Tag Archives: right and left wing extremism

Religious Fanaticism and Politics: The Danger of the “True” Believers

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“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The First Amendment of the US Constitution

“no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” Thomas Jefferson in the 1779 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

Those that read this site and have gotten to know me through it over the past few years know that I am passionately devoted to religious liberty.  I find it throughout the writings of our founders and and have written about it before numerous times and the comment was in regard to this article The Gift of Religious Liberty and the Real Dangers to It https://padresteve.com/2011/05/10/the-gift-of-religious-liberty-and-the-real-dangers-to-it/

That is why I tend to get spun up about the way that some people use their religion as a weapon in public life and politics. This happens around the world and frankly there is nothing good in it regardless of who is doing it or what religion they are using to subjugate or attempt to subjugate others, particularly religious minorities.

In fact it was on this day, October 14th 1656 the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where church and state were one enacted the first punitive laws against the Quakers, who they believed to spiritually apostate and subversive. The interesting thing is that the political and theological descendants of the Puritans who enacted those laws held a major political conference this weekend, they called it the Value Voter’s Summit. While religious liberty was a major theme of that conference it was not the religious liberty of all, simply theirs which they believe is superior to others and should be the established state religion.

Since I have written numerous other articles about the dangers that I see in what they term the Dominionist or Reconstructionist movement and the Seven Mountains theology I will not dwell on that here. Instead I will share some insights I have based on my interaction with individuals who believe that no religious rights except for their understanding of Christianity should be legal in the United States.

I do want to say up front that this article is in no way a denigration of those that believe, especially in this case since my critic claims to be a Christian a criticism of other Christians that are committed to their faith but also respect the religious liberties of others and that give God and his grace a little bit of credit to work in the lives of others that are different from them.

After I wrote an article about two years ago I received a comment on that post that I quote in part:

“I have a serious problem with anyone who calls themselves a Christian supporting the religious liberty of all those who are not Christians because by doing so you condone their worship of false gods which is idolatry. I would rather see all religious worship outlawed than to allow worshippers of false gods allowed to spew their demon inspired idolatrous lies in public.” (pingecho728 Jonathan) 

I found it amazing to see such words voiced over a subject that is so much a part of the fabric of our country.  Unfortunately with all the poisonous division in the country that religious liberty is in peril in some cases from left wing fanatics that despise all religion but is becoming more pronounced on the fanatical right particularly in the views of some parts of American Evangelical and Conservative Catholic Christianity.

But with that said this commentator was obviously a very angry person. So I decided to search Facebook and Google search and in about 5 minutes I found more than I wanted to know about this man. He is a fanatic who has flip-flopped in his passionate beliefs, responding to an atheist on another website in December 2010 regarding the irrationality of Biblical faith.

“PingEcho728  Dec 1, 2010 01:55 PM
I love what you wrote and agree wholeheartedly. Ironically I used to be once upon a time one of those religionist who was content with the “God did it” answer..if the Bible said it I believed it a hundred percent but once I opened my eyes and actually examined everything I had once easily believed to see why I had believed those things I found I had no good rational answer or evidence for believing those things. So I did the only thing a rational freethinking person could do, I abandoned beliefs for which I had no reason or evidence to support it.”

When I responded to the man and noted that everyone was someone else’s heretic and that even Conservative Christians might find his views heretical he responded: “There are certainly no Christians more conservative than me nor would any true Christian call me a heretic.”

Talk about flip-flopping, but this is typical among fanatics of every variety. They easily change sides because they need a cause bigger then them to provide meaning to their lives.  This man blasted the Founders in their views of religious liberty on a Tea Party blog: “I trust in the founders no more than I trust in any fallible man. The freedom to disagree is one thing to allow false religions to flourish in America is one that will undoubtedly lead to the destruction of America and the rise of the antichrist.”

baptistpersecutionvirginia01

Anglican Persecution of Virginia Baptists

Philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote in his book The True Believer about mass movements and their fanatical followers.  He did not see the followers of the different causes be they religious, secular, atheist, Fascist or Communist to be that different from each other. He saw them as brothers in a sense and their real opponent is the moderate, not the opposing extremist. Hoffer saw that the “true believers” were far easier to convert to an opposing view than you would think and he noted how fanatical Germans and Japanese often were converted to Communism while in captivity after the war.  It was their devotion to the cause not the cause that they became devoted to serving that was what gave meaning to their life.

