Tag Archives: thomas jefferson

“Once you start down the dark path…” Longing for Honesty from the President

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Thomas Jefferson once noted “Honesty is the first chapter of the book wisdom.” It is a lesson that the President, his spokespeople, and his flacks should learn. However after observing them on the campaign trail for nearly two years, and in the nearly five months since the election I doubt if the President  or his advisors have the capacity for this. With every day there is a new revelation of untruthfulness. On Monday FBI Director James Comey basically said that the President and his spokespeople were lying about their connections to Russia, and their allegations that the Obama administration had been spying on them. To way the President respond on Twitter and to be shot down in real time was discouraging for anyone that esteems the office of the Presidency.

The web of untruths concocted by the President and his advisors is stunning. I did not think that it was possible and I really hoped that once they had won the election that a modicum of sanity would take root and grow as the President and his administration dealt with the reality of the office. But that is not happening and it seems to me that they keep adding to the fire and with every new statement, with every new botched riposte to damning allegations, with every new  tweet and twitter storm, it looks like they are covering things that might be worse than any of us had imagined just a few months ago. Sadly for the nation and for the esteem of the office of the Presidency, the untruths, the shifting of blame, the deflections, and misdirection are destroying any credibility that President Trump might have had. Abraham Lincoln said that “If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem.”

That confidence that citizens give a new President is rapidly evaporating as the web of deceit grows on a daily basis. I wish that the President and his advisors could just admit the times when they were wrong, admit the times when the facts are not on their side rather than making up alternative facts, alternative truths, and alternative history. I long for the day when they will heed the words of Sophocles in Antigone, “All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride.” 

All of us can learn from our mistakes, even the mistake of being factually inaccurate once in a while. But when one continues to be untrue, when one compounds a lie with another lie, and another and another, it no longer is a simple mistake, it becomes the web from which escape is impossible.

For a leader, especially the President, this behavior is not only destructive to them as people, but to the esteem of the office that they hold, and detrimental to the people that they serve.

I long for honesty from this administration. I wanted this President to be successful and to be all of our President. I would hope that maybe something will happen to make him change his course and speak truth, admit error, and apologize for those that he has used his power to demean, destroy, and harm. But I fear that the President’s journey down the dark path of life has gone so far that it has consumed anything that might have been human in him. As Yoda said, “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.” 

So have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under ethics, News and current events, philosophy, Political Commentary

Slavery and National Expansion: the Compromise of 1850 or “The Privilege of Belonging to the Superior Race…” Part 2

slave-sale

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Today the second of a three installment bit of my work dealing with American Slavery in the ante-bellum period. These next articles deal with the subject of what happens when laws are made that further restrict the liberty of already despised, or enslaved people. In this case the subject is the Compromise of 1850 and its associated laws such as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

This is an uncomfortable period of history for Americans with either a sense of conscience, or those who believe the racist myths surrounding the “Noble South” and “The Lost Cause.”  I hope that you find them interesting, especially in light of current events in the United States.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Economic Effects of the Compromise of 1850

The interregional slave trade guaranteed slave owners of a source of slaves even if they were cut off from the international trade and it was an immense part of not just the Southern economy but the American economy. Slave owners “hitched their future to slavery; a single cash crop and fresh land,” [1] and refused to take an interest in manufacturing or diversifying their agricultural production outside of King Cotton. Slave prices tripled between 1800 and 1860 making human property one of the most lucrative markets for investment. The price of a “prime male field hand in New Orleans began at around $500 in 1800 and rose as high as $1,800 by the time of the Civil War.” [2] The result was that slave owners and those who benefited from the interregional slave trade had a vested interest in not only seeing slavery preserved, but expanded.

This resulted in two significant trends in the South, first was that slave owners grew significantly richer as the value of the slave population increased. Using even a conservative number of $750 dollars as the value of a single slave in 1860 the amount of value in this human property was significantly more than almost any other investment in the nation.  It was enormous. Steven Deyle notes that:

“It was roughly three times greater than the total amount of all capital invested in manufacturing in the North and in the South combined, three times the amount invested in railroads, and seven times the amount invested in banks. It was about equal to about seven times the value of all currency in circulation in the country three times the value of the entire livestock population, twelve times the value of the entire U.S. cotton crop, and forty-eight times the expenditures of the federal government that year. ….”by 1860, in fact in the slaveowning states alone, slave property had surpassed the assessed value of real estate.” [3]

The rise in slave values and the increasing wealth of slave owners had a depreciating effect on poor southern whites by ensuring that there was no middle class, which “blocked any hope of social advancement for the mass of poor whites, for it was all but impossible for a non-slaveholder to rise in the southern aristocracy.” [4] The impoverishment of southern whites created some worry for those astute enough to take an interest in such matters. “In 1850, about 40 percent of the South’s white farmers owned real estate at all. There was thus, worried the Southern Cultivator in 1856, “a large number at the South who have no legal right or interest in the soil [and] no homes of their own.” The editor of a South Carolina newspaper that year framed the matter in less sympathetic terms: “There is in this State,” he wrote, “as impoverished and ignorant as white population as can be found in any other in the Union.” [5]

