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.

From the Founding Fathers to a Dumbed Down America: How we got here

IMG_1259.jpgAs a nation, America was formed in reaction to the abuses of highly conservative British rule built around strict control of trade, slavery and empire.

The Declaration of Independence led to the American Revolution, soon followed by drafting of the United States Constitution. This was accomplished by the intellectual leaders we call the Founding Fathers. These intellectual leaders embraced the principles of The Enlightenment, questioning traditional authority and applying rationalism to the planning and conduct of human affairs.

The United States Constitution was thus formed around principles of human equality, freedom and personal autonomy. These also happen to be the defining characteristics of liberalism, defined as:

A political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties; specifically : such a philosophy that considers government as a crucial instrument for amelioration of social inequities (as those involving race, gender, or class).

The American Experiment

Yet despite these intellectually liberal foundations of the American experiment, a significant portion of the (newly) American populace, including those in Northern states, was never convinced of the Enlightenment philosophy and the demands it required of them in terms of human equality and social tolerance. There were still too many people who preferred the benefits conferred by conservative white rule.

This abiding belief in white superiority had long driven European nations to engage in imperialism and colonialism. And as a result, its premise was still very much alive in much of the populace following the American Revolution. Thus a continuing form of colonialism occurred through secession of the Southern States, where slaveowners denigrated the intelligence of their human slaves by branding them 3/5 of a person as the Constitution held, while simultaneously claiming that their plantations could not survive economically without their labor. In states where slavery persisted as an institution because it was not under federal control, black people were regarded primarily as property and considered unworthy of full citizenship.

Founding Failures?

So it was that the Founding Fathers were unable to implement the full dimension of Enlightenment philosophy when taking part in the formation of a new American nation. In other words, they failed in some respects.

For those that might argue the Founding Fathers did not “fail” in any way, but acted in kind with the morality of the day, or were inspired by God beyond human comprehension to author the Constitution in its fixed way, we must immediately confront the notion of constitutional originalism. This is how the late Justice Antonin Scalia described such “originalism,” as he puts it: “The Constitution that I interpret and apply is not living but dead, or as I prefer to call it, enduring. It means today not what current society, much less the court, thinks it ought to mean, but what it meant when it was adopted.”

No other statement in history better encompasses the lie of American conservatism that drives anachronism to the forefront of modern existence. Because even the Founding Fathers recognized that originalism was a lie from the outset. Why else would they build a steam valve into Article Five in order to allow the nation to produce amendments to the Constitution? If the United States Constitution were, as Scalia claims, a “dead” document rather than one made alive by further enlightenment, then the Founding Fathers were liars and cheats.

Thus the notion of constitutional originalism is an absurdity created by conservatives to force the narrative of law and morality toward anachronism. Consider the evidence: thirty-three constitutional amendments and 27 ratifications have been produced in American history. The nation has clearly evolved to advance the cause of social progress and equality. By contrast, men such as Justice Scalia advocated the diehard conservative’s notion that the “good old days” were automatically better than the current era. His claim was that America was perfected at its birth. But it was not.

Proclamation proof

Consider the fact that it took until the late 1800s to correct one of the largest inherent flaws in the original Constitution. That’s when President Abraham Lincoln was finally able to advance the Emancipation Proclamation, an act was specifically intended to apply pressure from the federal government on Confederate states to free black people from slavery.

The South’s argument for maintaining the institution of slavery was the classically conservative claim that paying its labor force a fair wage would lead to financial ruin for plantation owners. That line of argument would persist throughout the Industrial Revolution, with companies taking unfair advantage of workers laboring under unsafe conditions for pitiful wages. Only through union strikes and liberal support did labor organizations finally establish policies for a fair work week, overtime and fair wages.

Robber barons and labor

Yet conservatives to this day seem unconvinced that fair labor practices are good for America as a nation. The so-called “Robber Barons” of the late 1800s and early 1900s were committed to exploitation as a fundamental principle of American wealth and privilege. As described on AboutEducation.com, “The concept of laissez faire capitalism, which dictated no government regulation of business, was promoted. Facing few impediments to creating monopolies, engaging in shady stock trading practices, or exploiting workers, some individuals made enormous fortunes.”

And so it goes well into the 21st century. The evidence is clear that if American businesses could still gain access to slave labor, they would do it in a heartbeat. So it has occurred. Global companies have shipped manufacturing and production operations overseas where cheap, often uneducated labor forces are easily accessible.

The resultant effect of this overseas job migration is that a wide swath of American workers now have difficulty finding jobs. Meanwhile, union organizations in both the public and private sector have under full attack since Ronald Reagan committed the first real slam with his scab replacement of union air traffic controllers. The basic motives behind such attacks are philosophically conservative. Because unions represent workers that fall on the supposed cost-side of the equation rather than the profit side, labor interests supposedly run counter to the stakeholders seeking a return on investment.

New age slavery

So it was no coincidence that so many companies turned to immigrant labor when it became available in America. Massive waves of Mexican immigrants meant cheap labor for businesses willing to hire them. In some respects, this formula for cheap labor worked best when Mexican laborers were in fact illegal immigrants, allowing American companies to essentially operate “outside the law” by hiring a workforce with literally no voice in the American system. Thus the ultimate “dumbed down” labor force came into being.

Some Mexican laborers literally worked in slave conditions, proving that the mindset of those willing to exploit labor beyond basic human rights had not much changed in American culture. Fortunately, new age slavery did not require a second Civil War to create social justice because American workforce law has evolved from the day and age when slaver was an acceptable practice.

Yet to this day, the conservative whine about paying America’s workforce a fair wage continues to this day. The economic benefits of a well-paid, stable and even well-educated middle class are clear. America’s greatest periods of economic health have come about as a result of a flourishing middle class. Yet conservatives still whine that economic ruin will come to the nation if companies are forced to pay a living wage to the American worker.

Familiar ring

To this day conservative warnings about pending “financial ruin” are still trotted out whenever government proposes regulations are proposed to protect human or environmental health. Regulations typically are created in response to some form of documented abuse. Laissez faire capitalism has frankly done a terrible job of regulation on its own. Without environmental laws, the air in America would still be polluted by lead in gasoline, smog from cars without sufficient auto emissions equipment, and water laced with heavy metals and chemicals produced by all sorts of industries. The environment was essentially a slave to the whims of polluting industries before the 1970s and formation of the EPA by a Republican president, no less. Conservatives have railed against its influence ever since

No one can doubt the clear benefits of the EPA’s effect on environmental quality. Air and water quality in America is far better than it was 40 years ago. And there is still work to do, particularly in standards of auto and industrial emissions as they affect anthropogenic climate change (global warming.) Yet conservatives claim it’s all a hoax, or that self-regulation would be far better for the economy than living by governmental regulations.

