Tag Archives: religious hatred

Mass Movements, Devils & Tipping Points

anti-jewish poster

The Nazis made the Jews their “Devil”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great American philosopher, Eric Hoffer once wrote, “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picard pauses and then notes:

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

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, faith, History, Political Commentary, Religion

The Cost of Hate

“In time we hate that which we often fear.” William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra

I felt hatred in me today, like I have not in a very long time. I guess that it has been building for some time, a reaction to things that I have experienced at the hands of people that at one time I thought were my friends as well as total strangers. The sad thing is that almost every single one of these people claims to be a Christian, some pastors and even some men that served with at the altar. People in some cases that I have known much of my adult life.

I found my self saying that I was beginning to hate Christians, prefaced with a few adjectives. I was so disheartened to being run over by someone that I didn’t even know on a social network because I dared to mention that race was an issue for some people in the current election campaign. The man unleashed a barrage and was joined by several others. I had posted my comment in relation to a friend’s post last night and forgot about it. However when I checked my account at noon today I sat back in stunned amazement at the unbridled hatred that was spewed at me by name in very long sermon like posts by people that I didn’t even know. Without seeking clarification or asking I had been labeled and trashed by these folks. My friend defended me with great aplomb in those exchanges but these people had their minds made up.

After attempting to explain and even apologize another couple of people joined in and none heard a word I was saying. Instead they were saying that other peoples racism justified theirs. It was as if I was a speed bump on their way to bludgeoning their way to winning an argument and justifying their own prejudice. I finally exclaimed “why do I live?” because I was now despondent at the lack of listening, or even care about who I was or what I meant. For a brief moment I thought that it would be better if I was dead.

And then the anger rose and I began to feel real hatred for these people as well as others who have done similar things over the past few years to me, as well as those who have walked away from me after I was asked to leave my former church. I never believed that friendship or love was conditional on agreeing with people or what they believed, especially after my return from Iraq, my PTSD induced life of depression, anxiety and insomnia which led to a collapse of faith for a period of about two years. When faith began to return it was different, I was more accepting of those that were different from me and found that it was often non-Christians who treated me with more care, love and concern than my “Christian” friends. In fact no clergy asked how I was doing spiritually or emotionally as I sank into the morass. It was a my therapist who was the first person to ask “how I was doing with the big guy?”

While faith returned to my life I have had to deal with how painful the break in relationships with friends has been. I have felt rejected and judged as heretical and have been called as much by some. Heretic and apostate have been some of the kinder terms used by former colleagues in ministry. Even more painful than outright rejection is the silent rejection of those that promise to stay in contact and remain friends who then never contact you again or respond to calls, messages or e-mails.

For me this election season has been a living hell as I watch friends make the most un-Christian comments about those that they disagree with all in the name of “Christian values” at times taking shots at me in the process for simply pointing out the blindness of marrying one’s faith to any particular politician or political party. I did that for years and it wasn’t until I came back from Iraq that I realized how poisonous and deadly this kind of attitude was.

Right now I am despondent about the state of this country but even more concerned about the state of the church. It is no wonder that people are leaving in droves. We are defined not by the love of God, the grace of God or the message of reconciliation lived and preached by Jesus but rather what and who we are against. But even more than that I am concerned that I am beginning to hate back, and that bothers me more than anything because while I have no control over what other people do but I do have control of how I respond. So when I felt the hate rising I felt like I was betraying myself.

Martin Luther King Jr. said “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.” I don’t want to live in that paralysis of hatred for anyone, even those that for whatever reason, be it fear, hatred or prejudice or even a response to being a victim themselves.

But even in my despair I do believe the words of scripture that say that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor 5:19) or that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…” No wonder the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7  “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” In my case responding to hate, prejudice and disrespect with hate. That depresses me.

Pray for me a sinner.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Break from Hate

It is all too easy in a divided country and a world in crisis to succumb to hate. Hate is easily stirred up by what I call the Unholy Trinity of Pundits, Politicians and Preachers. This Unholy Trinity uses the tools of the 24 hour cable news cycle and internet “news” services that are little more than the mouthpieces for foul ideologues to promote lies and propaganda across the political and religious spectrum. This is not limited to the United States but is now a world wide industry. The cycle of hate seems to be unending.

