars in the past I see American political leaders, propagandists, and religious leaders doing all they can to bring about new wars abroad and divide us at home.

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I find this deeply unsettling and it causes great anxiety, especially when I try to sleep. On Saturday night I had terrible nightmares of war with superiors trying to force me to commit war crimes. Four times Judy tried to wake me as I screamed and fought and I couldn’t pull myself out of the dreams. Thankfully I did not end up throwing myself out of bed and causing injury as I have done before. Likewise the Papillons, including our youngest boy, Pierre, now know to move to a different part of the bed when I am so unsettled.

Guy Sajer wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier, “Only happy people have nightmares, from overeating. For those who live a nightmare reality, sleep is a black hole, lost in time, like death.” United States Army General Gouverneur Warren, a hero of many Civil War battles including Gettysburg wrote to his wife after the war “I wish I did not dream so much. They make me sometimes to dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish never to experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”

In my dreams I remember everything about the war like it was yesterday. The images are vivid: wounded Marines, a wounded Iraqi boy with his father, a rocket flying just a few feet above my head, taking small arms fire in Ramadi on the ground and aboard an Army helicopter which returned fire as we took off from Ramadi, destroyed cities and villages, destitute and terrified people, and refugees.

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But those dreams and nightmares blend reality with unreality, real places with imaginary places, places that I’ve been to but are not the same as they are in the real world and they frequently show up. You think that I would be used to them; but no matter how often I have them I never get used to them, and I can’t really explain them, I only try to survive them.

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Ramadi, January 2008

One of my favorite actors, James Spader, plays a character named Raymond Reddington on the television show The Blacklist. During one episode he told another character something quite profound, something that if we actually embrace it can be somewhat comforting. “There is nothing that can take the pain away. But eventually, you will find a way to live with it. There will be nightmares. And every day when you wake up, it will be the first thing you think about. Until one day, it’s the second.”

Anyway, I have spent my evening watching the musicals Chicago and Mama Mia in order to take my mind off of all that is going on in the world. Now it is time for bed and the world of dreams and nightmares. Thankfully I will get up in the morning and carry on with life, even joyfully.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Courageous Versus the Ideologues

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today is a bit of a detour following my last two articles dealing with the Reichstag Fire and Reichstag Fire Decree, but it does have some ties to them and I will pick up on the Reichstag Fire theme tomorrow.

Being an ideologue of any kind is easy, you adopt an ideology and then use it to interpret the world. That is why there are so many of them of so many different varieties: right wing, left wing, religious and so many more. In fact if you take a look at the most strident supporters of any ideology, politician, or religious leader you can see that they are little different from one another. But in terms of the ideologies they espouse the most enduring of them, and the only to have ever been the foundation of state power or those dealing with economics such as the Soviet Union; or race such as Nazi Germany or the American Southern Confederacy. Hannah Arendt wrote:

“For an ideology differs from a simple opinion in that it claims to possess either the key to history, or the solution for all the “riddles of the universe,” or the intimate knowledge of the hidden universal laws which are supposed to rule nature and man. Few ideologies have won enough prominence to survive the hard competitive struggle of persuasion, and only two have come out on top and essentially defeated all others: the ideology which interprets history as an economic struggle of classes, and the other that interprets history as a natural fight of races. The appeal of both to large masses was so strong that they were able to enlist state support and establish themselves as official national doctrines. But far beyond the boundaries within which race-thinking and class-thinking have developed into obligatory patterns of thought, free public opinion has adopted them to such an extent that not only intellectuals but great masses of people will no longer accept a presentation of past or present facts that is not in agreement with either of these views.” 

The fact is that there is a difference between people who lean a certain way politically or religiously, and the people Eric Hoffer called, the “true believers,” the people who chose a side and never wrestle with the hard choices of life. They simply declare all who oppose their ideology or theology to be unworthy of life.

I am a liberal and a progressive, but I often find left-wing ideologues to be as off putting as militant right wingers. I guess that is because despite everything I am a realist. I wake up every day to try to do the hard thing of deciding what is right and what to believe.