Some Southerners recognized the growing issue that the south was falling behind the north in terms of real economic advancement and that slavery was the culprit. Hinton Helper, a non-slave owning North Carolinian who had made his fortune in the California Gold Rush of 1849 and returned home to become disillusioned with what he saw wrote a book that had a major impact in the North among Republican politicians, but which was either banned or restricted in much of the South. That book “The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet It (1857) was “a book on the debilitating impact of slavery on the South in general and on southern whites in particular.” [6] Helper’s attack on the slavery system was as devastating as that of any abolitionist, and since he was a southerner the effects of his words helped further anti-slavery sentiment in the North and would be used by the Republican party in an abridged form as a campaign tool that they printed and distributed during the build up to the election n of 1860. Helper wrote that:

“Slavery lies at the root of all the shame, poverty, tyranny and imbecility of the South.” Echoing the free-soil argument Helper maintained that slavery degraded all labor to the level of bond labor. Planters looked down their noses at nonslaveholders and refused to tax themselves to provide a decent school system. “Slavery is hostile to general education…Its very life, is in the ignorance and stolidity of the masses.”  [7]

Many southern leaders saw Helper’s book as a danger and worried that should Helper and others like him speak freely long enough “that they will have an Abolition party in the South, of Southern men.” When that happened, “the contest for slavery will no longer be one between the North and the South. It will be in the South between the people of the South.” [8] That was something that the landed gentry of the slave owning oligarchy could never tolerate for if the non-slave holding whites rejected slavery, the institution would die. Thus, Helper, who was no fan of black people and held many violently racist attitudes, was denounced “as a traitor, a renegade, an apostate, a “dishonest, degraded and disgraced man.” [9]

Men like Helper were an anomaly in the South, other leaders were much more like Jefferson Davis who urged the creation of a “Southern “system,” internal improvements, building factories, even reforming education to eliminate all textbooks at odds with his notion of the blessings of slavery.” [10]

In the years the before the war, the North embraced the Industrial Revolution leading to advances which gave it a marked economic advantage over the South in which through  its “commitment to the use of slave labor inhibited economic diversification and industrialization and strengthened the tyranny of King Cotton.” [11] The population of the North also expanded at a clip that far outpaced the South as European immigrants swelled the population.

The divide was not helped by the various compromises worked out between northern and southern legislators. After the Missouri Compromise Thomas Jefferson wrote these words of warning:

“but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment, but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.” [12]

The trigger for the increase in tensions that eventually ignited the powder keg was the war with Mexico in which the United States annexed nearly half of Mexico. The new territories were viewed by those who advocated the expansion of slavery as fresh and fertile ground for its spread. Ulysses S Grant, who served in the war, noted the effects of the war with Mexico in his memoirs:

“In taking military possession of Texas after annexation, the army of occupation, under General [Zachary] Taylor, was directed to occupy the disputed territory.  The army did not stop at the Nueces and offer to negotiate for a settlement of the boundary question, but went beyond, apparently in order to force Mexico to initiate war….To us it was an empire and of incalculable value; but it might have been obtained by other means.  The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war.” [13]

To be continued…

Notes 

[1] Ibid. Egnal  Clash of Extremes p.10

[2] Ibid. Deyle The Domestic Slave Trade p.53 Deyle’s numbers come from the 1860 census.

[3] Ibid. Egnal  Clash of Extremes p.54

[4] Ibid. Foner Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men p.48

[5] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.37

[6] Ibid. Goldfield  America Aflame  p.177

[7] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.199

[8] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.235

[9] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.397

[10] Davis, William C. Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour Harper Collins Publishers New York 1991 p.258

[11] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.42

[12] Jefferson, Thomas Letter to John Holmes dated April 22nd 1824 retrieved from www.loc.gov/exhibits/jefferson/159.html  24 March 2014

[13] Grant, Ulysses S. Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant New York 1885 pp.243-245

1 Comment

Filed under civil rights, civil war, History, Political Commentary

The One Truly Essential Wall: Separation of Church and State

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I don’t know about you but I am sick and tired of people, no matter what their religious belief in this country who use the Constitutionally protections extended to religious freedom in manners that the founders of our country never would have imagined. The fact that those basic religious freedoms are not in danger in any way is irrelevant to true believers.  In their insecurity such people need to create new laws specifically crafted to allow them to discriminate against others based on their religious beliefs.

Sadly, and I say this as a Christian, the vast majority of people doing this are people that claim to be Christians and in a few weeks they will have the chance to use not only state and local governments to do their bidding but the Federal Government and quite possibly the Supreme Court. It is a situation that those who founded our country fought against, and even addressed the matter in the Constitution and in their correspondence.

Thomas Jefferson was first among these men. In his wonderful letter to the Virginia Baptist Association in 1808, in a letter the echoed his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of of 1802 in which he referred that the legislature in enacting the dual provisions of religious liberty in the Constitution had built up “a wall of separation between Church and State” noted:

“Because religious belief, or non belief, is such an important part of every person’s life, freedom of religion affects every individual. Religious institutions that use government power to support themselves and force their views of other faiths, or no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Morever, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption in religion itself. Erecting the “wall of separation between church and state,” therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.” 

