Wheaton Crusaders still on the move

Not long ago, the Wheaton College Thunder were called the Wheaton College Crusaders. If you’ve studied Christian history at all, you know the origin of that name. The Crusades were a long series of mobile wars conducted by Europeans in part to take back control of the Holy Land. For two centuries Crusaders tried to gain control of the Middle Eastern world, only to lose ground in the end to the Ottoman Turks and other Muslim-controlled interests in the region.

But the angry religious energy of the Crusades conveniently found new targets for domination in the New World. It even gained gave itself a new name, in Manifest Destiny, the idea that Europeans were a chosen people of God who deserved to take over North America. And from there, the Christian religion was again used to justify genocide. Why not? The Old Testament was full of it.

Not too surprising

So the violent roots of the Christian faith and its actions around the world are never too surprising. Most recently, five football players from Wheaton College initiated a crusade of their own. The Daily Herald describes one phase of the incident this way: “According to records cited in the Tribune’s report Monday night, the student was in his dorm room when he was tackled by the football players, his legs and wrists wrapped up in duct tape, and a pillow case put over his head. He was placed in the back seat of a teammate’s vehicle, and as they drove, the players made offensive comments about Muslims, the report said.”

The players went on to sexually abuse their captive by attempting to insert an object into his rectum, all while continuing to insult the man and physically abuse him when resistance was offered.

Just like Iraq

abu-ghraibThat behavior resembles the actions of American military service personnel who tortured, beat and abused Iraqi prisoners during America’s invasion of that country in the early 2000s. The photos that emerged of those abuses rightly enraged the world, especially Muslim people who ascertained from reports about American soldiers specifically targeting Islamic taboos to humiliate Iraqi men and boys.

The American military was quite technically on a crusade of its own in Iraq. There was no real reason to invade that country after the 9/11 attacks. Yet the heated notion that Saddam Hussein was an immediate threat and that Muslim countries in general were a danger to the United States was used to ramp up approval of that war by Congress.

All this took place under the auspices of an openly Christian President in George W. Bush. It was his personal crusade to get back at Saddam for threatening his daddy and having the gall to stand up to America at all.

No remorse

dick-cheneyYet for all the ugly follies of Iraq, Bush and his henchman Cheney suffered few political consequences for the torture that occurred under their watch. Cheney even doubled down on several occasion about the merits of torture to subdue one’s enemies.

With that kind of attitude trickling down from our nation’s leaders and our own military, perhaps it is no surprise that a band of five Wheaton College football players should capture a young Muslim man from his dorm room to torture, injure and humiliate him. The fact that it happened at an overtly unapologetic Christian college such as Wheaton is quite in line with the behavior of hardline Christian leadership throughout history.  Quite recently the college fired one of its own professors for making a pro-Muslim comment. She had posted on Facebook: “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” she posted on Facebook. “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”

She was dismissed for that simple yet loving remark. And yet the five Wheaton College football players who kidnapped a fellow student, tortured and sexually abused him remain at the college. They were “strapped” with only 50 hours of “community service” and having to write an “eight page letter” as punishment for their actions.

Wheaton at fault

Now that the Wheaton College players are facing actual criminal penalties for their actions, it is time to hold Wheaton College publicly accountable for the mercenary brand of doctrine to which it traditionally ascribes. With its feet firmly planted in the evangelical community, Wheaton’s form of highly conservative, often repressive Christian teaching is the ideology fueling ugliness at home and abroad. Evangelicals swayed the vote for Donald Trump, himself a very public abuser, violent character and poor representative for what would normally pass for Christian virtues.

If it is indeed Christianity that men like Trump espouse, it is a Christianity rooted in intolerance and anger toward all other faiths. Witness its dog-whistle implementation as documented on the website God and Country, Military Religious Freedom and Christian Service. In a post titled “The Top Three Military Chaplain Fallacies,” it cheerleads unrelenting conversion as the ultimate expression of “religious freedom.”

The article says: “A military chaplain must have a true affinity for the lost (unconverted), and possess a love that is implacable for the Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen that they serve. A military chaplain must exercise their constitutional right to faithfully and expositionally teach and preach the whole counsel of God’s special and propositional revelation. Why? Military chaplains that never evangelizes (sic), soft-peddles truth, willfully omits the name of Christ in prayer out of fear of offending others instead of God, substitutes Scripture with psycho-therapy, and cares more about their career than Christ are not examples of holiness and Christ-centeredness; they are examples of hypocrisy and childish-conceits.”

Religious liberty, or the opposite? 

This is what too much of America claims as “religious liberty.” Would a military chaplain schooled in these methods of unrelenting evangelical fervor truly offer any virtue of service to a Muslim or Jewish soldier?

None whatsoever. Nor did the young men who play football for a Christian college show any respect or tolerance for a fellow student when they kidnapped and tortured him for his religious and possibly racial background.

Sickness at heart

There is a sickness at the heart of a Christian faith that approaches the world with such dismissive force. It bleeds into politics, culture and public civility. It fuels racially driven prejudice based on outdated interpretations of scripture that are used by the likes of the KKK to claim that white people are God’s people. It oppresses the rights of women, of gay people, of every person born into a nation where freedom from religion is guaranteed by the Constitution just as freedom of religion is also provided.

These were not just five football players roughhousing, as the likes of Rush Limbaugh will probably say. There is sickness at heart when such rationalizations are offered. These were five young men indoctrinated to think that somehow their school or their race or their position in life gave them the right to torture and abuse another human being because they attend a Christian college whose unquiet traditions of supremacy and crusades has a long history of justifying such behavior.

That is the form of religious “freedom” to which latter day evangelicalism too often leads. And it has to be challenged. Stopped. Shouted down. And dunned from dominance of the public debate over policy and protections of civil rights.

 

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Answers In Genesis can’t stand the idea that the echidna evolved

Echidna-04.jpgWhen the creationist website Answers In Genesis sets out to debunk the theory of evolution, it loves to set up red herrings that it thinks will “stump” the theory of evolution and prove their own theory that God made everything all at once, and from scratch. So the AIG folks always set the stage with a cute nod to its readers that they’re going to explain, Oh So Simply, how evolution fails the test of scientific verity. In a post titled Echidna: Outback Oddity, the stage is set this way:

Evolution is hard-pressed to explain this prickly little digger. That’s because the Creator made it like no other single animal.

The intent is pretty clear. Evolution just doesn’t “get” the complexity of nature. Only God can do that. So they go on to complain, with seemingly vexing questions, as to why the animal is such a puzzle among living creatures:

You might think that spiky little animal waddling along the forest floor is a porcupine. But it has a long, sticky tongue and it digs for ants, so maybe it’s some kind of anteater. Nope? Well, it’s a mammal, at least, right? Wait—it lays eggs. Mammals don’t lay eggs. So what is this thing?

In order to understand all these questions in context of their evolution, one must first acknowledge that there is a time and environmental influence scale sufficiently long and diverse enough to provide the various configurations that went into evolving an echidna.

 

ape-family-tree-a-family-portrait-pasttime-org-episode-5-throwing-in-human-evolution.jpg

Graphs like these make creationists go ape. 

And of course, creationism denies any such time scale exists. The popular claim among the creationist sect is that the human genealogy mapped out in the bible dictates the total age of the earth at about 6,000 years. Some are even willing to admit that it might map out at 10,000 years. 

But in any case, these genealogies also require that creationists accept a time scale for human lifespans that in some cases extend for 900 years. You heard that right: creationists insist that at one time human beings were capable of living for nine centuries. That’s almost a millennium.

The oldest known verified lifespan among human beings tops out at about 115 years. So creationists are basing their entire worldview and the age of the earth on an unverified, rendition of oral history before the advent of written language to establish the potential lifespan of human beings. On the website creation.com, the explanation goes like this:

In the book of Genesis, the Bible routinely records human lifespans which seem outrageously different from our experience today. Adam lived to 930 years; Noah even longer, to 950 years (see graph below). These long lifespans are not haphazardly distributed; they are systematically greater before the Flood of Noah, and decline sharply afterwards.

These great ages are not presented in the Bible as if they are in any way extraordinary for their times, let alone miraculous. Many people are quick to scoff at such ages, claiming they are ‘biologically impossible’. Today, even if they avoid all fatal diseases, humans will generally die of old age before they reach much past 100. Even the very exceptional cases don’t make it much past 120 years.

geneticsThey go on to claim that it was a radically pure form of genetic sustainability and environment at work to produce such long lifespans. Somehow, the earth was simply a better place to live, and that allowed human beings to survive for nearly a millennium.