Hoffer wrote:

“The fanatic is perpetually incomplete and insecure. He cannot generate self assurance out of his individual resources-out of his rejected self-but finds it only by clinging to whatever cause he happens to embrace. This passionate attachment is the source of his blind devotion and religiosity, and he sees in it the source of all virtue and strength. Through his single minded dedication is a holding on for dear life , he easily sees himself as the supporter and defender of the holy cause to which he clings….Still his sense of security is derived from his passionate attachment and not from the excellence of his cause. The fanatic is not really a stickler to principle. He embraces a cause not because of its justness and holiness but because of his desperate need for something to hold on to. Often, indeed, it is his need for passionate attachment which turns every cause he embraces into a holy cause. The fanatic cannot be weened away from his cause by an appeal to reason or moral sense. He fears compromise and cannot be persuaded to qualify the certitude of his holy cause. But he finds no difficulty in swinging suddenly and wildly from one holy cause to another. He cannot be convinced but only converted. His passionate attachment is more vital than the cause to which he is attached.”

Unfortunately there are many people on the extremes of the political spectrum that are like this. They can be found in the factions of the Tea Party and likewise some on the political left as well as other more extreme hate groups.  They are the kind of people that in the social, economic and political turmoil of the 1920s and 1930s were sucked into the great radical movements Communism, Fascism and Naziism.  In fact this has little to do with Christianity itself, even the most conservative expressions of it.  It is a matter that fanatics would rather destroy freedom for everyone than to give it to anyone that they disagree.

The real thing that sets our nation apart from others is the fact that when it came to religious liberty that the Founders were quite clear that religious liberty was the property of every individual. It was not to be forced by the state or by religious bodies acting on behalf of the state. We are not Iran, Saudi Arabia or even Israel. Our founders knew the dangers of fanatical religion having seen the effect of it during the brutal religious wars in England which pitted Anglicans against Separatists and Roman Catholics in the 17th Century.  They harbored no illusions about the danger posed by well meaning “true believers” who would use the powers of the state to enforce their religious beliefs on others as well as those that would seek to obliterate religion from public life as happened during the French Revolution.

I will gladly take criticism from people that believe that I am not a Christian because I defend the religious liberties of others.  I am a Christian and make no apology but  I figure that this liberty is too precious to so despised by those that most depend on it.  Religion can and has often been abused and used as a dictatorial bludgeon. Those who now advocate so stridently for their faith to be made the law of the land should well remember the words of James Madison:

“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

I wish that they would consider this before they attempt to destroy the country in order to save it.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, faith, History, News and current events, Religion

Revisiting the Gift of Religious Liberty: The Danger posed by Fanatics

“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The First Amendment of the US Constitution

“no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” Thomas Jefferson in the 1779 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

Those that read this site and have gotten to know me through it over the past few years know that I am passionately devoted to religious liberty.  I find it throughout the writings of our founders and and have written about it before numerous times and the comment was in regard to this article The Gift of Religious Liberty and the Real Dangers to It  https://padresteve.com/2011/05/10/the-gift-of-religious-liberty-and-the-real-dangers-to-it/

I do want to say up front that this article is in no way a denigration of those that believe, especially in this case since my critic claims to be a Christian a criticism of other Christians that are committed to their faith but also respect the religious liberties of others and that give God and his grace a little bit of credit to work in the lives of others that are different from them.

