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.

The true connection between liberal anxiety and conservative fear

It’s a constant debate: Liberals versus conservatives. And it all breaks down to simple beliefs.

This is how the sayings go when it comes to discussing politics in America.

Liberals are anxious about everything. They worry about global warming. Civil rights. And offending someone. God Forbid. 

Conservatives are fearful about everything. Terrorism striking close to home. Living without guns. Being politically correct. God Forbid. 

How fascinating it truly is that liberals worry about the world while conservatives fret that it is out to get them? How can two such similar traits drive people so far apart?

Worry warts

For starters, conservatives seem to believe that most liberal worries are made up. That’s the real nature of anxiety, right? It’s defined as imagining the worst when things are really not all that bad.

Fearmongers

Conservative policies are often not what they seem

In a similar way, liberals consider conservatives obsessive about their fears or prejudices. Conservatives are always bemoaning the decay of society or predicting the end of the world as we know it.

Thus, the two parties circle each other warily and angrily. Both claim they’re right about the other and seek to demean the corresponding anxieties and fears on the Left and the Right.

The End of the World

But there are connections. For example, liberals tend to think that if the world is coming to an end, it will be through environmental means. That’s why global warming is a concern, along with species extinction.

Meanwhile, religious conservatives (and by dint of Big Tent Politics, many other brands of Republican conservatives) tend to depict the end of the world through a theological lens. The coming Apocalypse. Armageddon. The End Times. Left Behind. The Rapture.

The Second Coming

That mindset colloquially embraces the idea of the Second Coming of Jesus and the idea that the Old World in which we now live will be replaced by an entirely better New World that will come about through some sort of heavenly means. Even Muslims believe that’s the fate of the world.

Armageddon

And of course, there is considerable speculation on where all that will start, and whether we should fear the day or bid it welcome news. The general thinking on the topic is that the Middle East will be the site of a great war between the forces of good and evil. For many years it was the Jews that were the potential focus of all this heavenly rage. Lately it appears to be the Muslims, whom many conservative religious thinkers blame for the woes of the world.

Muslim surprise

How ironic it is that the Muslim faith actually looks forward to the coming of Jesus Christ as well. They don’t buy the idea that Christ was ever crucified, but was instead zapped up to heaven by God outside the parameters of the Christian narrative. It’s a little vague of course, as most things in the Quran seem to be in terms of interpretive or predictive value, but this is what the Quran says:  “And there is none of the people of the Book but must believe in Him before his death, and on the Day of Judgment He will be a witness against them.”[Sûrah al-Nisâ’: 159] Allah also says about Jesus in the Qur’ân: “And he shall be a sign of the Hour. Therefore have no doubt about the Hour, but follow Me. That is the straight path.” [Sûrah al-Zukhruf: 61].

Judgement Day

If you stop and think about the fact that conservative Christians and conservative Muslims all look forward to the coming of Christ on the Judgement Day, it’s a pathetic fact that what people are fighting (or quibbling) about is what path this supposed course took in the path and how it will ostensibly transpire in the future.

Owning the narrative

All sides of this argument, including Sunni and Shi’a sects on the Muslim side, as well as Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical and all other forms of conservative Christian faith oas well seem willing to fight to the death over which narrative is chosen to decide how the world will end, and who might survive.  Then we throw in the Jews, who get it from both sides of this great battle, and that pretty much explains fears over the Middle East “situation” in a nutshell. And it’s a fearful, angry, vicious batch of insanity.

And conservatives on every side just love it. Because it allows them to grab hold of all sorts of other controls in life. That includes social and political laws, and fiscal regulations. Everyone is afraid some other sect or religious worldview will get the upper hand.

Political zygotes

ZygoteOf course not all those who abide by conservative philosophy or identify as fiscal or political conservatives share these religious worldviews. But they can no longer escape the association because the conservative alliance initiated in the Falwell/Reagan era. That’s when the religious and economic “revolution” originally fused the language of triumph into a giant political zygote of social, political, religious and fiscal conservatives. Now the product of this marriage has emerged like a freak of nature, and his name is Donald Trump.

Liberals get their freak on

Like the tale of Benjamin Button, in which a man is born old and grows young over time, the Democratic side of freak births produced Bernie Sanders. His ardent gesticulations and socialist contentions have been discomfiting to those who just want a normal, somewhat liberal candidate to run for President. His supporters freak out at the idea of supporting Hillary Clinton if and when the Bern fizzles out. It’s a bit like a backcountry family feud, both ugly and beautiful in its unsophisticated way.

Emotional defense

it is interesting to note that both conservatives and Christians lay claim to the authority of scripture. Conservatives side with the traditions and triumphs of the church while liberals share the heart of scripture and the ministry of tolerance advocated by Jesus. These simple differences may be responsible for the entire liberal versus conservative divide. We only wish these differences could be determined through dialectic, a term described as “a discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject but wishing to establish the truth through reasoned arguments.” Instead all we seem to achieve is emotional arguments for one side or the other.

Back to the Future

Some of these debates over conservative versus liberal interpretations of scripture go back to the very formative years of what we now call Christianity. That’s when a Jew named Yeshua (better known as Jesus) debated vigorously with the Pharisees and others over their efforts to turn scripture into law. Jesus chastised the priests and tried to liberate the Jewish faith from its own strictures. But it didn’t really work. So the followers of Jesus started their own gig. And it’s been a Back to the Future movie ever since.

Some Christians never learned the lesson Jesus was trying to convey. They still behave like the priests Jesus tried to change. These are the conservatives of today. They side with political power because it feels like the best way to exact the philosophies of Christianity on the world. This is the Back to the Future plot we are now viewing.

The fortress of belief

Conservatism views the faith as a literal temple, a fortress of belief or a city to be defended or taken over by force if necessary. They Bible is one such fortress, and must be read as if it were a pile of stones placed one upon the other. Take out one stone and the entire structure may fall.

Portable faith

Liberalism takes a more modular view of what faith is about. Its interpretation of the bible is more about its transportable qualities. In that sense, liberalism is more like a nomadic tent community. It can wander the desert and be happy in the company of God. This is more like what Jesus professed. The structure of his ministry and how the disciples came to view the temple of God was centered on the idea that God is with you wherever you go.

Crusades

Now we can understand why conservatives consider the Crusades so important. Their objective to evict Muslims from Jerusalem was based on the belief that God needed (or deserved) a place to live. Tradition demanded that Jerusalem be under Christian guard. The Holy City and the Temple had been there. What more was there to understand?

In this day and age there are supporters of Israel who abide by these same standards. It’s still about the Holy City and the Holy State of Israel. This is called Zionism, “political support for the creation and development of a Jewish homeland in Israel.”

Mess of beliefs

Jerusalem_Dome_of_the_rock_BW_14.JPGIt’s a bit of an archaic notion, and a contradictory one at that, when Christians and Jews align to create and protect an Israeli homeland. The two faith traditions don’t even believe in the same thing. One accepts Jesus. The other does not. Meanwhile Muslims look forward to the return of Jesus while the Jews think the Messiah is yet to appear. It’s all a very confused mess if you really consider it. Yet the Crusades in the Middle East continue to this day and even the most informed people have lost track of what it is all about. The fighting now is about rallying the troops and never losing. Not at any cost.

Feeding worries and fears

The shared tactic of conservatism and liberalism is to consistently expound upon worries or fears about what is surely about to happen.

For conservatives, the list is long. The economy is about to collapse. Society is in moral decay. Terrorism is going to end our Way of Life. The Rapture is right around the corner. These are the go-to themes whenever conservatism fails on some, or many, fronts.

Meanwhile, liberals are busy wringing their hands in anxiety over environmental cataclysm and the collapse of civil rights due to prejudice and authoritarian rule by a select minority.

Beyond being afraid

The fact that both anxieties and fears align with the general belief that things could get far worse before they get better is telling. Isn’t there some way these two belief systems can come to a common ground?