But even that’s not the end game of the creationism discussion. It has far less to do with biology than it does with theology. As creation.com goes on to explain:

 

Of course, the ultimate reason for all aging and death is the Curse on all creation recorded in Genesis chapter 3. Adam was told that if he disobeyed God, ‘dying, you shall die’ [lit. Hebrew]. Adam immediately died spiritually, and began to die physically on the very same day, just as we are all dying today.

Modern genetic research shows that we all inherit the inevitability of aging and death. When we look at our encroaching wrinkles in the mirror, it should remind us of the awfulness of sin in the sight of a holy God. And it should cause us immense thankfulness that God has provided a way of escape from His own righteous judgement on sin, through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

So to abide by a creationist’s worldview, we must begin with a massive rationalization of the age of the earth based on the miraculous nature of human lifespan upon which biblical genealogy is based.  Thus we must draw on theology as the starting point for any explanation of nature, science and the history of the earth. The limitations of this worldview are breathtaking in their shallow regard for the functions of nature. It’s all “wave of the hand” level thinking cloaked in language stolen from science to justify creationism as a legitimate scientific worldview.

So you can see why creationists love the echidna as a symbol of the inherent complexity of nature and the supposed confusion on the part of evolutionary scientists to seam together the forces of environmental conditions, selective pressures and population adaptations that could produce an animal seemingly constructed from so many sources. How could evolution accomplish such a feat? The goal of creationism is not to explain the possibilities, but to heighten the impossibilities and keep religious thinkers as far from material explanations as possible. This is how that is done:

The echidna seems to break all the rules. It’s a mammal, but it lays eggs. It’s warm-blooded, but it has a low body temperature. It lives on land, but it detects food like some fish do. And, like so many other rule-breakers, such as the platypus, the echidna settled in Australia.

That last word in the bunch, “Australia,” is already proof that the case of the creationists against evolution is beginning to break down. It is consistently true that when a population of any creature is forcibly isolated from another through migration or some other happenstance, the isolated population becomes subject to the environmental pressures of that new environment. Some attributes of the ancestors may persist as the population is subjected to the needs for survival in all new circumstances. Even some of the formerly vital functions of a land creature can wind up useless and essentially vestigial as a line of land-based living things shifts to an aquatic lifestyle. The vestigial remnants of hips in whales is an excellent example of how nature “plays” with usefulness and the lack of it.

flightlessWe also have flightless cormorants on the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific. For what good reason would a species of bird perfectly capable of flying in its ancestry relinquish the ability to fly? The answer is simple: Flying costs energy, and cormorants isolated on the Galapagos had no need to fly away from predators that did not exist. The rewards of evolution as sometimes ironic, yet still functionally beneficial.

The same can be said of the echnida. All the attributes wrapped together in a seemingly inconclusive creature are actually quite conclusively beneficial in the habitats of Australia that it occupies. There is a hard, fast rule to evolution that defies any other explanation of existence. If a creature is not equipped to survive or adapt to the habitat available, it will cease to feed and breed, and eventually die out.

This is what has happened to 99% of all living things that ever existed on the earth. Creationists like to claim that every kind of living thing that has ever existed on earth was borne up and carried around in an ark for a year, then released back onto the surface of the earth. This is a pathetically shortsighted view of how nature functions. There is no explanation of how highly specific lifestyles of desert scorpions in the Southwest United States were somehow able to migrate across salty oceans or through freezing landscapes across the Bering Straits to arrive at the Middle East where Noah waited with the appropriate food to nurture and regenerate entire populations of such specialized creatures in this world.

But as we’ve seen, that is not really the issue at heart with creationism. It is always about confession of sin and the admission that God is in control, and that nature cannot possibly operate on its own. Again, we find evidence of this religious worldview as the Answers In Genesis site struggles to justify its case:

Evolutionists have always had trouble explaining how it’s related to any other animal. So instead, to explain its oddities they invoke “convergent evolution” (the belief that a similar “need” produces similar designs in completely unrelated animals). But creationists understand that the echidna’s traits point to a Creator who made many unique kinds of animals.

Echidna

It goes on to say:

God gave the echidna nerves in its snout that detect electrical impulses from nearby ants, termites, and other potential snacks. God designed the echidna as a digger, with powerful legs and strong claws. He also equipped it with special ear holes to help keep its ear canals clear of dirt. Finally, God gave it electroreceptors, like sharks have—nerves in its snout that detect electrical impulses from nearby wiggling snacks.

The idea that all these attributes could have converged in a single creature is anathema to creationism because its worldview is so constrained in timespan that it must use shortcuts to explain anything, or everything. The most (and only) convenient justification for this shortcut in time and complexity is a very literal interpretation of the opening chapters in the Book of Genesis.

In other words, creationism demands that people accept the laws of nature were radically broken in terms of human lifespan in order to assert the claim that the earth could not possibly be old enough to allow evolution to happen. That conflicted worldview is the convergence of great irony, human arrogance, fear and selfishness into one singular creationist mindset.

In other words, the better question we should be God is why the world should create such a conflicted creature as the creationist. After all, Jesus was quite at home with the concept that the natural world could be a source of great wisdom. He taught using parables steeped in organic truths. And he lectured his disciples when they expressed fear that people could never understand his message if he did not talk in literal terminology.

He called them “dull” and “without understanding” for these claims. Which makes the closing argument about the echidna found in Answers In Genesis sound painfully desperate for approval and justification. The authors begin to sound like children desperate to have their fifth grade theme paper graded with an “A” when in fact it is frightfully obvious they never did the research in the first place. Instead they credit God on the basis that no great teacher could give them a failing grade if they quote the Almighty.

Echidnas are just one example of how our Creator filled the earth with abundant, diverse, unique life that speaks of His handiwork, not evolution. These quirky little monotremes simultaneously demand and defy categorization. But whatever classification rules they may break, in demonstrating the creativity of our great God they obey His command, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6)!

As noted, Jesus didn’t give his disciples or the Chief Priests a pass when they exhibited such dogmatic ignorance and legalistic tendencies. Neither should we when creationists try to use scientific sounding language to make a legalistic case for the primacy of God in material processes. There is plenty of meaning to draw from nature without relegating it to a pathetically tiny backseat in human history. Just ask Jesus.

 

You can’t “get over it” when you’re under the thumb of an authoritarian

Thumb.jpgSenior White House Policy Adviser Stephen Miller had this to say about rational resistance to the policies being imposed by Donald Trump:

“The end result of this, though, is that our opponents, the media, and the whole world will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

This is clearly an authoritarian statement. It holds, at its heart, the ugly sentiments of fascism.

It is unclear why so many people who supposedly value freedom in America still seem to support the likes of Donald Trump, who cheered his advisor’s performance on the Sunday morning talk shows.

“The powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

Is that so? Since when does the President have the right to tell millions of Americans who did not vote for him how to think? He clearly cannot stand that notion either. As we all know, Donald Trump lost the popular vote by millions. And what is his response? He refuses to accept that fact, and went to some lengths in manufacturing his own version of reality as a result. “5 million people voted illegally,” he contended.

The real fact of the past election is that far less than 1/4 of the American people actually voted for Donald Trump. This scares the living hell out of Donald Trump. But more than that, it insults his frail yet outsized ego. That is the far more dangerous component of his authoritarian response to resistance to his policies.

Despite the harsh reality of the popular vote and its proof that Trump is not granted a mandate, he further considers Constitutional a playground for his whims. He has refused to release his tax returns to dispel potential conflicts of interest. He has stated publicly that the election results excused any such notions. He has thus claimed that his conflicts of interest are of no consequence to his presidency.

This is authoritarianism at work. And at its worst. Add in the conflation of Russian involvement in the election and pre-inaugural contact with that nation by one of Trump’s representatives, and we have a president that is operating well outside the boundaries of his authority and quite possibly, the law.

Yet Trump supporters tell his detractors to “get over it.” And that is an impossible request. One cannot “get over” the dangerous thumb of an authoritarian. We’ve seen that time and again in history. If you acquiesce to the methods of authoritarian actions and terror, the nation itself is lost.

That is where we stand. That is why we resist. This is the authoritarian thumb we must fight with all our might.