My favorite television character, Raymond Reddington, played by James Spader in The Blacklist once said “I know so many zealots, men and women, who chose a side, an ideology by which to interpret the world. But, to get up every single day and to do the hard work of deciding what to believe. What’s right, today? When to stand up or stand down. That’s courage.” The fact is, no matter how stridently they espouse their beliefs, ideologues are by definition not courageous, because courage takes critical thinking, something that ideologues of any persuasion are incapable of doing. I see examples of this every day, especially in my Twitter feed and on Facebook.

While I’m sure that many, if not most of these people are good and well meaning people, they seldom display any originality of thought or true character. I had one left wing Twitter follower attack repeatedly me because to her I was supposedly a sellout. I have had right wing religious friends and followers on social media do the same.  While they attack me and each other from different ends of the political spectrum, the intellectual commonality they share is the fact that they are ideologues and zealots; and while they espouse different beliefs they are almost indistinguishable from each other in their inability to think critically and that wears me out.

I guess that is one of the things that bothers me the most about so much of what I see going on in the United States today. Too many ideologues, not enough critical thinkers. Too many people who value absolute consistently of thought without asking if what they preach is still true today, or if it might be tomorrow.

One thing that I have learned over the past eight years or so is that I have to ask what is right today, and make a choice of when to stand up, or to stand down. Sometimes, I don’t like those choices, but I make them.

I guess that is why I like reading about the lives of complicated and often conflicted people; men like T.E. Lawrence, William Tecumseh Sherman, and the fictional Raymond Reddington. I find much to admire and to criticize in all of them even as I empathize and understand each one of them. Interestingly, each of my heroes all have feet of clay. As Reddington said, “We become who we are. We can’t judge a book by its cover… But you can by its first few chapters, and most certainly by its last.” 

Have a great day, until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Shutdowns, Lotteries, Nightmares, and Soccer: “Life is Far too Important to Talk about Seriously”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

My goodness it has been a weekend hasn’t it? We have a government shutdown going and God only knows what it going to happen next but if I was a betting man I would dare say that I do not think that is not going to end well. By the way I did buy a $1 scratch off lottery ticket at 7-11 when I bought my coffee on the way to work Thursday morning and won $8, you might think that I would be more optimistic after the shutdown, but I’m not, and sadly I digress…

That being said the fact is that the situation is going to get worse before it gets better because even if the senators find a compromise to keep the government open, the President based on  the advice of Stephen Miller and probably John Kelly will reject it unless the Democrats completely cave to their profoundly White Supremacist demands. I doubt that will happen because it seems that after decades of being bullied that the Democrats have finally grown a spine, I really do think that they now realize that the promises of Donald Trump, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell mean nothing and that their political survival cannot be assured by rolling over to Republican demands.

This is like nothing we have seen in this country since before the Civil Rights movement and is very much like racism, and religious-political persecution in Czarist Russian that Miller’s Yiddish speaking Jewish grandparents fled. Since Eastern European Jews were treated with contempt, discriminated against, and hated by many Americans because they were different the irony, considering the fact that Miller is a fan of neo-Nazis and White Supremacists like Richard Spencer and Peter Brimelow is all too rich.

I thin that the uncertainty and instability brought about by the shutdown about makes the country very vulnerable any number of national security crises, and of which could lead to disaster for our political system. When that disaster comes it will be a crisis that the administration and maybe even a majority in Congress will deem so great that civil liberties, and maybe even the Constitution itself will need to be suspended. The fact is that we are only a Reichstag Fire event away from dictatorship.

Historian Timothy Snyder very wisely noted:

“Modern tyranny is terror management. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power. The sudden disaster that requires the end of checks and balances, the dissolution of opposition parties, the suspension of freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Do not fall for it.” 

Please my friends as you watch this drama play out be aware of the threat that it is to our political system.

But really that is such a downer, so on the positive side traffic going into base tomorrow should be much lighter.  Likewise after another wild PTSD dream night in which I threw myself off the bed in response to a situation in my dream where I threw myself over a sand berm, landing on my back beside the bed, my Sunday was far better. I spent Sunday morning drinking coffee, eating what the Germans call Brotchen (small fresh hard rolls) with European butter and German jam while watching Bayern Munchen, my favorite football team in the Bundesliga defeat Werder Bremen by a score of 4-2 and then watching Schalke play Hanover 96 to a 1-1 draw with my Papillon Izzy on my lap. It was a glorious morning.