You see my friends, Jefferson and the other courageous men who so carefully crafted this wall of separation had real experience with the abuses by church-state and the incestuous clergy who used state power to prop up themselves and their churches and to persecution those that refused to submit to their control. Likewise there were religious groups in the recently independent former colonies like the Baptists who in Virginia and other states, as well as the Quakers in Massachusetts who were victims of such persecution, and they were determined not to let it happen here through the marriage of church and state.

In fact Jefferson was absolutely convinced that no specific God or religion be established: not only in the Constitution of the United States, but in his own home state, the Commonwealth of Virginia. There Jefferson authored the Virginia a religious liberty bill which was passed, but which met with considerable opposition from faithful Christians. Reflecting on that legislation Jefferson wrote this in 1821:

“[When] the [Virginia] bill for the establishment of religious freedom…was finally passed,…a singular proposition proved that it’s protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.” The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend within the mantle of its protection the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahamoten, the Hindoo and the infidel of every denomination.”

Sadly, Jefferson’s words are twisted, rejected and even despised by the authors of the Religious Liberty Restoration Acts being enacted in state houses around the country.  President-Elect Trump, whose actual understanding of Constitutional liberties is minimal, has promised to sign into law a bill called First Amendment Defense Act. Not only are the state legislatures enacting laws meant only to provide Christians the  protection and the police power of the state to discriminate against any person, or group based on religious belief, something that so so-called First Amendment Defense Act will do at the Federal level. I believe that he will sign it based on the preachers he has speaking or praying at his inaugural, all of who are proponents of enhancing the rights of Christians to discriminate based solely on their religious beliefs, and to limit the civil rights of those they oppose. Call it theocracy, something better suited to Tehran or Riyahd than the United States.

Our founders, especially Jefferson and Madison who have found that incomprehensible, but then they would certainly not be surprised because they had seen it and lived under it during the English Administration of the colonies. They also understood human nature very well.

Thus I think that we should applaud Thomas Jefferson and like Christopher Hitchens exclaim “Mr. Jefferson. BUILD UP THAT WALL!” 

However that wall is being torn down by the descendants of Christians who longed to be free from the coercion and evil wrought by the marriage of church and state, a marriage which Jefferson so wisely noted harmed the church as much as the state.

I have spent the better part of my adult life as a military chaplain defending and protecting the rights of others to their free exercise of religion on whether or not I agreed with them. I held and still hold that to be a sacred duty of my commission and office. I can also state that even most people who did not agree with regarding my beliefs respected me and still consult me because first they knew that I cared about them and secondly that they knew that I would do all within my power to protect their freedom the exercise their religion, or to have no religion and not to be penalized for it.

But that being said I have found that I am increasingly isolated by the fervent religionists who have highjacked the understanding of religious freedom to mean theirs and only theirs and who use the battering ram of the legislature to destroy Mr. Jefferson’s “Wall.” Sadly they are to blind to see that their actions are a two-edged sword which once precedence has been established can be turned on them with a vengeance. I and other chaplains who come from more moderate or liberal traditions that have long embraced both the Social Gospel, the Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, and LGBTQ Rights movements have been long shunned by many of our conservative or fundamentalist colleagues. I have no doubt that in the coming administration that this will become more common and that we may find ourselves punished for speaking our beliefs. Old guys like me will probably be okay and just retire, but but the young progressive chaplains will have a difficult time.

One of my favorite television series of all times is Boston Legal. My favorite character in the show is the lawyer played by James Spader, one Alan Shore. In the episode Whose God is it Anyway  Spader’s character is defending a friend form charges or religious discrimination in the workplace, and his character, Alan Shore delivers this remarkable closing, which because of the unrelenting actions of many of my Christian Brothers and Sisters in putting their rights and privileges as Christians over those of other citizens. That my friends is profoundly dangerous.

By doing so they through their intense hubris not only harm others as they attempt to control them by the police power of the state but damage their own credibility and the religious liberty of Americans yet to be born. It is no wonder that this generation of American Christianity is shedding members at a rate never seen in this country before, and driving those who they might want to bring to faith away. But I digress…

There is a bit of dialogue in that episode of Boston Legal that I wish I had thought of and said years ago. I am certain that if  Jefferson, Madison and so many of our founders would agree with if they had lived to see the depths of dishonesty of Christian individuals, businesses and legislatures have sunk in their abuse of others through their unremitting pursuit of their religious freedom. That is not just at home where they enact laws allowing them to discriminate, but through their apocalyptic machinations to bring the world to war killing billions of people just so Jesus will come back. Though they would deny it, their ultimate goals, albeit in the name of a different  God, are little different than that the Islamic State, Al Qaida, the Iranian Mullahs or Hezbollah. That my friends should scare the living shit out of any rational person.