It all has the same familiar ring conservatives foisted on the world at large since time began. “Nothing’s wrong. Let business and the free market take care of things. And all will be good.”

Age old discriminations

Under the same broad umbrella of willful ignorance, conservatives have fought against cultural progress and civil rights. Women were long denied the right to vote because it was left out of the original Constitution. This could hardly be called a surprise, because prevailing attitudes of the day aligned with a longstanding social order of patriarchy inherited through generations dating back to the earliest forms of recorded history, including the Bible.

Yet over these same two full millennia, human society has learned that some aspects of the Bible, especially practices and traditions been disproven or outmoded by science and medicine, are no longer considered sacrosanct. Ancient laws pertaining to every problems such as molds and infections, diet and women’s menstruation no longer need to be abided. We no longer need the guidance of Leviticus and Deuteronomy to dictate medical practices. Our knowledge of modern medicine and human physiology discredits such practices, so they can naturally be confined to the philosophical graveyard of ancient scriptures.

In fact, the conservative tradition of taking holy scripture literally vexes the world more than any other issue. Muslim traditionalists and conservatives have likewise turned the Quran into a book of war against the world. This puts the faith in direct competition with biblical literalists on the Christian and Jewish side of theology. Yet technically, all three faiths share some of the same scriptural traditions. Even some of the same leading characters! Yet because conservatism dumbs down the approach to scriptural interpretation by imposing literalism over its interpretation, the world must face a constant war between these faiths.

But it need not be. Clearly the habit of scriptural literalism produces misguided, even dangerous beliefs about the present age. That means we need to confront attempts to intellectualize biblical literalism as a belief system superior to all others.

None other than Jesus Christ would tell us the same thing.

What would Jesus do? 

In keeping with the conservative orthodoxy of times past, some Americans still seek to present the Founding Fathers as a band of religiously political conservatives who fully intended to create a Christian nation. This is a particularly popular view among American conservatives who love to fuse their political and religious views into one.

Yet this contention is as false as saying that Jesus began his ministry to raise money and build a new temple in God’s name. Because just like the Founding Fathers who broke with conservative rule to free the Colonies from British rule, Jesus lashed out against the leading conservatives of his day. These were the Pharisees (Chief Priests) who used religion to rule over the people and the Sadducees (wealthy classes) who through their riches gained influence and control over the social order.

When Jesus came along he told people to defy this power structure. As a preacher filled with spirit, Jesus sought to free people from the legalistic confines of conservative religion. His liberal take on the right path to God was not well-received by the religious orthodoxy of his time. Jesus wanted to enlighten people to a more liberal notion of wholeness through grace. But the religious leaders preferred the dumbed down version of faith in which people simply followed the rules, paid the fees and thus purchased their place in the heavenly kingdom.

When Jesus questioned this “dumbed down” version of faith, he met considerable resistance from the powers that be, who aggressively questioned him and then had him killed. The same brand of response is evident among conservatives today, who lambast Pope Francis today for statements that do not align with conservative doctrine. The patterns never, ever change.

Sad truth

It is a sad truth that civic and spiritual leaders in the modern era who follow the example of Jesus Christ in standing up to conservative dogma face persecution as well. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one such intellectual and spiritual hero who stood up to the harsh face of ignorant white racism in the American South.

Dr. King advocated peaceful protest, but it was violence that took his life. So it goes with all such sacrificial personalities, including John F. Kennedy, another intellectual leader of 1960s social revolution who challenged Americans along the lines of the liberal call to action originated by the Founding Fathers: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

Yet Kennedy was similarly cut down for his idealistic philosophies. Many believe there was a conservative conspiracy to kill the president lest he resist aims for wars against communism. The conservative wish is always, it seems, a wish for a warrior king who uses force to solve problems. In Jesus’ day, many such zealous people were wishing and hoping for a powerful ruler in the mold of King David to come back as their Messiah and conquer the enemies of Israel. Ultimately, a zealot amongst his own disciples, disillusioned by the passive approach to spiritual victory, betrayed Jesus to the authorities. To zealots with a military vision of the Messiah, Jesus seemed like a phony, someone unable to deliver on the promise of freedom of any sort.

True freedom looks different

While he was no warrior or earthly king, Jesus was also no liberal wimp. The Bible repeatedly shows him railing against the chief priests and wealthy classes of his day. He castigated the “keepers of the law” for their hypocrisy in forcing their conservative form of religion on the Jewish people. Let us also recall that the fiscally conservative experiments of the past were disasters among the populace as well.

At the time of Christ’s arrival, the holy temple of God was a privatized organization, charging people for the right to worship. The chief priests also imposed strict, highly conservative rules about the correct practice of religion. If these were disobeyed, the worshipful were cast out. These practices were based on literal interpretations of scripture.

That’s why Jesus spoke out against it. His example is the very reason why Americans should do the same with today’s hypocritical conservatives who twist the words of God to their own political or economic advantage.To push home his point about the difficulty the wealthy truly faced in living moral lives, Jesus mocked the wealthy classes for their arrogant claims to their high status in society. “It is easier,” he warned in full hyperbole mode, “for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the wealthy to get into heaven.”

To confront this attitude of entitlement he saw in the rich, Jesus praised the contribution of a poor woman who gave a far great portion of her actual income to the temple. Then Jesus went on to encourage people to store up spiritual treasures and knowledge rather than earthly wealth. The liberal and intellectual prize that Jesus offered the world was a wealth of spiritual knowledge rather than gathering up treasures on earth.

To make his point that the conservatives of his day were out of touch with God, Jesus branded them “hypocrites” and a “brood of vipers.” This was the same accusation pointed at them by the hyper-liberal pastor known as John the Baptist, who lived the wilderness, ate locusts and honey and preached from the organic soul of creation that one should be “born again” into the world by immersion in that classically fluid material known as water.

There was nothing at all conservative about either John the Baptist or Jesus. They did not abide by the “dumbed down” version of compliant faith in which everyone is expected to just “go along to get along” and earn their place in heaven. Of all the people he encountered, Jesus was the harshest with his own disciples. He admonished them for preferring the “dumbed down” version of faith they claimed to follow.

Are you so dull? 