I so wish that there were more like it and despite the seriousness of the times I have to agree with Raymond Reddington who said:  “Life is far too important to talk about seriously.”

So I will go to bed after drinking a small glass of Kilbeggan Irish Whisky and until the next time I wish you a good night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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To Stand Up Against Zealots

 

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am not a fan of ideologues or the “fundamentalists” of any point in the political, ideological or religious spectrum. Their lack of courage, stunted intellectualism, and inability to see things from outside their limited field of view does not allow them to face really difficult questions that confront us today.  They claim to hold the keys to the universe but sadly are hold nothing more than the key to their high school gym locker.

The Iranian novelist Salman Rushdie who has been on the run from Iranian fundamentalist ideologues since he wrote the supposedly heretical Satanic Verses once noted:

“The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a religious belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.”

I believe that we are at yet another crossroads in Western civilization. This time a crossroads where the classic liberalism that was the basis for democratic societies is being stampeded by zealots of various persuasions who guided by the supposed infallibility of their ideological belief systems, deliberately and without remorse seek to destroy the institutions that are the guardians of liberty.

In my honest opinion I think that the worst of these are the conservative Christian theocrats and their seemingly ideological enemies the Ayn Rand following Social Darwinist “conservative libertarians.” They have no shame, their respective ideologies blind them to truth and turn them into sociopaths that only give a damn about their power and profits and they latched on to President Trump, prostrating themselves and the Republican Party to him in order that they might triumph.

Of course I will be the first to admit that there are some leftists who would be the first to put a bullet in the head of Lady Liberty to further their own cause.  But they are not the danger. They control nothing that would allow them to succeed and most cannot even agree among themselves to work together, they have nothing on Lenin, Stalin, Mao, the Iranian Mullahs, or even Hugo Chavez; may God give rest to his chubby cheeks.

Say what you want about him but President Trump is not an ideologue, he can’t be, he’s too much of a self-absorbed narcissist to be an ideologue. All he wants is the adulation of his audience and the power and wealth that come with it. He may be a sociopath but it is not for the sake of any ideology. If the issue was the President alone we could survive him; but his supporters of the Christian Right and the Ayn Rand Social Darwinists of the GOP are much more dangerous, because they are true believers who actually control many of the apparatuses of government at the local, state, and federal level.

We have seen the results of such movements in history before and each time they succeed in gaining power they have brought disaster to nations, and sometimes the world.

Proponents of ideological purity assume that their ideological bias is equivalent to sacred truth, be it a religious or secular truth. The promoters of such systems promote something more than their opinion, as Hannah Arendt noted: “For an ideology differs from a simple opinion in that it claims to possess either the key to history, or the solution for all the “riddles of the universe,” or the intimate knowledge of the hidden universal laws which are supposed to rule nature and man.”  

As such, ideology is not based on knowledge, but is distinct from it and the enemy of knowledge for it binds the mind in a straitjacket in which all thought must be submitted to the truth of the ideology. As Arendt noted such ideologies must be handled with caution as they “pretend to be keys to history but are actually nothing but desperate efforts to escape responsibility.”  

An ideology protects the true believer from having to think for himself, it allows the insecure to grasp at the protection that it allegedly provides, and allows the believer to deny reality, and to by definition declare everything that contradicts the ideology to be heretical, and opponents to be aligned with the devil himself, allowing the believer to hate the opponent. As Eric Hoffer noted, “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” 

As I have mentioned the past couple of days my favorite television character, Raymond Reddington, played by James Spader in The Blacklist once said “I know so many zealots, men and women, who chose a side, an ideology by which to interpret the world. But, to get up every single day and to do the hard work of deciding what to believe. What’s right, today? When to stand up or stand down. That’s courage.” The fact is, no matter how stridently they espouse their beliefs, ideologues are by definition not courageous, because courage takes critical thinking, something that ideologues of any persuasion are incapable of doing.

That is why knowledge and critical thought even when they are uncomfortable and take us out of our comfort zone are so much more powerful and important than ideologies that are followed blindly. My words to the ideologues of the Christian Right and the Ayn Rand followers of so many in the Republican Party is that of Samuel Adams who said:

“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.” 