The delusional presidency of Donald Trump and the people who support him

de·lu·sion·al

[dəˈlo͞oZH(ə)nəl]

ADJECTIVE
  1. characterized by or holding idiosyncratic beliefs or impressions that are contradicted by reality or rational argument, typically as a symptom of mental disorder.
  2. Delusional disorder, previously called paranoid disorder, is a type of serious mental illness called a “psychosis” in which a person cannot tell what is real from what is imagined. The main feature of this disorder is the presence of delusions, unshakable beliefs in something untrue or not based on reality. People with delusional disorder generally experience non-bizarre delusions, which involve situations that could occur in real life, such as being followed, poisoned, deceived, conspired against, or loved from a distance. These delusions usually involve the misinterpretation of perceptions or experiences. In reality, however, the situations are either not true at all or highly exaggerated. If the delusions could not happen in reality (aliens, television broadcasting your thoughts) then a person might be considered delusional with bizarre-type delusions.

By any definition of the word, the man elected as President of the United States exhibits delusional behavior. Donald Trump either acts delusional on purpose as a means to advance his political agenda, or he is truly delusional as evidenced by his blunt denials of facts that contradict his desired outcomes or beliefs.

Donald Trump's proposed golf courseHaving a delusional person at the seat of power in America is a dangerous situation for this country, and the world at large. When a person of Trump’s stature and position cannot separate facts from fears, or fiction from fruition, the results are typically chaotic. And when a delusional leader acts out of force of personality and as a means to defy the supposed weaknesses of his predecessors, there is danger at every turn.

Recently Donald Trump ordered Navy Seals into action in Yemen. By many measures that included the death of one American soldier and five others wounded, a $75M helicopter scuttled and civilians torn to pieces in an airstrike, the effort was a hot mess that went wrong from the start. Military officials blamed lack of sound intelligence for the failure of the raid.

Yet this is how the Trump administration responded to those criticisms:

“The Trump administration’s top spokesperson called a raid in Yemen that resulted in the death of one Navy SEAL and the likely deaths of civilians a “huge success,” and rebuked any criticism of the operation as a “disservice” to the fallen SEAL.

Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, earlier called the operation a “failure.”

“It’s absolutely a success and I think anyone who would suggest it’s not a success does disservice to the life of Chief Ryan Owens,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said today during the daily press briefing.”

We’ve seen this delusion before in the Iraq War

The same delusional arguments have been made suggesting the Iraq War even in its massively chaotic and destructive first few years was also a success. President George W. Bush stood before a large sign stating MISSION ACCOMPLISHED on a warship at sea.

This was an illustration of delusion at its worst. Bush and Cheney cost America $6T in an unbudgeted military venture that produced even more terrorism and hatred for America before President Obama sealed up the envelope as required by Iraq in its negotiations and pulled most of our troops out of the country.

That’s common sense. Yet men like Donald Trump appear to want to increase the nature and scale of American aggression in the Middle East. Delusional Twitter threats made by Trump toward Iran may inflame those possibilities. So might his ugly taunts toward China. Even his nasty confrontations with allies hold potential to turn former friends into guarded enemies of our nation.

Domestically delusional

Trump is psychotic in all these regards. And on domestic policy his opinions of how to handle immigration, such as building a multibillion dollar wall along the Mexican border, are patently insane.

Yet he garners enough support from an equally delusional and selfishly motivated segment of the American electorate that his shallow dreams and public nightmares earn a certain grade of popularity. His rants against the media for “attacking him” when all they are doing is fact-checking his statements show the paranoid nature of the man. His belligerent attitude and the sociopathic tendencies of his close advisor Stephen Bannon all mimic the likes of an insane dictator bent on bring the world to its knees by any means.

Worse yet, his insanity is serving as a smokescreen for Ayn Rand-obsessed Republicans eager to gut the EPA, privatize Social Security and throw old people and kids out on the streets with nothing more than vouchers to gain health care coverage or a decent education.

These are not overreactions. Donald Trump fit the description of a delusional individual long before he became President. He has always been narcissistic beyond the normal levels of already ignorant Americans by a tenfold measure. His show The Apprentice in which he positioned himself as an angry boss yelling “You’re Fired” shows how insanely egotistical the man has always been.

Time to impeach

There is only one answer to this delusion. That is to remove the man and everyone associated with him from power. Impeach Trump for his conflicts of interest in all his continued business dealings. Impeach him for his failure to conduct himself with respect toward other nations and their representatives. Impeach him for his known and clear collusion and favoritism toward a Russian government that has been demonstably involved in hacking the American electoral process.

The reasons keep adding up. The time to impeach Donald Trump is now. Remove the delusionary egotist from office. Drain the Swamp he’s created through unqualified and unethical nominees. Yank the likes of Stephen Bannon with his apocalyptic brand of Breitbart hate from the reins of power. And finally, put that miserable sycophant Reince Priebus back where he belongs shoveling the stables of Republican horseshit.

This has gone far enough. Impeach Donald Trump now. Before it is genuinely too late. Or he declares martial law. Or hits the nuke button. This delusional President is not going to Make America Great Again. His presence is going to ruin the good work of all those who believe in civil rights, equality, liberty and justice for all.

 

The cynicism of Shock and Awhhhh

So the term “snowflakes” was invented by the Right to describe people of supposedly shallow ideological substance. That would specifically be “liberals,” and “Progressives” and all others who, for the life of them, cannot stop standing up for the civil rights of everyone that lives in America.

In a January 29 post bearing this bold title, blogger John Galt went on a rant designed to intimidate and mock those who are participating in political protest regarding the actions of Donald Trump:

Snowflakes and Suckers can Now Begin their 2nd Week of Abject Trump Panic

Regardless of there (sic) whining, stupidity, drama, and insane screaming of the left along with #FakeNews from CNN and others, Donald J. Trump is sworn in and America’s long national nightmare is over. The protesters managed to make Middle America hate them and the two leftist controlled coasts even more.

One finds two clear strains of aggression here. First, the celebration of Shock felt by those to whom Trump’s long record of bizarre and unprincipled behavior is an affront. And second, the cynical habit of branding political opponents with patronizing labels. That is the “Awhhh” portion of the strategy.

The goal, as you can tell from the Shock Blogger above, is to always present Progressive resistance to the politics of Shock as hopelessly out of touch with reality. Hence the claim that “The protesters managed to make Middle America hate them.” That is a broad-based assumption if there ever was one. I live in so-called “Middle America” where cornfields inch up to the yards of suburbanites. Just beyond are tiny towns struggling for survival. I went to high school in those cornfields. Dated the daughters of hard-ass farmers and hung with their conservative sons who found ways to score coke and pot and hold giant parties in the barn when their parents were away.

Middle America

I’ve remained friends with plenty of those former classmates over the years. Some of those associations were helped along by social media such as Facebook. But as the primaries and election rolled forward in 2016, it was shocking to realize how shallow the political views of so many Middle Americans can be. These were my friends, but they either bought into the Shock and Awhhhh! mentality wholesale or proved somehow incapable of separating fact from fiction. Few seemed alarmed by the real dangers presented by a man such as Donald Trump.

In a New York Times feature about Women who voted for Trump, in their own words… that shallowness in critical thinking emerges, and it reveals why Trump was successful. Said one woman:. “I do read things on occasion that he tweets and I think, oh my word. I wish I could have had 10 minutes with him. Listen, Donald, you need to straighten up and stop with this foolishness. What he said about women was disrespectful. But I don’t get offended like some people do. You get through the bad and you focus on the good. Basically these were our choices, and I felt he was the better choice, and I had to overlook the negatives and focus on the positives.”

Overlook the negatives? Focus on the positives?

Here’s another opinion from one of the women interviewed by the NYT:

“I feel very, very badly for the people who are very scared for their way of life. From what I’m understanding, he’s only really wanting illegal immigrants that have committed crimes to be deported, which I agree with. I feel bad for the lesbian and gay and transsexual community that fear for their way of life. From what I understand, he says he’s not going to mess with that.

Somebody called me a racist because I did vote for Trump. Hold on, you don’t know me. Doesn’t that make you a racist by calling me a racist when you don’t know me? I’m looking for a brighter future for me and my children, and honestly I felt l like our country was kind of at risk if we did elect Hillary.”

Feeling bad

She “feels bad” for people who are scared for their way of life. Yet she goes on to absolve Trump of  possibility ill intentions. “From what I understand, he says he’s not going to mess with that.”

If these are the weak reasons she expresses for choosing Donald Trump, what is the likelihood that she would speak up if her candidate actually did so something offensive? Like ban Muslims? Shut down immigration?

What is Trump and his henchmen engaged in a Shock and Awe onslaught against the protections included in the Affordable Care Act, or the Environmental Protection Agency, or any number of other sanely conceived programs that are hated by Alt-Right conservatives whose only object, it seems, is to hate the government. And now they run it.