The secret hides in how people on both sides of the philosophical debate define the idea of a “new world.”

For liberals or humanists, that would be world in which people actually collaborate to solve problems. This philosophy was effectively captured in the song Imagine by John Lennon:

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace, you

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world

There’s a lot of Jesus philosophy in that very humanist set of lyrics. But the opening lyrics to the song would be of great offense to those who view the temple of God as real place.

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

But if we focus on the idea that Jesus wanted the Kingdom of God to be real here on earth, and that the Bible advocates the idea that a New World will someday be created on earth, there is a great source of convergence going on in those humanist lyrics by John Lennon and the soul of the ministry of Jesus.

That is, God wants us to create this New World for ourselves. In fact, the Second Coming of Christ may be our responsibility to initiate. Not through war and Armageddon, but through love and all the good works of respect and trust and ministry we extend to others.

That is the true convergence of conservative and liberal ideologies. It also assuages worries and removes fears. Because a world where people genuinely care about each other and dispel differences rather than turning them into definitions of “the other” truly is the Kingdom of God.

And that’s the point at which both conservatism and liberalism as social, political, fiscal and religious constructs will cease to be.

How biblical literalism affects politics, culture and the environment

Christopher Cudworth is author of The Genesis Fix: A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age. It centers on how biblical literalism affects politics, culture and the environment. Originally published in 2007, it is being edited for re-release on Amazon.com. 

 

Is it right to hate your political and religious opponents?

Hate: to feel intense or passionate dislike for (someone)

Businessman Matt Bevin Challenges Senate Minority Leader McConnell In Primary ElectionThe word “hate” has come to mean a specific thing these days. “Hate crimes,” for example, are committed with an intent to target a specific person or people for their beliefs or lifestyle. Terrorism is a form of hate crime as well. The world is full of it. Full of hate and vengeance, retribution and revenge toward those we hate.

We’ve all run into hatred in one way or another. Perhaps there has been a person in your life for whom you feel an almost instant hatred. You can’t explain it. You just hate them from the minute they walk in the room.

Sometimes that is behavioral. They say or do things that set off alarm bells in your value system or your sense of protocol. When this happens in the workplace, and that person engenders hate in multiple people, they come to be the enemy. Sometimes they are a co-worker. At other times, the boss.

Then there are people for whom you feel hatred that you can’t really reach. Republicans love to hate Hillary and Bill Clinton, for example. Yet Clinton won the presidency twice, and his wife Hillary is the likely Democratic nominee. They just won’t go away, and Republicans hate that.

Hate from both sides

On the Democratic side, many liberals and Progressives hated on George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. The liberal contention is that the pair did plenty to earn that hatred by going to war on false premises, sponsoring torture and crashing the economy. Republicans have a name for that hatred. They call it Bush Derangement Syndrome. And it’s real.

But when you compare the reasons why Clinton and Bush are hated by their opponents, there is no moral equivalency. Bill Clinton got a blow job in the Oval Office. Bush allowed a terrorist attack to happen on his watch, went to war on false premises and destroyed the economy. Clinton got impeached for lying about the affair. Bush got nothing. Not even a slap on the hand.

So the degrees of hatred segments of people feel for those in political office, and even those running major religions, are based on varying degrees of justification. Surely the disrespect Clinton showed for the White House was not a show of class by any means. Sexual scandals are common in politics, however. If they don’t hurt the flow of government, they are typically are forgiven in some way, unless they persist. Fortunately or unfortunately, that’s how power works and has always worked.

Turtle power

When it comes to power and its use and manipulation, few have been so successful in their hatred toward another politician than Mitch McConnell, the Senior United States Senator from Kentucky and Majority Leader of the Senate. For whatever reasons he has chosen, McConnell hates everything about President Barack Obama. McConnell swore before Obama even took office to make him a one-term president. During seven years in office, Obama has been blocked on many fronts by the efforts of McConnell to prevent anything on the President’s agenda from passing.

Now McConnell has stood forth and sworn to prevent any Supreme Court Justice nominee from even being considered. He’s rallied Senate Republicans around his cause just as he’s used his authority to attempt to stalemate any progress in America over the last seven years.

Success in spite

Yet despite McConnell’s efforts, Obama has been a successful president on numerous fronts. The economy recovered from a massive meltdown during the late term of the Bush presidency. Obama has presided with a steady hand over chaotic world affairs. The nation has not been attacked by any organized efforts at terrorism during his tenure, as it was under Bush. The nation’s gas prices are currently at an average of $1.70 under Obama, the result of progressive, and sometimes unfavorably seen, approvals for gas exploration across the nation.

All the things that Bush swore to do, including not using the military for nation-building, Obama has done. That infuriates the Republican Right. It particularly infuriates Mitch McConnell, who in his fit of pique grossly admits that the Supreme Court has been a partisan tool for legislative action.

That grandly exposes the lie that the Supreme Court is a non-political entity. It has been used to install a President (George W. Bush) and pass a law allowing dark money to flood the world of elections (Citizens United). Justice Antonin Scalia dumped his originalist interpretation on the Second Amendment and turned it into a free-for-all in terms of the right to bear arms, and there are now more guns than people in the United States.

That is the legacy of the conservative Supreme Court. It has only been forced to uphold Obamacare by the fact that it would have been politically inexpedient to prevent millions of people from getting healthcare coverage. The provision in the law that enables people with pre-existing conditions to get health insurance is a clear protection of human rights. To do otherwise would be equivalent to issuing a death sentence to a significant portion of the population.

Actions speak louder

These are not exaggerations. These are the direct product of legislative action by the Supreme Court. And now Mitch McConnell and his fear-driven buddies in Congress all want to prevent President Barack Obama from carrying out his constitutionally prescribed duty to fill the court vacancy caused by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

It is a hateful thing to oppose one’s enemies without reason. But it is a more hateful thing to oppose one’s enemy for the very reason you refuse to admit is true. The clearly partisan hope is that a Republican can win the White House and install another conservative judge. The other source of fear is that the leading Republican candidate, Donald Trump, is not under the control of men like Mitch McConnell. But they know cooperation is possible if enough power is traded along the way.

These are all motivations worthy of hatred toward those who carry out such political chicanery. In the past, and with the murder of President John F. Kennedy still unsolved in the minds of so many Americans, it is worthwhile to consider how much political hatred has afflicted the nation. Going back a bit further, to the time of Lincoln, it was a Republican who took a bullet to the head. All for rescuing the Union, Lincoln was a great man in a time of intense political hate. But at least he got to largely finish his mission, and the gunman John Wilkes Booth failed to reverse the flow of justice in American political history.

Not so with Kennedy. And not quite so with the attempted murder of Obama’s legacy as President by men like Mitch McConnell. There are many kinds of murder in this world, and many kinds of hate. If anyone has earned the hate of Americans who support a balanced, cooperative government that gets things done, it is Mitch McConnell.

 

Are we fools for being liberal or Progressive?

angelsOne of the abiding themes of criticism leveraged at liberals by conservatives (and to some degree, libertarians as well) is that liberals are fools for believing in the things they do.

That’s an interesting contention. Because foolishness is defined as “lack of good sense or judgment; stupidity.”

So let’s take a look at a few of the big and small things conservatives––across a spectrum of religion, politics and culture––have stood for throughout history, and why.

The example of Jesus

First, we might consider that a certain Jesus Christ was highly frustrated by a group of conservative religious leaders in his day who turned faith into legalism by imposing all kinds of rules people had to follow. When Jesus questioned their authority, they paid to have him betrayed and killed.

And wasn’t that foolish?

The bad example of the church

Then when the church grew, it basically started asking people to buy favor with God. When Martin Luther questioned their authority in doing so, they threatened his life.

The same thing happened when men such as Copernicus and Galileo questioned the view of the Church that Earth was at the center of the universe. For hundreds of years the church persecuted and imprisoned all those dared make such a claim. Because the church was behaving like a pack of fools.