It takes no courage to be an ideologue, and once a person surrenders to an ideology as his or her reason for existence, they sacrifice the ability to reason, the ability to think critically, and the capacity to acquire knowledge and in doing so they surrender to tyranny and servitude though they think they will end up on top.

That is the danger of the blind ideologies that are consuming our world today and why as long as anyone who cares about freedom has a breath in them they must be opposed.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“In the Kingdom of the Blind, the One Eyed Man is the King” Musings of a Flawed Man

 

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past year or so this site has picked up a good number of new subscribers and sadly most of us will never get a chance to sit back and enjoy good intellectual conversation over a good craft or German beer or a nice bottle of wine. So if you would sit back and over whatever your favorite beverage may be take the time to let me wax eloquently about how the writer that you follow here got to be what he is.

I think my favorite character on television is Raymond “Red” Reddington, played by James Spader on the shoe The Blacklist. He is a very complex and troubling character, and the thing is I can understand him. His is a world of gray where he sometimes does the right thing for wrong reasons as well as the wrong thing for right reasons. His loyalties are personal and not ideological, he is a man of contradictions, as am I. Raymond Reddington one said, “Cultural peculiarities notwithstanding, I find cock fighting to be abominable. However, truth be told, I do love fried chicken.” I totally agree with that, sorry Vegan friends.

My regular readers know that I am a complex person as well. I am a Christian, a priest at that, who often doubts. I am also a career military officer who has been to war, come back from war different and hates it. But I also realize that as much of an evil as war is, that there are sometimes worse evils than war itself.  That being said I find the thought of someone, perhaps like President Trump launching the world into a nuclear war with North Korea to be opposed at all costs by anyone with at least half of a functioning brain. My loyalty to the Constitution and the American people far outweigh any need that I might have to ingratiate myself to any would be tyrant.

Likewise I am very liberal and progressive in my political and social beliefs, but I serve in a profoundly conservative institution that is not always welcoming to my beliefs. I wasn’t always this way but it was my experience in Iraq that turned the tide and turned me into a progressive. Usually people get more conservative as they get older, that’s not me. I got liberal, started caring about civil rights for everyone, the growing economic inequity between the richest and everyone else, and rejected the theocratic leanings of some leaders of my former church. At a point in my life where I should by all means have become even more conservative based on my social status, education, and income, I went the opposite direction. I am not alone, I read an article that Tom Ricks wrote in 2014 in which he said very similar things to me. I personally know others who have made the same journey.

But that being said, even though I am a liberal and progressive at heart, my education as a historian and my life experience mitigates against me becoming an ideologue or zealot, and I am certainly not a revolutionary. Thus unlike zealots who I might agree with I tend take the time to wrestle with the issue and not react out of emotion or illogic. Even if I agree with someone I hate it when they through emotion or illogic make stupid arguments that are all to easy to dissect or discredit; not because they are wrong on the issue but because they don’t argue their point well. Let me explain.

I tend to be able to see and appreciate arguments of multiple points of view on almost every issue, and I wrestle with them, doing the best I can to do the right thing. Whether it is for the right reason or not, I don’t pretend to know because I make no pretense of being a saint. Maybe that is one reason I have friends on all sides of the political, religious, and ideological debates that rage about this country and in the world. I live in a world of shades of gray.

I love trying to understand all sides of a position which of course makes me a terrible ideologue, and even worse I love the thrill when I embarrass an ideologue of any kind using reason, logic, and throwing in the appropriate emotional twist to make it sweet. I discovered this as a short, introverted, history nerd in high school and college. I found that in debate classes I could take the opposite side of what I really believed and shred the person advocating for the exact position that I really believed due to my then rather fundamentalist Christian worldview; like my support of pro-life position of being against abortion and for the death penalty at the same time. It was in arguing the opposite side that I discovered how intellectually incoherent those positions were. When I got to seminary after my first active duty tour in the Army I continued my antics in arguing against positions that I actually at the time believed in, with similar results. In fact a number of my fellow students asked me why I wasn’t in law school and it wasn’t a compliment; nonetheless I relished it.