So here is that closing:

“I don’t know about you but I’m getting a little tired of the religious freedom thing. When did religion get such a good name anyway. Be it the Crusades, the reformation genocides, the troubles in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, mass slaughters in the name of Allah, the obligatory reciprocal retributions. Hundreds of millions have died in religious conflicts. Hitler did his business in the name of his creator. Religious extremism, it’s our greatest threat today, a holy jihad. If we’re not ready to strip religion of its sacred cow status, how about we at least scale back on the Constitutional dogma exalting it as all get out….

Everyone should get to believe in his God, pray to his God, worship his God of course. But to impose him on others, to victimize others in his name?  The founding fathers set out to prevent persecution, not license it…

At a certain point we have to say “enough with this freedom of religion crap. Yuck, yuck, yuck. I know, I’ll get letters….” 

To that I can only say “Amen!”

So with that I bid you a good day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under civil rights, ethics, faith, History, laws and legislation, Political Commentary, Religion

The First Duty: Speaking Truth in “Post-Truth” Trump Era

IMG_0535

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

For me the past month has been one of constant amazement. I am not speeaking about politics, but what matters more than any political ideology, the very idea of truth. Because of this I write using history and as best as I can objective and indisputable fact as my guide.

Most of my readers know that in addition to being a Priest and Navy Chaplain that I am a historian and teach both ethics and about Gettysburg as a faculty member at a Staff College. Many of the men and women that I teach will lead our military as commanders, planners and staff officers. I will transfer in the spring but even so, as a chaplain, officer, and educator I cannot be silent.

Thus it is my first duty, whether it is in teaching, writing or in ministry is to the truth, politicans and pundits be damned to hell. I believe the words spoken by Captain Jean Luc Picard, played by Sir Patrick Stewart in Star Trek the Next Generation: “the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, historical truth or personnel truth…”

I am not a Starfleet Officer, but a Navy officer and I have always believed that the truth matters, but sadly, I, like so many of us have turned the other way and not spoken out too many times in my life. That changed during my combat tor in Iraq, and now the older I get the more I realize that I cannot be silent about subjects that at one time I turned a blind eye to because they were uncomfortable, unpopular or might hurt my career either in the church or in the military, so when I see people in power and who are close to power saying that truth and objective fact no longer matters I become fearful, because I know that the path that denying facts and truth leads.

Throughout the campaign Trump and his campaign surrogates not only twisted truth, but lied so many times that fact checkers could hardly keep up with their untruths. After the election, Trump surroget Scottie Nell Hughes told Diane Rehm of NRP: “There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, of facts,” she continued,“Mr. Trump’s tweet, amongst a certain crowd, a large — a large part of the population, are truth. When he says that millions of people illegally voted, he has some — in his — amongst him and his supporters, and people believe they have facts to back that up. Those that do not like Mr. Trump, they say that those are lies, and there’s no facts to back it up.”

Her words, as well as those of former Trump campaign director and CNN talking head, Corey Lewindowski, and Newt Gingrinch have maintained that truth does not matter, only what people believe does. The fact that so many of Trump’s supporters don’t seem to care about facts, bodes ill for our country.

As such I have continued to write about subjects that many people are controversial and as such many people are uncomfortable with those topics. Whether the issue is civil rights, racism, Gay rights and marriage equality, voting rights, religious freedom and religious intolerance, and even xenophobia, or the connection of symbols such as the Confederate Battle Flag to a heritage that goes to a hatred that extends far beyond the battlefields of the Civil War; I am speaking out.

I am fully aware of that many of these subjects are controversial and are now targeted by Trump’s supporters, Congressional Repiublicans, and GOP legislators in every state. I have been asked in comments on this site and on my various social media accounts, particularly Facebook, why I keep bringing up the uncomfortable past. But I have to, I have a duty to the truth, and as Oscar Wilde noted “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

The late Howard Zinn, a brilliant historian whose work at one time I discounted, said: “But I suppose the most revolutionary act one can engage in is… to tell the truth.” Who would think that telling the truth could or would be a revolutionary act? However, when one lives in a society where the truth is bent, run over and shredded by politicians, preachers and pundits, what I call the Trinity of Evil; when state school boards whitewash history and force their religious views on children in public schools; where corporations and advertisers use the most crass means to deceive customers; and where established science is not met with denial under the guise of “skepticism;” telling the truth is a revolutionary affair.

In 1943, George Orwell, wrote about the Spanish Civil War how the German and Italian propaganda about it had been accepted without question by most people in westren democracies. His words echo my feelings about the incoming administration:

“This kind of thing is frightening to me, because it often gives me the feeling that the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. After all, the chances are that those lies, or at any rate similar lies, will pass into history. How will the history of the Spanish war be written? If Franco remains in power his nominees will write the history books, and (to stick to my chosen point) that Russian army which never existed will become historical fact, and schoolchildren will learn about it generations hence. But suppose Fascism is finally defeated and some kind of democratic government restored in Spain in the fairly near future; even then, how is the history of the war to be written? What kind of records will Franco have left behind him? Suppose even that the records kept on the Government side are recoverable — even so, how is a true history of the war to be written? For, as I have pointed out already, the Government, also dealt extensively in lies. From the anti-Fascist angle one could write a broadly truthful history of the war, but it would be a partisan history, unreliable on every minor point. Yet, after all, some kind of history will be written, and after those who actually remember the war are dead, it will be universally accepted. So for all practical purposes the lie will have become truth. 