Foolish Crusades

It was conservatives on both sides of the Muslim and Christian religions who led the Crusades and engaged in wars over the City of Jerusalem and land claimed by the nation of Israel. These bloody fights were based on ancient claims to ownership of the so-called Holy Land. In the process, hundreds of thousands of people gave their lives for no real reason other than an attempt to prove that God was on their side.

And that is always foolish.

Wars of foolish greed

dscn9203.jpg Speaking of wars, it was conservatives from the Confederate South who wanted states to have all authority in all matters. These same conservatives favored slavery and used religious justification to impose their will on people captured and forced into slavery.

Conservatives then forced America into a Civil War over these issues that cost the nation 750,000 lives.

Even after they lost that war, conservatives still didn’t give up their angrily foolish ways. Conservative white racists imposed Jim Crow laws across the nation to further persecute and control black Americans even after an amendment was added to the Constitution guaranteeing them equal rights. Hundreds if not thousands of black Americans consequently were beaten, tortured, hung or burnt to death by angry white conservatives fearful that their “way of life” was at risk by granting black American’s equal social status.

Foolish societies

These conservatives even formed societies such as the Klu Klux Klan specifically to IMG_3847terrorize and persecute blacks and people of other races and religion apart from conservative white Christianity. This breed of conservatism raged full bore from the early 20th century all the way into the 1950s and 60s. The KKK persists to this day, euphemistically claiming they only favor “white rights” versus persecution of others.

But history proves we’d all be fools to believe such claims. Liberals to this day have a hard time convincing such people of the foolishness of their ways. Yet liberals are blamed by conservatives for “ruining the country.” This is a cynically contrary euphemism for providing equal rights to people that were formerly oppressed.

Foolish money

The same aggressive meme holds true for conservatives accusing liberals of ruinous economic policies. In the wake of the stock market crash where conservative bulls ran the economy right into the ground through deregulation and speculative investments, liberals acted to install programs to protect everyday citizens from the ugly vagaries of such behavior. The Social Security insurance program was set up to provide a common man’s return on investment through a government program that would be available to people no longer engaged the labor market. The program leverages the investment of society to build interest and provide for all those in need during their waning years.

IMG_3852Up until the 1960s, conservatives saw the safety and common sense of such an insurance program. Republicans supported and even expanded Social Security.

But then conservative stalwarts got greedy. It seems to drive them nuts to think they can’t get their hands on all that money through privatization. The wealthiest Americans don’t even pay into the program, and yet those are the same people who seem to be lobbying against the fact that a socialized insurance program works to protect the neediest in America.

And that is the logic of ignorant, greedy fools.

Hatred for common sense

It holds true also for Medicare, a social program set up to protect primarily the elderly from increasingly burdensome medical costs as they age. And Conservatives (note the Capital C) hate it. And so it goes with conservatives hating common sense for the very fact that it is both common, and sensible.

Instead the conservative faction in American seems to abide by contradictory logic as a rule of thumb. That is how, and why, they currently protest abortion while lobbying against organizations such as Planned Parenthood that provide legal birth control to women to help them avoid unwanted pregnancies.

Conservatives claim on supposedly moral grounds that only abstinence is a rightful method for avoiding pregnancy. The real goal it seems is to take away that decision-making capability from women, whom conservatives consistently persecute over all such decisions of sexual or personal freedom.

Rhythm nonsense

Even the Catholic Church looks like a fool on such issues because more than 90% of its own member base chooses by practical intuition to ignore the dictums of the church’s morality-based yet hypocritical bans on birth control. The so-called “rhythm method” so long advocated by the Vatican is nothing more than a falsely moral attempt to avoid pregnancy as well.

Pro-nothing

And when it comes to abortion, conservatives calling themselves “pro-life” who also protest distribution and use of birth control are not in favor of anything. They’re simply “anti” with no room for solutions on a practial scale. That’s not “pro-life.” It’s anti-living. Positions like that are aggressively foolish.

Naturally foolish

IMG_3854Equally foolish and equally aggressive are Christian conservatives claiming that science is out to kill religion simply by teaching the theory of evolution. That strange claim ignores the fact that Jesus himself taught using naturalistic parables to illustrate spiritual concepts. Men like the stalwartly foolish Ken Ham, a leading creationist, seem to have no ability to connect the organic fundamentalism of the Bible with modern science. As a result, they remain engaged in an increasingly Quixotic attempt to knock down the windmills of science. And when that fails, new labels such as Intelligent Design are invoked in an semantic battle for supremacy. But that too has failed in the face of plain and rational logic on the side of science.

Proving that creationalism is pure and unadulterated foolishness.

Fool for politics

It all spills into the realm of politics where the current band of conservative leaders is struggling to become ever more extreme in an attempt to prove themselves securely “sensible” in the eyes of their zealous and crazed base.

The height of this tomfoolery is now urlon full display in the cartoonish manner and statements of men such as Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee. who blather on like homeless and mentally ill individuals society on a street corner.

Adding to the manic display of such foolishness are women such as Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann, whose conservatively-driven rants split off like solar flares in the political universe. These particular women offer little more than conservative hot energy, yet people foolish enough to consider them bright stars don’t recognize the burnt out nature of their message. Like most conservative messengers, they are not prophets, but parrots. They repeat only what they’ve been able to learn from worn out ideals.

Fools for anger and fear

But their parrotism feeds on the same anger and fear that has driven conservatism for ages upon ages. From the religious conservatives who tormented Jesus to the Facebook fools who torment liberals for believing and acting on social justice, racial, gender and sexual equality, economic parity and environmental protection, conservatives keep believing they see fools where in fact what they are seeing is people committed to rational solutions.

IMG_0492Because it has been the liberal enterprise that has delivered on the promise of humanity and God.

Liberalism has led the way on all great scientific discoveries. It has fostered social revolutions in democracy and equality, because even when men like Ronald Reagan were lobbying against the Soviet Union, it was the liberal enterprise of America initiative for which he was a stalwart defender.

Our Founding Fathers authored a Constitution guaranteeing freedom and liberty, which simultaneously loosened the binds of religious authority where it constricted human understanding. America is a nation dependent on freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion. It is not, as some conservatives love to claim, a Christian nation by definition.

Throughout history it is liberalism that has built societies where human respect is paramount, yet God is quite welcome. But we recognize that all words are symbols, and all scripture is composed of words. That means metaphor should be welcome at the table of truth. Literalism can be the enemy of truth.

Disclaimers

So it is not liberals that are the fools. It has long been proven that conservatism with all its rigid and anachronistic tendencies are the bane of culture, government and the earth. The main thing we need to extract from these lessons is that it takes a strong will, a rational mind and a commitmen to liberal convictions to resist conservative foolishness at every turn.

And that, my friends, is no foolish exercise.

Where is the real common ground between liberalism and conservatism?

photoThe feedback one gets when commenting as a liberal on social media covers a contradictory spectrum. Either people blame liberal worldviews on an accident of thought (or afterthought) or else accuse such thinkers as having some kind of marginalized, crazily zealous outlook that does not comprehend how the world really works.

The word “liberal” is also used as an insult in such cases. Which is very strange if you actually slow down to think about it. The definition of liberalism almost seems like a foundational value for the American form of democracy laid out in the United States Constitution:

Liberalism: 

  1. progressive views: a belief in tolerance and gradual reform in moral, religious, or political matters
  2. political theory stressing individualism: a political ideology with its beginnings in western Europe that rejects authoritarian government and defends freedom of speech, association, and religion, and the right to own property
  3. free-market economics: an economic theory in favor of free competition and minimal government regulation

That’s like a checklist of American history and American values. So why do so many so-called conservative thinkers claim to hate liberals and liberalism?

There are quite simply explanations actually. The first-rate measure of any hard-line conservative is to have convictions from which you do not back down. But the ironically common ground here is that liberals have quite strong convictions as well. It is understanding the common roots of those convictions that holds the most potential for collaboration on important issues.