The brand of blind trust and naive notions given over by so many voters to Donald Trump is exactly what he wanted. And he laughed at the fact that it was happening. Middle Americans sold their freaking souls in this last election.

Endorsing hate

That endorsement has unleashed a brand of zealotry for which men such as Stephen Bannon have been preparing for years. It is their plan to implement policies rife with bigotry and political dismissiveness.

But to make matters worse, the hate and fear of this ideology has successfully been wrapped in the eternal blanket of religious confessional language. This is how great nations come to ugly ends.

That’s how it works. Zealotry is all about shocking your opponents into submission and branding those who resist with dismissive terms such as “snowflakes” so that the submissive, shallow minds of those clutching to fears perceive them as the weaker option.

And it’s working.

This is the cynicism of Shock and Awhhhh.

 

 

What does it mean to be an Evangelical Christian?

ufcThe 2016 election was a doozy in terms of bringing strange bedfellows together into voting blocs for both presidential candidates. But one of the most confounding and in some aspects a disturbing conundrums was why a group of faith-oriented believers seemed so drawn to the likes of Donald Trump.

Here was a womanizing, money-worshipping television reality star who never met an insult he did not like. Yet Christian voters were flocking to support him.

What did the so-called “evangelical” community find so appealing about Donald Trump?

To answer that question, we can turn to a variety of sources. But one must first consider a definition of the term “Evangelical Christian” and where it comes from. So here’s a nice little description from a site titled GotAnswers.org, a Christian website.

Here’s how they answer the question: “What is an Evangelical Christian?”

Answer: To begin, let’s break down the two words. The term Christian essentially means “follower of Christ.” Christian is the term given to followers of Jesus Christ in the first century A.D. (Acts 11:26). The term evangelical comes from the Greek word that means “good news.” Evangelism is sharing the good news of the salvation that is available through Jesus Christ. An evangelical, then, is a person dedicated to promoting the good news about Jesus Christ. Combined, the description “evangelical Christian” is intended to indicate a believer in Jesus Christ who is faithful in sharing and promoting the good news.

In Western culture today, there are many caricatures of evangelical Christians. For some, the term evangelical Christian is equivalent to “right-wing, fundamentalist Republican.” For others, “evangelical Christian” is a title used to differentiate an individual from a Catholic Christian or an Orthodox Christian. Others use the term to indicate adherence to the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. In this sense, an evangelical Christian is a believer who holds to the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of Scripture, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and salvation by grace through faith alone. However, none of these definitions are inherent in the description “evangelical Christian.”

In reality, all Christians should be evangelical Christians. The Bible is consistently instructing us to be witnesses of the good news (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 1 Peter 3:15). There is no better news than Jesus! There is no higher calling than evangelist. There is no doubt that holding to the fundamentals of the Bible will result in a certain worldview and, yes, political belief. However, there is nothing about being an evangelical that demands a certain political party or affiliation. An evangelical Christian is called to share the good news, to preach God’s Word, and to set an example of purity and integrity. If these callings require political action, so be it. At the same time, evangelical Christians should not be sidetracked into abandoning our highest calling—sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Putting faith to work

There are several things I found fascinating about that description. For one thing, I am a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA.) Our particular congregation contains both highly liberal and highly conservative Christians whose issues of concern are often addressed from the pulpit. But the central goal of the church the last few years has been to encourage discipleship, which among other things, means putting faith to work through action.

This is a most effective way to distil issues of theology. When people are called together to work in service to others, as the bible calls us to do, fine points of theology do not matter that much.

Faith matters

Yet there are times when theology matters a whole bunch. Throughout the history of the Judeo-Christian religion, sorting out the meaning of scripture and the right relationship of God has taken on highly controversial tones. One could argue that the entire ministry of St. Paul, for example, was spent helping people confront misunderstanding of this new religion that would come to call itself Christianity.

But before that, a long series of *prophets stood on the outskirts of civilization calling people to repentance. When John the Baptist started dunking people in the Jordan river, the rumor mill about his activities got all the way back to the chief priests. John had no patience for their prurient curiosity.

And neither did Jesus. When it came down to it, the Son of God was a sonofabitch to the people in charge of religion. He set out to make them feel the wrath of God.

Unpopular voices

This proves that it is sometimes the unfortunate work of true evangelicals to say things and do things that are not popular with the proponents of mainstream religion. True to this tradition, Pope Francis has been acting like a prophet for the Catholic Church. His claim that “all scripture that does not lead to the love of Christ” is a highly evangelical statement.

He is not a popular man in conservative quarters because more conservative Christians, both Catholic and Evangelical, are accustomed to enforcing the rules of faith and driving a confessional brand of involvement. In order to belong, one must speak and choose to reflect the words of God in a certain way. In other words, “talk the talk,” or get out. You obviously don’t belong.

Dog-whistle religion

The sad thing is that this brand of faith can also come to constitute a certain “dog-whistle” cliqueishness. The confessional brand of religion is like joining a club. And when a club is formed, it can be leveraged to political as well as religious purposes. This is the exact form of social construct to which Jesus most objected. He branded those d0g-whistle priests a “brood of vipers” for huddling together and lashing out at anyone that stood up to their supposed religious authority.

But there is great comfort to many people in a religion where the rules are clearly mapped out. Not having to think about what you believe or explain it to anyone else is a simple form of existence. And if by convenience it also simplifies the voting process, well that’s just dandy, isn’t it?

And so many evangelicals look to their religious authorities for direction. If those authorities communicate that the “greater good” will be served by supporting even as flawed a candidate as Donald Trump, then evangelicals will support the man through thick and through thin. And sure enough, many evangelical leaders and conservative political voices called for evangelical Christians to vote for the man because promises were made that he would work to ban abortion, or gay marriage, or any number of theo-political issues bandied about during an election cycle.

Challenging authority

Anyone that challenges this central authoritarian call to loyalty can be branded an outsider and not worthy of attention. Traditionally, this is manifested in statements such as “you can only test scripture with scripture.” That is, the bible is the only source of truth.

The problem with this approach to authority is that it can fail miserably in the face of legitimate theological challenges. The preferred method is to simply deny the possibility that scripture could in any way be wrong. This is a convenient tautology.

It is also the practical method of those that used to stand on top of the walls or before the city gates shouting at the seemingly crazed prophets calling people to account for the true voice of God. So it is no coincidence that when a man such as Donald Trump puts forth a call to “build a wall,” the concept has great appeal to conservatives accustomed to blocking out that which they don’t want to consider. It is the perfect symbol for an insular faith.

A prophet in his home town

The problem with this approach to belief is that it is not biblical at all. It stung the Lord Jesus, for example, to be mocked and disavowed in his hometown. Mark 6:4: “Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”

Thus it is not unexpected that even today, any evangelical willing challenge the cliquish or dog-whistle signals of Christian faith should be similarly despised and mocked. People take great offense in being questioned about their faith, especially when they sense a vulnerability in themselves that they might not like to admit.

Interesting observations

As a writer who talks about religion quite a bit, and who is willing to challenge both the religion and politics of others based on what the Bible says, rather than what people say about it, I have bumped into plenty of anger and disappointment from friends, relatives and strangers. One confronted me with this interesting observation: “You make me feel shitty about things.”

And I suppose that is probably true. If one clings to beliefs that don’t stand up to rational or religious scrutiny, it surely can make you feel “shitty” about it.

Stiff-necked and hard-hearted

Being challenged on theological grounds can simply harden those beliefs even more. I can honestly attest to the fact that I have likely had that effect on more than one Christian believer. The risk of abandoning cherished beliefs is never easy. But neither does God appreciated stiff-necked or hard-hearted believers. Giving up the legalistic ways of hard-hearted faith has always frightened the shit out of people.

Some have accused me of having no heart at all, that I am more about the theoretical idea of faith than having  a trust in God. But they have not walked a single step in my shoes, or faced the same deaths in my family that I have faced. I have trust that God will play a role in how those lives will end, and what happens to the spirit of that person in the long run.

Thus I feel empowered to speak as honestly as I can about the deceptions created on foundations of biblical literalism and the relativism that evangelicals too readily accept in trading approval for political power. It’s disgusting, and it produces ugly and false compromises in support for leaders such as Donald Trump. There have been many other abusive figures in history that claimed to be a Christian and turned out only to be selfishly murderous bastards.

And so, to not challenge those trading in politicized religious beliefs… when the Bible clearly maps out the call to speak truth to power… is to abandon the heart of all Christian belief.