A couple of days ago I received a comment on that post that I quote in part:

“I have a serious problem with anyone who calls themselves a Christian supporting the religious liberty of all those who are not Christians because by doing so you condone their worship of false gods which is idolatry. I would rather see all religious worship outlawed than to allow worshippers of false gods allowed to spew their demon inspired idolatrous lies in public.” (pingecho728 Jonathan) 

It is amazing to me to see such words voiced over a subject that is so much a part of the fabric of our country.  Unfortunately with all the poisonous division in the country that religious liberty is in peril in some cases from left wing fanatics that despise all religion but is becoming more pronounced on the fanatical right particularly in the views of some parts of American Evangelical and Conservative Catholic Christianity.

But with that said this commentator is a very angry person and a search Facebook and a Google search that took all of about 5 minutes told me more than I wanted to know about this man. He is a fanatic who has flip-flopped in his passionate beliefs, responding to an atheist on another website in December 2010 regarding the irrationality of Biblical faith.

“PingEcho728  Dec 1, 2010 01:55 PM
I love what you wrote and agree wholeheartedly. Ironically I used to be once upon a time one of those religionist who was content with the “God did it” answer..if the Bible said it I believed it a hundred percent but once I opened my eyes and actually examined everything I had once easily believed to see why I had believed those things I found I had no good rational answer or evidence for believing those things. So I did the only thing a rational freethinking person could do, I abandoned beliefs for which I had no reason or evidence to support it.”

When I responded to the man and noted that everyone was someone else’s heretic and that even Conservative Christians might find his views heretical he responded. “There are certainly no Christians more conservative than me nor would any true Christian call me a heretic.”  Talk about flip-flopping, but this is typical among fanatics of every variety. They easily change sides because they need a cause bigger then them to provide meaning to their lives.  This man who on other Tea Party blogs practically deifies the Founders says of them regarding religious liberty: “I trust in the founders no more than I trust in any fallible man. The freedom to disagree is one thing to allow false religions to flourish in America is one that will undoubtedly lead to the destruction of America and the rise of the antichrist.”

Philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote in his book The True Believer about mass movements and their fanatical followers.  He did not see the followers of the different causes be they religious, secular, atheist, Fascist or Communist to be that different from each other. He saw them as brothers in a sense and their real opponent is the moderate, not the opposing extremist. Hoffer saw that the “true believers” were far easier to convert to an opposing view than you would think and he noted how fanatical Germans and Japanese often were converted to Communism while in captivity after the war.  It was their devotion to the cause not the cause that they became devoted to serving that was what gave meaning to their life.

Hoffer wrote:

“The fanatic is perpetually incomplete and insecure. He cannot generate self assurance out of his individual resources-out of his rejected self-but finds it only by clinging to whatever cause he happens to embrace. This passionate attachment is the source of his blind devotion and religiosity, and he sees in it the source of all virtue and strength. Through his single minded dedication is a holding on for dear life , he easily sees himself as the supporter and defender of the holy cause to which he clings….Still his sense of security is derived from his passionate attachment and not from the excellence of his cause. The fanatic is not really a stickler to principle. He embraces a cause not because of its justness and holiness but because of his desperate need for something to hold on to. Often, indeed, it is his need for passionate attachment which turns every cause he embraces into a holy cause. The fanatic cannot be weened away from his cause by an appeal to reason or moral sense. He fears compromise and cannot be persuaded to qualify the certitude of his holy cause. But he finds no difficulty in swinging suddenly and wildly from one holy cause to another. He cannot be convinced but only converted. His passionate attachment is more vital than the cause to which he is attached.”

Unfortunately there are many people on the extremes of the political spectrum that are like this. They can be found in the factions of the Tea Party and in the Occupy Movement as well as other even more extreme groups.  They are the kind of people that in the social, economic and political turmoil of the 1920s and 1930s were sucked into the great radical movements Communism, Fascism and Naziism.  In fact this has little to do with Christianity itself, even the most conservative expressions of it.  It is a matter that fanatics would rather destroy freedom for everyone than to give it to anyone that they disagree.