Yes, it’s true. Jesus’ own disciples had trouble understanding his liberal methods of instruction. They specifically questioned his use of parables to teach people about the kingdom of God. “We don’t understand these parables,” they told him.

Jesus showed a bit of frustration at this response, and challenged them, “Are you so dull?” Or, in an alternate translation, he asked “Are you also without understanding?”

In other words, Jesus expected a modicum of intellectual integrity from his disciples. He called them to follow him, but also expected them to “follow along” as he imparted real knowledge of God’s kingdom to everyday people. This he did by calling up examples from nature itself to teach about the nature of creation and the character of God. His method of delivery was to us organic metaphors such as a mustard seed to teach spiritual lessons. By growing from a tiny seed into a tall tree, the mustard seed represented the true growth of faith in this world. A complex concept, for sure, yet communicated in such simple terms that it amounted to genius.

Lessons never learned

Yet his more conservative opponents, those chief priests whom he branded a “brood of vipers” for their legalism, was convinced that the literal interpretation of scripture was the true path to God. They accused Jesus and his band of merry men of breaking those rules by eating with “unclean hands.”

But Jesus tossed that ugly bit of control freak conservatism right back in their faces, telling them that it is what comes out of men’s hearts that matters, not what literally emerges from their asses as a result of eating a certain way. Jesus objected to their asshole rules of conservatism because he knew these were stupid attempts to control the thinking of all those under their jurisdiction. Jesus saw this as the “dumbing down” of all those who sought to believe in the higher ways of God.

Yet conservatives never seem to learn from their own bad habits. The Catholic Church basically repeated the same mistakes as the Pharisees all over again. This evolved through the same sort of legalistic faith practices centuries later. Again, it took a liberal such as Martin Luther who nailed the 95 theses to the doors of the Catholic Church, to protest against the “privatizing” of God’s kingdom when the church was basically charging people for admission to heaven. Notice that it took the insertion of some intellectual wisdom by Martin Luther to break the bond that conservatism had on the practice of faith.

We may need yet another reformation in both civic and spiritual form to break the bonds of dumbed-down conservatism all over again.

American reformation

Along the same lines as the Protestant Reformation, the United States has seen fit to reform its own Constitution. This has transpired through a long series of amendments. Those amendments associated with granting full civil rights to blacks and women have succeeded. Yet the amendment calling for Prohibition of alcohol ultimately failed because, at its core, it was essentially a breach of freedoms. It was a dumbed down version of social engineering. And it failed. The same holds true with conservative efforts to ban abortion, govern birth control and control women’s health rights in general.

Neoconservatism still acts like the priests in Jesus’ day, swearing to the heavens they know what God wants while claiming that government should never impinge on the lives of the American people. Yet that’s the contradiction conservatism cannot seem to resolve. Thus a form of cognitive dissonance and defiance of common sense lies in the heart of all conservative instincts. To maintain a conservative worldview, once must engage in a form of time travel between past and present to justify one’s response. Reconciling this dichotomy of mind is not an easy endeavor. And it always fails.

The path toward progress and freedom

The path toward progress and personal freedom is seldom driven by conservative policies, which are by nature anachronistic, and therefore a “dumbed down” response to advances in social, cultural and spiritual understanding. Thus there has been a long campaign on many fronts to battle all progressive policies with conservatives battling to control the intellectual narrative across an entire spectrum of policy and thought leadership categories. What follows is a description of these categories and how conservatives seek to “dumb down” the populace in America in order to maintain control, impose hierarchal structures of patriarchy and corporate control, and deliver favoritism to those whose own privilege would otherwise be at risk.

Anti-intellectualism/Anti-Academic: Anti-intellectualism is hostility towards and mistrust of intellect, intellectuals, and intellectual pursuits, usually expressed as the derision of education, philosophy, literature, art, and science, as impractical and contemptible.

Anti-intellectualism is being fostered by neoconservatives eager to undermine social and cultural change separate from that favored by traditional institutions such as the Christian Church. This has been attempted by conservatives by seeking to defund support for higher education, the arts and sciences as so-called “biased” sources of information.

Anti-Academic (Education) opposed to education, especially public education in favor of privatized, for-profit or home-schooling, specifically local choice in curriculum. 

In the same breath, conservatism loves to hate academic institutions that promote liberal and free-thinking. This has resulted in an attitude of distrust toward schools of all types that teach to a progressive or advancing curriculum based on science, instigation and critical thinking. We are thus faced with a dumbing down of America by those who are:

Anti-Science, being against a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws:, or resisting the systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation

Being Anti-science is the belief that science cannot be trusted even when it is delivering facts about the material world. In more recent years, the Anti-Science cabal has partnered with industrial and economic interests that find science pertaining to the dangers of pollution and climate inconvenient to profit motives that typically privatize the profits and socialize the costs of such ventures. Thus the Anti-Science crowd tries to discredit the findings of objective science by funding project

Anti-Liberalism Cultural derision aimed toward a political or social philosophy advocating the freedom of the individual, parliamentary systems of government, nonviolent modification of political, social, or economic institutions to assure unrestricted development in all spheres of human endeavor, and governmental guarantees of individual rights and civil liberties.

The primary methodology of anti-liberalism is to use the term as an insult separate from its true definition. This isolation from its roots as the foundations of American democracy and the Constitution presents liberals as “the other” in American history, when in fact it has been conservatives that have most doggedly fought against the principles either laid our or neglected for inclusion in the original Constitution.

Constitutional Originalism: In the context of United States constitutional interpretation, originalism is a principle of interpretation that views the Constitution’s meaning as fixed as of the time of enactment. The originalist enterprise, then, is a quest to determine the meaning of the utterances, the meaning of which can only be changed by the procedures set out in Article Five of the Constitution.

One of the devastating effects of Constitutional originalism is the interpretation of the Second Amendment to mean, in exclusion of the opening phrase, “A well-regulated militia,” to mean that no restrictions can be placed on gun ownership.

Political Correctness: Political correctness (adjectivally, politically correct, commonly abbreviated to PC) is an ordinarily pejorative term used to criticize language, actions, or policies seen as being excessively calculated to not offend or disadvantage any particular group of people in society.

Political correctness is now being wielded as a weapon against all those who seek to control hate speech. The goal is to let anyone say any dumb thing they like, even racially or religiously offensively slurs, under the name of freedom.

Religious fundamentalism: in any form of a religion, especially Islam or Protestant Christianity, that upholds belief in the strict, literal interpretation of scripture, strict adherence to the basic principles of any subject or discipline, and exclusion of other worldviews. 

