“Those who cannot remember the past…

are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

the time machine

Buckle up, buttercup

Let’s talk about those who hate. Now, you may not be comfortable using that term to describe those around you (or yourself), but you might recognize a few things in the following paragraphs. And what you discover may make you squirm in your seat. That’s okay: self-realization isn’t a bad thing, especially if you work to change.

Now, you’re probably not among the worst and you may not be actively pursuing a life of hate, so there’s hope. But by being willing to accept the words and actions of others, whether by agreeing in full or in part, means that you are enabling the spread of hate.

And you certainly don’t want that on your conscience, right? 

 

Fiction, not fact

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ve certainly noticed that people are growing angrier at the world around them. Egged on by talk radio, social media, politicians, and even preachers, it’s safe to say that Americans are generally more upset with each other with each passing day.

Sure, there’s plenty of reasons (or excuses) for this downward slide of personal behavior, and there’s no one cause. But it isn’t hard to find a few instigators, those who are actively spreading the disease. One of the more prominent of these Typhoid Marys of Hate is Alex Jones, the star of the website InfoWars. You may know him as one of the primary corrupters of truth on the internet. Jones eagerly pounces on tragedies like mass shootings, labeling them as “false flags” – a government-run covert operation intended to mislead – and insisting that what we see on the news is not real. Jones has repeatedly insisted that school shootings like those at Sandy Hook Elementary and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were fake and that the children murdered in those events never existed. Taking advantage of the rising tide of anger in this country, Jones has made a career out of fueling that hatred, convincing many of his audience to fully believe every word he says despite the obvious facts available. 

I will note here that Jones has, somewhat reluctantly, admitted that at least some of these mass murders are not staged events and that the victims are real. Of course, he only changed his tune after he was named in a lawsuit by families of the victims, so I would question his sincerity.

 

No easy answers

Part of the public acceptance of conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones has to be the willingness of more and more people to take as truth whatever they hear from the people they like, know, or trust. That’s an unfortunate level of indifference that I’ve discussed on these pages many times before. And I’ve also highlighted the growing eagerness of many Americans to shed the shackles of what they call “political correctness”. People are more comfortable being public with their prejudices. I don’t hesitate to say that many are proud to show off their true selves after hiding their feelings for much of their lives. 

Such levels of intolerance are not new, of course, and are not limited to the USA. Although we have a disturbing history of institutional racial and religious bias with the targets being of many different backgrounds – Native Americans, blacks, the Irish, Eastern Europeans, and many others – we eventually find a way to overcome the differences and, at least officially, grow to be more accepting. Smarter, cooler heads will prevail – they always do – and we as a nation will be better as we move forward.

For now, unfortunately, we have become less than we should be and there are indications of a worsening trend. Take, for example, the results of a recent survey that points to an alarming rise of intolerance in which one’s own religious belief is used as a defense. We’re familiar with cases of business owners who have refused service to gay couples. This survey found the percentage of Americans who support that form of discrimination rose from sixteen percent in 2014 to thirty percent this year. While that’s still a minority, it’s also a near-doubling of approval in just five years, a tendency that could easily climb much higher.

That same survey found similar spikes in the number of Americans who are comfortable with these businesses also refusing service to Jews and African-Americans. What’s notable and troubling is that this support is rising along nearly every political and religious demographic. It may come as somewhat of a surprise, sadly, that those who consider themselves Christians – specifically evangelical and mainline Protestants – are leading the way in this wave of intolerance.

The people who declare to be followers of the Prince of Peace, the Bread of Life, and the Light of the World are more and more becoming less of a reflection of the Man they worship.

 

I think you can see what’s next

At the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, I can’t help but draw comparisons to the Nazis’ policy of Untermensch, a term to describe people whom they deemed as unworthy and inferior. (The word is a direct translation of ‘under man’, a description employed by T. Lothrop Stoddard, an American journalist and author – and Klansman – whose writings on eugenics and race are seen as a major influence in the establishment of the racial purity politics of the Nazi party.) Much as whole races were devalued in the eyes of those in control back in those dark days, we can see parallels today. 

As Holocaust survivor and Nobel prize winner Elie Wiesel once said: “…indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor – never his victims, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten…”

We need to find a way to convince our friends and neighbors to reverse the trend of hatred and intolerance before we repeat the mistakes of the past.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald July 5, 2019.)