The real thing that sets our nation apart from others is the fact that when it came to religious liberty that the Founders were quite clear that religious liberty was the property of every individual. It was not to be forced by the state or by religious bodies acting on behalf of the state. We are not Iran, Saudi Arabia or even Israel. Our founders knew the dangers of fanatical religion having seen the effect of it during the brutal religious wars in England which pitted Anglicans against Separatists and Roman Catholics in the 17th Century.  They harbored no illusions about the danger posed by well meaning “true believers” who would use the powers of the state to enforce their religious beliefs on others as well as those that would seek to obliterate religion from public life as happened during the French Revolution.

I will gladly take criticism from people that believe that I am not a Christian because I defend the religious liberties of others.  I am a Christian and make no apology but  I figure that this liberty is too precious to so despised by those that most depend on it.  Religion can and has often been abused and used as a dictatorial bludgeon. Those who now advocate so stridently for their faith to be made the law of the land should well remember the words of James Madison:

“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, History, philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion

Putting the World back in Order: Baseball Movies Tonight

“Baseball is reassuring. It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.” Sharon Olds

“Don’t tell me about the world. Not today. It’s springtime and they’re knocking baseball around fields where the grass is damp and green in the morning and the kids are trying to hit the curve ball” Pete Hamill

“I see great things in baseball. It’s our game – the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.” Walt Whitman

At long last I have my DVD player hooked up and the news is not on in my island hermitage. The past few weeks we have seen the world going crazy. Earthquakes, tsunami, nuclear crises, wars and revolutions, political and economic instability are driving me fricking crazy.  I’m sorry but I don’t know about you but this constant torrent of bad news is really getting old fast and it probably isn’t going to get any better any time soon. That my friends is reality and reality can suck like a Hoover, or what the hell a Dyson or Kirby for all I care, it sucks.

But guess what friends we have seen times and events like this before, hell the 1920s, 30s and 40s were as bad or worse. That my friends is reality and it sucked then too. And you know something somehow we as a people got through it. We dealt with the collapse of Empires, revolutions, Communism, Fascism, Nazism, the Great Depression, World fricking Wars, natural disasters, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and Tojo and then to top it all off the beginning of the nuclear era and the Cold War with the ever present threat of Mutually Assured Destruction between the United States and the Soviet Union. But somehow the world survived, don’t ask me how but it did, not without a hell of a lot of pain, suffering and distress mostly brought on by people but occasionally nature but it still survived despite our best attempts to blow it all up.

Somehow as insanely sucky as things are right now with all the hate, turmoil and catastrophe unless the Cubs win the World Series in 2012 the apocalyptic asses prophesying doom and the end of the world in 2012 be it secular, religious or some convoluted theory about why the world will end because the Mayans ran out of rock for their calendar I don’t buy it. Now if the Cubbies win the 2012 World Series all bets are off and you better look to the east because there is a good chance that Jesus is coming. Now was that a hell of a run on sentence or what. That was almost as good as a German theologian.

So we are bombarded with bad news at a cyclic rate and yes it needs to be reported and it is probably good that we stay informed. However all that we do is tune in to the news 24 hours a day or giving three hours a day every day to some radio talk show host or for that matter never turn our radio dials away from them we will not have peace. If all we do is listen, read and watch what all of them stir up every day anxiety then it is no wonder that we are so anxiety ridden and hate each other so much.

I know what constant exposure to this can do for a person, because before Iraq I was consumed by this insanity. However, I came back from Iraq and reprioritized when I found that I could no longer do three hours a day every day or for that matter three minutes with any of these monsters of the airwaves.

Let’s face it Americans have come to loathe each other because all we focus on is how bad everything is and how it is someone else’s fault be they a liberal, a conservative, a Socialist, a Tea Party Patriot, a Christian, Moslem, Jew, Atheist, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or God forbid a Dodgers’ fan. We’ve divided ourselves in ways that haven’t been seen since the days before the Civil War, only now those visceral emotions are transmitted instantly through the television, radio and internet. Something has to draw us back to who we are as a people.