In spite of everything going on I will continue to speak the truth, which will likely will be called radical, revolutionary, and unpatriotic. That has happened over the past few years and I expect that it will happen on a more frequent basis, but I do not want the lie to become truth.

The honest truth is that I never expected to be a revolutionary in terms of defending civil rights. Truthfully, believing what authority figures, be they political, or religious say is much easier than asking the hard questions. Barbara Tuchman once wrote: “The reality of a question is inevitably more complicated than we would like to suppose.” I guess that is why so many people would rather be content with obvious lies than to ask the really hard questions; be they about history, religion, and science or for that matter anything. One of the must uncomfortable things to admit is that truth is always evolving as we learn more, it is dynamic, not static and to attempt to force people to live by the “truth” of our ancestors is disingenuous, dishonest and denies the reality of the universe that we live. Thomas Jefferson recognized this and wrote:

“I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” 

So why I continue to write? I will write so that we never forget or push aside the great evils that human beings are capable of committing: The Holocaust, slavery and Jim Crow, the extermination of Native Americans by the millions in the name of God and Manifest Destiny, the enslavement, exploitation, and sometimes the extermination of whole peoples by colonialism; the witch trials, the religious wars of the Reformation, the Inquisition, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Stalin’s purges, the Tuskegee experiments, the Japanese barbarity in the Rape of Nanking and other places in Asia, the Srebrenica genocide and the Rwandan genocide, the inhumanity of the so-called Islamic State, just to name a few; and add to that whatever happens in the next few years that will be aided and abbetted by men and women who overthrow democracy by the democratic process, using people’s fear to establish authoritatian or totalitarian states.

All too often the perpetrators of those events and their descendants as all too willing to last the past lie dormant and allow present wrongs to persist and look the other way.

But at what cost do we do so? Do we sacrifice justice on the altar of prosperity and peace; do we sacrifice uncomfortable truth in order to remain undisturbed and comforted by myth? Do we condemn our descendants to live under the myths of our ancestors? Would we sacrifice the truth and justice in order to ensure obedience? Howard Zinn correctly observed, “Historically, the most terrible things – war, genocide, and slavery – have resulted not from disobedience, but from obedience.”

President John F. Kennedy spoke these words at Yale in 1962: “The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

Personally I would rather ask the questions and confront the past so we might have a better future, because though I am a realist, I also believe in my heart that humanity is capable of overcoming hatred, prejudice and ignorance. The problem is that times get difficult those attitudes can overcome our better nature. As Spencer Tracy’s character in the movie Judgment at Nuremberg said:

“But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen. There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” – of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient – to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”

That my friends, is why I write: for justice, truth, and the value of a single human life, even if that means being considered unpatriotic.

Peace

1 Comment

Filed under ethics, History, News and current events, philosophy, Political Commentary

Opposing Ideas of Liberty: Slave Power vs. the Declaration of Independence

img_0080

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is something that I pulled from the text that I am currently working on regarding the role of race, religion, ideology and politics in the Civil War era. It deals with the thought of George Fitzhugh, a Southern Social social theorist whose views on race and humanity were quite common in the ante-bellum South, and directly opposed to the principles of the Declaration of Independence. In fact, if you look closely at Fitzhugh’s words, they are very similar to those today who seek to reestablish a society built on an aristocracy of race. They are worth taking some time to read, and then to compare with people today who oppose civil rights based on race, religion, gender, or any other difference that they believe makes people undeserving of liberty. 

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

The issue of slavery even divided the ante-bellum United States on what the words freedom and liberty meant. The dispute can be seen in the writings of many before the war, with each side emphasizing their particular understanding of these concepts. In the South, freedom was reserved for those who occupied the positions of economic power; slavery was key to that from not only an economic point of view but as a social philosophy. The concept of human equality, which was so much a part of the Declaration of Independence was ridiculed by George Fitzhugh, a planter and slave owner in eastern Virginia commented that that concept “is practically impossible, and directly conflicts with all government, all separate property, and all social existence.” [1] Fitzhugh was very critical of the founder’s philosophy of natural liberty and human equality which he found repugnant and error ridden. He wrote:

“We must combat the doctrines of natural liberty and human equality, and the social contract as taught by Locke and the American sages of 1776. Under the spell of Locke and the Enlightenment, Jefferson and other misguided patriots ruined the splendid political edifice they erected by espousing dangerous abstractions – the crazy notions of liberty and equality that they wrote into the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Bill of Rights. No wonder the abolitionists loved to quote the Declaration of Independence! Its precepts are wholly at war with slavery and equally at war with all government, all subordination, all order. It is full if mendacity and error. Consider its verbose, newborn, false and unmeaning preamble…. There is, finally, no such thing as inalienable rights. Life and liberty are not inalienable…. Jefferson in sum, was the architect of ruin, the inaugurator of anarchy. As his Declaration of Independence Stands, it deserves the appropriate epithets which Major Lee somewhere applies to the thought of Mr. Jefferson, it is “exuberantly false, and absurdly fallacious.”   ” [2]

fitzhugh

George Fitzhugh

The political philosophy such as Fitzhugh’s, which was quite common in the South, and was buttressed by a profound religious belief that it was the South’s God ordained mission to maintain and expand slavery. One Methodist preacher in his justification of slavery wrote, “God as he is infinitely wise, just and holy never could authorize the practice of moral evil. But God has authorized the practice of slavery, not only by bare permission of his providence, but by the express permission of his word.” [3] Buttressed by such scriptural arguments Southerners increasingly felt that they were the only people following God. The Northern abolitionists as well as those who advocated for the concept of human equality and free labor were heretics to be damned. As such the “South’s ideological isolation within an increasingly antislavery world was not a stigma or a source of guilt but a badge of righteousness and a foundation for national identity and pride.” [4]

Speaking of the necessity for slavery, as well as limitations on the equality of human beings no matter what their race or sex; Fitzhugh penned words that explained that human relationships were not to be seen in terms of individual liberty, “but in relations of strict domination and subordination. Successful societies were those whose members acknowledged their places within that hierarchy.” [5]

Fitzhugh was quite caustic when he discussed the real implications of his philosophy:

“We conclude that about nineteen out of twenty individuals have “a natural and inalienable right” to be taken care of and protected, to have guardians, trustees, husbands or masters; in other words they have a natural and inalienable right to be slaves. The one in twenty are clearly born or educated in some way fitted for command and liberty.” [6]

Fitzhugh’s chilling conclusion was summarized in the words “Liberty for the few – slavery in every form, for the mass.” [7]

Calhoun

John C. Calhoun

But many Southerners, including many poor whites, especially the Yeoman farmers who were the backbone of the Southern populace did not see or understand the limitations that were placed on their own liberty by the slavery system and instead saw slavery as the guarantee of their economic freedom. John C. Calhoun said to the Senate in 1848 that “With us, the two great divisions of society are not the rich and poor, but white and black; and all of the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals.” [8] Calhoun’s racial distinction is important if we are to understand why poor whites would fight and die for a social and economic idea that did not benefit them or their families.

But it was Abraham Lincoln, who cut to the heart of the matter when he noted the difference between his understanding of liberty and that of Calhoun and others in the South who defended slavery and the privileges of the Southern oligarchs:

“We all declare for liberty” but “in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men and the product of other men’s labor.” [9]

Notes 

[1] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of the Civil War Revised Edition p.140

[2] Fitzhugh, George. New Haven Lecture 1855, in The Approaching Fury: Voices From the Storm, 1820-1861 Stephen B. Oates, Editor, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1997 p.135

[3] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom: Evangelicalism, Proslavery, and the Causes of the Civil War pp.63-64

[4] Ibid. Faust, Drew The Creation of Confederate Nationalism: Ideology and Identity in the Civil War South p.61

[5] Ibid. Levin Half Slave and Half Free p.140

[6] Ibid. Levin Half Slave and Half Free p.140

[7] Ibid. Levin Half Slave and Half Free p.141

[8] McPherson, James M. Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1996 p.50

[9] Ibid. Levin Half Slave and Half Free p.122

1 Comment

Filed under civil rights, civil war, History

All Should be Equally Free: Recognizing the Terror of the New Religious Liberty Laws

john leland

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This may seem a familiar topic for my readers, but due to events in a number of states I feel compelled to talk about it again. The issue of religious liberty and the right to free expression has once again come to the fore in the wake of the Obergfell v. Hodges ruling and the pathetically un-American passage of particularly odious, religiously based anti-LGBT laws in North Carolina, Mississippi, and Tennessee, as well as one that was vetoed by Georgia’s governor. I call these laws pathetic and un-American because they fly in the face of the ideals of the real champions of religious liberty in the United States. One of these early proponents of religious liberty and freedom in the United States was the Virginia Baptist pastor, John Leland.

Sadly, many American Christians either have never heard of him. Likewise, if they have heard of him, as the great pontificator, Mike Huckabee should have in his brief tenure as a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; they seem to have ignored his warnings about state religion. I guess that problems in his church history and Baptist history classes were a big reason that he left seminary. Ideologues like the Huckster didn’t last at Southwestern, at least until the fundamentalist takeover in 1994 that helped destroy the academic and scholarly reputation of that once fine school, but I digress….

Leland was a friend of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and without him it is unlikely that the First Amendment of the Constitution would have mentioned religious faith. Leland had a very personal interest in this as during the 1780s the Anglican Church in Virginia was attempting to again become the official state religion. Anglicans, with the help of local authorities were attacking Baptist congregations and even resorting to physical violence. In defiance of the Anglicans, Leland wrote:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

There is a form of religion and indeed the “Christian” faith that is toxic and if not treated leads to the spiritual and sometimes the physical and emotional death of the infected person.