Pope Francis

That is what the Pope is talking about when he says that scripture that does not lead to the love of Christ is obsolete. That is the true and honest calling of all evangelicals. To trust that the love of God has meaning, significance and purpose in your life, and to feel the love of Christ and do your best to extend that grace and love to others. That is the mission of faith.

Yet the Evangelical Prophet must also suffer in the face of distrust when challenging others to consider how their authorities might be misleading them. Jesus set the example, it is for prophets of all levels and calling to follow that lead. His disciples did it, trusting that they would be greeted or else they dusted off their feet and left that town to the dog-whistle virtues it claimed for its own.

That’s what it means to be a Christian Evangelical.

*In religion, a prophet is an individual who is claimed to have been contacted by the supernatural or the divine, and to speak for them, serving as an intermediary with humanity, delivering this newfound knowledge from the supernatural entity to other people. The message that the prophet conveys is called a prophecy.

 

 

Tuned into the echo chamber

 

Joe Walsh.jpg

Joe Walsh, AM 50 “The Answer:. Not the musician.

Yesterday on the way home from the art studio, I tuned into AM 560, The Answer, a conservative radio station based here in Chicago.

The afternoon drive shift is occupied by Joe Walsh, the former Congressman and peripatetic Tea Party advocate whose appealing voice and communication style is one or the most seductively conservative personas you will ever hear.

I extend that compliment because I really do appreciate that radio is a craft. To be an effective radio personality you must have the voice, yes, but also a method of delivery that compels people to listen.

There are many such compelling radio personalities on the air. Rush Limbaugh is clearly an effective communicator. His audience loves his blustering style and critical takedowns of anything that he considers un-American.

Hannity and the like

Sean Hannity is the pretty-boy communicator that functions well on both TV and radio. His voice has that wonderful clear quality that cuts through the airwaves to make you feel as if you’re sitting next to him, sharing thoughts and bitching about liberals. He can make even the most outrageous lie or twisted argument sound palatable and true. And that is his dark art.

Bill O’Reilly is a talented writer as well as a TV personality. His “no spin zone” is however, completely devoted to spinning items on the news cycle to a conservative palate. Thus he exemplifies how conservatives effectively corner the market on hypocrisy.

None of these guys is stupid. They are, however, masters at manipulative communication. They are all practiced stewards of conservative disgust with modernism and liberal ideology. This is the reason they exist, and their shows all reflect the money-making value of expressing populist disgust with anything metaphorically democratic.

Dead for life

Flag Waiver.jpgThat is true with both the Constitution and the Bible, both of which conservatives claim to protect with their very lives. Originalism is the principle defense mechanism for the United States Constitution, and the hero of all time in that category is Justice Antonin Scalia, who proclaimed that document “dead for life” in that no one should be able to vary from its initial meaning or context.

And while none of the personalities mentioned above are theologians, they still appeal to those who consider a literal interpretation of scripture to be in alignment with the original interpretation of the Constitution.

Spit it out

These are the foundational belief systems of conservative commentators. Line it up and spit it out by whatever means you can use (For @realdonaldtrump, it is Twitter) to justify the fundamental contentions of conservative ideology or the baseless information used to deflect commentary from whatever source it arrives.

This red-meat ideology does not hearken to much seasoning or high criticism from a liberal perspective. Which is why, when Meryl Streep attacked the neoconservative movement and it’s Hair Apparent, President-elect, Donald Trump, even those conservatives who hold their nose at the thought of his inauguration still rushed to his defense.

This was the case with our local boy Joe Walsh, who took the critical remarks made by Meryl Streep at the Golden Globe awards that took to task Donald Trump’s mocking of a disabled reporter. Walsh ignored the actual point in her words and turned her forum into his own screed about how liberals look down on the rest of America.

The Rules

So, let’s take stock of why and how this works. The First Rule of all such conservatives is simple: Never, ever admit that a liberal might have a point even about even the worst representative of your ideology.

The Second Rule is to take any issue and turn it into a point of anger toward liberals. Thus oe Walsh took Streep’s remarks about the violent nature of NFL football and Mixed Martial Arts and turned them into a populist claim that Streep was “looking down her nose” at all fans of football and the UFC.

Well, she was making a point based on fact, not looking down on anyone. Even the NFL has to admit that many of its athletes suffer massively from participation in the sport. The suicides of multiple athletes suffering brain injuries has even led leading prospects to abandon the game rather than risk a life ruined by brain disease caused by multiple traumas such as concussions. These are facts, not liberal opinion. But men like Joe Walsh care little about such realities because they do not align with the dismissive ideology of the neoconservative, Tea Party lot that cannot admit facts that stand in the way of their beliefs.

Gambling with concerns

And let’s ask a few questions to document the real situation. Do NFL fans truly care if the athletes that play their favorite sport suffer lifelong injuries, debilitating conditions and brain disease? There is very little evidence that they do. Yet another former NFL player took their own life by gunshot a week ago. The news cycle swallows up the story and the talk show hosts on ESPN make believe it matters and then everyone gets back to the injury reports and the point spreads on the games this weekend.

Nor do they really care in the long term if their favorite players abuse their wives in domestic violence, arrange dogfighting rings or do performance-enhancing drugs. What seems to matter to most football fans and their sports talk radio cheerleaders is that they line their asses up on Sunday and play the game. It’s a toughman’s sport, and they’re well paid. What’s the problem?

The sad thing is that the same mentality carries over to the conservative refusal to adequately fund benefits for our military veterans. For all the lip service given to “patriots” and kissing the ass of the military, the simple fact is that conservatives don’t, in the end, care about anything more than blocking funding or cutting costs for the VA. It happens over and over again, yet conservatives still make the claim they care more about the military and veterans than liberals. But the truth does not bear that out.

Social gambles

The same goes for vital social programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare. Conservatives claim to have better solutions for all these programs, but in forty years since Ronald Reagan there have been zero practical proposals other than cutting these programs by privatizing them. But as we’ve seen by how conservatives handled the eight years under Bush and company, that can lead to economic collapse.  Conservatives love gambling with such concerns, and are now in a position to toss social programs to the curb. Yet they literally have no game plan in place to replace Obamacare other than some plays scribbled down on a Congressional napkin somewhere.

This short-term approach aligns with the short-attention span conglomerate that is the NFL, an organization that obsessively works to occupy the brainwaves of its fans 24/7, 365 days a year. Similarly, the Republican Party cares farm more about gaining power than the practicality of its policies. It is good at winning elections but terrible about the game plan of actual governance. That’s why the state of Kansas went bankrupt under Brownback, and why the Bush years resulted in a massive recession. Republicans don’t now shit about how to run a country. They just think they do, like armchair quarterbacks bitching about how Ben Roethlisberger or Eli Manning can’t play the game.

Fantasy league

The entire Republican Party is like a football fantasy league with little regard for the long-term well-being of either its players or its fans. For all the social commitments and charity efforts by those involved in the NFL “family,” the dehumanization of pro football players is too real to deny. Thus we live in a world where Fantasy Football leagues and gambling sites dominate our culture and where Fantasy Football “players” are freely objectified by reducing them to a mantle of depersonalized statistics. This it the same level of consideration given by Republicans to the real life effects of Obamacare, Medicare or Social Security on real Americans. The party lives in a fantasy world of its own ideology. They believe they can buy and sell options and their gambles will all come out good in the end.

Blood fighting

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Painting by Christopher Cudworth titled UFC.

The same can be said of participants in the sport known as “mixed martial arts.” For years, the sport existed as a breed of backroom violence on the same level as cockfighting or dog-fighting. Only these were real-live human beings beating the living crap out of each other. And considering the mixed martial arts strategy known as “ground and pound,” contestants are literally locked into positions that amount to fighting with their cocks. Considering the general homophobia rife within the party, it is a wonder conservatives haven’t found that dynamic sufficient grounds to ban the sport for fear that it will encourage other young men to grind their genitals together.

And yes, the sport of boxing has for decades produced the same sort of concussive entertainment. Google “Mike Tyson knockouts” and you’ll get both the massively violent results of that boxer’s successes and failures. His rather sexualized career also included rape and domestic abuse, yet he remains a favorite for what he did in the ring. And isn’t that nice that people are so willing to dismiss these potent realities and social disgraces to foment the violent fantasies of victory and suppression?

