Death from above…

July 18th, 2017 No comments

Trump warns we need to watch out for flying bags of dope. I never even dreamed that could be a threat. Good thing we have people watching out for this stuff…

 

Trump says Mexico wall needs to be see-through to stop ‘sacks of drugs’ hitting people on the head

The proposed wall along the US-Mexico border must be see-through to prevent people being hit on the head with sacks of drugs, Donald Trump has said. The US President estimated “anywhere from 700 to 900 miles” of barricades were needed between the two countries, with mountains and rivers providing “natural barriers” along the rest of the 2,000-mile frontier.

Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism in the USA: A surprising ecumenism

July 15th, 2017 No comments

Which feeling underlies the persuasive temptation for a spurious alliance between politics and religious fundamentalism? It is fear of the breakup of a constructed order and the fear of chaos. Indeed, it functions that way thanks to the chaos perceived. The political strategy for success becomes that of raising the tones of the conflictual, exaggerating disorder, agitating the souls of the people by painting worrying scenarios beyond any realism.

Religion at this point becomes a guarantor of order and a political part would incarnate its needs. The appeal to the apocalypse justifies the power desired by a god or colluded in with a god. And fundamentalism thereby shows itself not to be the product of a religious experience but a poor and abusive perversion of it.

 

LA CIVILTÀ CATTOLICA

Editor-in-chief of Antonio Spadaro S.J. La Civiltà Cattolica , Presbyterian pastor, Editor-in-chief of the Argentinian edition of Marcelo Figueroa L’Osservatore Romano In God We Trust. This phrase is printed on the banknotes of the United States of America and is the current national motto.

The Car of History by Franzoni. Clock by Simon Willard*

July 8th, 2017 No comments

How can we know who we are and where we are headed if we don’t know where we came from? How can we call ourselves patriots if we know little of our country’s past?[1]

[1] David McCullough, 1776, [E-book] 1st edition (Simon & Schuster, 2005), chap. 1.

*Clio, the godess of history. In Statuary Hall, US Capitol, Washington, DC. This was the first chamber of the House of Representatives.

God Save Our American States

July 4th, 2017 No comments

“A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

The Mystic Chords of Memory

July 3rd, 2017 No comments

In one of those interesting coincidences of history, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both passed on the same day: July 4, 1826. It was exactly 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which they both had worked to create.

In 1776, both men were bound by the task before them, the intricacies and dangers of declaring independence from Great Britain. Both had served on the committee that drafted the Declaration, though Jefferson did most of the writing and Adams, along with Benjamin Franklin, offered amendments. During much of their lifetimes after, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were fast friends.

The only cloud on their friendship was that they disagreed profoundly about politics. This did not seriously affect their friendship until both became involved in presidential politics. By an eccentricity of the Constitution as originally written, when Adams narrowly defeated Jefferson for the Presidency in 1796, Jefferson became his Vice President. Their political differences made a working relationship impossible. Jefferson believed that Adams and others of like mind, particularly Alexander Hamilton, were actively working to destroy the country; to turn it into a monarchy. Adams, for his part, believed Jefferson’s ideas to be dangerously radical. Jefferson was intent on steering the country in a more liberal direction, to the point if necessary of a new revolution.

In 1800 Jefferson again ran for President against Adams. It was a vicious campaign. In those days people did not campaign for the Presidency but allowed proxies to speak for them. Jefferson’s followers described Adams as having a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” In return, Adams’ men called Vice President Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” And worse.[i]

The election nearly broke the country, and when the Federalists reluctantly surrendered the outcome to Jefferson, Adams, on his last day in office, filled the Federal judiciary with Jefferson’s enemies, and then left town before Jefferson could be inaugurated. Their friendship seemed hopelessly damaged. In fact, they did not communicate again for over ten years.

Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, worked through those years for a reconciliation between the two men who he called “the North and South Poles of the Revolution.”[ii] In the end Jefferson learned through Rush that despite their differences Adams still professed affection for him. Subsequently a letter correspondence was begun that spanned the remaining years of their lives. Adams wrote to Jefferson in 1813, “You and I, ought not to die, before We have explained ourselves to each other.”[iii] Their relationship once again blossomed into an intimate friendship.

What had separated these two men was an absolute certainty of the correctness of their own political ideas and a disregard for those of the other. The disregard in the end deteriorated to the point where each could only perceive the worst in the other. For the sake of their political ideas they allowed themselves, in a sense, to discount each other’s humanity. History is littered with countless similar episodes. In 1775, on the eve of the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin wrote to his former friend William Straham, “You and I were long Friends : You are now my Enemy, and I am, Yours, B Franklin.”[iv]

The story of Adams and Jefferson is fitting for this Fourth of July, because our country is more divided now than at any time since the Vietnam era, and perhaps even since the eve of the Civil War. It is rather obvious that what these men hated was not each other, but each other’s ideas. We too have seen our civil society tattered by the collision of incompatible ideas. It is a clash of ideas, as this episode demonstrates, as old as the country itself.