There is a nationalized version of this supposedly Christian faith in the Untied Stats today. It is a bastardized version of the Christian faith overlaid with the thin veneer of an equally bastardized version of American history. Its purveyors are quite popular in the world of “conservative” American Evangelicalism and Catholicism.

Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson and chief Nuremberg war crimes trials prosecutor warned us about people like them over a half-century ago. Jackson wrote, “[I]n our country are evangelists and zealots of many different political, economic and religious persuasions whose fanatical conviction is that all thought is divinely classified into two kinds — that which is their own and that which is false and dangerous.”

Pat Robertson, evangelist and founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network is an example of what Leland and Jackson warned us about. Robertson said on his program that “You say you’re supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense, I don’t have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist.” — Pat Robertson, The 700 Club, January 14, 1991. The late David Chilton was another. He wrote: “We believe that institutionally Christianity should be the official religion of the country, that its laws should be specifically Christian”

It is quite fascinating when you look at it. This faith is a combination of a selective reading of American history, Christian teaching and Biblical interpretation that mixes and matches a wide variety of mutually conflicting and contradictory traditions. This Toxic “faith” if you can call it that; is based on a reading of American and Western History, which negates, marginalizes or willingly distorts the views or contributions of those who they disagree. It does not matter of their opponents are not Christians, or were Christians, including Baptists like John Leland and Roger Williams. Due to their experiences of religious persecution, Williams and Leland refused to buy into any form of state sanctioned religion.

I find it interesting that Conservative Icon and champion of limited government Barry Goldwater had great reservations about those that sought to establish the superiority of any religion. Goldwater said on the Senate floor: “The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent.”

The leaders of this new and quasi “Christian faith” are many and include some of the most popular religious leaders in the United States such as Pat Robertson, the pseudo-historian David Barton, James Robison, Gary North, Bryan Fischer, James Dobson, Gary Bauer Phyllis Schafley and a host of others. For them the Gospel has been equated with government legislation of supposedly “Christian” values; which conveniently are defined by their political agenda, often in complete contradiction to the Gospel and to nearly 2000 years of Christian experience. North, one of the most eloquent expositors of the Dominionist movement wrote:

“The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.”

That is quite a statement and those who think that they can co-opt people like North, Robertson or others are quite mistaken. Goldwater realized this. What is fascinating to me is to watch these men and women advocate religious and political positions in regard to Church-State relations that completely opposite of what early American Christian and non-Christian civil libertarians imagined when our country was founded. Positions that quite often are at odds with even the historical tenants of their own faith. Their only claim to innocence can be because not a one of them have any training in history and often are even worse when it comes to their understanding of the Christian tradition, which did not begin in and will not end in the United States.

In this confused and often hateful “faith” we see men and women who hate centralized government but extol a centralized religion. I was talking with a friend who is adamantly opposed to a powerful Federal Government but extols the perfection of the centralized bureaucracy of his Roman Catholic Faith. He could not see the contradiction. I watch others who extol an almost Libertarian understanding of the government and the Constitution who supposedly in their religious tradition are from the “Free Church” who now advocate the supremacy of the Church over the State and in doing so their particular and limited understanding of Church over that of the Church Universal.

In this confused and contradictory setting there are Catholics espousing political views that are in direct opposition to the understanding of government supported by the Magisterium of the Church. There are Evangelical and Charismatic Protestants that mix and match the untenable and contradictory beliefs of Dominionism and Millennialism which involve on one hand the takeover of earthly power by the Church and the ushering in of the Kingdom of God and the understanding that earthly power is ultimately under the dominion of Satan and must be overcome by the Second Coming of Christ.

Leland wrote:

“These establishments metamorphose the church into a creature, and religion into a principle of state, which has a natural tendency to make men conclude that Bible religion is nothing but a trick of state.”

Leland was one of the most important persons in regards to the relationship of the Christian Churches to the American Government. He was a champion of the religious liberty enshrined in the Bill of Rights and helped influence both James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. He noted in 1791:

“Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear–maintain the principles that he believes–worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death, let him be encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more? A liberal man asks for nothing more of government.” John Leland, “Right of Conscience Inalienable, and Therefore, Religious Opinions Not Cognizable By The Law”

When the adherents of a faith, any faith, but especially the Christian faith enlist the government to enforce their understanding of faith they introduce a toxicity that is eventually fatal when consumed and acted on.

I think that much of what we are witnessing today is much more the product of fear mongering preachers that see opportunity in their political alliances and that are willing to reduce the Gospel to a number of “Christian values” in order to achieve a political end; even if that end is ultimately destructive to the Church and to the Gospel.

The message of the Apostle Paul to the Church in Corinth was this: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (2 Cor 5:18-19 NRSV) 

The early church thrived when it had no earthly power. It thrived when it was persecuted and when the Roman government openly supported almost every religion but it. However, once it became powerful and worldly it became ensnared in affairs far from that simple message of reconciliation.

It was in this country that the various sects of the Christian faith had the opportunity to make a new start, unencumbered by the trappings of power. But instead, like those that came before us, the toxin of power has all too often seduced us. John Leland understood this and fought to ensure that all people of faith were free and unencumbered by state supported religion.