I wrote last night about those that pour gasoline on an already blazing fire. It was actually my second attempt to write the piece. I had started on Tuesday night was the news of the attacks on the American Embassy and Consulate began to unfold. I became very angry at both the attackers as well as the producers of the film that at least sparked the violence in Egypt. I actually began to feel hate toward the extremists of all kinds that thrive on this, the media that uses it for market share and certain politicians that try to gain a cheap political advantage of an unfolding crisis where American lives are at stake.

I find that those that trigger my anger the most are religious zealots or all types, but mostly those of my own faith that promote hate and fear in the name of Jesus. Religious hatred is perhaps the most evil hatred because those that spew it actually believe that God agrees with them. God is the ultimate trump card for such ideologues.

I am not going to go back into the embassy and consulate story now, but I began to write about it on Tuesday night. As I wrote I became more and more angry. I felt what Darth Vader so well described as “the power of the Dark Side.” My words were becoming venomous and I was becoming livid. Then I stopped writing realizing that something wasn’t right in me, I was being consumed by hatred of those that promote hate and so I just stopped and pondered what was going on with me.

I did a complete re-write of that article last night after I had spent some time getting more information about the attacks and then talking about the issue with someone that I trust. He told me something that I already knew, that unbridled hatred is poisonous and not only toward those that it is directed, but to those consumed by it. Since coming back from Iraq and dealing with PTSD I have had to deal with a lot of anger and many times I have felt hate rise up in me. It is a frightening thing to feel “the power of the Dark Side.”

Hatred is the fruit of fear. Buck O’Neal the legendary Negro League Baseball player and manager said “It makes no sense, Hate. It’s just fear. All it is. Fear something different. Something’s gonna get taken from you, Stolen from you. Find yourself lost.”

So today I have tried to unplug from the news cycle. I got a good workout in. I listened to music rather than talk radio in the car. I went to a local restaurant’s bar for a salad and a couple of beers with the old timer locals that hang out there. I spent time reading, watching baseball and walking the dog to the beach and back rather than surfing news sites or watching cable news pundits.

I needed it and since I will be traveling tomorrow I will get another chance to stay mostly unplugged for another day, and probably most of the weekend as Molly my dog and I go home to see Judy and Minnie our puppy. Maybe if we all took a day off once in a while from the propaganda mills of all forms that masquerade as news outlets we could step away from the abyss that our individual and collective is driving us over.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under christian life, faith, News and current events, Political Commentary, PTSD, Religion

Fear and Hate in the Name of Jesus…Man I Need a Baseball Game

“It makes no sense, Hate .

It’s just fear. All it is.

Fear something different.

Something’s gonna get taken from you,

Stolen from you.

Find yourself lost.”

Buck O’Neil

I have been feeling rather morose the past few weeks. I haven’t slept well. Flashbacks, nightmares and anxiety from PTSD, mostly leftover from Iraq invade at the most unwelcome times. New anxieties unfold as I see friends heading to Afghanistan and see the wounded back at home. Even more appear as I see the situation in the Middle East developing to the point where someone or some nation miscalculates and takes us into an even more catastrophic war. Then there is the incessant political, religious and dare I say racial hatred that has become so manifest in my own country.

The past few weeks have been difficult. The suicide of one of my sailors affected me more than I thought it would. Likewise I looked into the eyes of a sailor accused of cold blooded execution style murder and realized that he felt no remorse.

My sense of foreboding is increased when I see those that should know better, leaders of churches and ministries not only echoing the worst of the peddlers of hate but outdo them by adding Jesus as their trump card.  It doesn’t seem to matter what the subject is these “Christian” leaders seem to have little else to do but incite hatred that benefits their political power and influence.

One of the most incendiary of these leaders is Randall Terry who said “Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…” I know the man. He believes what he says and he serves as a model to many leaders that have followed in his footsteps. These leaders are some of the most influential religious-political leaders in the nations and dehumanize those that they hate and portray them to be an existential threat to the United States and the “Christian” faith. Gays, Moslems, immigrants, women, “liberals” are not only labeled as their political “enemies” but the enemies of God. It makes it easier to hate and dehumanize people when you can proclaim that they are God’s enemies.