For example, despite accusations that most liberals are socialist or communist, liberalism (check the definition above…) most genuinely aligns with free enterprise than any social or economic theory that says change is not good.

Consider the definitions of conservatism as a value system if you do not agree:

  • con·ser·va·tism
  1. reluctance to accept change: unwillingness or slowness to accept change or new ideas
  2. right-wing political viewpoint: a right-of-center political philosophy based on a tendency to support gradual rather than abrupt change and to preserve the status quo
  3. desire to preserve current societal structure: an ideology that views the existing form of society as worthy of preservation.

None of these values really align with a free market philosophy that says change is good at whatever rate it occurs. That’s a bit of cognitive dissonance on the part of conservatives. Yet we also find cognitive dissonance among liberals. Consider the following examples of parallels in cognitive dissonance between liberals and conservatives:

1. If the reluctance to accept change is a hallmark of conservatism, so is the reluctance to deny change a hallmark among liberals who think social justice is being compromised by the status quo.

Common ground? It is the appeal of individual rights and freedoms that forms common ground between conservatives and liberals.

2. Liberals frequently advocate change for the sake of change, no matter how rapid or gradual, as a sign of a progressive society. Conservatives find this to be a meddling worldview, especially when government is involved. And yet the American government was formed to foment and manage change. So which is it?

Common ground: If anything in this world holds true, it is that change occurs whether we want it to or not. It is the imposition of change on social standards that most offends conservatives. So we need to find shared examples of healthy moral change that conservatives and liberals can share as a tradition. These might include the changes wrought when Jesus confronted religious leaders in his day with a new message of faith founded on grace and salvation over law. That same message needed to be reiterated with the advent of Protestantism through Martin Luther and others. Each of these examples demonstrate that both liberals and conservatives have trouble conceiving the real meaning of change and from where it emanates. Even traditional institutions have need of real change.

3. Conservatives love to claim ownership of the free market economy, but it is often true that the free market destroys as much as it creates. That includes many traditional institutions. Common ground: Liberals and conservatives can engage on which elements of society are “worthy of preservation” as outlined in both conservative and liberal ideology. This holds true across a number of fronts; economic, social, environmental and political.

And thus we have it: the real common ground between liberals and conservatives is in this single word: preservation. Of that which is good, including individual freedom and social tolerance. Of that which is prosperous, which includes stewardship as well as progress. Of that which is traditional, because all worldviews have traditions and many originate from the same stories of creation and good books.

The real challenge in all this is to identify and call out cognitive dissonance wherever it occurs. That is, the accusations made by one party against another are often simple ploys to hide the own worst flaws within each of us.

No lack of discipline on either side

The claims against liberals that they are undisciplined in their thinking and lack convictions ignores the fact that genuine liberalism requires real and honest work in terms of thought and belief. Jesus, for example, required much from his disciples while learning the meaning of his ministry.

As a rule, Jesus taught using parables that were metaphors for the true kingdom of God. He grew frustrated when his closest friends and supporters failed to grasp this methodology and missed the point of his teachings as a result. His liberalism actually served as an important tool and access point for the conservative goal of salvation.

No leadership without questioning

Jesus also castigated the conservative religious leaders of his day for accusing him of being too liberal with his behavior and his associations. But those same accusations came from Jesus’ own family and the liberal camp of admirers who loved his welcoming message but also wanted him to become an earthly king. They were disappointed when it did not look like that was going to happen.

So it’s a pretty incredible thing to realize how closely conservatives and liberals lie in this process of cognitive dissonance, and how its revelations illustrate how closely we all operate in the real world.

Failing to try to understand and accept the good things in another is the very thing God calls us to avoid. The real kingdom of God, including all faiths and all belief systems, is about finding and supporting common ground here in this world so that good will can be done “here on earth, as it is in heaven.”

Yet his ultimate method was patience. That is the common ground of Christ, and always that

Living in a world of redirected aggression

IMG_0169One of the interesting features of animal behavior is a phenomenon called redirected aggression. We see it in nature, which we shall soon explain. But we also see it in our cherished pets such as cats and dogs. 

Some people like to refer to their pets as “family,” and certainly our pets become reflections of the environment in which they live. Some break the house rules by exhibiting bad behaviors in response to anxiety or stress.

Pet owners struggle to understand these behaviors. Most are simply a response to tensions in the household. Animals like to “know the rules” and actually get nervous, scared or angry when their owners or other creatures in the household refuse to give them respect or clear directions.

There’s a lesson in that for human beings because we’re not so far removed from our evolutionary history as some people would like us to believe.

Avid birdwatchers often witness behavior in wild birds that shows how redirected aggression manifests in the avian population. If a bird is confronted by a presence in their environment that makes them uncomfortable, nervous or threatened, they will actually engage in behaviors that look like they’re feeding or cleaning their bills when in fact that are simply wicking off nervousness or anxiety.

This behavior has an evolutionary purpose in that it mimics normal behaviors while giving the bird an opportunity to truly assess the perceived threat. Often birds are torn between the instinct to fly away or else stay and try to protect their nest, mate or young.

So much of human behavior results from similar perceptions of anxious situations. Everything from real physical threats (as in a dangerous neighborhood) to social or work pressures that make people anxious or unable to wick off immediate stress can result in redirected aggression in the human species.

Only humans are even more creative in their expression of redirected aggression. More and more we see tattoos on the arms and bodies of professional athletes. Their “tats” are a form of redirected aggression. The punishment their minds and bodies take from the sport in which they engage are often too much for any individual to bear. Those tattoos are as such a creative cry for help in the face of the pressures of stardom and so much attention.

Same goes with piercings and other forms of human adornment. Warrior or tribal societies have long engaged in extreme distortions and disfigurement of the human body as an expression of social status, but also a bold statement about the tension between fight or flight. It is no coincidence that youthful rites of passage often involve some sort of mark of change or adoption of a sign of maturity. For some cultures that means scars or tattoos. For others it is simply growing a beard (playoff beards?).

In all cases the human species is giving off signs that there is a tension between the current and future self.

It happens in human religions as well. Religion is, in a strange way, the most common form of redirected aggression. There is a passive/aggressive component to every brand of faith. In Christianity it is a tight balance between Old Testament genocide versus New Testament theology that says “Love your enemies.” The faith is therefore torn between these two extremes, alternately sharpening its swords and turning them into ploughshares.

There is a cost to dealing with such tension. Believers find themselves stuck in a fight or flight mode, alternately wanting to defend the faith and yet follow the dictums of Jesus in which we are told to “turn the other cheek” and give up the cloaks on our back to any who would challenge us for them.

We are like birds on a branch staring down an intruder as the instinct to fly away and avoid a confrontation drives us to distraction. We wipe our bills nervously on the branch in an attempt to show in some instinctual way that we’re not really scared.

237b66cd98bed0d150c7f0536b749a57_650x But we’re also like cats or dogs, lashing out at our enemies even when they are not the original threat. We’re constantly redirecting our aggression and our desires in attempt to behave like good religious believers. Yet the facts show that the population of the states in the Bible Belt is one of the greatest users of pornography in all the nation. The perceived piousness of a strict church is much too much tension for the average horny male to sustain. They redirect their sexual aggression into a seemingly benign pose and hope never to be discovered.

We see the same thing with repressive preachers who turn out to be adulterers or gay like the people they most like to accuse and persecute for their sins. It’s all redirected aggression.

That’s the world we live in. It causes hypocrisy at so many levels, be they political, religious or civic. If we all just understood our animal natures a little better, and then accepted the fact that our inner animal is giving off signals of distress, we might be better at finding honest solutions and responses to our most pressing problems.

After all, even God seems to have expressed a bit of redirected aggression over time. His bargain with Satan in the persecution of Job comes to mind. So does his negotiation with Lot over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. These stories indicate that aggressive tendencies need to be understood in all their subtleties and gravity in order to be controlled or avoided.