Unfortunately many can’t even find our peace in their faith because nutty extremists with all sorts of agendas from across the political spectrum have hijacked them so that preachers often have messages little different than pundits or politicians. As such we have become cynical, bitter and have lost faith in our political, social, economic and religious institutions and given them all into the hands of those whose chief desire is power.

So all that being said I am enjoying the hell out of two baseball movies tonight. The first was Mr. Baseball starring Tom Selleck as a New York Yankee slugger who is cut from the team and gets picked up by a Japanese team.  It’s a great flick and really shows some of the differences in the way Americans and Japanese approach this beloved game and how despite the different approaches how deeply it is ingrained in both cultures. Japan has suffered great calamity and we seem to teeter on the edge of our own calamities consumed in angst and for some anger.

The other movie that I am watching even as I write this little article is Field of Dreams a fantasy and allegory of baseball and life. It is a story that always gets me a story of redemption, second chances and hope, a hope that says “if you build it he will come.” We need to start building again; we have been tearing each other down for so long that we have left a tangled mess for our children.

I know for me that baseball is one constant that even when I experienced a loss of faith that left me a practical agnostic for two years after I returned from Iraq that brought peace to my troubled soul. The Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish was one of the only places that I could regain a sense of balance and life.

Yes there is a lot of tragedy and crisis in the world but in nine days it is opening day and the “Boys of Summer” will again step onto the lush green diamonds as the regular season begins. It is not a moment too soon. As Terrance Mann, played by James Earl Jones said so eloquently to Ray Kinsella played by Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams:

“Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.”

Things can be good again, we just need to pull together and persevere and believe again. I think that baseball, this wonderful game that has bridged the gap between East and West, this game that is timeless in an age of real and imagined deadlines, this game that still inspires millions around the world, this game that allows us to gain dip in the magic waters of hope and life can be as Walt Whitman said:

“I see great things in baseball. It’s our game – the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”

We need to “hear the voice” again see what can be, we need to find our Field of Dreams and make it real.

Well the movie is ending and I have tears in my eyes, tears of joy as I watch Ray Kinsella “have a catch” with his father John on that magical diamond and long for the day I can do so with my father who is somewhere in that cornfield waiting to come out and play ball.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, faith, History, movies, philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion

The Shooting of Congresswoman Giffords and the Reality of “Weimar” America

The Assailant: Jared Lee Loughner from his My Space Page

I think that the United States of America has become Weimar Germany before my eyes. We have a very divided and polarized electorate which in each of the last several years bouncing the majority party in Congress out almost every two years. Both major parties have proclaimed their opponents dead and claimed that they had a long term lock on congress only to see that disappear in the next election cycle. Presidents go from massive approval ratings to massive disapproval ratings almost overnight and the constant cry seems to be “throw the bums out.” While this is going on both major parties have cultivated a poisonous political culture which has resulted in the furthest extremes controlling each party while claiming to represent the mainstream. Radio and television commentators, pundits and talk show hosts play to the extremist mentality castigating anyone that deviates from their ideological norm and calling for radical if not violent action to achieve those ends.  Sarah Palin used gun sight crosshairs to “target” Congressmen who voted for Health Care Reform for defeat on her PAC website and others have used the language of violent revolution and bloodshed to further inflame already disgruntled and angry electorate.   During the recent election campaign thugs from both sides used violence and intimidation against their opponent’s rallies and campaign headquarters.