Religious fundamentalism and constitutional originalism fall under the same dull umbrella of literalism, which means that no interpretation but the simplest, most dull-headed meaning must be true. This is an insult both the Jesus, who did not believe in fundamentalism as a rule, and to the Founding Fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson who changed his own beliefs during his lifetime on both religious and political matters, and not conservatively.

Biblical Creationism: Creationism is the religious belief that the Universe and life originated “from specific acts of divine creation.” For young Earth creationists, this includes a biblical literalist interpretation of the Genesis creation narrative and the rejection of the scientific theory of evolution.

As derived from religious fundamentalism, the belief in a literally interpreted Book of Genesis leads to a confining and dumbed down understanding of the physical universe.

Neoliberalism: Neoliberalism (or sometimes neo-liberalism) is a term used by scholars in a wide variety of social sciences and critics primarily in reference to the resurgence of 19th century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism beginning in the 1970s and 1980s.

Neoliberalism is simply the return of dogmatic beliefs in laissez-faire capitalism and other such selfish takes on how the world works.

Anti-Modernity is being against the quality or condition of being modern “an aura of technological modernity, a modern way of thinking, working, contemporariness.

This has taken the form of conspiratorial takes on the reality of the space program and American flights to the moon. Any form of technological advance is suspect. Yet like the Amish, anti-modernist will often rationalize exception if it favors their needs or wants. Proving its general stupidity.

Anachronism: a thing belonging or appropriate to a period other than that in which it exists, especially a thing that is conspicuously old-fashioned: an act of attributing a custom, event, or object to a period to which it does not belong.

Otherwise known as “thinking backwards” to a time when things were supposedly better, but typically were not. It is the height of cognitive dissonance to make such claims, yet stubborn minds find it comforting.

Asceticism: severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons. 

Otherwise known as repression, which always seems to backfire when politicians in denial of being gay or claiming to be pillars of marital righteousness wind up having affairs that destroy their public claims. It’s just stupidity any way you look at it.

Racism Tribalism the state or fact of being organized in a tribe or tribes.the behavior and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one’s own tribe or social group: prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior: the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

This dumbed down version of identity is on display every day in American.

Discrimination: Age, Disability, Equal Pay, Genetic information, Harassment, National Origin, Pregnancy, Race/Color, Religion, Retaliation, Sex, Sexual Harassment

The ultimate insult of culture is discrimination of any of the grounds listed above. Yet people claiming that protests against all such discrimination is being “politically correct” exhibit the dumbed down version of social interaction that conservatives seem to love to advocate.

And there you have it. From the Catholic Church claiming that the earth was the center of the universe to creationists claiming that the earth is only 10,000 years old, conservatives have been on the wrong side of facts, and aggressively so, for all of recorded history.

Advent of the Neocontrarians

 

despicable-me-advent-calendar

The Despicable Me Advent Calendar

 

This is the Advent season for people of Christian faith. Many children enjoy the process of opening windows on their Advent Calendars. Starting December 1st, the Advent Calendar marks with anticipation the arrival of the traditional day celebrating the Birth of Christ.

 

This year, Americans are experiencing a different kind of advent. With a new President about to be Born Again in January, the process of naming cabinet members has been taking place the last few weeks.

Against all reason

Almost without exception, each new cabinet member named by Donald Trump to head a government agency has preached beliefs that run contrary to the purpose for which the agency was originally designed. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was originally established by President Richard M. Nixon, a Republican in the year 1970. Those of us alive during that era recall the massive environmental problems our nation was experiencing. Air pollution was choking cities and acid rain had begun to sterilize lakes east of the Rust Belt. Bald eagles and peregrine falcons were dying off thanks to DDT poisoning that made their eggshells too weak to sustain normal brooding. Rivers were on fire in Ohio, and vicious levels of heavy metals, toxic chemicals and nuclear energy byproducts were regularly leaking into the ground, air and water.

Thus our nation saw fit, with bipartisan support, to fix the problems our industrial activity was causing. We passed laws to take the lead out of gasoline. And over the years since, the auto industry has been pushed to improve gas mileage in the vehicles it produces. Some said this was impossible, impractical and economically unfeasible. But they were wrong. Modern vehicles use less gas and emit less noxious fumes than they did forty years ago.

The other direction

All these improvements in protecting the environment have paid dividends in protection of human health. Still, the battle is never won. There are still many significant challenges in environmental pollution that remain threats to the human race and other living things on earth. At the top of this list is anthropogenic climate change, manmade global warming. Governments around the world recognize the dangers of this threat to human health and the stability of the world’s economy.

And yet, President Elect Donald Trump called on a fellow named Myron Ebell to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition team. Ebell prides himself on being a “climate skeptic,” one who does not believe that climate change is even occurring, or that it is manmade.

He is, in other words, a contrarian. Or more accurately, he is a Neocontrarian. This is the Post-Modern version of a contrarian. Armed with opinions that ostensibly trump facts, Ebell is the type of person who seeks to impose his ideological will on the world despite all evidence to the contrary. This is how the website Whatsupwiththat describes the appointment of Myron Ebell to head up the EPA:

Choosing Myron Ebell means Trump plans to drastically reshape climate policies.

Donald Trump has selected one of the best-known climate skeptics to lead his U.S. EPA transition team, according to two sources close to the campaign.

Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, is spearheading Trump’s transition plans for EPA, the sources said.

The Trump team has also lined up leaders for its Energy Department and Interior Department teams. Republican energy lobbyist Mike McKenna is heading the DOE team; former Interior Department solicitor David Bernhardt is leading the effort for that agency, according to sources close to the campaign.

Contrary opinions

This is the peak of his Myron Ebell’s supposed wisdom: that he holds an opinion contrary to 95% of established scientists around the world. He abides with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which has proven itself over the years nothing more than a shill for whatever business feels threatened by any sort of regulation.

That means that no matter how much pollution or other dangers a company might choose to pump out, the Competitive Enterprise Institute will take their side and defend them to the death. This is the philosophy of Neocontrarians in a nutshell.

And as such, Myron Ebell chose a fellow Neocontrarian to run the EPA. This is what the Los Angeles Times had to say about the selection. “Donald Trump’s meeting earlier this week with Al Gore gave environmentalists a glimmer of hope. They’re feeling a lot less hopeful now that Trump has selected Oklahoma Atty. Gen. Scott Pruitt to run the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt disputes the scientific consensus on climate change, is an ally of the oil industry and has tried to block President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. If Pruitt is confirmed, here’s how it could play out in the states.”