But as always I digress…

In the last episode of season three of The Blacklist, Reddington tells an assistant FBI director who he has been helping solve crimes, “I know so many zealots, men and women, who choose a side, an ideology by which to interpret the world. But, to get up every single day and do the hard work of deciding what to believe. What’s right, today? When to stand up or stand down. That’s courage.” From my experience I believe that to be the truth, and truthfully, I would rather deal with people that wrestle with this difficult world than rather than those whose beliefs are shaped by their ideology first, regardless of facts, divergence of opinions, history, science, reality, and experience.

But what bothers me in what I see going on in this country and around the world is that mass movements of ideologues and zealots of every persuasion, political and religious, those that have seized or are trying to seize power in many nations, and foment revolution. Captivated by ideological purity, they are unwilling to compromise and frequently label anyone that disagrees with them or the leader of their movement, even in the slightest manner as traitors or evil. Many times the zealots take no time to evaluate the quality of the merits of their movement or those that oppose them, their cause is right, their opponents are evil and need to be destroyed. I think the most distressing case is where the Nazis and German Communists worked together to destroy the Weimar Republic in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Eric Hoffer wrote,  “The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world.” Likewise, Hoffer noted something that I observe almost every day, that the zealots and ideologues of mass movements use anger and hatred to unify their followers. Hoffer noted, “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” Believe, me, ask any ideologue of any type, and he or she will tell you who their devil is. But sadly history demonstrates that a mass movements of any type, political, ideological, or religious has achieved power, all opponents, especially those closest to them ideologically or religiously are the enemy, or to use Hoffer’s words “a devil.” The opponents closest to the ideologues ideology have to be destroyed or discredited first, before they can move on to battle their real opposites. Just look at history.

The ideologue cannot lose because he already knows his answer, the classic fundamentalist Christian quote, God said it, I believe it, that settles it”  is very much descriptive of other ideologically driven mass movements be they conservative or liberal. The ideologue’s attitudes are derived from their ideology and are often not subject to facts. I see it every day, especially on social media where partisans of evil persuasion fire broadside after broadside at all opponents, regardless of the facts, or even the fact that there may be more than one equally valid viewpoint on a subject. But then I tend to see everything in various shades of gray and not in black and white absolutes, and ideologues of all types frighten me, even those whose unbending beliefs are sugarcoated with millennial or utopian sentiments of the perfect world that will follow their victory. I know from history that such is not the case, in far too many instances first thing that radical, or self-proclaimed revolutionaries do after achieving absolute power is to kill.

Now as far as the President is concerned he is not a populist, nor an ideologue, and certainly not a revolutionary in the traditional understanding of the term.  The only thing that he believes in is himself; he is certainly a narcissist and he demonstrates daily that he is a paranoid sociopath. His bottom line is himself, everything and everyone else is fungible. He is intellectually lazy and the only time he tells the truth is when he inadvertently reveals who he really is in his Twitter meltdowns.

His most prominent supporters tend to be people who know the truth about the man but through a combination of a lust for temporal power, his conservative Christian base; or greed, the Ayn Rand type libertarian-conservatives whose social-Darwinian greed makes them use him to enrich themselves. The former believe that Trump will help them usher in a theocracy; the latter believe that he will give the government over to them in order to help their profit margin. None of them have any principles and are committed to their respective ideologies as contradictory as they may be. None of them have any courage, and none of them will ever stand for anything.

Maybe that is why I like Raymond Reddington. He’s flawed and so am I. He does bad things. He is a manipulator; but he recognizes his moral and ethical shortcomings and wrestles with his  own shortcomings. He is not always successful but he does make the attempt. I look at his character and I realize that in a different world or maybe an alternate universe I could be him.

All that being said, I really do think that real courage is to wrestle with reality every day and do the hard work of deciding what to believe; and today that may be different then tomorrow, but it will be based on reality and tempered by my often contradictory beliefs. Of course a true political ideologue or religious fundamentalist will condemn me to their version of hell for being that honest, but it is true. That is my uncomfortable reality, it may not be right, and my vision may be skewed and distorted, but it is what it is; and as Reddington said, “In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

As for you my readers I do thank you and hope that one day we may sit back and enjoy a drink together, possibly even toasting the “Immortal Lord Nelson.” But until that time thank you for taking time out of your day to read what I write and for your comments.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, faith, leadership, News and current events, Political Commentary, pro-life anti-abortion

The Book of Trump: Continuing to Become Who He Already Is

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Raymond Reddington once said: “We become who we are. We can’t judge a book by its cover… But you can by its first few chapters, and most certainly by its last.” 