The real lesson is that what goes up in violent sports also always comes down. Mike Tyson has learned and publicly acknowledged the difficulties he faced in coming from poverty into wealth, and the perversions he engaged when his trainer died. Directionless and disabused, he like George Foreman as well engaged in a liberal dose of self-assessment and has redeemed his life in many respects. That does not mean that Foreman did not find his faith, which many conservatives would love to claim as a sign of his contrition. Instead, the humanist realization that a radical selfishness drove downfalls drove both men to liberalize their worldviews. They became more tolerant, more forgiving, more accepting of others and themselves. They grew beyond the violence of their sports.

And American needs to do the same.

Gladiators and emperors

Society has always thrilled to the populist destruction of heroes and villains in public places. The Roman Colosseum was only one of many ancient theaters where the lives of other human beings were destroyed for public entertainment. Some of this violence was by choice while others, such as gladiators, were typically forced or thrown into combat for the simple joy of witnessing violent ends.

And that’s what Meryl Streep was criticizing. Because the sport of politics and the destruction of lives is just as real in popular culture as it is in the sports arena. When Donald Trump clearly set out to mock a disabled reporter, his position of power was used to threaten the weak. This is no better than Nero throwing Christians to the lions, or burning them at the stake. Given enough authority, warped emperors and fascist-oriented world leaders will sacrifice anyone that stands in their way.

Low instincts and mass appeal

But Joe Walsh refused to acknowledge the low instincts he chose to advocate over a reasonable dissection of Trump methodology. Instead, he went after the low instincts of the masses with a tribal defense of pro football. He was literally drawing a parallel between NFL football and basic American values. That is not only a false contention, it illustrates a complicity that borders on no morality at all. But let’s admit it, Meryl Streep is right. As defined by pro football and mixed martial arts, lowbrow violence has enormous mass appeal. We already knew that from the Roman Colosseum. It just needed updating.

Taxing ideals

NFL football also has another interesting similarity to Donald Trump that Joe Walsh failed to acknowledge. For reasons having to do with a brand of corporate welfare to which everyday citizens are never availed, the NFL as an organization does not pay any taxes. Its profits including massive public incentives for teams to build stadiums all flow back into its violently protective coffers.

Yet somehow the league has had trouble coughing up even the most basic funding to assist the health and lives of players who have given their health and minds to the sport. The NFL players union has had to fight tooth and claw to get some money back to assist players destroyed by the game. Some retired players have despaired at their condition, taken guns to their chest or head, and ended their lives. Read this story about Dave Duerson. And the NFL has basically said, “Oh, that’s too bad. At least you made some money while you played America’s sport.”

Tapping out

That’s what the deal is in all this. As long as someone is making money, somewhere, it doesn’t matter what happens to the rest of the world. If someone shoots themselves as a result of the damage they endured, that’s their choice. That’s a real dose of hardline conservatism, right there.

Along those lines, these athletes do choose to engage in these sports. Yet it is still hard to find real justification for the brain-pounding, ground-scrabbling sport of the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championships). The sport is largely graceless striving, a bout of outright, unmitigated violence using fists, feet and elbows and even choking to generate a “submission” or “tap out” indicating that one competitor is close enough to death to finally give up.

That’s the sport that Joe Walsh used to criticize Meryl Streep. That’s what Joe Walsh considers more important than defending the legitimate prose of a journalist doing his job despite a physical disability. That’s why Meryl Streep tried to document the difference in what America is becoming versus what the nation has accomplished through its many amendments to the Constitution (a living, breathing document indeed) that has worked to deliver civil rights and protections for all, not just the powerful, privileged few or the otherwise ignorant, selfish masses that don’t give a rat’s ass what happens to others.

And that is exactly what Donald Trump represents.

Selfish defense

Yet all Donald Trump could find to say is that “Meryl Streep does not know me,” as if the litany of ugly public statement by Trump were no indication of his true and ugly personal character. These are the words of a most selfish idealogue, a man so inconsiderate that even his peers, also selfish and self-centered conservative ideologues such as Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and even New Gingrich find it hard to defend the man known as The Donald. They hold their nose and kiss his butt in public because politics is also a form of Mixed Martian Arts. It’s winner-take-all from the conservative point of view. Get the other side to Tap Out. Whatever it takes. No compromise. No quarter. Smashmouth. And if you happen to ridicule a disabled reporter along the way, so be it. At least we won.

Shameful nutshells

Joe Walsh knows he should be ashamed of himself for his remarks about Meryl Streep. But something in him has grown so suspicious and defensive about the reason and intellect upon which this nation was founded that he is constantly forced to invent new ways to defend the indefensible irony of his own beliefs. This is neoconservatism in a nutshell, a worldview that corners the market on hypocrisy every single day of the year.

Conservatives love to mock the so-called impracticality of Hollywood and its largely Democratic representatives. They have tried, over the ages, to equate the bleeding heart concerns of actors with communism or socialism or anti-patriotism but have failed time and again for the simple reason that liberalism remains, and always will be, the baseline ideology upon which American was founded, and upon which all progress has been gained.

Denial as a worldview

That is no act. That is reality. But men such as Joe Walsh and Rush Limbaugh go about denying that realities such as hunger in America actually exist, or that Planned Parenthood actually prevents far more abortions than it ever performs.

And that is why neoconservatives such as Joe Walsh deserve to be shouted down. They may have a powerful format and a willing audience, but that is only an indication that the lowbrow populism they advocate is as prevalent as any other pandemic likely to cause the downfall of the human race.

They are, in a word, a disease to be reckoned with. And the only cure is truth. Those of us tuned into the echo chamber will have to be vocal and forthright. We will have to hold these neocontrarians accountable for what they say and do.

It may be a 24 hour job, 365 days a year.

 

 

On Jesus and job security

IMG_6341.jpgIn the last forty years or so, conservative Christian ideology surged to the forefront of American culture. In an arc ranging from Jerry Falwell to Ralph Reed to Franklin Graham, the face of conservative Christianity has been enormously white, pandemically virile and potently political.

Through it all, moderate Christians have stood in relative silence watching their namesake religion waved like a black flag from a pirate ship. Progressive Christians have been slightly more vocal, and with the advent of social media actually found channels by which to challenge the backward contentions of conservative Christianity.

Predatory faith

But it has not been enough to keep a huge chunk of the country from falling victim to a predatory branch of the faith that has fomented dangerously false ideas. These included the widespread apocalyptic fervor centered around predictions of the End Times extrapolated from the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation. There is also the greed-soaked contentions of the so-called Prosperity Gospel and its steroid-level injection of motivational speaking. Finally, there is the belief that despite its propensity for legislating against civil rights, courting racism and acting like bullies on every issue it confronts, the Republican Party in America is supposedly the true representative of God’s wishes on this earth.

Conservative Christianity has sided with the bullies of this world because it suits the Crusading mentality of its aggressively militaristic past. Despite all sorts of past failings and ancient travesties in the Middle East, Christian Conservatives still see that region of the world as some sort of pathway to heaven.

Symbol of sacrifice

The true narrative of the Bible is that conservative religious zealots are never the true path to anything. Jesus did every damned thing he could to educate the Chief Priests of his day, and they still tossed him over to the Roman for crucifixion. That symbolic sacrifice of self and speaking truth to the politically powerful should ring true with real Christians. But Christian conservatives refuse to see themselves in the warped power structure of the Pharisees or the demands of the Romans, whose Emperor was considered a god.

If Christian conservatives can’t recognize themselves and their abuse of power and twisted Gospel in the biblical narrative, then it means the modern role of Jesus falls to someone else. That should be the more liberal (and thus more Christlike) wings of the Christian Church.

Taking up the mantle

Thankfully the Catholic Pope Francis is taking up that mantle. Tellingly, his statements on the real meaning of Christianity have been met with resistance from both religious and political conservatives throughout the world. Pope Francis has had to fire the most zealous and troublesome conservatives under his authority. He also fired those priests and cardinals whose consumptively grand habits were direct imitations of those conservatives priests back in Jesus’ day who wandered around in elegant dress while spewing false righteousness at every turn.

But what the Christian Church really needs is a revolution from within. That is, liberals and moderates must take up the cross and engage in direct theological confrontation with conservatives that have turned the Christian faith into a political ideology focused almost completely on denial of modernism, science and cultural change.

Job security

The reason this has not happened is likely to do with job security. Thousands of good Christian servants in this country do great things for their local flocks and the world at large. But without more radical confrontation of the conservative dogma dominating public discourse in America, pied pipers such as Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson will continue to lead millions of authoritarian lemmings over the edge of theological cliffs to a daily spiritual drowning.