For the most part our differences have, rather than leaving us weaker, been the bedrock of our strength as a people. There was only one occasion when the conflict of ideas became so hardened as to be insurmountable, and that occasion resulted in the Civil War. It should serve as a lesson that if we become unmovable in our self-righteousness we put the entire American experiment at risk. In 1800, Adams’ and Jefferson’s rivalry put the country at risk, but in the end a reluctant compromise saved the country. It was the inability to compromise that led to the opposite result in 1861.

Jefferson noted this as he assumed the Presidency after the bitter election of 1800. In his inaugural address, he was conciliatory.

[E]very difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.[v]

He noted that though there was fierce disagreement it was over how best to serve the country. Americans need to remember that those who are our political opponents have the best interests of the country at heart, even if they seem woefully misguided. When we begin to deny the other the same love of country we have, then we reach the impasse we are in.

The United States, in some ways, has always been a diverse nation. As time has passed the nation has become ever more diverse, often through painful struggle. But the wisest among us recognize that diversity is our source of strength. We bring to the table every point of view, every culture, every religion, every ethnicity. Each brings a unique strength to what unites us: our devotion to enact the principles of the Revolution as expressed in our founding documents. And though there are those who fear more inclusion, we have become very skilled at celebrating diversity.

What we are not good at is celebrating our unity. As we rejoice in our differences we have lost sight of what binds us together. That is our humanity. If each of us can come to see that those we oppose politically are not our enemies but our friends, we can survive through these trying times, as we have in the past. In the end, what brought Adams and Jefferson back together was the recognition that they both loved the country, even if they could not agree on how best to express that love.

I leave you with the inaugural quote of another President in a time of deep division, on the eve of a cataclysm he could not prevent.

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.[vi]

I wish the best celebration of independence for all who love the United States, no matter the beat of our different drums.

[i] Kerwin Swint, “Adams vs. Jefferson: The Birth of Negative Campaigning in the U.S.,” Mental Floss, September 9, 2012, 1, accessed July 2, 2017, http://mentalfloss.com/article/12487/adams-vs-jefferson-birth-negative-campaigning-us.

[ii] Benjamin Rush, “To John Adams from Benjamin Rush, 17 February 1812,” National Archives: Founders Online, September 17, 1812, accessed July 2, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/99-02-02-5758..

[iii] John Adams, “John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 15 July 1813, with Postscript from Abigail Adams to Thomas Jefferson, [ca. 15 July 1813],” National Archives: Founders Online, July 15, 1813, accessed July 2, 2017, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-06-02-0247.

[iv] Benjamin Franklin, “From Benjamin Franklin to William Strahan, 5 July 1775,” National Archives: Founders Online, accessed July 2, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-22-02-0052.

[v] Thomas Jefferson, “Thomas Jefferson First Inaugural Address,” The Avalon Project at Yale Law School, accessed July 2, 2017, http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/jefinau1.asp.

[vi] Abraham Lincoln, “First Inaugural Address of Abraham Lincoln,” The Avalon Project at Yale Law School, accessed July 2, 2017, http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/lincoln1.asp.

How Free Do You Want to Be?

June 6th, 2017 No comments

The words “rights and “freedom” are foundational to the American self-image. The Declaration of Independence includes the word “free” four times: once referring to the British tradition of civil rights, once in proclaiming Americans, as all British subjects were assumed to be, a free people, and twice referring to the former colonies as “Free and Independent States.” Likewise, the document declares that the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (freedom) is inalienable.

The word freedom has woven its way into the fabric of American life and history in a way that allows it to mean many things. When Ronald Reagan spoke about freedom he was not talking about the same thing as Jimi Hendrix and Richie Havens, or Martin Luther King, Jr., or Governor George Wallace of Alabama. The word represents conceptually an existential goal that validates any cause. Reagan conjured a vision of the liberating America of the World War II generation, Hendrix and Havens a dream of freedom from oppressive government and culture, King a land of equality and brotherhood, and Wallace a land where King’s goal could never be realized. The Confederacy went to war in 1861 to defend their rights (freedom to own people as property) and the Union responded with a call for a “new birth of freedom” (the disassembling of the Confederate notion of freedom).

That this is true ought to lead us to critically examine what someone means when they speak of rights and freedom. I found it interesting that in the wake of the latest attacks in London, President Trump saw fit to point out that the Federal Courts were keeping us from our “rights” by refusing to allow his Muslim ban to be implemented. Mr. Trump has a rhetorical advantage because he doesn’t have to be in any way specific about what he means by rights. His base knows what he means, wink wink. And so do the rest of us.