Yesterday I posted an article about President Trump’s pathological need for revenge and how it is poisoning him. In the article I quoted Reddington, the character played by James Spader in the television series The Blacklist about how how revenge is not a passion but a disease that is killing him as a person regardless of whether as some speculate that he is suffering from a mental illness or neurological condition. I also discussed how his supporters don’t seem to give a damn about him as a person, including his supporters in the clergy. If I am angry about anything it is how his supporters enable, make excuses, and never are honest with him. Maybe that wouldn’t make any difference with Trump, but they are culpable for their deeds in regard to him. They are ideologues and cowards, and I will write about them another time.

The problem with trying to place the blame for the President’s behavior on mental illness or some kind of degenerative neurological condition is that this presumes that his behavior now somehow deviates from his past. The fact is that it doesn’t. He has been this way for decades and while it is possible that the stresses of the office have made his personal defects more noticeable and that because of them he may be coming to a breaking point where he cracks up, he has always been this way as an adult.

 

Regardless of what revelations about the President are included in Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury, it is the daily damning comments that he makes on Twitter every day that reveal who he is and what he always has been: a petulant, emotionally stunted, childish bully.

He is like every bully I have ever known and if you look at his life, especially after graduating from college and going to work for his father as a real estate developer; enriching himself, bankrupting his companies, and leaving carnage behind him in the lives of his partners, his contractors, his employees, and his marriages. I don’t like bullies, never had, never will. I was always the new kid in town and I was not a big kid. As a result I got bullied, but I always fought back, even when the odds were against me, so even when I lost those fights, I gained a manner of grudging respect from my tormenters. I didn’t like bullies when I was a kid, and I like them even less now. Likewise, I got in fights to defend smaller and weaker friends against bullies. I have grown up but I still try to defend the weak against the powerful in whatever way I can. This has led me to become, since my tour in Iraq, a civil rights advocate for minorities, women, and LGBTQ people.

As such I have no problem dealing with bullies, but now I have to fight them from the point of love and not hate, and for me to do that with the President is a daily challenge because I am not so Christlike that I cannot hate. That being said when I struggle I have to fall back to the words spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Like Reddington said, you cannot judge a book by its cover; but if you examine the first chapters of Donald Trump’s career and the chapters that he is writing for us every day on Twitter and during every interview that he grants. He simply is continuing to become who he already is, and I don’t think that he will ever change.

That being said I wake up every day that the next chapter that the President writes will be different and that maybe my prayers and hopes for the President will be realized. Unfortunately I am a skeptic when it comes to believe that people like the President can change and that the final chapter of the book will be different from the preceding chapters.

So until the next time,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The President’s Pathological Need for Revenge: A Disease that is Eating His Mind and Poisoning His Soul

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

One of my favorite television characters is that of Raymond Reddington played by James Spader in The Blacklist. In the episode Monarch Douglas Bank Reddington tells Milos “Berlin” Kirchoff played by Peter Stormare: “Revenge isn’t a passion. It’s a disease. It eats at your mind and poisons your soul.”

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That brings me to my subject today and in all honesty this has been a hard article to write and you’ll see why as I develop it.

As I watched and read in silent horror the extended Twitter and subsequent television meltdown of President Trump on Saturday following the release of Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury I realized that Reddington’s comment perfectly describes the President, his need for revenge is a disease and it has destroyed his soul. That is frightening because by virtue of his position the President has the power to lead the country and world to oblivion, and he may well do it.

The President’s response included  threatening the publisher with legal action, lashing out at the media, his former adviser, Steven Bannon, as well as other opponents; even as he bragged about how smart he was and stated his desire to see restrictions on the First Amendment protections of freedom of speech and the press. This was on the heels of his careless talk about nuclear war and renewed threats against the Clinton’s and the decision of the FBI to reopen investigations of the Clinton Foundation, which the President had publicly demanded that the Justice Department do for months.