It seems to make a mockery of the Gospel and the words of Saint Paul That “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” or the words of Saint Peter: “Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing.” It seems to make a mockery of the great love of God to allow Jesus to be sacrificed for the sins of the world.

I despair for the state of the Church when I see prominent leaders spew the most vile hate and “baptize” it in the name of Jesus. Unfortunately that seems to be the new normal in today’s world. Who needs the Afghan Taliban when we have religious leaders acting the same way here?

I have a hard time hating people, even those with whom that I vehemently disagree. Maybe it is because I have seen too much suffering to want to inflict hate and suffering on anyone.  Hate as Buck O’Neil said is simply fear. Fear of something different. Those that indulge in it and even revel in it demonstrate that they are not at all confident in their message.  Love conquers fear and does not need to demonize or dehumanize those that oppose it. The German Pastor and Martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:

“God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”

When I feel as I have over the past few weeks there is one thing that helps me and that is baseball. Tonight I am going to a Morehead City Marlin’s baseball game. The Marlin’s are a team of the independent Coastal Plains League, which is for college players and gives them a chance to play ball in the summer.  I can’t watch politics tonight. I need something peaceful. Buck O’Neil, the great Negor League player, manager and major league coach and scout while visiting Washington DC to testify in the congressional steroids hearings looked up at a television where partisan debates were occurring, stopped and said:

“If Willie Mays was up there

People would stop making laws.

They would stop running.

They would stop arguing about

Big things

Little things.

No Democrat or Republican,

No black or white

No North or South.

Everybody just stop,

Watch the TV,

Watch Willie Mays make that catch.

That’s baseball man.”

Tonight is a time for me to reconnect with baseball in person and in the process regain some perspective, remember that love is stronger than hate and that nothing bad accrues from baseball.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Darkness into Light: Turning Systematized Hatred in the Name of God into Reconciliation

I was reading news and saw yet another incident of religious hatred and violence this morning.  This time it was a Hasidic Jew in Brooklyn who decided to pour beer on the head of a recently married neighbor calling her an “Arab terrorist” and beating her husband. The couple was relatively new immigrants from Turkey that had recently moved into the heavily Jewish neighborhood.  To quote a police spokesman the man identified as Simchon Schwartz attacked the woman screaming  “F—ing Arabs! F—ing terrorists!” as he grabbed his neighbor, 27 year old Selda Turan. He shoved her against her car and poured beer on her head. After the attack Schwartz “keyed” the Turan’s car before fleeing to a nearby synagogue.  When apprehended he fought the police and kicked out a window in a police cruiser. As he was doing this his wife told the Turans that “This is a majority Jewish neighborhood. We’re going to get you back.” 

Now this is just the latest. We can list similar crimes committed by people of many religions against others who they view as enemies of God and true believers those of different religions, competing sects of their own religion different sects of their religion or those fallen away from the faith.  Of course I am leaving out those crimes committed that are more influenced by race than religion or those perpetrated against women or other minorities.

There are radical Moslems who persecute and kill Christians, Jews, Hindus and Moslems of different sects. These tend to get the bulk of the media attention in the West because of the 9-11 attacks even though they are committed by a minority of radicals.  Of course there are Islamic countries where much of the population is becoming radicalized so this could grow.  In the United States we have seen a number of Moslems recently arrested for plotting attacks on U.S. Military installations in the United States, and times where Moslem men have committed “honor killings.” Across the globe there are many Moslem nations who either official sanction or tolerate the persecution and killing people of different beliefs sometimes in pretty gruesome ways, and forget freedom of religion, choice conscience or even basic human rights guaranteed by the United Nations Charter.  Just this week the Taliban gave an unwitting 8 year old girl a sack with a bomb in it which they detonated killing her and those in the target zone.