Flattening public education

The EPA is not the only government agency that Trump’s new wave of Neocontrarians is assigned to run. Trump also chose billionaire Betsy DeVos, a strong believer in charter schools and for-profit education, to act as Education Secretary. She is a devoted Neocontrarian when it comes to the education of children, preferring to diversify against public schools than qualitatively seek to improve the existing public school education system. Hers is the Winner Take All, free-market philosophy in which vouchers are distributed to families left to find the right education opportunities for themselves.

In other words, she’s an advocate of “trickle-down education,” in which those most equipped to avail themselves of the best educational opportunities will profit while those less equipped to seek or make those choices will be left behind. That’s how the free market works when it is unregulated. It is positively Darwinian at its source, which is ironic given the typically strong resistance to the theory of evolution among those who typically advocate for “school choice” based on so-called values-based learning, or Christian home-schooling.

It has long galled such ideologues that public schools actually teach science rather than fanciful notions such as creationism or so-called “intelligent design theory.” Even the names of those ideologies are contrarian.

Nothing trickles down when education as a system is flattened like a pancake and public schools are deflated in both funding and philosophy. Yet this is the approach of Neocontrarians to all sorts of ethical standards in government, science, medicine and the environment. Ever since President Ronald Reagan spouted the Neocontrarian Mantra, “Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem,” Neocontrarians have rushed to dispel any notion that government has a positive role to play in our lives.

In and out of control

When that daft and devout Neocontrarian George W. Bush took office with his henchman and turgid Neontrarian Dick Cheney at his side,  the United States went for a wild ride of Neocontrarian speculation on the role, or dispensation, of governmental responsibility.

The Bush administration was exposed for its lack of attention on national security when the 9/11 attacks occurred. The Bushies wanted to run things their own way, and significantly ignored warning signs of terrorist attacks because they did not want to listen to any of their predecessors, or even their own internal source Richard Clarke.

And from there, the Neocontrarians took advantage of the fear rushing through the populace to contrive a war of choice in Iraq, which fit the documented ideology of Neoconservatives who wanted to reform the Middle East around their own ideas of free markets and Western democracy, only to have it blow up in their faces. Literally.

Then the floodgates of Neocontrarians opened even further with the sponsor of torture in the very same jail cells used by Saddam Hussein to torture his own people. This was the height of cognitive dissonance, torturing Iraqis under the guise of saving them from Saddam, yet Neocontrarians in the media sought to defend it at all costs.That mean little suckup Sean Hannity and his bludgeoning cohort Rush Limbaugh preached torture as truth seeking.

Think about the contrary nature of that philosophy for a moment. When Senator John McCain protested against use of torture because he was himself tortured during wartime, some Neocontrarians mocked him as weak. This is the problem with Neocontrarian philosophy. It quickly unhinges from fact in order to support beliefs that are typically devoid of proof or common sense.

Trumped by nonsense

Donald Trump is expanding this tradition of Neocontrarianism as if he invented it. But that’s not certainly not true. Trump is merely expanding the Neocontrarian tradition to suit his own lack of moral, political or ethical direction. The fact that he Tweets with anger at every criticism or perceived transgression is evidence of this massive insecurity. And as such, his choice to assign Neocontrarians to every single position in his cabinet is an indication of his boldly inferior, incurious approach to life.

His own misogyny and aggressive treatment of women is the direct product of his own Neocontrarian worldview. “No one respects women more than me!” he claims. And how contrary is that? In other words, he’s lying to himself in order to bolster his own lack of self-esteem.

And that’s what Neocontrarian is, and what it does to this world. By advocating views that are completely contrary to pure and visible evidence, it wrests power from those seeking to abide by fact, and make decisions based on reason, not ideology or wishful thinking.

Longstanding contrarianism

We see the effects of Neocontrarianism in the aggressive defense of ideologies such as creationism, the religious belief that scripture is a better foundation for science than experimentation and rational examination of physical evidence.

We have dealt with the consequences of Neocontrarianism time and again with the economy as it collapses under one Republican regime after another that advocates cutting taxes on the very rich, and allowing regulations to fall lax so that financial greed runs amok and crush the foundations of economic stability.

This is the Advent of an entire new level of Neocontrarianism. It is highly unlikely it will be any more successful than the ugly attempts in the past to ignore fact and foist opinion on the world. Every new day we’ve opened a new window in the Advent Calender of Neocontrarianism and it always a strange reveal. How else do you explain the appointment of Linda McMahon?

“U.S. President-elect Donald Trump said on Wednesday he will nominate professional wrestling magnate and former Senate candidate Linda McMahon as his choice to head the Small Business Administration.Trump’s announcement said McMahon would be a key player in his effort to generate stronger job growth and roll back federal regulations.McMahon, 68, is a co-founder and former CEO of the professional wrestling franchise WWE, which is based in Stamford, Connecticut. She ran unsuccessfully for a U.S. Senate seat in Connecticut in 2010. She was an early supporter of Trump’s presidential campaign.”

Questioning the fake world

I wrote this somewhat controversial piece a year or so back that disturbed many people. It played on the fact that conspiracy and suspicion often drive the Alt-Right view of the world. Hardly an event has taken place over the past five years, ranging from  mass shootings to terrorist attacks on American soil that has not been postulated by the Alt-Right as a government attempt to manipulate public opinion on issues ranging from gun rights to abortion.

Now we’re being led by a man whose entire political philosophy is based on Alt-Right contrarianism. Which is why he feels so confident naming a woman who helped run an entertainment franchise based on fake wrestling that makes millions off the false dramas created to cater to the lowbrow tastes of the flyover voters that put Trump in power.   with a combover and orange makeup into the Hall of Mirrors of

I’m not going to apologize for calling this all a big, fatass mistake. We’re being led by a Neocontrarian narcissist  with a horribly vain combover and a coat of orange makeup. It all feels like a bad, horrific dream from which American cannot wake up.

And so, we cannot possibly expect proponents of the Neocontrarian philosophy to be self-analytical and realize the disturbingly false core of their belief system. This is the Advent of fascism as an American value system. It will be up to all of us to call them on their lies disguised as policy. And it could be a strange, strange trip indeed.

 

 

 

 

Reasons why America should feel shitty

 

Flies on Shit

Wait, could it be? For a second there it looked like a face on the rump of that shit. 

