Friday, March 3, 2017

Who's Got Your Back? Day 9- What am I really lamenting?

So I've come to the last day of a novena of lament to kick off the Lenten season of renewal.  Despite the 8 different threads I have been lamenting, I feel as though the biggest cause of lament hasn't yet been addressed.  I'm listening to "Bennie and the Jets" and transported to my high school journalism class where I listened to this song so much that my adviser warned me of possible brain damage. 40 years ago life seemed so innocent. What is different now?

What grieves me most is the bifurcated reality that comes from a culture of lying, whether to others or to ourselves, and the consequent disrespect for truth and goodness.  I realize now that the mechanism of control that I had relied on presupposed that people can be motivated by what is true and good in ways that go beyond individual gain.  By presupposing this, I was confident that I could live in harmony with others if I could grasp what is true and good in a situation, point this out to others, and then agree with them to jointly submit to it.

When I listen to people talking out of purely partisan, tribalistic positions, with no regard for the truth or what is good for all people, hope dies within me and I feel disconnected from the world.  I feel like nothing that I say or think will matter to anyone anymore.  For some reason, I take it personally, even though I suspect that the disconnection is really inside the other person, as well as within myself.  The loss of the possibility of honest dialogue becomes my burden.  I'm losing hope that we have the kind of education needed to support democracy.

The events surrounding the 2016 presidential election show me that I can't presume that our society is oriented toward what is true and good, and therefore I can't control my life as I would like.  I still believe that this is the best approach for me, I just need to find a way of living without being in control.  So I am giving up control for Lent this year and in my Lenten journey, I will search for the peace that control never gave me.

The reason I will not stop living out of a worldview where searching for what is true and good and submitting to it is the path towards peace is the suffering that results from the alternative worldview.  The conservative anarchist worldview is derived from the belief that people don't have an inner motivation for what is true and good, and therefore that they have to be poked and prodded or they will stop producing.  There's no seed within us to be nurtured from within, so we are appropriately subjects of manipulation from without.  There is nothing really true or false, no good or bad, to stand in the way.  This is the "beyond morality" worldview of Nietzsche and Hitler.

So in mourning the loss of what is true and good for all people as our guiding light, I am also lamenting the rise of conservative anarchism.  We have already seen how might makes right in Trumpians' belief that the power of winning the election makes right anything they can get away with.  We have seen countless arguments where their partisan positions are so good, that any means to get there are also rendered good.  They deny the reality that peace is a process, a way of working together that can never be achieved through violence and selfish anarchy.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Who's Got Your Back? Day 8- Not the Christian Establishment

I naturally think of fellow followers of Jesus as people who have my back.  But when I think of who among them I could really count on in hard times, very few possibilities come to mind.  Because of my relative good circumstances to date, I haven't had to really test these possibilities, but seeing a future without Social Security, Medicare, or affordable health insurance, without truth, law, or empathy in our government, I know that the time of need is coming for me as well as for others who will want my help.

It's hard for me to see the 80% of evangelicals who, after the State of the Union Address, probably see Trump as the greatest communicator since Ronald Reagan, as being the kind of people who will have my back.  Their support for Trump has been a devastating blow.  I could easily see them coming up with a thousand reasons to walk on the other side of the street in a Good Samaritan situation. They might view giving me assistance as further enabling whatever I did to get to where I am at.  But I don't want to presume that would be the case.

I feel more certain that the Christian Establishment doesn't have my back with the possible exception of a few churches whose culture and worldview help them to minister the love of Jesus in the world.  It is really difficult to separate the conservative anarchist culture of most Republicans from that of most evangelicals.  It seems that the anarchists have had evangelicals hooked into their misanthropic agenda since Reagan, tossing them a few pro-Christian bones for bait, such as the hope of making abortion illegal.  

The Christian Establishment has done very little to reach out in empathic and missional ways.  Its leaders haven't fostered the community that will have our back.  Even something as basic as small groups is difficult to find.  Attending church gives most people just enough sense of community to keep them from becoming fully aware of their need for a truly loving and gifted missional community.  For those who want to do the things Jesus said we would do and gifted us for, church seems like a dismal retirement home.