Otherwise it’s all fire and brimstone, lies and manipulations. Living in a world of redirected aggression is simply not much fun. But tattoos are, because they venture into the realm of the taboo where we all reside in quivering wonder as to whether we are actually creative or the product of an environment where no one can be honest with each other. So we try to wear or feelings and instincts on our sleeves. And use any means we can to get there.

What a wonderful world indeed

By Christopher Cudworth

cropped-genesiscover1.jpgLiberals and conservatives struggle for control of the cultural narrative. Over the last 30 years or so the two sides have unfortunately found very little common ground.

Of particular note in this culture “war” as it is often characterized is the alliance between fiscal, political, social and religious conservatives. These four sub-groups all hold the reins on certain issues. Fiscal conservatives want less economic regulation. Political conservatives want less government. Social conservatives want less moral latitude and religious conservatives want less of everything that isn’t in line with a fundamental take on scriptural ethics.

Less is more seems to be the conservative mantra. For example, a conservative-led Supreme Court has delivered less controls on political contributions by corporations and less governmental control over birth control. On the conservative front it’s more and more about less and less. Less government spending. Less taxes. Less sexual freedrom. Less choice in reproductive rights. Less of a right to marry for gays.

Yet there are some categories where more is more for the conservative faction. One wing of the lobby wants more and more guns. More military spending too. More incursion against terror on the global and domestic front.

It starts to get complicated at some point. What do conservatives really want, more or less?

There are signs that the very complexity of the world is what vexes conservatism. Where liberals love a little free enterprise in terms of philosophy and thought, conservatives like to break it all down to black and white. Then they make choices.

It happens in education where conservatives tried to simplify the entire scholastic operation to a “teach to the test” method called No Child Left Behind. That initiative has had the ironic effect of killing initiative among teachers nationwide. Teaching to the test is quite restrictive. All those standards stifle creativity in the classroom for both teachers and students. And guess what, it hasn’t really produced a better grade of student.

In higher education the resistance to liberal thought is aimed at colleges where admittedly liberalism is the standard by which many schools operate. But that’s the point. Liberalism is the willingness to engage and study a broad range of ideas in order to come to a conclusion any issue.

That methodology seems to enrage conservatives who would rather see a foundational approach to education. That hasn’t happened except in schools where conservatism is the founding principle of the institution. One thinks of Bob Jones University, for example.

The lack of compliance with conservative principles overall has produced a brand of anti-intellectualism that reaches from the classroom all the way to halls of Congress. Conservatives who do not accept basic scientific principles such as the theory of evolution work hard to undermine its teaching in any academic setting. The same holds true for conservatives who refuse to accept the scientific opinion of 90% of the world’s climatologists telling us that the earth’s atmosphere is warming through anthropogenic influence. In other words, climate change is man made.

Such denial hearkens all the way back to the fundamental beliefs about the origins of the earth. Religious conservatives refuse to believe in evolution because they think it contradicts a literal interpretation of the Bible. Never mind that Jesus himself taught using organic metaphors to convey spiritual principles. Conservatives ignore the scientifically metaphorical teaching style of Jesus because it smacks of an intellectualism that contradicts the fundamentalist approach to all sorts of reductionist thought. In other words, if they follow the example of Jesus, who admonished his own disciples for failing to grasp his parables, it messes with the whole goal of simplifying your worldview to the basics.

But conservatives seem to prefer simplification over liberal engagement on any issue. One could argue that the entire worldview of the conservative movement is summed up in the happy but frighteningly dumb lyrics of the song What A Wonderful World, sung with ironic glee by musicians as diverse as Herman’s Hermits and David Bromberg. The song lyrics go like this:

Don’t know much about history
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about a science book
Don’t know much about the French I took
(But I do know)
But I do know that I love you
And I know that if you love me, too
What a wonderful, wonderful world this would be

Don’t know much about geography
Don’t know much trigonometry
Don’t know much about algebra
I don’t know what a slide rule is for
(But I do know)
But I do know “one and one is two”
And if this one could be with you
(A wonderful world)
What a wonderful, wonderful world this would be
What a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful world

Now I don’t claim to be an ‘A’ student,
But I’m tryin’ to be
I think that maybe by bein’ an ‘A’-student, baby-baby
I could win your love for me

Don’t know much about the Middle Ages
Looked at the pictures then I turned the pages
Don’t know nothin’ ’bout no “Rise and fall”
Don’t know nothin’ ’bout nothin’ at all
(But I do know)
Girl it’s you that I’ve been thinkin’ of
And if I could only win your love (oh girl)
What a wonderful, (what a) wonderful world this would be
What a wonderful, wonderful world this would be

What a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful world
What a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful world

 

It’s sad because conservatism does have so much to offer in terms of holding social standards of morals, ethics and behavior. There is a little bit of conservative in almost all of us. There certainly is in me.

But the close-mindedness of the movement is what causes such resistance on the liberal front, where civil rights, human equality and economic justice are the priorities. Those happen to align with what we learn in the Bible as well. And that’s why some of us think the conservative version of a wonderful world would not be so wonderful at all.

 

From Django Unchained to Men In Black, a critical take on American Exceptionalism

Django. Making escape from slavery look good.

Django. Making escape from slavery look good.

The Academy Award-winning movie Django Unchained, written and directed by the always violent mind of Quentin Tarentino, has a simple plot line. Slave gets rescued by a bounty hunter who needs him to identify some bad guys. Slave learns ways of bounty-hunting and takes it to a naturally new level. Slave earns possible freedom for himself and the love of his life if he helps pull off a ruse with a sickeningly manipulative and violent Southern plantation owner. Things go awry and people get shot. Things blow up. And Django, well, we wouldn’t want to spoil the ending. 

"The difference between you and me? I make this look good."

“The difference between you and me? I make this look good.”

The plotline of Django Unchained closely resembles another movie in which a black character emerges as an eminently good student. That movie would be Men In Black, with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. One of the key similarities is that the Jamie Foxx character in Django and the Will Smith character in MIB take their roles seriously with a compelling flair. I paraphrase, but the Smith character states, upon putting on the MIB suit, “The difference between you and me? I make this look good.”

The parallels are interesting because one movie is about the very earthly fact of slavery as a scourge upon the American conscience, while the MIB series is all about the fact that aliens live on earth without 99.99% of the population knowing. Even Dennis Rodman, Elvis and Sylvestor Stallone are implicated as aliens in the plot. 

It is interesting to realize that one movie, set in the past, points out that American history is not so exceptional as it is sordid. While the other movie, set in the present, lampoons the notion that our government and our culture are somehow superior by nature. 

In other words (and other worlds) American Exeptionalism is a literal and figurative bunch of hooey. 

In fact what you realize upon comparing these two movies is that America is exceptional despite its supposed superior foundations and conservatively interpreted Constitution. The only thing that has made America great over the years is a deep willingness in its most liberal citizens to an ultimate sense of justice. Liberalism, not exceptionalism, has been the true expression of America’s finest values. 

Django Unchained and Men In Black both illustrate that America’s black citizens have had to be exceptional models of patience and ingenuity with an almost magic flair for perseverance and creativity. The object of Django’s affections and the entire goal of the venture is to rescue his enslaved wife, a German-speaking woman named Brunhilde, which happens to link with the German legend of overcoming seemingly insurpassable odds in the name of love.

What better characterization of black culture can there be, except that it somehow must be defined by a legend from a primarily white culture. It is the ugly fact that both movies pair an initially clueless black character with an obvious savvy white character to educate an unleash the powers of the black man. And ultimately, the black woman. 

That’s the problem with the attitude toward equality of black people. It still needs nurturing somehow? Not at all, in truth. Nor does the equality of gays in America need a mentor. Or women. Or Mexican people. Immigrants of any kind. Yet that is our national narrative in some respect. The melting pot somehow harkens back to a white chef. 