Almost two years ago when the 2016 election campaign had just begun, I’d written quite a bit already about the achingly awful qualifications of prospective Republican presidential candidates. Every one of them was a shitty choice. None of them had leadership qualities or anything resembling a broad enough worldview to serve as an effective president. And I said so.

 

Long before that patent situation served up such a stink, I’d spent quite a bit of time on social media savaging and ridiculing neoconservative thinking on subject matter ranging from health care to religion to social issues and culture. This consistent engagement on such subjects proved frustrating to some of my conservative friends. A few unfriended me on social media such as Facebook. Frankly, I was glad to be rid of them. Their cognitive dissonance in defense of Republican failures on the economy, speculative wars and backward cultural and social policies reeked like a pile of confusing shit.

At one point, it was passed along to me that a casual acquaintance and cycling friend who had followed me for a while on Facebook was Unfriending me. A friend passed the reason along. “He says you make him feel shitty.”

Well, when conservatives (and so-called neoconservatives) set out to make the lives of so many people a living hell by blocking equal rights for gays, ridiculing civil rights efforts for minorities and publicly torturing women (can you say Rush Limbaugh and Sandra Fluke?) over health care and reproductive rights, someone has to speak out.

The shitty behavior doesn’t stop there, however. Neoconservatives went on the attack toward President Obama before he was installed in office. But Obama had done nothing to earn their ire on the order of what Donald Trump has just done to insult Americans. So conservatives went “desperate” by insisting he was a Muslim to make him look like he was a sympathizer with Islamic terrorists. Still others attacked him on grounds of the legality of his birth certificate. That was just a shitty attempt to disqualify the man for political reasons, yet there were underlying racial insults behind those attacks as well.

When Obama exhibited genuine leadership or would not give in to such torments, dog-whistle campaigns emerged insinuated he was “uppity,” a racially driven conflagration designed to threaten and control our President. The attacks on the looks of his wife were similarly ugly. And they never relented.

It is next to impossible to counter such ignorance and prejudice. People who think and act that way, all the way up to national leaders such as Sen. Mitch McConnell, are just shitheads by nature. His angry promise to block all attempts at governing in order to make President Obama a one-term president was a display of shitty character.

Yet some people seem to admire shitty characters. It’s in their blood to choose ugly and angry behavior over a considerate or God Forbid, academic approach to problem-solving and policy. That’s why men like Vice President Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld proved so popular among neoconservatives eager to whip the world into shape using military force or even torture to get their way. The motto is Be Shitty to Others Before They Can Be Shitty to You.

Religious conservatives aren’t much better. Throughout history conservative cabals have consistently defied the “turn the other cheek” admonitions of Jesus Christ to side with zealots and nationalists eager to win the world for Christ through war.

This is a really shitty thing to do to the fundamental precepts of Christianity, which calls us to “love our enemies.”

But let’s admit it: Jesus had his hands full even in his own day with religious legalists and warlike zealots, one of whom turned out to be the disciple that betrayed him to the authorities. These are the types of shitty believers who think they know better than God how to run the world.

Zealots for Christ are still running amok in the world, starting new Crusades toward other religions and acting as if they have absolutely no confidence in their own God, lest they should leave it all to faith and trust as the Bible says. Instead, they grab hold of the Bible and make it a bludgeon for creationism or Manifest Destiny or hating gays for simply existing on this earth.

It’s all the work of narrow-minded zealots who don’t like to be held accountable for the cause and effect of their shitty ideology, which actually blows over like a house of cards when held up to the merest intellectual or moral scrutiny. But zealots never let that happen, because their approach to theology is to attack first, and apologize never.

As a result of all this defensive posturing, conservatives, as a rule, know quite well how to defend their shit better than anyone else. And they use creative methods.

A favorite practice of conservatives (social, political, religious, fiscal) is to accuse the other side of the very faults they find so offensive in themselves. This is the Repression Factor in all conservatism. Rather than come to grips with reality, it is far easier to deny instincts of fear or failure or sexual desire than to act in good conscience and seek out the reasons why those repressive instincts exist.

But sometimes its just mean-spiritedness that drives repression. That’s how conservatives “Swiftboated” the honorable military career of John Kerry. It is also why neoconservatives and the Alt-Right accused Obama of being Muslim to paint him as a sympathizer with Islamic terrorists. That’s a really shitty thing to do, and lacks any significant conscience.

Which is why I don’t feel any real need to apologize to my conservative friends for making them feel shitty the last few years. Because the outcome of this Republican shitstorm is the election of Donald Trump to President of the United States. Even devout conservatives know this is a really shitty outcome for the party. Yet they’re holding their noses and chortling “victory” because they think they’ve won.

But that reminds one of the old joke about the guy that lost his sunglasses down an open latrine. He goes in to grab them and his buddy asks how much shit he can expect to encounter if he jumps in to help.

“It’s only ankle deep!” Comes the reply. So the friend jumps in and find himself neck deep in raw sewage. “I thought you said it was only ankle deep!” he moans.

“Well, I dove in,” his friend replies.

And that’s a perfect allegory for where we find ourselves headed into 2017. We’re all neck deep in a really situation because 26% of America saw fit to vote for an orange-faced maniac who treats everyone he meets like shit.

That’s why I’ve been so willing to make my conservative friends feel shitty for so long. Because I saw this coming. I knew where the ugly Bush years were leading us, and what it meant that people saw fit to treat President Obama like shit just because he was black, or they thought he was Muslim, or believed he would take away their guns.

That was the shit sandwich neoconservatives and the Alt-Right served America the last eight years. Now we’re all told we have to eat it. Some of refuse. And that’s why I’ll keep on making conservatives, friends and otherwise, feel really shitty about what transpired in 2016.

We don’t have to take this shit. And we won’t.

 

We once had a prayer

urlThe hopes of so many American Christians seemed to have rested on the election of Donald Trump as President. His was the premise upon which Christian leadership so often depends. A man of conviction. Of strong words. A man who promised, along with his running mate Mike Pence, to ban the legal right to an abortion.

This was the centerpiece of the movement by the voting bloc known as evangelical Christians to elect Trump. There have been many other attempts over the years, with hopes pinned to men such as George W. Bush, who talked the talk but never even flirted with the idea of banning abortion.

Going way back to the likes of Ronald Reagan, fundamentalist Christians and biblical literalist have been leaning on presidents and politicians to make the case that America is indeed a Christian nation. If only some form of theocracy could take over the national narrative, everything would work out. America would again enjoy favor in God’s eyes, went the theory.