False Prophets

If you’re a regular reader of this column, you’ve probably noticed that I have no use for people who substitute fiction for fact. I don’t mind if someone disagrees with me and wants to argue about it. However, if that argument is based on falsehoods, you’re wasting your time.
It’s one thing to share your opinion. For example, you might say that Johnny Unitas is the greatest quarterback in the history of the NFL. I’d probably be tempted to come back with Joe Montana’s career stats. We’d likely spar back and forth a bit and never reach a real consensus because we’re both offering opinions from our individual perspectives.
It would be different if you said Johnny Unitas had more passing touchdowns than Joe Montana. In that case, you would be able to go to the record books and show me the facts. [Note: Unitas is #9 in TD completions. Montana is #11.] See the difference? Instead of relying on your emotions which can skew your thinking, stating your case with solid evidence — real facts that can be proven without a doubt — is the way to win an argument.
It’s really that simple: if you stake your reputation on a specific matter, make sure you’ve got your facts straight. As it is with sports chatter, so it is with politics, religion, and any other topic of discussion.
I mentioned politics and religion because it’s clear that many people are willing to go to great lengths to use one to influence the other. Such is the case with many prominent entertainers in those two realms.
Take for example Dr. Ben Carson, a truly gifted neurosurgeon and political neophyte, who recently was a guest on the Sunday morning talk show circuit. He used the occasion of his Meet the Press interview to let it be known that he thinks people of certain faiths should not be elected President of the United States. Specifically, he said, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.” Notice that Dr. Carson wasn’t talking about anyone specifically… giving reasons why the actions and attitudes of a named individual would disqualify that person from holding office. No, Carson is suggesting that you should withhold your vote solely based upon a candidate’s religion. Why? Because Carson thinks that, when it comes to a candidate’s faith, “…if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution, no problem.”
Carson — and anyone who agrees with him on this point — is arguing that there needs to be a method of determining a person’s qualifications for elected office based upon religion. And while Carson is entitled to his opinion, the fact is clear: the Founders of this nation rejected that notion. Article VI, paragraph 3 of the Constitution includes this key phrase: no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. Essentially, no one’s faith is ever to be used to challenge his ability to serve. Equally important, no one’s faith is ever to be used to give a candidate an easier pathway to office. Try telling that to the television preachers who lead their followers in prayers calling for misfortune and death to fall upon their political opponents.

It is discouraging that people like Dr. Carson will declare their devotion to the Constitution while also being so horribly ignorant to what the document has to say. But then, it’s not that surprising, since we live in an age where it’s becoming commonplace to hear someone claim that their religious beliefs grant them authority over others.
The Constitution does grant a certain collection of rights to you and me, but it’s up to us to understand the limits to those rights. As free speech advocate Zechariah Chafee Jr wrote: “Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.”   
Dr. Carson is not alone. The current presidential campaign has several hopefuls who are pandering to extremists. making promises to impose some form of legal framework that would regulate many aspects of both public and private life based upon religious tenets.
Gee, that sounds a lot like Sharia law, doesn’t it?
(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald October 1, 2015.)

Hey, Tennessee! You can’t do that.

Despite being advised by the state’s attorney general (a Republican) that:

“Yes, designating The Holy Bible as the official state book of Tennessee would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the federal Constitution and Article I, § 3, of the Tennessee Constitution, which provides ‘that no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship.'”

…today the Tennessee state legislature did just that.

Aside from the blatant violation of the state and federal constitutions, here’s an unanswered question:

What version? Christians can’t agree on a single interpretation of the bible — let alone a single denomination — so how can politicians do so?

Yet another waste of time and money… and, of course, unconstitutional. So now the good people of Tennessee will see their hard-earned money wasted when the state has to go to court… and lose.