The Target: Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords with Speaker of the House John Boehner on Monday

Over the past year I have been writing about the poisonous political environment in the United States and the threat to liberty that it poses. I have specifically written about those that threaten violence and use violent imagery to convey their ideology or political goals.  Today we have seen were such talk leads. We still know little about the assassin Jared Lee Loughner a 22 year old loner with some rather odd beliefs. However from what we have seen on his You Tube and My Space pages it is clear that he was certainly troubled. We don’t know enough yet to do more than speculate about what he actually believes and what led him to shoot Congresswoman Giffords, kill 6 others including Federal Judge John Roll, one of Giffords’ staffers and a 9 year old girl and would 11 others.

Assassinated while stopping to say hello after Mass: Judge John Roll

We also now are learning that there is a second suspect who is a according to the Pima County Sherriff a white man in his 50s who allegedly accompanied Loughner to the grocery store where he launched his attack. Reports this evening indicate that Loughner is not talking so there will certainly be more to this story.  It will be interesting and enlightening and potentially frightening to see where the trail leads and what influenced Loughner to attempt to kill Congresswoman Giffords and kill or wound so many more.

Some are already speculating about Loughner’s motivation s and political leanings.  Far right columnists are already trying with very little evidence that Loughner is a left wing extremist.  Aaron Klein of World Net Daily asserts this in a claim based solely on the recollections of a high school classmate who has not seen him for years. Many in the media and on the left posit that he is  a right wing extremist based on his postings about the distrust of the current government, vague references to the Constitution and his support for returning to the Gold Standard.  It is also possible that he is simply a violent man influenced by a wide variety of sources and passions. The fact that he lists Mein Kampf and the Communist Manifesto as two of his favorite books give the latter some credence as well.

However I would garner from the limited amount of information that Loughner is very unstable.  Like many such people it is entirely plausible that he has swung from one pendulum of radicalism to another. While he may have leaned left in High School it is also very possible that he lurched to the right, influenced by the vitriol of some on the far political right based on the subjects mentioned on his You Tube and My Space pages as I have already noted. I think that may well be what happened. Of course I could be very wrong about this and if so I will own it, but if we look at history there are many cases of mentally unstable people that shift from one extreme to another in relatively short periods of time who turn to violence.  If we add to the picture the fact that after Giffords voted for the Health Care Bill her office was vandalized and was the frequent location of loud and angry protests by members of Arizona’s Tea Party and that at one rally a gun was dropped by an anti-Giffords protestor.

I really think that with things as they are with the violent rhetoric and extreme vitriol that have become a part of everyday political discourse with politicians such as Michelle Bachmann saying things like “I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous….having a revolution every now and then is a good thing.” Representative Steve King ranted “Let’s beat that other side to a pulp! Let’s take them out. Let’s chase them down.” Talk show hosts have often made even more extreme statements and while these may energize ratings as well as further whip the angry base to come out to rallies and vote.  Some on the left have engaged in similar talk.  Admittedly even the most passionate and angry members of the extreme right or left are not violent people by nature. However there are people, usually on the fringe of such groups that are emotionally unstable and prone to violence that will interpret such language in very literal ways.

Unfortunately we do not yet know what went on in the mind of Jared Loughner’s mind before he went on his killing spee, but I fear that it will not be the last political violence that we see in the coming days and years.  With both sides so invested in demonizing the other it will be hard for them to back down. Rhetoric will certainly remain inflamed as will the passions of the electorate in the new electoral season with the approaching 2012 Presidential Campaign on the horizon.  I fully expect things to get worse and for more people to be killed or injured by violent acts of extremists because rational debate is a thing of the past in our country. We are not far from political groups forming their own armed “security” details for “protection” of their party’s elected officials or candidates, much like those of the Nazis and Communists in Weimar Germany.  We have already seen some of this in the past couple of years but the worst is yet to come. There will be no backing down by either side though for a moment or two in the wake of this attack some cooler heads will prevail until in the coming weeks the ideologues raise the heated rhetoric to new heights.