Instead, the nation leaned toward installing human rights to people that were not favored by the Christian Right. In particular, the notion that gay people deserved civil justice such as the right to marry has stuck in the collective craw of evangelicals and their ilk. It all sinks back to a literal interpretation of the bible and a selective view that some passages found within Holy Scripture are immutable even though others, such as outmoded laws in the Book of Leviticus or Deuteronomy can be conveniently ignored.

We might have had a prayer of progress on such issues if such claims were not at the heart of the cognitive dissonance behind what so many evangelical Christians claim as truth. The history of literalistic religion is anchored in such false beliefs that have also been used to make the contention that blacks are inferior, or should be kept as slaves. Or that women were not capable of working the same jobs as men, or to vote.

Such prejudices are not the product of honest biblical understanding. Instead, they have long been the product of stubborn, stiff-necked minds wrapped in fears of The Other. Most adherence to biblical literalism is the product of selfish aims. The fact that the Chief Priests in the days of Christ were legalists who turned scripture into law drew wrath from the Son of God. Yet to this day, so-called Christians behave the exact same way, exacting punishment and disbarment on all who do not agree to abide by harsh and strict forms of law derived from a literal interpretation of scripture.

Admissions

These are the sins of believers that they never like to admit. Indeed, they will not. And as a result, they must become ever more forceful in their endeavors to install their belief systems on the world. Deep within their conscience, they know that their selective beliefs are a house of the tallest order. A Tower of Babel, as it were, constructed of repeated errors in using scripture as a weapon, not a tool of understanding.

The same selectivity that supports the prejudice of so many Christians against gays or other supposed cultural opponents was also applied during the 2016 presidential election. Evangelicals lined up against Hillary Clinton on belief that her support for her husband in his transgressions actually constituted a character flaw of her own.

This contention was not a Christian instinct at all, but a political one for sure. It gave evangelical Christians an excuse to dismiss the very public demonstrations of misogyny and aggression toward women by Donald Trump. Evangelicals lined up to justify voting for the man by claiming that he stood for a “higher purpose.” That would be the vote against abortion and installation of a conservative Supreme Court that would do the religious will of the evangelical Christian community.

Silent Night, Holy might

We might have had a prayer of defeating this anti-Constitutional movement if the Christian church at large had attempted to call these gross interpretations of scriptural verity and political expedience to account. We might have had a prayer of calling Trump’s bluff in those moments when his claimed devotion to Christian faith proved so shallow and false that it bore not resemblance even to the casual Sunday worshipper who struggles through church just to get back to the couch and watch an NFL game, the other Sunday religion.

It did not help that the conservative media spent the past two years castigating the Catholic Pope Francis as a “liberal” who therefore did not deserve the attention of “real Christians” or conservative politicians. When Pope Francis explained that everything in the Bible that does not lead to the love of Christ is obsolete, he wittingly offended evangelicals whose very life support in faith depends on those passages that are interpreted to offend and isolate entire segments of society.

It is the opposite of what Jesus came to represent for the Christian faith. We might have had a prayer of respecting real Christian tradition by resisting the likes of Donald Trump. But the complicity of evangelicals in electing a man who is clearly a money-grubbing, selfish, sexist, racist, misogynistic and fascist jerk put all that to rest. That prayer of understanding and Christian leadership was exploded like a balloon the day that Donald Trump was elected. And to fulfill his role as the effective anti-Christ, Trump turned around and named Stephen Bannon as one of his chief advisors. Bannon subsequently praised Satan and the value of darkness as inspirations for political practice and cultural foundations.

Turning backs on God

We once had a prayer of doing the right thing. But Americans with narrow minds and fear in their hearts turned their back on God and elected a man with the heart of a wicked king that has installed heartless, clueless and faithless people as leaders of this country.

God will not be amused. Nor will Jesus Christ or all the saints of the past. Donald Trump is the worst thing to ever happen to America. And so-called Christians made it happen.

It makes you wonder if Stephen Bannon and all those Left Behind Christians haven’t been right about this place we call America all along. Perhaps it is the height of evil on the order of the Roman Empire in its worst moments. We had a prayer of proving that wrong. But we didn’t. And now the reincarnation of Caligula is in charge.

We once had a prayer. But we had better start praying all over again. And this time get it right.

An honest examination of the abortion issue

It has taken a long time in life to learn some of the family history that does not often get talked about. Mainly, this has pertained to miscarriages. Stillborn children. Lives that did not make it much past the birthing process, or not at all. My mother had two children that did not survive. They had names. But they did not live to use them. The same held true with my mother-in-law. There is a grave for the child to which she gave birth, but did not survive.

This pattern is real, and it is painful. Two weeks ago, I attended the funeral for the daughter of a woman that I have known since she was born 20+ years ago.

All this infant carnage made me curious about how common it is for women to lose children through miscarriage, stillborn or otherwise naturally terminated pregnancies. What I found was stunning.

“Among females who know they are pregnant, the miscarriage rate is roughly 10% to 20% while rates among all fertilisation is around 30% to 50%. About 5% of females have two miscarriages in a row.”

True to these statistics, I know many, many women that have had miscarriages. Some have persisted through these immense challenges in carrying children to term and now have families. Others tried repeatedly and ultimately accepted their chances for a healthy birth were minimized either through biology, advancing age or infertility issues.

Those moments of agony when losing a child may be relatively brief, yet they provide a lifetime of grief. The turbulent experience is like being involved in a shipwreck where lives are lost, like these lyrics from the Gordon Lightfoot song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald:

Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours…

Theologians warn us not to question the will of God, nor the love that supposedly abounds in all things. Yet those statistics about miscarriage are a haunting fact of reality. Because it’s true: Between 30-50% of all fertilization results in miscarriage. 

Staggering figures

Women may know this is going on, but many millions more will not. The numbers are still staggering to consider. If 20 million women per year come pregnant, that means between six million and ten million of those pregnancies terminate before or at the moment of birth resulting in lives lost.

This is human biology at work. It is a direct product of the big wheels turning in the process of evolution. Among all living things, fertility is evolved at a rate necessary to sustain the population. In any kind of living thing, the rate of fertility and reproduction must exceed the rate of mortality or the species will die out.

This is what makes it so sad to see the last living remnants of an animal species left on earth. Sometimes the last male or females of a species are incapable of breeding due to age or other fertility issues. Captive or artificial breeding can sometimes rescue species at risk of extinction from these factors. Successful artificial breeding programs have helped species such as the Whooping Crane and California Condor survive.