And that is the sad underlying fact of so-called American Exceptionalism. That whites are the true core and fiber of American success. It held that blacks could fight in World War II and still come home to a highly segregated society where equality did not exist. And it still held that the 1960s were the ruination of a society with all the liberation of social and sexual mores. It holds that a certain religion has driven the God-given, blessed existence of America. 

American Exceptionalism then held forth that 9/11 was the greatest affront, an event that gave us permission to do whatever we wanted in the world, even to torture terror suspects in so-called “black sites” around the world. Do you start to see it all circle back into a cesspool of “exceptionalism” that is exceptional only in its arrogance and supposition that Americans can do no wrong. Not even when we enslave. Torture. Discriminate. Oppress. Even legislate these same evil practices into law. And in today’s culture! Years removed, we should be, from the need to use our government for religious and social prejudices. Yet some persist, denying basic civil rights and running political parties that make very public attempts to suppress the vote of minorities so that they can remain in power. And then complain about why people are not attracted to their “party.” Some party it is that cares only for its own right to rule without granting even basic human rights, denying health care coverage to millions under the so-called free market laws that also discriminate by conveying unfair economic advantage to those already in power. 

And what of the supposed unnecessary or gratuitous violence depicted in Django Unchained, and to a certain extent, even in Men In Black. Well, when you consider that our gun laws have led to a culture where more Americans have been killed––or killed themselves––through gun violence than all the soldiers that have died in our combined wars over the years, there is nothing gratuitous about the violence in Django Unchained at all. At least the movies showed those who got shot writhing in pain and cursing desperately. That’s the reality we seldom see in the movies. Gun violence maims and kills, and that is celebrated in video games that splatter brains and even the 5:00 news, where it leads when it bleeds. 

It’s about time we figured out that the glossed up image of America as a free society is still an illusion. There are people living in chains to this day. 

You can hear the fear in the voices of those who want to keep it that way. The increasingly shrill call by Rush Limbaugh to suppress women’s rights, and the barely disguised racism he shows toward President Barack Obama, to whom Limbaugh refers as “The Magic Negro.” 

That is exactly how dismissively the character played by Leonardo di Caprio speaks of black people in the movie Django Unchained. He speaks of the fact that only 1 in 10,000 “niggers” is exceptional, worthy of his respect in any way. The rest he sees fit to serve to the murderous dogs who tear apart a runaway slave in retribution for costing the di Caprio character his “investment” of $500. 

If that’s still the value of human life in the eyes of some who portend to lead America, then we’ve got enormous problems of exceptionalism that cannot be wished away by claims of patriotism or supposed righteousness. That kind of exceptionalism is the most disgusting form of hubris imaginable. 

It has taken years and decades and centuries of liberal salvation to bring America somewhat out of its own pit of racial selfishness and greed. Still we suppress minorities, and still we crash the economy through lack of jurisprudence so that the wealthy can gain more for their appetites. 

We’ve still got to make up our minds whether the nation is a plantation or reasonable place to live for the so-called “aliens” among us. The arc between Django Unchained and Men In Black has a lot to teach us if we care to learn the allegorical lesson. 

Falling short of that enlightenment would only be exceptionally stupid. 

 

 

A new perspective on the Greatest Generation

The Greatest Generation may be yet to come.

The popular American narrative relative to World War II is that the United States dedicated its troops and might to defeat fascism. We helped lead the Allies to victory over Germany, Italy and Japan.

There is little doubt and volumes written about the merits of that war, and the credit for winning it is given to what is now called The Greatest Generation, known for their sacrifice of life and dedication to a vital cause.

One could argue that necessity breeds heroes, just as it is the mother of invention. When the need arises, Americans are well known as first responders (or as in the case of World War II, best responders.) We shook our fists in murderous fury at the perpetrators of 9/11, yet the people we initially chose to celebrate were indeed, the first responders.

Historical bookends

Those two moments in American history, World War II (1941) and 9/11 (2001) are bridged by a period in American history some self-described patriots would vehemently prefer to forget. We are talking now about the evolution of dissent and protest that began in the 1960s. The social liberations that took place were the result of very public protests against America’s trenchant racism, sexism and discrimination of all kinds. We are about to explore whether the 1960s were also about America’s inability to wrestle with its own insecurities, its penchant for fear-mongering and a nation’s seemingly godly but ultimately misguided tradition of boasting Christian-only values.

Let’s talk about what really happened in the 1960s

We must commence with some basic facts that are demonstrably true as proven through time.

The first is that racism in America persisted even after the nation’s nobly grand effort to stop fascism abroad through the battles of World War II. So while we must thank the generation that fought that war, we must also acknowledge our nation’s failure to liberate our own citizens even as we stood proud in protecting the world. Sadly, America’s own values did little to bring the needed changes about. That meant leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., were forced to take great risks using the words of the bible against people wielding the same book in support of racism–to point out how badly America had failed in its responsibilities toward its own people, millions of whom did not enjoy even the basic rights of citizenship, much less equal opportunity.

It is interesting indeed that in classrooms across America during the 1950s and 60s, millions of schoolchildren were required to recite a Pledge of Allegiance that ends with the words “…with liberty and justice for all” Millions of those kids grew up to take the actual meaning of that pledge seriously, piling into the streets to demand liberty for people of all races and backgrounds. That same generation of people also turned its sights on an unjust war in Vietnam, a violent venture that was initially engaged in fear over communism, and that ultimately evolved into a consuming effort to prove that the military-industrial complex was right in its motives, tactics and increasing commitments of expense and reputation. Thus the Vietnam war was executed to the precise prediction of one Dwight D. Eisenhower– himself an heroic general in World War II–who had warned against the dangers of the military-industrial complex, and what it could do to America.

So we see that the arc of the 1960s was not all about liberal values, nor sexual liberation and freedom from responsibilities. The 1960s were about a generation taking its pledge to the flag and the America for which it stands quite seriously. But instead of being acknowledged for this effort, and its pursuant victories for civil rights and all that has come to represent in freedom for America, the 1960s are maligned by some as a period of social decay and destruction of American values.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The 1960s not actually represented America’s second major attempt to eradicate its brand of internal (racist) fascism, the first attempt being our own Civil War, by a new generation discovering that ideals really mattered.

America had President Kennedy inspiring the nation to fly to the moon, and to “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for the country.” Well, what better answer to that question than to stand up for liberty and justice for all. But it appears not everyone believed in those virtues as they were written, or spoken. The represented an inconvenience to a status quo that was seemingly desperate to maintain its self depicted superiority. Thus the tone was set for a struggle over what America represents. That struggle would produce not only violence, but economic and social upheaval.

Turncoats try to kill actual American ideals

Of course Kennedy was murdered in cold blood on that November day in 1963, sending the country into a spiral of introspection and self-recrimination. Some fingers pointed out dark quarters in our nation’s own infrastructure, and many still speculate that figures tied to the military-industrial complex carried out the hit on Kennedy, who actually had the nerve to negotiate a temporary backdoor peace with Kruschev and the Soviet Union, thereby averting a potentially catastrophic nuclear war.

But it may also have been simple lust for political power that killed Kennedy, for some posit that it was LBJ himself that masterminded the unthinkable violence and intrigue of the JFK assassination. That would mean it was an inside job. So many circumstances around the treatment of JFKs body after the assassination and the lone video record of the incident tend to raise more questions than they answer. But even these questions begin to help us arrive at our main point. Because after the JFK murder came the assassination of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.? Are we to assume this was all just coincidence? The odds are too far against it.