 

But what rights does our President think the courts are keeping us from? The question goes to the heart of the American political divide. Should the Federal government, in this case the Judicial Branch, be allowed to impede citizens from doing what they want to do? Or need to do? From the very beginning Americans have been arguing about what power the government has or ought to have.

The argument has evolved to the shape that the power of government is a restriction on freedom. Thomas Paine asserted in Common Sense that government arose out of our “wickedness.” Madison wrote that if men were angels no government would be necessary. And Thoreau began his pamphlet On Civil Disobedience by pointing out that the government that governs least governs best. It does not require a very deep knowledge of history to realize that all of these statements are true. Governments have often overreached and trampled on the “rights” of the people.

And yet, one could argue that the basic purpose of government, as envisioned by the founders, is to ensure maximum freedom for all. Government that functions badly promotes the rights of some, restricts those of others, and allows or even commits depredations against the powerless. Government that functions beneficially protects the rights of all against any who would seek to deny them.

Despite our polarization, we must all agree on the necessity of government to protect our rights. Perfect freedom is to be found only in the jungle. And, as John Locke pointed out, that freedom is so precarious that society found it necessary to limit the rights of some to protect the rights of all. Hence the institution of civil government. Molotov cocktail throwing extremists of the left and right would have us devolve into anarchy. Where do you draw the line between the government that defends and the one that tramples on your rights? It is a question hardly to be answered in a short blog post, and yet we can get an idea by again considering the theoretical foundation upon which our nation was founded.

In the Second Treatise on Civil Government (1689) John Locke proposes that history began with all people living in perfect liberty in the State of Nature. Prefect liberty means the right to do as one pleases, and to acquire property as one chooses (provided it is not already owned) without any external hindrance. This state of liberty, as he says, is not a state of license, because he tells us that the State of Nature is governed by the Law of Nature, which is reason. Reason dictates, so he says, that every person must place the boundary of their own liberty at the place where it infringes the rights of others. Yet there exists the danger of one choosing to violate the liberty of another. And while reason may legislate a paradise of human liberty it has no power to enforce its law. That is what people join to do. They sacrifice some of their liberty (binding each to the defense of the other) to protect all of it.

It may be of historical interest that the definition of liberty was understood by the American revolutionary founders as the protection of property, as found in Locke. That is why when the Constitution was ratified and the country came into existence the franchise was restricted to white males. This is often seen as a reflection of an ancient misogyny. But in fact only white males could own property, so the only ones with something to defend, therefore the only ones with interest in civil government, were white men. And only a tiny fraction of the overall population of them.

But even Locke pointed out that all people are created equal in that their first property is their life. This equality is not qualified by gender or race or any other consideration. Even the rich will readily admit that government in the United States has most often been manipulated by the few for the benefit of the few. But if we were to apply Locke’s reasoning with life as the central article rather than material goods, then the government would exist, supported by all, to defend the lives of all.

Now, if you are a Trump supporter who has made it this far you are ready to exclaim, “But that’s precisely what he is doing! Protecting our lives!” This conclusion follows from a fallacious beginning: that the greatest threat to American life and liberty comes from foreign Muslim terrorists. But the fact is that the problem is that since 9/11 the vast majority of terror attacks in the United States have been accomplished by citizens born in the United States.[1]  Nevertheless, in spite of the jumbled legalese now tumbling out of the confused voices of the Trump administration, any honest person with a brain knows the purpose of the ban is to protect us from Muslims. Mr. Trump and his minions have so stated on a number of occasions.

In contrast, by singling out members of a particular religion the travel ban violates not only the First Amendment in that it establishes a religious preference, but as well the Fourteenth, because it violates the principle of equal protection for all. Today, the threat supposedly arises from Islam. But if we violate the rights of innocent Muslims because in the past some have been guilty, then what is to stop us next week from choosing a devil of a different religion or ideology? Why not Evangelical Christians? By their own admission they are hardly spotless. If they can come for the Muslim, they can come for you.

When the courts blocked the Executive Order were they really violating our rights? Or protecting them? If the choice is between violating the Constitution to defend ourselves from a non-existent threat or blocking the will of the President in order to maintain Constitutional protections for all…. Well, you decide.

Freedom is not absolute. As formulated by our founders and those who inspired them, freedom exists only in mutuality. In order to remain free I must yield to your freedom, even your freedom to disagree with me, even when your freedom is offensive to me. The only exception is when you seek to do me harm, or I you. At which point the government steps in, not to inhibit the freedom of the offender, but to protect the freedom of the innocent.

 

[1] Uri Freedman, “Where America’s Terrorists Actually Come From,” The Atlantic, January 30, 2017, accessed June 6, 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/01/trump-immigration-ban-terrorism/514361/.