I do not know if this is simply his grossly deformed personality with its unbounded  narcissism and sociopathic lack of empathy in overdrive. Others, including psychiatrists of some note have suggested that the President might be suffering some kind of mental illness, he certainly demonstrates notable paranoia, whether that and others the possibility that he may suffering from a neurological condition such as Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia.

But I am concerned because what is going on with this President is not normal, but of all because of his longstanding testimony of how revenge is a key part of how he views the world. His is an adversarial world where there are no real friends, only opponents, enemies, and those who might someday be enemies. This has been shown in his business life, his relationship with the media, political parties, and since his election how he is undoing and remaking seventy years of American leadership in the world.

Trump on many occasions has given interviewers a perspective on how he deals with those who are not absolutely and unconditionally loyal to him. In his book Think Big the future President wrote:

“When people wrong you, go after those people, because it is a good feeling and because other people will see you doing it. I always get even.”

Since coming to office the President has derided, insulted, and even threatened everyone from ordinary citizens, including Gold Star families; journalists, political opponents, former employees and members of his own White House team, and world leaders. His insecurity and inability to withstand criticism or admit error are pathological and are consuming him before our eyes. Sadly, most congressional Republicans and many prominent pastors and clergy don’t don’t seem to see how troubling it is, in fact many of his defenders say nothing so long as their agenda is fulfilled.

I think the support of prominent Christian clergy is the most troubling aspect of this whole sordid Presidency, because they both debase and contradict the Gospel that they claim to preach. I quoted Trump’s most vocal supporter among Evangelicals, Pastor Robert Jeffress last night in terms of this contradiction and it is worth saying again. Jeffress said:

“You know, I was debating an evangelical professor on NPR, and this professor said, ‘Pastor, don’t you want a candidate who embodies the teaching of Jesus and would govern this country according to the principles found in the Sermon on the Mount?’” Jeffress said. “I said, ‘Heck no.’ I would run from that candidate as far as possible, because the Sermon on the Mount was not given as a governing principle for this nation.”

For a Pastor, who like many other Trump supporters claims to want the nation to be governed by Biblical Law above that of the Constitution the blatant disregard of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount is astounding. In many of his statements Jeffress is totally committed to bowing the knee to Caesar so long as it is a Caesar he approves; as well as giving in advance to that Caesar support to start a preemptive nuclear war with North Korea; drive out immigrants regardless of their status; deny Constitutionally protected free speech; and suggest denying rights to those who are not Evangelical Christians.

He stands in opposition not only to Scripture itself, but his own Baptist tradition and men like the Virginia Baptist john Leland who I have often written about on this site.  It seems to me that Jeffress, like Trump is totally committed to an ethic of revenge even though he does not outrightly say it.

In opposition to Jeffress I would quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer who stood against the Nazi German versions of Jeffress when it comes to how Christians should respond, and it is not revenge:

“The will of God, to which the law gives expression, is that men should defeat their enemies by loving them.”

As for the President I find the vast majority of his policies abhorrent from the perspective of the Gospel, as well as the Constitution, and simple human rights. I cannot support those programs, policies, nor his behavior which threatens civil liberties and increase the possibility of world war, with the likelihood that the responsibility for that war would make him and the United States a rogue and criminal nation.

I wish no physical harm upon the President or his family though I do believe that his actions need to be scrutinized and investigated with the full force of the law. Even so as much as I dislike the man and oppose his policies he is still in need of the love of God as well as mine, and I do struggle with this. It is not easy to have any kind of compassion for a man who is consumed with hatred, and absent of empathy which is nothing but evil. It is probable that any real love for the President will be met with rejection, but the command of Christ is to love others seeking nothing in return, that is part of the paradox and tension that I am living in today. He may be mentally ill or have a neurological disease, or he may just be evil. I find nothing to love, respect, or admire in the man: but if I and others like me don’t follow the command of Jesus, is there any hope? Of course that is a rhetorical question, we will all answer it differently.

Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Love asks nothing in return, but seeks those who need it. And who needs our love more than those who are consumed with hatred and are utterly devoid of love.”

Even so all of this being said, I fear for the worst  for the country and the world as long as President Trump remains in office and men like Robert Jeffress continue to support him and in the end I probably have more compassion for Trump than Jeffress because Jeffress who has preached hate in the name of Jesus for decades should know better. I don’t think that Trump does.

So until the next time,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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