Object, but Respect

Remember back in 2009 when then-unknown Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) shouted “You Lie!” during President Barack Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress?
He became an instant hero to the Tea Party and other low-information ‘Muricans… despite the fact that he threw the whole notion of civility and gentlemanly behavior out the window. Imagine the reaction if a Democrat had done this when President George W. Bush stood before Congress and lied about those WMDs in Iraq… or when President Ronald Reagan looked into the cameras on Nov. 13, 1986, and told this whopper: “We did not — repeat — did not trade weapons or anything else for hostages — nor will we.”
Yet, Fox News and other political organizations masquerading as media outlets paraded Wilson as some sort of champion, giving him plenty of coverage (and boosting his fundraising as a result of that outburst).
By the way… what was the “lie” that inspired Wilson to interrupt the president? It was the moment when President Obama made it clear that the Affordable Care Act would not mandate coverage for undocumented immigrants. Despite Rep. Wilson’s interruption caused by his ignorance… the president’s statement was, indeed, truthful. But, to an audience eager to have its own disgust justified, Wilson remains idealized.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with disagreeing with our elected officials. From 2001-2009, I tolerated the Bush/Cheney administration. I spoke out when they led us into war in Iraq by making Americans believe that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11. I spoke out when they abused their Homeland Security credentials in order to win re-election. I spoke out when that administration’s economic policies led us to the brink of depression.
But… through it all… I maintained respect for President Bush because… whether I liked his politics or not… he was the president. Given the opportunity, I would have gladly shaken his hand… and I still would today… but I would also use that opportunity to express my feelings in a respectful manner.
Yes, you will see political writings from me that point out what I consider to be outrageous actions and comments… and, yes, most of them will probably be about people from the ‘Right’… or, at least, the ‘Far Right’. But everything I publish is based in fact, and I’ll gladly enter into a debate on the issues with you any day, any time.
Today… if you disagree with President Barack Obama… that’s your right. But if you wish to disrespect the office of President of the United States, you’re on shaky ground. Intelligent, mature discussions have no room for conspiracy theories, ‘funny’ pictures that are hate-fueled, or personal attacks on members of the president’s family.
And let’s dispense with the idea that American politics and religion have to be inseparable. The Constitution — specifically, Article VI, paragraph 3 — forbids the concept of any religious litmus test. The Founders made it clear that religious favoritism, which was a key factor in 18th Century England, would not be tolerated in the United States of America. The Framers’ intention was to prevent the government from involving itself in its citizens’ religious beliefs and practices.
Of course, a person’s character can come into play when he or she seeks office, but how they choose to worship… or if they choose not to… is not to be a means to prevent them from holding office.
Now, I do have questions for President Obama regarding Jeremiah Wright…why he remained seated in that church, not speaking out against Wright’s assorted tirades until the pressures of the 2008 campaign made it clear that such a break was necessary. But we can’t criticize one politician and one preacher while ignoring the harsh words of others.
Just this week, Pat Robertson continued his repeated attacks on President Obama’s personal faith, suggesting that the imposition of Sharia law in the United States is imminent and that because the president spent part of his childhood in Indonesia that he is in on the imagined plot. John Hagee, who infamously preached that Adolf Hitler personified the fulfillment of God’s will, had the audacity just last month to declare that our president is anti-Semitic.
And Franklin Graham has gone so far as to propose that Russian President Vladimir Putin, a one-time KGB agent of known ruthlessness, is leading his nation to a higher moral standard than the USA, a country that has made Rev. Graham very rich and very famous.
Who are we to condemn Wright… yet allow Robertson, Hagee, and Graham to make such pronouncements without objection?

Yes, they have the right to express their opinions, just as the rest of us have the obligation to challenge them to be honest.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald on February 5, 2015.)

Whose ‘values’?



Summer has come and gone. I know this because football is in full swing, baseball is nearing the World Series, leaves are changing color, and America has just experienced the annual Values Voter Summit.


Created in 2006 by a group of conservative Christian leaders looking to become more influential in American politics, the event brings together a couple thousand or so attendees who listen to assorted radio and TV talk show hosts, politicians, and other prominent social conservatives as they enthusiastically condemn anyone who doesn’t agree with their point of view. It’s Us versus Them, with no middle ground nor hope for compromise.


Of course, that pretty much describes every political event… from the smallest town hall to the huge conventions held every four years by the two main parties. The speakers are just telling the crowds what they want to hear, and those at the Values Voter Summit got quite an earful.


Congresswoman Michele Bachmann declared that the US is engaged in “spiritual warfare” with the terrorist group ISIS, clearly suggesting that the fight against this extremist group is a battle between Christianity and Islam. You would think that Congresswoman Bachmann — an appointed member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence — would be aware that Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan have all carried out air strikes against ISIS. Of course, that fact doesn’t fit Bachmann’s agenda, so her audience was led to believe that this is a religious conflict.


Senator Ted Cruz told the crowd that he’d like to “abolish the IRS”… which is an interesting concept. I wonder how the good senator expects this nation to operate without revenue?


And what would a gathering of this type be without Sarah Palin? The former Alaska governor got in plenty of jabs against President Obama and former Secretary of State — and probable presidential candidate — Hillary Clinton. Sadly, Palin seemed to have some difficulty reading from her teleprompters, especially when she flubbed her punch line about truth being “an endangered species at 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue.” (I don’t remember everything I learned in grade school, but I do recall the White House is at 1600 Pennsylvania.) Perhaps someone should send Ms. Palin a map of Washington DC.