What saddens me most about the Christian Establishment is how it has given the strongest witness against the Gospel that anyone in modern history could possibly give.  Its powerful anti-witness has contributed to the word "Christian" having such a bad connotation that I don't like to call myself a Christian anymore.  I don't think most individual Christians realize this, or know how much their justifying their beliefs and practices as supported by God blinds them to the godlessness of their worldview.

Things will have to get worse for the Christian Establishment for it to be redeemed.  I believe things will get worse and some in the Christian Establishment will find redemption in the midst of these hard times and some won't. Overall, the witness of the Gospel will be strengthened.  I am looking forward to playing a role in the spiritual revolution that will happen amidst the collapse of the Christian Establishment. Followers of Jesus will do just fine without the buildings, power, money, prestige, or any of the trappings they depend on now.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Who's Got Your Back? Day 7- Not our Family, Friends, or Neighbors

Humans are social animals.  We need each other to thrive and in most cases to survive.  We even need to need others.  So what does it mean when members of a society cannot truthfully say that someone else has their back?  Yet this is true in American culture for many people today.  Many of us have nobody whom we can call in the middle of the night, or in broad daylight for that matter.  Some of us might call but not find a warm reception on the other end of the phone. Others have a spouse that they can't count on or have lost hope that anybody cares for them.

Trump's politics are happening in the context of a society where the operating assumption is that we can't expect anybody to be there for us.  More people don't have children or a family to care for them. But even when people have others they can count on, they anticipate a day they won't be there.  In other words, living as if nobody has their back to some extent, they aren't surprised when they lose government assistance.  

In such a context, it is possible for Trump to make one of those famous Manhattan deals with us where he offers us trinkets like a few low wage manufacturing or mining jobs or a couple hundred dollar tax break in exchange for our land (our common resources), our time, our money, and our lives (in war, lack of regulations).  Trump hasn't told us what we need to know to make this deal with him with free informed consent.  He hasn't disclosed his tax returns and he has impeded investigations concerning his involvement with Russia, for example. By denying us this knowledge, he manipulated us into empowering him with our vote.  He is now using this power for himself, the powerful, and the wealthy. 

Initially we don't have a problem with that because we see ourselves as hard working, capable, and not needing any of those resources that we are giving away politically.  But in the second half of our lives (>45), life has a way of teaching us to be downwardly mobile and we must depend on and share our lives more and more with others. T
hat's still not an issue until we discover that others aren't there for us when we need them, or perhaps we didn't learn how to reach out to them.  

Maybe there is something unattractive about us such as appearance, older age, low self-esteem, or a mental problem.  It isn't hard to imagine a situation where we wouldn't be able to work sufficiently to keep a roof over our heads (this is part of the downward mobility people >45 experience).  When this happens in our rugged individualist culture, many people can't count on having family, friends, or neighbors with the resources and close-enough connection to give us the help we need.

Where Trump is taking us now is to allow Darwinian survival of the fittest take over and let us die when we get to this place.  We become part of the undesirable population that he wants to keep out by either letting us die slowly or more mercifully putting us out of our misery.  We do have one other option.  We could decide today to enshrine in our laws and in our culture the value that we are not here on earth as individuals to fend for ourselves like animals, but that we have the support of a community and that together we will work for the good of all.  Without this continental shift in worldviews, we can't count on our family, friends, and neighbors to have our back. 

Who's Got Your Back? Day 6- Not Our Military

When we think of someone having our back, we might think of somebody with a gun whose job it is to protect us.  This image especially resonates with anybody having military experience.  However, if the money spent on the military since WWII had been spent on humanitarian assistance instead, we would be much safer and the world a far more loving place.