But if organizations such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America do not speak up more soundly on behalf of the true liberal heart of faith, this nation does not stand a chance in the face of the fascist conservatism that has evolved around authoritarian brands of religion. That will have been a sacrifice of opportunity when it is needed most. Where, for example, is the public voice of the Lutheran Bishop, the closest thing Protestants have to a Pope? Is the public relations department of the ELCA that bad that we can’t hear from a good Protestant in line with the heritage of Martin Luther himself?

All about money

Perhaps this is all about membership and money, and challenging more conservative sects within the ELCA could result in splintered relationships and abandonment? Well, so be it. The Disciples of Christ wandered dirty streets recruiting believers from scratch. And if they were confronted by those who would not hear them, Jesus instructed them to brush the dirt off their feet and move on.

Whether moderate and liberal Christians have the guts to speak out and challenge the false doctrines of conservative Christianity or not is a question for the ages. These are historic times. One wonders if intelligent Christians with a heart for Jesus actually have the guts to stand up to hardline zealots who care only to win the day and the favor of the rich and powerful of this world.

Greetings from the Fun House of an Ungrateful America

barack-obamaLast evening while having an earnest conversation with two women about the importance of gratitude during periods of grief and loss, we discussed how it had contributed to healing. One had recently lost her mother after seven long years of caregiving. The other admitted that she had not lost anyone close to her in life.

As the conversation broadened to discussion of life’s challenges in general, the woman who had not lost anyone close to her raised her hand and said, “Maybe you won’t agree with me, and I don’t know where you stand on this, but I feel like the new regime is going to make things better for all of us.”

She is a sweet woman. Well-meaning in every way. So I bit my tongue at the “new regime” comment and did not attempt any sort of reconnaissance on the matter.

But people never used to use the term “new regime” as a positive. The definition of the word “regime” alone should be a warning sign: a government, especially an authoritarian one.

So how did we get to the point where the idea of an authoritarian government seems like a good idea?

New Regime

It was not lost on me that her allegiances toward the “new regime,” as she put it, might be lacking some sort of insight. Her family is quite well-to-do. I’ve gotten to know her husband fairly well, and he is a good man as well. He works hard and has earned the grand style of living in which they can comfortably engage.

These were not people for whom the 2008 recession destroyed their income. Perhaps their investment portfolio sagged for a while, but it came back. The economic recovery under President Obama required public money and a restoration of consumer confidence to take hold. Those attributes are not easy matters over which to preside as a President.

Health matters

UkraineTo make matters worse, President Obama’s opponents sought to undermine his leadership well before he even stepped into office. Mitch McConnell, the stodgy Senator from Down East, swore that the principle goal of the Republican Party would be to make President Obama a “one-term president.” And then the GOP-led Congress obfuscated every initiative Obama tried to start. The success of Obamacare was undermined by a long-term negative campaign against the Affordable Care Act. That began before it was signed into law and continued through fifty attempts to repeal it in Congress.

Even after the conservative Supreme Court ruled Obamacare constitutional, the GOP continued to whine and complained about the program because they considered it an expansion of government. Every shortcoming of the ACA was highlighted while benefits such as providing coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, a vital provision for millions of Americans, was ignored by the GOP.

Bitter complaint

And while the program had problems getting launched, millions of Americans that previously could not gain access to coverage were now enrolled thanks to subsidies to reduce the cost of insurance. This operative directly resembles the provisions offered to employees of corporations that provide health insurance. The principles are the same, but the GOP bitterly complained that the subsidies were one more form of handout to a populace they considered lazy or unworthy of such support.

Health insurance companies were not exactly collaborative on the Obamacare front. Newly developed plans that offered coverage for fairly priced premiums were eliminated after just a year. More expensive plans were forced on those insured under the original program, or enrollees were shoved into HMOs and other cost-savings programs. Rather than responding with gratitude for all the new business Obamacare delivered to their plates, insurance companies shortsightedly dumped plans they deemed unprofitable.  The recoil from this  turned much of the populace off to the idea of

Ingratitude afoot

This reaction symbolizes the manner in which much of conservative America responded to economic reform led by President Obama on a number of fronts. The necessary re-tooling of the auto industry, in which several major American automakers were on the brink of bankruptcy, was directed by a team assigned by President Obama to fund and support automakers in a program in which they could pay back low-interest loans. This saved millions of valuable jobs and car companies paid off their loans within several years of the public investment. This was a success by any measure, yet Republicans grumbled into their suit collars that public money should never have been used for such purpose. A few conservatives even insisted that America’s car companies deserved to die, and should have been left for the free market to swallow up.

Forgotten travesties

Thus the Darwinistic notions of free-market ideologues show little concern for the well-being of everyday Americans. And even some of those everyday Americans seem to have long forgotten how bad things really got in 2008 when millions of people were thrown out of jobs. The Bush administration had made a royal mess of the country on multiple fronts. With two wars raging and the echo effects of 9/11 still rattling the world with Osama bin Laden at large and Bush admitting that he’d forgotten all about him, America had good reason to feel insecure.

Eight years later the economy has been showing signs of reasonable growth. Eleven million jobs were created during President Obama’s tenure.

Yet unions have still been under attack by conservatives such as Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker, who gutted collective bargaining with public employees in his state. These attempts at reducing labor’s influence and voice have been replicated in other public and private sector industries as well. President Ronald Reagan can be credited with setting the domino effect in motion, a cause that has reduced the earning power and security for millions of middle-class Americans.

Transferring blame

Yet the GOP has successfully blamed President Obama for failing to restore middle-class jobs lost to the migration of capital overseas, where manufacturing operations of global companies have shifted in pursuit of cheaper labor.

Republicans preach loyalty to the working populace, and Donald Trump cynically has promised to restore jobs in coal-mining and manufacturing. But look at the real results. His grandstanding effort at the Carrier plant in Indiana is symbolic of the fecklessness of his methods. More than 800 jobs still migrated to Mexico, and Carrier got a $7M tax incentive in the process. If anyone but Donald Trump had “executed” the deal, he would have called them names and castigated them for weak negotiating skills.

Fun times or Fun House?

fun-house-1.jpgSo the world is in for some real fun times with Donald Trump, who stumbled into victory because the GOP successfully browbeat Hillary Clinton about emails and Benghazi to the point that regular working people could no longer tell truth from fiction, and remained cowering in their homes for fear of being hit with another round of stinking lies disguised as truth. America has been duped into the Fun House that is Donald Trump’s world. Facts don’t matter. Opinion reigns. And lies win the day. It’s a frightening world where no one knows where to turn for sanity.

The GOP is responsible for the insanity. Eight years of solid, considerate and even visionary leadership of President Obama was turned into one long and constant smear campaign accusing him of dividing the country. The GOP leveraged the voice of racism against Obama by accusing the President of being racist himself. This is a classic GOP trick used against candidate John Kerry in Swift Boat debacle. Democrats seem feeble in the face of such turnabout lies. And too many Americans think the Fun House is a nice place to live. It excites them. “Trump says what I think!” they enthuse.

Outside the Fun House

The rest of America just grows numb. And that’s how the GOP likes it. Bullies want people to stand down, show no resistance and to stand up only when told.

The numbness only wore off when Donald Trump arrived with a cold shot of anger and public ingratitude toward the Obama administration and its rescue of the nation from the abyss created by Bush and Company. This message appealed greatly to conservatives who preferred to forget all about the Bush years, the tragic wars of choice that stole and maimed their sons and daughters, and the terror of 9/11 created by negligence or worse yet, calculated ignorance toward the real threat of terror.

These realities were much too hard for conservatives to admit, and for moderates to imagine. Despite all that Obama had done to rescue the economy and restore some sense of consistent national identify and avoid speculative wars, conservatives branded him weak and mocked his intelligence as dithering academic indecision.

In other words, ingratitude became the word of the hour.

Milking it

Trump milked that ingratitude for all it was worth. His campaign slogan Make America Great Again took ingratihillary-clintontude to the heights of arrogance. He didn’t just imply that Obama was a failure, and accuse Hillary of even less leadership ability, he lied for affect, and knew he’d never be called to account because the cash-hungry press was all too happy to take big advertising dollars in exchange for broadcasting Donald Trump’s ingratitude.

In the face of this ungrateful tsunami of selfish anger and belligerence, Hillary Clinton sought to reason with the American people. But there is no reasoning with people possessed of such selfish, fearful instincts. The rich had been indoctrinated to think that Obama was a failure while the poor were told that Hillary Clinton held no hope or concern for them.