But those in attendance… and those who are fans of these and other Summit speakers like Gov. Mike Huckabee and Sen. Rick Santorum… are willing to overlook these discrepancies. All they want to hear is someone saying what they already believe. They want famous people to validate their own beliefs regardless of those pesky facts that keep getting in the way.


One would be tempted to think that the Values Voter Summit is merely a one-sided event designed to attack one party and favor another. On the face of it that would seem valid, since all of the politicians invited to speak are Republicans. The organizers would want us to think otherwise, that they transcend partisan politics, that they are willing to stand up in opposition regardless of affiliation. They would point out that two very prominent members of the party, Gov. Chris Christie and former Gov. Jeb Bush, were purposely not invited.


In response I would suggest that both Christie and Bush have established records of pragmatic bargaining, demonstrating a willingness to reach across the aisle in order to govern in a way that offers a piece of the pie to both sides. But the Values Voter Summit appears more interested in achieving purity within the ranks, and those who show even the slightest inkling of compromise are not worthy.


Imagine if a similar meeting were held but the only invited guests were from the far left of the political spectrum, packing the airwaves with truth-deprived attacks upon an administration that came from the other side. Same concept, but from the opposite perspective. Would the attendees and their leaders be hailed as true patriots or radical extremists?


Twisting the truth isn’t new in politics, of course, and it isn’t limited to one side. Ever since someone got the bright idea to hold elections, candidates and their supporters have done everything they can to toss aside logic and common sense. The ultimate prize is all that matters. Win at all costs, even if you have to lie to do it.


Sadly, while the concept isn’t new, it’s more obvious today. We have more opportunities to be persuaded and informed – 24-hour cable channels, talk radio, websites, etc – than ever before. It’s unfortunate that so many people take advantage of those resources to spread absolute falsehoods.


I’d love to be able to tell you that there’s a solution, that things will get better, that truth and honesty will prevail. Sorry, but I’m a realist. As long as even one politician wins a race by lying about his opponent or himself, that tactic will continue indefinitely.

What we’re left with, if we’re lucky, is the lesser of the evils. Sometimes we’re less lucky.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald on October 2, 2014.)

Would Jesus preach for a Final Solution?

Dear Charisma Magazine,

Would you please tell me why you have suddenly deleted the commentary by Rev. Gary Cass? You know the one… entitled: “Why I Am Absolutely Islamophobic,” where he calls for mass sterilizations, absolute deportations, and, finally, this:

3.) Violence: The only thing that is biblical and that 1400 years of history has shown to work is overwhelming Christian just war and overwhelming self defense. Christian Generals Charles Martel in 732 and Jon Sobieski in 1672 defeated Islamic Turks and their attempts to take the West. Who will God raise up to save us this time? Will God even intervene or turn us over to the Muslims for turning against Him?

Either way, we must be prepared for the increase of terror at home and abroad. This is not irrational, but the loving thing we must do for our children and neighbors. First trust in God, then obtain a gun(s), learn to shoot, teach your kids the Christian doctrines of just war and self defense, create small cells of family and friends that you can rely on if some thing catastrophic happens and civil society suddenly melts down..

Do you see that? “Rev.” Cass is encouraging genocide of an entire population based on religion. Where have we seen such a “Final Solution” before?!?!

IS THAT HOW CHRISTIANS SHOULD BE TAUGHT BY PASTORS?
IS THIS NOT PURE EVIL?

Cass is relying on falsehoods and stereotypes to hype up his message. Referring to the terrorist organization Islamic State, Cass writes: “ISSA is doing to America (sic) journalists what every true follower of Mohammed wants to do to you and yours: subjugate or murder you.” Cass, like so many others, falsely asserts that all who claim the Muslim faith are intent on exterminating Christians and Jews.

Cass is calling for just such genocide, and is doing so under the guise of Christianity. Doesn’t that make him the murderous fanatic that he claims to deplore? Indeed.

Recently I listened to a pastor condemning the concept of “Coexist”, as if respecting one another’s diversity is wrong. Cass is ranting on the same subject, but amping up the rhetoric by encouraging anarchic violence… violence by Christians against Muslims.

Charisma magazine thought Cass’s words were important enough to post on its website… but then reversed that decision, likely out of fear of the kind of backlash they deserve for taking part in promoting his message.

Fortunately (if you will), “Rev.” Cass has not deleted this horrific diatribe from his organization’s website. So… for now, at least… you can read it all here: http://defendchristians.org/commentary/im-islamaphobic-are-you/