The sad thing is that Congresswoman Giffords was a moderate and as I have said before moderates are an endangered species. I have been threatened with physical harm by some extremists who have left comments on this website and I have no political power. I found a lot of common ground with Congresswoman Giffords and had I lived in her district I certainly would have voted for her. She was a strong supporter of the military and our military families, she was for immigration reform and married to a Naval Officer serving as an Astronaut, but to the hard core right she was a traitor because she voted for the Health Care bill.  That is why Sarah Palin’s PAC had a gun sight crosshair with her name on it.  I’m sure they did not actually mean for someone to shoot her or any of the other 19 targets congressmen and women but their words and symbols has meaning and some will take such gestures seriously. Congresswoman Giffords said during the recent election campaign: “For example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action.” Unfortunately Gabrielle Giffords was right about that.

I pray like so many others that she Congresswoman Giffords will live and that somehow despite the grievous nature of her wound that she will recover.  If she dies, as Judge Roll already has her death will be mourned by many of her colleagues, constituents and Americans who believe that political extremism has gone too far. However, you can mark my words that there will be some in the coming weeks who will seek to discredit her or Judge Roll and justify what was done to them regardless of Loughner’s motivation or connections be they from the right or left and some from the right are already doing this on posts to various news site articles. We have reached the abyss and I pray that we don’t throw ourselves into it. God help us all.

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under History, philosophy, Political Commentary

Difficult Days: A Lenten Meditation

“As lousy as things are now, tomorrow they will be somebody’s good old days.” Gerald Barzan

The Good Old Days to Some…the Bad Old Days to Otehrs

The past few weeks being laid up dealing with Adolf the Kidney stone and his remove this week have been unusual for me.  I have been in pain and even now am dealing with the aftereffects of the procedure to remove Adolf I find that it has given me a pause during Lent that I seldom get.  The pause to look at life, mortality and what is and is not important. Now a Kidney stone is not normally a life threatening condition and was not in my case, but the condition has slowed me down from my normal hyperactive manner of doing things, even slowed down the pace of my writing.  It has not been fun but I have gained some spiritual grace that I think that I needed.  Tonight I am not feeling as well as I was this morning and hopefully this too will pass so I can get back to getting well.

It is difficult at times to be hopeful when all around there is bad news. We seem to be living the ancient Chinese curse that says “May you live in interesting times.” The times are certainly interesting with lots going on of historic significance that may years from now be remembered as one of those tumultuous times where the world changed before our eyes.  History of course is replete with such times, the rise and fall of ancient empires, the age of exploration, the Reformation, the French and American Revolutions, the Napoleonic era, the American Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, the First and Second World War with the Great Depression sandwich, the 1960’s, the post Cold War era and the post-911 era just for a start.  I could go back further in history for other epochal periods, but I think that the reason that today’s crisis seem so much more dire is that we are both the beneficiaries and the victims of the instantaneous communication revolution in which common people have real time access to events that are impacting their lives.  This causes many a great deal of anxiety both real and imagined, anxiety which usually finds expression in a desire for the good old days as well as seeks solace and security from those who feverishly exploit that anxiety.  It does not matter if the security comes from religion, political ideology and matters neither if it comes from the left or the right so long as the call resonates with them they will follow it.  They will faithfully follow even as the purveyors of the message drive up their worry and anxiety that they no longer can actually enjoy life or be thankful because they are so consumed with how “lousy” things are or “evil” their opponents are.

Fun and Games in the Good Old Days…

It is in times like these that one has to take a deep breath, look around at all that they have to be thankful for and just really examine of the nostalgia that they feel for “better times” is that or an escape from an unpleasant present and fear of the future if the other side wins.  The fact is that we have seen such times before and somehow made it through.  I hear from friends and relatives who lived through the Great Depression and World War II that those were good times in spite of everything happening, much of which is present today but somehow things are worse now.  Even I fall into the trap about somehow thinking that the times that I grew up in were somehow better than the present, this may be true for music but overall things were not that good for a lot of people but somehow we made it through them.  Lent is a time to step back from the brink, take stock and renew our life with God and our neighbor.