Of course there are some Jews, admittedly the more hyper-orthodox types who believe that non-Jews, secularized Jews and women are somewhat less than human. Of course this is interesting in light of the Holocaust when the Nazis deemed Jews as sub-human.  There are places in Israel where these hyper-Orthodox faithful even attack and stone other less observant Jews, not to mention wayward Arab Christians or Moslems that are Israeli citizens.

There are fundamentalist Hindus in India who burn down Christian villages and persecute Moslems, Moslems, Christians and Animists in Africa who depending on what trine they are from use their religion to persecute neighbors from different tries and religions.  This happens all the time in Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and the Congo but probably the worst of this type of violence was performed by Hutu and Tutsi Christians in Rwanda and Burundi who killed upwards of a million people back in 1994.

Then there are Christians, or those that claim to be of various varieties that see their specific sect as the elect and all others as bound for the Lake of Fire and fully worthy of God’s judgment in this life and the next.  One immediately thinks of the Westboro Baptist Church” and the Fred Phelps clan but there are others even those that have twisted the Christian faith into model of racial purity in particular various White Supremacist groups.  The Westboro bunch does not commit acts of violence but they do attempt to use legal means, the courts and the media to ensure that their message of hate is carried far and wide, using the right of religious expression to impinge on the rights and dignity of others.  Now these groups all don’t amount to a hill of beans but they tend to become the poster children for this type of crime.

However the more subtle and socially acceptable people of this variety are those that use the imagery of war against God’s enemies to promote hate and forge political power. They are those that preach and promote theocracy where their particular understanding of religion will dominate politics and where their religion becomes the law of the land. Somehow people like David Barton, Bryan Fischer, Joseph Farah and a host of others manage to find in the Scriptures and the Constitution new and interesting ways to demonstrate that a Fundamentalist Protestant theocracy is what the founders of the nation intended to establish.  They won’t say it this way; they will say that we were founded as a “Christian” nation. However most of the prominent leaders of the revolution and writers of the Constitution were Deists, Masons and even some non-believers.  Jefferson, Madison, Adams and Franklin all held a cautious view of religion and saw from Europe’s history that the state endorsement of any religion as the law of the land was fraught with danger. Madison said it so well: “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries.”

I don’t even want to go into Europe’s religious wars, pogroms and crusades.

So while what happened in New York was an isolated incident it is also indicative of a bigger problem facing the country as an already divided and bitter population starts to use religion as a weapon in their political and moral crusades. Now some of this is “payback” for real or perceived encroachments on religious freedom by some secularists, but I don’t remember Jesus telling us to pay anyone back in kind when they persecute us.  In fact didn’t Jesus tell us to “forgive those that sin against us” and on the cross offer forgiveness to those that crucified him?  Maybe this is not a part of some religions but it is a central part of the practice of authentic Christian faith.

As a Christian I can see faults in other religions but I am most keenly aware of when I see people that call themselves Christians arming themselves for war, sometimes literally against those that they believe are God’s enemies. Madison alluded to this when he said “It was the belief of all sects at one time that the establishment of Religion by law was right and necessary; that the true religion ought to be established in exclusion of every other; and that the only question to be decided was, which was the true religion.”

Congressman Todd Akin went so far in his comments to say that “the heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God.” Now when anyone says such things it should send up an alarm for Christians because it is the antithesis of the message of reconciliation that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor 5:19 NLT)

Andrew Greeley made a comment about Christians and the Catholic Church before Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire which bears repeating. “People came into the Church in the Roman Empire because the Church was so good. Catholics were so good to one another and they were so good to pagans too.”

While my understanding is a Christian one which recognizes that like the early church we live in world that turning non-Christians into our enemies and thereby God’s enemies that we take a look at how the poor and persecuted church of the first three centuries of the Common Era responded to those that oppressed them or those that they disagreed.  I wonder if Christians decided to approach others in this manner rather than attempting to institute a theocracy in name or practice if maybe the tenor of our national discourse would change.  I also know that there are traditions of tolerance and mercy in every religion, unfortunately they often are persecuted minorities in their own religions.

As for others maybe they like the people in the Roman Empire of other religions would recognize something different, something amazing, refreshing and redeeming in us. However as it stands today I simply expect people of all religions to continue the bloodshed.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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