Leland’s friend James Madison wrote to Edward Everett toward the end of his life:

“The settled opinion here is, that religion is essentially distinct from civil Government, and exempt from its cognizance; that a connection between them is injurious to both; that there are causes in the human breast which ensure the perpetuity of religion without the aid of the law; that rival sects, with equal rights, exercise mutual censorships in favor of good morals; that if new sects arise with absurd opinions or over-heated imaginations, the proper remedies lie in time, forbearance, and example; that a legal establishment of religion without a toleration could not be thought of, and with a toleration, is no security for and animosity; and, finally, that these opinions are supported by experience, which has shewn that every relaxation of the alliance between law and religion, from the partial example of Holland to the consummation in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, &c., has been found as safe in practice as it is sound in theory. Prior to the Revolution, the Episcopal Church was established by law in this State. On the Declaration of Independence it was left, with all other sects, to a self-support. And no doubt exists that there is much more of religion among us now than there ever was before the change, and particularly in the sect which enjoyed the legal patronage. This proves rather more than that the law is not necessary to the support of religion” (Letter to Edward Everett, Montpellier, March 18, 1823).

That is the antidote to the toxic faith embodied in the politically motivated Christian Right. It stands against any idea of a state sanction or religion or a religion that like in Saudi Arabia or Iran controls the state. It stands in opposition to the beliefs of so many “Christian” religious leaders work to ensure that they control the powers of government. Attempts that try to proclaim their superiority above even the ultimate message of the Gospel that proclaims, “for God so loved the world….” 

By the way there are always results. The Puritans who many extoll were some of the most intolerant of dissenters of any group that has every held the reins of power over the state and religion ever known in this country. Their victims included Quakers as well as American Indian converts to Christianity. The picture below of the Puritans hanging Quakers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony should give pause to anyone who thinks that such actions are not possible today should any religion gain control of political power.

Peace

Padre Steve+

3 Comments

Filed under christian life, civil rights, faith, History, laws and legislation, LGBT issues, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion

Dedicated to a Proposition: Super Tuesday & the New Birth of Freedom 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I have returned from my time teaching at Gettysburgt and today is Super Tuesday, a day that will most likely establish who will be the Democratic and Republican nominees for President. Thus it is an important day and like any Election Day one that we should approach with a matter of solemn responsibility.

When I go to Gettysburg I always learn more than I teach. Part of this is because I am always reading, researching, writing, and exploring the subject so when I get there I look for things that I might have missed in previous visits. I enjoy the time with my students, not just on the battlefield staff ride, but in our table talk at ouch, dinner, and at the bar. But I think most importantly I am touched with the sense that what happened on that hallowed ground still matters today. At least I think that it should matter today if we honestly believe the words spoken by Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” 

Those words, spoken on the site were Federal soldiers turned back the invading Confederate Army just a few months before were as revolutionary as when Thomas Jefferson penned the words “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. – That to secure these rights governments are instituted among men….” 

Of course when Jefferson wrote them they were revolutionary, but they only guaranteed the rights of white men, primarily those who owned property, which in many cases in those early days included the human property of African American slaves. But just a year prior to speaking at Gettysburg, Lincoln issued the provisional Emancipation Proclamation, giving the Confederacy a last chance to end the war and free their slaves. This was followed by the issuance of the proclamation on January 1st 1863. Lincoln’s action was even more revolutionary than that of Jefferson, for he began the process of univerasalizing the understanding that “all men are created equal.” He followed this with the passage of the 13th Amendment. His allies in Congress passed the 14th Amendment after his assassination over the strident objections of President Andrew Johnson, and Ulysses Grant followed this by ensuring that the 15th Amendment was passed.

  
Of course it took many years of struggle to see the “proposition that all men are created equal” was extended to Native Americans, Women, and most recently Gays and Lesbians. Even so many people according to one recent survey said that they thought that some 13% of Americans disagreed with the Emanicaption Proclamation while 17% weren’t sure. Many others despise the 14th Amendment that provided citizenship rights to African Americans, the 15th Amendment which gave Blacks the right to vote, as well as the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote, and most recently the Oberfell v. Hodges decision which gave Gays the right to marry. Of course the precedent for most of the after decisions was found in the 14th Amendment.

emancipation

Today our country is nearly as divided as it was before and during the Civil War, Lincoln said, “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” There are politicians, pundits and preachers who are intent on rolling back or eliminating the rights of others in order to preserve their privilege, and to crush the rights of others in doing so for the flimsiest of reasons. That my friends frightens me, but I do believe that the wrong will fail. Even so I do get concerned, but then I remember Lincoln’s words:

“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”


When I walked among the graves the men men who fought and died to ensure those rights over the weekend I again felt that call, the call to embrace and fight for the new birth of freedom that Abraham Lincoln so eloquently spoke. Yes my friends, it is for us the living to be dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. If we do not do so what good are we?

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

Leave a comment

Filed under civil rights, civil war, History, leadership, News and current events, Political Commentary