When I returned from Iraq back in February 2008 I soon discovered that the bombardment of bad news and über-partisan political battles took its toll on me.  I was neither as resilient as I thought that I was nor as consumed by the need to continue to ratchet up rhetoric on one side or the other as the more extreme elements on the right or left were doing.  PTSD or not I realized that the purveyors of the 24/7 bad news cycle were driving people with legitimate ideological differences to extremes that I had never seen, but which I recognized from history have a lot of precedent and can lead to making things even worse.  One only has to look at Weimar Germany to realize how things can go so very wrong when extremes on both sides of the ideological spectrums squeeze out those in the middle or chance at mutually beneficial solutions and that was in the days before type of information overload that is the bedrock of the political and ideological landscape of today.

I am not attacking those who get caught up in this but I do question the politicians, pundits, “news-networks” and talk show hosts who continue to ratchet up rhetoric to the point that many feel that the only alternative is some kind of “revolution.”  Again those that call for “radical change” or revolt against those who are in favor of that kind of change are both calling for revolution when revolutionary talk reaches a point where one side or the other does not see a way to resolve things in a civil manner then the those alternatives slip away and the only recourse is violence.  It is not the fault of one side or the other as those that stoke this talk are found on both sides of the American as well as other nations political and ideological spectrum testify to daily.  In the United States we also have a long history of apocalyptic thought which presents the lousy state of current events in any generation as something that will certainly bring the end of life as we know it or the return of the Lord, the Great Tribulation or whatever you chalk it up to. There are those on both the religious and secular side of the spectrum who have apocalyptic visions related to their world view.  For some reason we Americans do the apocalyptic quite well whether we believe in God or not.

I am not a radical, my temperament is such that I may have strong beliefs but realize that there are many other opinions out there than mine and that even if I do not agree with one side or the other on every issue it does not mean that I cannot find common ground.  I think this is part of the reason for the diversity of friends that I have from across the religious, political and ideological spectrum, we can agree to disagree and in the process still value one another and our opinions and remain friends who care about one another.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the Courtyard of the Tegel Strasse Prison

The thing that has been most on my mind this Lent has been the idea of being reconciled both to God and to one another.  Lent is a season of self examination, repentance and forgiveness.  The call to “be reconciled to one another” is a never ending command and applies across the variety and spectrum of life.  Lent reminds us that that “we are dust and to dust we shall return” but that we are also all made in the image of the God who created us, redeems us and sanctifies us who calls us to himself and reminds us that mercy triumphs over judgment and “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” I am afraid that in times like these even the best intentioned of people can find themselves pulled into the orbit of those that in less stressful or trying times that they would never be involved with.  The German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote: “Our enemies are those who harbor hostility against us, not those against whom we cherish hostility… As a Christian I am called to treat my enemy as a brother and to meet hostility with love. My behavior is thus determined not by the way others treat me, but by the treatment I receive from Jesus.”

I know for some this message is lost and not because they are rejecting the message of the Gospel but because that have become so deeply involved in whatever cause they or their champions espouse that they have lost the ability at least temporarily to see the good that may rest in their opponents and their ideas.  As Bonhoeffer also wrote “Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others, we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as ourselves.”  Now of course Bonhoeffer knew the evil that was the Nazis and eventually gave his life by supporting the German resistance to Hitler.  Loving our enemies does not absolve us from public responsibility but in ensuring that we do not ensnare ourselves in ideology that restricts our ability to love them as Christ has commanded.

I think in the past few years that I have gained a new perspective on life that has changed the way that I look at the world.  I know that things are not good right now and that there are a lot of things to be legitimately concerned about, but I know too that somehow our country as well as much of humanity have weathered worse and like Barzan said that for some these will be the good old days someday and that helps me to live in the present knowing that the future is not yet written and known only to God who in his grace condescends to love us and desires that we better love him and one another and not be conformed to any ideology that would prevent that.  I do pray that we will both see better days as well as be reconciled to God and to one another that is my Lenten prayer.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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