Fortunately the 1960s were a time of idealism as well as the enactment of the painfully evident cynicism that rained death on the decade. There certainly were an abundance of people who thought they knew better the direction the country should take. Conflicted men like J. Edgar Hoover, who could not confront his own identity with any degree of honesty, and so pursued anyone who breathed a sniff of truth while evidencing flaws of their own. Hoover had the goods on Kennedy, for sure, a devout philanderer if there ever was one. But Hoover had the goods on everyone, and that turned into a corruption of its own sort. But that is how America operated then and likely continues to operate in many respects today. As a nation we simply cannot bear to unearth the fascism that undermines our own government. There are people who make millions and billions of dollars off the murderous guarantees of military profiteering, violent deregulation of markets, insider trading, health care exploitation and limitless extraction of resources without tax or compensation to the nation. That is the inside game. But it all starts with flawed personalities and frankly, a form of psychopathy that at once disgusts and seems to fascinate Americans just the same.

The byproducts of exceptionalism

Our collective psychopathy is why America raced off to fight a war in Afghanistan Iraq rather than face up to its own tortured foreign policies that once funded the very people we now had to go kill. Saddam Hussein. Osama bin Laden. Manuel Noriega. All these people, like it or not, were once “friends” who became enemies once they recognized the hypocritical state of American virtue.

And just look what the nation has chosen to do: fight the so-called War on Terror. As one pundit expertly put it, how can you fight a war on terror when war itself is terror? We require double-speak to cover up our patent greed and imperialistic desires. But the purported protectors of American integrity like to point to a phantom ideal called American Exceptionalism as the reason why we should be able to do what we want, when we want, to whomever we want.

Our trickle-down brand of exceptionalism resulted in Iraqi citizens being hung up on metal bed frames and tortured with electrocution, because we needed to know more about who our enemies are. It is a vicious cycle, and a selfish game for selfish gain.

Time to look within

Well, it seems like we should start to look within, does it not? Is that not what the Judeo-Christian God tells us to do. Secular humanists seem to know more of such inner light as those who claim to be on the side of religion. So let us take a look inside America to see what we can find out about concepts like The Greatest Generation. How we once fought for good, and how we do that at home as well as abroad.

For starters, America can’t seem to get around to admitting our own flaws, and that causes us to lash out in anger at those who point them out for us. America goes out out of its way to invent enemies when we can’t find them organically. The CIA is good at that, for example. They’ve created four decades of boogeymen to fight on behalf of America because it feeds their system of beliefs, which are the same arcane, ascetic and conservatively-inspired beliefs that told us America was perfectly in the right while chasing all over Vietnam shooting and bombing human victims while defoliating millions of acres of land using a chemical we called Agent Orange. Or was it Clockwork Orange? It’s so easy to confuse the two.

It’s really only a question of scale, which is how people behaving like self-justified thugs see fit to castigate and kill those we fear for being ideologically different (and sometimes defiant) of American aims. As if our aims were the only aims that matter.

That’s what some people in America genuinely believe: that only their beliefs matter. But that is precisely why racism has been allowed to persist for so long in America. Those of us raised by the parents from the Greatest Generation do recall, however, the often “colorful” yet uncomfortable jokes about niggers and spics and chinks and fags. These are all dehumanizing terms, and their horrific power remains intact today, obscured perhaps by political correctness, the liberal attempt at correcting the problem without truly recognizing what the problem is. Which is the fact that some people refuse to change and will use any means possible to prevent you from making them change. It is all a self-protective device to feel superior to someone, somehow.

Deconstructing American exceptionalism

That is ultimately what so-called American Exceptionalism is all about, for it has become a political ideology expressed in conservative, and not progressive terms. Therefore it is has become less and less about America’s tradition of charity and leadership in the world and has become more about our will to imperial doctrine. And that’s a shame, because it is true that America often leads the way in freedom and democracy.

But we lost focus somewhere along the way, and waltzed into Iraq (for just one example) under the banner of American exceptionalism while completely failing to anticipate what it really takes to accomplish democracy, much less protect that country’s antiquities or its people. In fact we rather grossly set about plundering Iraq’s oil resources under a thinly guised contract that said they should pay us back for invading their country. We did them a favor, we assured them. But it’s always about the aims, folks. Which is another word for money.

Killing our own, and not just euphemistically

Even at home, we aim to kill our own. There’s even been a slogan invented to describe that phenomenon. And listen to it: Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. Have you ever heard such pathetic double-speak? As if guns were ever invented to do anything but kill. The fact that they are used for sport is but a valorous distraction. Remember that when protestors against the Vietnam War swarmed the campus at Kent State, they encountered fearful yet gun-bearing militia, who shot four students dead. And what did it prove. That guns don’t kill people? That is a dark-hearted farce.

We know that the NRA holds enormous sway in American politics whilst hiding behind an interpretation (a rather liberal one, ironically) of the Second Amendment that blatantly ignores the phrase “well-regulated” in relation to the term “militia.” This is known as selective intelligence. Or perhaps that’s too forgiving a term. You could substitute “stupidity” for intelligence and get the same result. That’s how euphemism works.

We should also point up the fact that the NRA was instituted in the same year as the Klu Klux Klan. That is likely no coincidence. It illustrates that any organization with a conflict of aims at its heart does require considerable force to uphold, and look at how those two organizations have managed to survive, and even thrive. The KKK has long used God to justify its racism while the NRA choose to ignore the term “well-regulated” whilst promoting its considerable lust for term “militia.” Both organizations have made claims to stand for what’s right in America.

Is idealism dead? And if so, who killed it?

The 1960s did expose the ugly sides of such organizations, but there’s one hard, fast rule in politics: Ugliness never quits. And so the NRA and KKK, and organizations like them, right on up to far right political parties in many instances, have plotted and planned in concert for four decades, carefully conducting back door meetings to establish allies with religious factions whose interpretations of scripture are conveniently hateful, discriminatory and conflicted. And so the claim to God, Country and Flag has been co-opted to the controlling interests of our most fearful factions in America.

A word about the power of words

America has become a nation where politics is being used increasingly to enforce the aims of those who bear the most fearful, controlling and self-righteous aims. It is not surprise then, that they have become most cunning and deceptive in their use of words.

We need only look at the term Citizens United, the euphemistic organization that took its case to the Supreme Court in a fight to establish the right of corporate personhood. Some portray the case as an heroic act to protect free speech in America, when in fact action essentially sold out the value of free speech to giant, moneyed and often faceless conglomerates with no responsibility to reveal their motives or identify. Citizens United was essentially the legacy of J. Edgar Hoover, writ large. But how is that the rights of individual citizenship, which were written into the Constitution and protected by the courts for more than 200 years, were suddenly erased in a period of a few months. It is because a group of activist judges beholden to such interests felt they were suddenly much wiser than the Founders were about what it means to be human.

A great generation, in deed. 

And that puts an exclamation point on the real purpose of the 1960s, and how that period was a step in the right direction for America. But that step has since been waylaid by jealous, angry souls who cannot admit they have flaws, and thus cast aspersions and project their own worst tendencies into all they distrust for questioning, and thus refining, the real legacy of America.

We should remember perhaps the ideal so familiar to Christians that the divine force we call God seems to see value in our personal and collective trials, and that Christ and Ghandi and every moral being who ever walked the earth do too.

But for America, it is up to us to recognize that the foundation of this nation is not based on one religion or one creed, but on tolerance, acceptance and equal rights for all those who believe in honest, forthright aims. The Greatest Generation is the one that upholds those virtues. It may be seen that a current generation succeeds in fulfilling that dream, or it may be that a future generation will earn the right to be called our greatest yet, by having learned to appreciate in full that citizenship, and individuality, and equality in the laws of the republic shall forever be the highest aims of human endeavor.

Now that will be a great generation. In deed.

The roots of faith in farming and politics

Seeing a high school friend after 30+ years apart can be awkward sometimes. But usually the years melt away and you find common ground somehow through talk about family and friends.

Such was the case in joining up with a friend whose profile cropped up on LinkedIn. It was a little odd in his mind that he was on the business social network at all. He’s been a successful hog and crop farmer all his life, working land that his family purchased in the 1850s and still works today. But a politically minded mutual friend of ours decided one evening over drinks to create a LinkedIn profile for my farmer friend, and that’s how we connected.