Fertility issues

This paradigm also holds true for a human couple trying to create a family. Yet the process can turn into a caricature. Fertility treatments can produce entire litters of children, and human fascination with extreme fertility has produced TV shows such as Kate + 8 featuring a woman with octuplets. Yet the extremes of human behavior also includes tragic response to extremes in fertility.

The harsh reality is that infant or child mortality is a real thing whether it is driven by human biology or wrought by human hands. The Pro-Life movement is insistent that the act of conducting an abortion is a sin against God because it takes the life of an unborn child. Arguments against abortion focus on the idea that a child exists from the moment of conception. That would apparently be somewhere in the process from the moment a sperm penetrates a human egg to the point where that egg begins dividing on the path toward creating human tissue.

Arguing the point at which a fertilized egg constitutes a human in existence is difficult. But the raw and gutsy argument must also be made that between 30% – 50% of all fertilized eggs go to waste, as it were, according to natural law.

God the Control Freak

Depending on your belief system, that might mean God is directing the whole process. Which would also mean that God has little reverence for what we consider human life at all. If half of all the human lives conceived in this world naturally get dumped in a wave of blood from the female vagina, then what does the term Pro-Life even mean?

The numbers ratchet up even further when we consider that with relatively rare exception, women menstruate beginning at the age of 10-12 and continue through their fifties or so. With more than 400 eggs stored in their ovaries from birth, women have the choice to breed and turn those eggs into children, or avoid motherhood altogether.

That is first and foremost a woman’s choice. Regardless of belief systems, we are all faced with the reality of free will. Our choices are our own to make. To argue otherwise is to insinuate that God is a control freak and indeed, murders all those real or imagined babies by cause of natural process. Is God really such a murderer? Where does the love of God go when the big wheels of nature keep turning?

Number and rate of abortions

There’s a fascinating website titled numberofabortions.com that ostensibly tracks the rate and number of abortions in the US and worldwide. As of November 2016, an estimated 900,000 abortions have taken place in the US. That is .0027 of the total American population.

The Guttmacher Institute reports statistics on the number of women who are sexually active in childbearing years in America.

  • There are 61 million U.S. women in their childbearing years (15–44).[1] About 43 million of them (70%) are at risk of unintended pregnancy—that is, they are sexually active and do not want to become pregnant, but could become pregnant if they and their partners fail to use a contraceptive method correctly and consistently.[2]

Given the known rate of miscarriage in America, the number of pregnancies ending by s0-called “natural causes” each year could be as many as 30.5M. Whether these are known or unknown terminations due to miscarriage or other causes, the numbers are still quite compelling in context with what constitutes our understanding of the relative preciousness of human life.

Beyond the numbers

Again, we must return to the emotional component to understand the harsh costs of these statistics. Women bear the brunt of emotional scars from terminated pregnancies, natural or otherwise. There is a very real effect in having lost a child no matter what stage it occurs in a pregnancy. Some might argue that the effects are far worse the later one gets into a pregnancy term. And yet, who is to determine that for a given women, or her given circumstance?

So the arguments for and against a woman’s choice to have an abortion must take all these factors into account. Yet the one factor that is seldom mentioned, if ever, in the debate over abortion is the natural mortality rate of human conception, the effective rate of miscarriages and stillborn children. All these factors define the context of human fertility and medical ethics surrounding the rate of abortion in America and worldwide.

Blaming Planned Parenthood

Castigating organizations such as Planned Parenthood for conducting abortions is, therefore, an inaccurate reflection of the greater reality with what happens in pregnancy and women’s health in America. Recall the Guttmacher statistics above, and the fact that some 70% of women capable of bearing children in America have inadequate access to birth control. If more women were given access to birth control services to prevent unwanted pregnancies, the rate of abortions could go down dramatically.

And yet, abortion opponents attack Planned Parenthood over the effects, not the cause of unwanted pregnancies. This is truly putting the cart before the horse. Stop and consider the name of the organization in question: Planned Parenthood. Isn’t that a rational notion, that planning your pregnancy is the best option of all?

The wrong blame

It is false moralization to simultaneously accuse women of wanting abortions when efforts to defund organizations such as Planned Parenthood are often led by Pro-Life politicians and their supporters. This is all done on the supposed higher moral grounds that people should not be having sex outside the bonds of marriage. But that is not the law of the land in America. There are no laws in the Constitution suggesting that people cannot have sex anytime or with anyone they want. The Founding Fathers had no interest in such concerns.

So it is a false notion that America is bound by such moral confinements as the claim that abstinence is superior to birth control. The Catholic Church has fought that battle for years, advocating the Rhythm Method as a supposedly moral alternative to wearing condoms or taking birth control pills. And yet 97% of Catholic women apparently ignore dictums of such as patriarchal nature. And why shouldn’t they?

Because if you want to get literal and technical about your religion at the same time, you could make the very legitimate argument that God is the ultimate abortion doctor. If you compare the number of abortions conducted in America each year (about 1 million) to the number of terminated pregnancies directed by God, the ratio is about 1:10 or higher.

What would Jesus do? 

So we should stop with all these Pro-Life claims on religious grounds that abortion should be illegal. Life is much more complicated than the Yes or No option to have an abortion. There is yet another layer to these issues as well. If abortion opponents were to ask Jesus Christ if it was the law that mattered, or ministering to the women who were considering abortion as an option, what do you honestly think the Son of God would say?

It is clear that Jesus never felt that the human race should depend on laws to effect change in the hearts of those facing challenges in their lives, of any sort. Jesus castigated the chief priests of his day over their dependence on law to define moral behavior and gain the approval of God. The same lesson had to be learned again when Martin Luther challenged the Catholic Church to emphasize grace over law, thereby launching the Protestant Reformation.

And here we are again in history, fighting the same battles over laws such as Roe vs. Wade that are not borne of religious freedom at all, but center on a woman’s own right to determine the outcome of her pregnancy.

But let’s remember, if you truly believe that God has a say in all this, then you must consider the painful results of so many miscarriages on the lives of so many millions of women. This is the honest examination of the abortion issue.

Because how is it for you to judge that these outcomes are any less painful than the rational choice to end a pregnancy that might have been the result of forceful or desperate circumstances? And who are you to decide what is the more moral choice? To plan parenthood, or not?  Those are not your decisions to make for a woman. Not at all.

And if you disagree, then you should take it all up with your apparently meddlesome and murderous God. Because that is the one you obviously worship.