Middle class disaffection
Neither were the middle class left to guess for themselves. To that audience, Trump applied a different tactic. He went out to black audiences bragging that a black President had done little to make their lives better. There was an element of truth to the accusation, but it was Republican prejudice that made it so difficult to gain progress for black folks in America, not Obama’s complacency.

The gains made for the immigrant and LGBT community were dog-whistled to death by Donald Trump. His slogan Make America Great Again was a spurious call to roll back policies tolerant of minority needs. This message resonated with white Americans eager for any leg up in society. Those that lived in small towns or flyover communities abandoned by corporate America thought they saw a glimmer of light in Trumps seeming favoritism toward the originally powerful white community. The KKK ate that message up, and Trump did not deny it. Thus the mood of ingratitude was flipped inside out and preached in speeches that praised the power of politically incorrect speech as a sign of greatness, not shame.

Deplorables
Hillary Clinton branded this trend “deplorable,” and she was absolutely correct about that. The long smear campaign directed toward Obama as a supposed “elitist” was instantly shifted toward Clinton. Trump’s dark directors saw that as an opportunity and turned populist with the message. Thus the ingratitude of the Alt-Right and angry Independents of the nation earned a full voice because the GOP used the “deplorables” remark as propaganda to make it seem as if the Democratic Party was against them all the time.

And that’s how Donald Trump came to be President. His appeal was not to the “forgotten” masses, as the popular narrative goes. Instead, Trump leveraged a basic selfishness, ingratitude and fear born from the cold fact that the last conservative administration had been such a gastric failure that it shit all over the hopes and dreams of everyday Americans.

That’s why Trump succeeded in throwing so much shit around. The ungrateful always appreciate revenge for the transgressions they feel were directed against them. They took great pleasure in seeing the shit created by Bush and company being thrown right in the faces of Obama and Clinton.

Nice people deceived

gettyimages-461656522-e1436299461791Even nice people were deceived, and placed their confidence in the seeming likability of Donald Trump, with whom they were familiar from TV, and who seems harmless and happy on the surface, like a magician or a clown on WGN TV.

But Trump is the King of Ingratitude. He’s never happy with anything anyone says about him. Even Time Magazine’s Person of the Year Award was an insult to him, and he complained that he was not named Man of the Year.

So you see, an ungrateful, ultimately selfish America got exactly what it wanted when Donald Trump was elected to office. Only 25% of the American population voted for the man, but with help of the Russians and the FBI, enough voters in electoral states were scared off from voting at the last minute that treasonous ingratitude won the day.

This is the ugliest period in American history, ever. When President Kennedy said the words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” he was not intimating that the nation should be used for selfish purposes. Yet that’s what Donald Trump is about to do, enrich himself at all of our expense. It’s what he does best, and has done it for years. He’s a proven fraud as evidenced by his settlement payout for so-called Trump University. But the ungrateful masses stuck by him because they view him as the Victim of the Press, not the Whore of Babylon that he truly is.

Ingratitude is the New American Way. And welcome to it.

 

Why “Drain the Swamp” displays Donald Trump’s ultimate ignorance

Swamp.jpgSure, the phrase “Drain the Swamp” is a common metaphor. But those words actually expose long-held beliefs about the environment that have proven to be disastrous for many Americans.

First, some history. During the settlement of the North American continent, agriculture and development struggled to overcome an environment that often seemed overwhelming. From prairie soils that refused to be broken by the blades of wooden plows to wetlands that defied attempts to rid the land of water, it was a tough go on many fronts.

And that is how the term “drain the swamp” came about. Failing all other attempts to tame such environments, many swamps were “drained” using underground tiles or drainage ditches to shunt water elsewhere.This was done because swamps were considered of little use for the purposes of growing crops or cultivating any sort of civilized purpose.

Admittedly, though it was little known at the time, swamps also held breeds of mosquitoes that brought fever germs to the populace in many forms, including malaria. So the deep-seated dread of swamps one of mystery and fear.

The genuine swamp

Much of those fears depended on a poor understanding of why and how swamps actually operate, and also why they exist. Swamps are defined as largely still waters rife with thick trees and impenetrable vegetation. In the last 400 years, ecologists have grown to understand that swamps play a critical role in many aspects of the natural world.

From a human perspective, swamps are critical holding areas for floodwaters. They serve as retention ponds when water overflows the banks of rivers or lakes. These holding ponds also serve to filter out muddied or silt-heavy water before it discharges back into streams, lakes and even oceans. Swamps also provide vital habitat for many commercially valuable species of ducks, geese and other species of waterfowl, birds, reptiles, mammals and insects.

American swamps

Swamps along the Mississippi River and other major rivers perform all these functions and more. Before water ever flows over the banks of such rivers, it fills the backwater swamps and often that prevents major flooding elsewhere.

Yet the metaphor to “drain the swamp” persists in defiance of the critical role that swamps play in American ecology. It insinuates that all such environments are bad places undeserving of our attention or even existence on the face of the earth.

The term “drain the swamp” also advances an anachronistic view of the environment as a whole. It implies there is still inherent evil in creatures such as snakes or even turtles that live in swamps. This draws on ancient notions about demon spirits living within such creatures as depicted in the serpent who was Satan’s disguise when tempting Eve.

Evil notions

Even people associated with swamps and marshes have been punished throughout history. When Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein objected to political resistance from Kurds living in that nation’s southern marshes, he set about to have the marshes drained under the guise of “agricultural improvement.” This crime against humanity was also a crime against nature. The two tend to go together. And it is people who cannot separate the benefits of nature from the impositions of human nature that commit such crimes.

Thus use of terms such as “Drain the Swamp” actually represent a confused, angry and fearful belief system. Typically, this emanates from people too self-absorbed, insecure and incurious to find out the value and function of places such as swamps or marshes. Thus these places serve as the ironic totems of ignorance for all those who deplore them.

Real-life threats

So it makes sense that if Donald Trump’s worldview depends on such metaphors for his popularity, he will draw a less sophisticated brand of voter, someone who cares not to look past the slap-happy approach of communication.

It is thus predictable that men such as Donald Trump cannot get their heads around real-life threats from the environment such as global climate change. Someone who still thinks of swamps as dangerous, demon-filled places cannot grasp that it is environments such as swamps and forests and grasslands that actually provide a positive balance to the equation of how much carbon dioxide is drawn from the atmosphere versus how much is being poured in by human activity.

One of the most important environments to this purpose is the Amazon in South America. But the carbon sinks of old-growth woodlands in the Pacific Northwest and to some degree, forests in the American Northeast all play vital roles in counteracting anthropogenic (manmade) climate change.

Naive terms

But Donald Trump doesn’t believe in that. He clearly views the world in desperately naive terms, and is all too happy to leverage that ignorance into popularity with those who view the world in the same way. This is exacerbated by those who interpret and promote a poor understanding of religious metaphor as well. That is how essentially worthless claims that creationism is a “science” persist. For creationism contends, among other things, that serpents could once speak with fork-tongues that two of every kind of animal on earth were once stuffed into a boat to preserve thousands upon thousands of species of animals from perishing in a worldwide flood. This would have required that some species such as blind salamanders from the North American continent would have crawled across thousands of miles of land and cross oceans as well to reach the safety of a tiny ark in a largely desert environment of the Middle East. That single notion itself is absurd,

That single notion itself is absurd, yet it is creationists who contend that nature is too complex to have come about on its own. Never mind that impossible stories with no explanation other than divine intervention somehow are supposed to constitute “science.” For fundamentalists of religious and/or political nature, it is absurdity that is more acceptable than complexity.  Naive terms are the most dangerous of all, it seems.

Simpletons and hillbillies

And so we arrive at a point in history when the world is about to be run by a band of absurd simpletons whose clipped ideologies rely on forcing naive terms and notions on the rest of us. This is the shallow worldview that Donald Trump and his argumentatively conservative cabinet are about to foist upon the world to replace, as Trump likes to think of it, a swamp consisting of nuclear physicists once assigned to manage the Department of Energy and our nuclear program.

Trump instead has hired a Texas hillbilly named Rick Perry to take over that position. A man with no experience who once proposed eliminating the very department he is now assigned to manage. And so it goes across the board in Trump’s candidate. He has replaced competence with ignorance, and experience with ideology.

What Donald Trump fails to understand about swamps he fails to understand about the world in general. That is, complexity does not in itself represent evil, for it often holds answers that can be revealed over time. But simplicity, when it exhibits a poor understanding of the world, can often turn into a dangerous assumptions and worse, a sinking morass where there once seemed to be solid ground.