We shared lunch at a restaurant near his place that happened to be on the south side of a small Illinois town to which our family moved from Pennsylvania in 1970. I was headed into 8th grade, knew very little about the world and was simply happy to find friends through sports at the middle school we attended in the middle of windswept cornfields.

In recent years I’d taken up cycling and often pedaled past my friend’s farm 15 miles west of the Chicago suburbs. Once in a while I’d thought about stopping in to say hello.

So it was gratifying in some way to close that loop, share a meal and catch up on his life and mine.

Rumor has it there is now a lot of money in their family, having sold off some of their prime property in a real estate boom a few years ago. But my friend showed no pretentiousness and in fact apologized for smelling like hogs when we sat down for lunch.

I come from farming stock myself with a mother and father who both lived and worked on dairy and crop farms in upstate New York. Our family visited both those farms frequently and as a kid I loved shoveling cow manure into troughs so it could be whisked away by the conveyor belt that took it to the fertilzer spreader.

Later when our family moved to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania there were Amish kids who showed up for class smelling like manure and walking around in bare feet. So farming was no particular mystery to us.

But my uncle who took over my mother’s family farm sold it in the 1960s and took a position as a land assessor. His advice to me at one point was, “Go to work for the government. You make good money and the benefits last you for life.” That uncle was a fabulously fun-loving man, known for driving his cars too fast and carrying on with ribald humor. He often showed off his tanned, muscular body while working around the farm, treating a ride on the tractor as if it were a surfing expedition as we flew down the two-track toward the Susquehanna River.

Trouble was, my uncle rather disliked farm animals. He named his cows after old girls friends so he could smack their asses when sending them into the stalls. Eventually he also developed a pretty bad back from the rigors of farm labor, and not because he was out of shape. In his early years he’d been a good runner and set a course record at his community college cross country course that lasted 25 years. His distance running skills were honed trotting after dairy cattle up the side of the Catskill mountain that formed the dairy pasture.

Nichols Family Farm circa 1958

My grandfather who worked the farm before him was a reportedly liberal thinker who sent most of his children off to college. My mother studied music and became a teacher. Several of the other children also went into scholarly professions. Farming was valued in the family, but not as the sole occupation of the generations.

And so it was that my uncle alsogot out of the farm business. Perhaps a spirit that can grow to love the liberal enterprise of a non-productive activity like distance running cannot adapt to the soul-wrenching difficulty of farming.  At any rate, he left that world and moved to Florida after years of employment as a land assessor and finally died in a car crash at the age of 94. Rumor has it he was driving a little too fast for conditions. In other words, he remained true to his nature, loving speed and excitement over the mundane. The land where our family once farmed is now overgrown. Only memories remain.

My father’s farm also was sold off when no one in the family wanted to continue paying taxes on it in the 1970s. Several families lived on the farm until it was sold to the power company that had always wanted the property. The family barn and house were finally leveled. All that’s left of that legacy is a pile of stone rubble.

With these farm roots nestled firmly in my past, I have always remained curious how “real” farmers think and live. And that was part of my curiosity about my friend.

It turns out that farming is just like any other occupation. There are wins and losses. Ups and downs. Family matters come and go. Some you resolve. Some you retain. Most of all you try to keep an even keel and maintain the family pride through thick and thin. Money doesn’t seem to change things all that much. People still have problems. People still find faith where they can, and when they need it most.

Our conversation turned to faith and my friend shared an interesting observation about his small little church. “We say this thing where we all confess our sins and say how bad we are as people. But I go to church to feel joy. I feel joy seeing people that have known me all my life. Sometimes I wish our church would find ways to do more of that. Find joy as well as speak of sin.”

As discussions of faith are often wont to do, our conversation soon turned to politics. My friend acknowledged that many of his fellow farmers were frustrated with President Barack Obama. “They don’t hate the man,” he shared. “They just hate his policies.”

Not wanting to turn the renewal of a friendship into a political battle, we both steered clear of digging too deeply into the issues of partisan politics. But it is a ready-known fact that many farmers declare themselves Republicans. Credit that to the Republican platform of economic self-reliance, firmly conventional social structures and a strong proclamation of faith-based values. Yet it seemed to disturb my friend that the people who were his friends had become so adamantly opposed to any sort of consideration toward the President. Something about that form of rigidity bothered him.

Perhaps there is no joy in service to such rigid doctrine, which has a confessional effect upon the masses. But there is little room for joy when criticism of the perceived enemy becomes the primary basis for your politics. Because what happens when (not if…) your own party fails you somehow? Then your confessional values, your whole world even, can get turned inside out.

It is not likely that farm politics will shift anytime soon from conservative to liberal. The perceived relationship that Republicans are the primary supporters for farm subsidies may be one facet of that loyalty. But the deeper claim to conservative values is another anchor to the farmer’s penchant to vote Republican.

These instincts can hardly be criticized without tugging at the fabric of American culture itself. Our original and continuing role as an agricultural nation is such a firmly established tradition that our national identity is at stake when one questions the role farmers play in our economy and culture. Even many of the Founding Fathers were farmers.

And so Republicans seem willing to prop up their image of support for farmers at almost any cost. A June, 2011 USA Today story carried this news item; “Republicans have quietly maneuvered to prevent a House spending bill from chipping away at federal farm subsidies, instead forging ahead with much larger cuts to domestic and international food aid. The GOP move will probably prevent up to $167 million in cuts in direct payments to farmers, including some of the nation’s wealthiest. The maneuver, along with the Senate’s refusal to end a $5 Billion annual tax subsidy for ethanol-gasoline blends, illustrates just how difficult it will be for Congress to come up with even a fraction of the trillions in budget savings over the next decade the Republicans have promised. Meanwhile, the annual bill to pay for food and farm programs next year would cut food aid for low-income mothers and children by $685 million, about 10% below this year’s budget.”

It is quite fascinating to realize that the supposed conservative, faith-based values that align farmer with support of Republican politics somehow prefers to subsidize some of the nation’s wealthiest farmers while denying food aid for low-income mothers and children. It absolutely begs the question as to what Jesus would do if he controlled the purse strings in America. Would he engage in the liberal enterprise that government proposes to care for the needy and poor? Or would he vote to continue subsidies to an agricultural economy that has become increasingly commodified, corporatized and wealth-concentrated. And how many of our nation’s farm policies actually do encourage family farmers to make a living? The organic farming industry, often driven by entrepreneurial farmers dedicated to serving smaller markets and local economies is growing in America. But ironically that is a liberal enterprise by definition and by nature. Do Republicans also by nature support organic farming or consider it a cross-market aberration driven by phony liberal instincts? Let’s ask Rush Limbaugh that question sometime soon. Or for that matter, Monsanto?

Perhaps these are questions about the morality of farmers that only God can answer. But let us at least confess that on the surface at least, that the traditional patterns of political support for the political right by the nation’s farmers seems to flow as much from love of mammon as from love of fellow man. In some cases our farming practices may indeed even run counter-productive to the welfare of our society and environment. Again, it is difficult to distinguish fact from dearly held fiction on so many issues. Like the construction of the Noble Savage assuaged guilt over America’s genocide of native peoples, the image of the Noble Farmer may be obscuring the ugly truth in some ways.

And yet my farmer friend seems both a compassionate and faithful man. We can be assured there are many like him among the ranks of American farmers. But if America is to succeed and the nation’s resources are to be sustained, it might be farmers who most need liberal instincts to survive and thrive. Whether conservative Republicans like to admit it or not, free will and the free market do go together, and the Christian notion of self-discipline must be balanced by the liberal notion of charitable acts and goodness. That is the yin and yang of the bible, and the economy.

Both free will and the free market do require some degree of self-discipline and self-governance to be sustainable. God knows America needs a liberal dose of both.