The dynamics of war

May 16th, 2017 No comments

Watching the last episode Ken Burns’ Civil War I noticed that many of the men who had fought in the Civil War spent the rest of their lives wishing they could relive the experience. To somehow relive what must have been the most horrendous experience. I have always wondered why.

Near the end of the last episode of Ken Burns’ The War Quentin Aanenson, a World War II pilot, in his eighties at the time of his interview for the film, reflects on the allure of combat. about the lure of war.

“The dynamics of war are so absolutely intense, the drama of war is so absolutely emotionally spellbinding that it’s hard for you to go on with a normal life without feeling something is missing.  Now, I have had a wonderful life. I have a family that just is ideal, and I’ve enjoyed my life.  But I find there are times when I am pulled back into the whirlpool. I find that the intensity of that experience was so overwhelming, and almost intimidating, that you can’t quite let go of it.”

I have never been in combat so I can’t really understand it. But I think, at least intellectually, I can imagine why someone who has experienced combat would be unable to let go of it — would keep returning to it. The imminent possibility of death removes the dread of it from the equation. All deliberation aside, one just plunges into action. It is an act of complete sacrifice, whether the outcome is life or death. The actor is never more fully alive. Few things can match the intensity of the experience.

And I think, particularly in war, this sacrifice is a gift of oneself to something one feels is of greater importance than life. Country, ideology, family. Often in accounts of war it is loyalty to one’s fellows. But it is one of the few times a human being is offered the opportunity to be completely selfless. It may be, in fact, the greatest expression of love a human can make.

Things or People?

May 14th, 2017 No comments

Yesterday I had a short conversation with an apparently conservative guy who claimed he wanted “smaller government” because big government is taking away his stuff. It has occurred to me that one of the enduring divides in American politics is this issue of the size of government. Many of the founders and many who followed them felt that the smaller the government the better. Madison famously wrote that if men were angels no government would be necessary. But since there must be government, one strain of American political thought has been that that government should be small, limited, and close to the governed.

By contrast, Hamilton hoped to have a government that would be big enough to control the national economy. This feeds into the basic definitional conflict between he and Jefferson: is the United States to be a landscape of personal liberty, or is it to be a great commercial and industrial empire? Thus it would seem that the small government people would be those in favor of maximum liberty, and the big government people would be in favor of economic growth.

But since the time of the founding the small government crowd has come to focus its ideas on the purpose of government on individual ownership. The basic argument of a small government Republican is that the government shouldn’t take his hard-earned money and give it to some deadbeat who refuses to work. It’s an understandable sentiment, but rooted in the false narrative that those who are unable to achieve health and prosperity are prevented only by their own lack of initiative. On the other side, those favoring big government hope to harness the power of the national government to provide opportunities for health and prosperity for those who are hampered by circumstances beyond their control.

The basic divide is between those who see the country as a nation of sometimes like-minded autonomous individuals, and those who see the nation as a community. Individuals can choose whether to care for their neighbors, communities by nature cannot.

Compounding the dilemma is the co-opting of the moral narrative by the small government crowd. People calling themselves Christians have invented a narrative connecting the Constitution of the United States to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This even though the Constitution’s only mention of religion has to do with the definition of a strict secular state: no religious test for office, no established religion, and no prevention of the free exercise (or not) of religion. And leaving aside Paul’s admonition to the Christians of his age that “our citizenship is in heaven.” (Phil. 3:20)

But I will argue it is the big government crowd that controls the narrative in the United States most closely adhering to the moral teachings of Christ. I draw your attention to what is known as the parable of the Widow’s Mite. Here is the story:

He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury.q Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” (Mark 12:41-44)

The connection with our national plight is here: what Jesus values most is not reluctant or even generous giving, but sacrifice. The widow, in the material sense, gave almost nothing, while the rest gave much. But the widow gave everything she had, casting her hopes for the future on Providence. The rest gave what they had left over, placing their faith only in themselves. Little reflection is necessary to connect the sacrifice of the widow with that of Jesus on the cross. And what was this money to be used for? The Jewish tradition is filled with God’s admonition to care for the stranger, the orphan, the widow and the poor. Christianity inherits this call to mercy. Christians have a responsibility to care for those who are unable to care for themselves. It follows that if the United States is a Christian nation, its society would be a community devoted to the welfare of all rather than a group of individuals interested primarily in the preservation of private property. See Acts 2:44-47.

In his famous anti-Vietnam War speech Martin Luther King, Jr. observed that to avoid moral death the United States must undergo a “revolution of values” from a “thing oriented society” to a “person oriented society.” This is the heart of it, is it not? Do we care more about our neighbor, or our stuff?

“A third rate burglary…”

May 13th, 2017 No comments

Saturday Night Massacre

May 9th, 2017 No comments

Sorry it’s been a while since I posted. This is irresistible.

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