World War II was a history lesson only partially learned.  We got the part that if we helped Germany get back on its feet, we wouldn't have another Hitler to contend with.  But we didn't learn how to keep our own country from becoming the victim of a demagogue.  Since World War II, there have been several justifications for the greatest military buildup that the world has ever seen.  The Cold War and the fight against communism had a lot of traction through the 80's.  Since then as we cut down on humanitarian aid, we became the world's policeman- essentially humanitarian killers.

The humanitarian killer thing was always more of a myth for U.S. consumption.  The rest of the world never really bought the idea that spending all this money for troops all over the globe and using them wherever a case for police action could be made, was done out of the goodness of our hearts and a desire for everyone to have the peace and freedom of democracy that we enjoy.  Americans seemed impervious to the horror stories that surfaced concerning our peacekeeping operations.  Our allies played along with the myth and joined us in the military training operations (wars) it supported.

Now that Trump is in office the myth of a benevolent "Pax Americana" is shattered.  When Trump says "America First,"  he admits that it has always been that way. The myth of benevolence is exposed as much by his rhetoric as by the wide swath of destruction that has followed all of our recent "peacekeeping" efforts, most notably in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We can blame others, such as ISIS, for a lot of this destruction, but our leaders knew that military interventions breed terrorist movements.  But we didn't care because the oil and defense industries and allied politicians profited.

Trump's new justification for war that most of Americans have already signed onto is against terrorism and Islam.  The justification seems to be, it's either us or them, so it should be us Christians.  While this new crusade sounds ok to many Christian ears, it really sounds the death knell of democracy as well as the beginning of Christian persecution.  Isolating ethnic groups by closing borders to them will result in more home-grown terrorism.  

As the definition of "terrorist" expands to include anybody who speaks out against Trump, our citizens will be "purified" in various ways, racially and ideologically and won't have other countries to conduct humanitarian missions for them.  The coming wars will be on two fronts, wars of aggression fought outside of the United States, and one against the people of the United States who speak out against this aggression.

Getting back to that partially learned lesson of World War II.  We didn't learn that war doesn't bring peace, doesn't make us safe.  Jesus, tortured by the Roman equivalent of the "Pax Americana", taught that violence begets violence, that those who live by the sword, die by the sword, and that their legacy is hate, not the love that brings all to know and love God.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Who's Got Your Back? Day 5- Not a Supreme White Culture

It took my watching "American History X" last night to finally become fully aware that hate-filled racism is alive and well in the United States and just what that means for all of us, whatever our race.  You would think that I would have gotten that message after seeing President Obama treated by Republicans in Congress for 8 years as if he were to them nothing but a N-boy (pardon the expression but it conveys what happened).  

These esteemed Congress people got more and more brazen as Obama refused to behave in a less than completely dignified, patient, rational, and respectful manner.  Finally, they pulled out all the stops, discarded their constitutional duty, and refused to allow Obama to appoint a supremely-qualified Supreme Court justice.  The insidious nature of racism is such that nobody will ever prove that Obama was done in by it, but signs point to this being the most profound damage to our country ever caused by racist attitudes towards a single person.

I acknowledge that even saying this is highly controversial.  People simply cannot admit that this kind of outrageous injustice exists at the highest levels of our government.  But we better deal with it because the top 3 policy persons in the White House, Trump, Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, and their buddy, Jeff Sessions, all have strong associations with the white nationalist movement. A Huffington Post report into what is known about Bannon shows a person living in a world of hate and conflict that makes him believe that we (U.S. Christendom culture) are already at war with Islam and that this will have to become a raging all-out war involving destruction foretold in biblical accounts of the apocalypse.  (   

It wasn't until I saw "American History X" last night that I saw the connection between such a dangerously unstable worldview and the mental mindset of racists.  Bannon told a conference in 2011 that "the Judeo-Christian West is collapsing.  It’s imploding.  And it’s imploding on our watch. And the blowback of that is going to be tremendous."(op.cit.)  Bannon is the right hand man for Trump and the first partisan strategist to have a permanent seat on the Security Council.  Jeff Sessions, who now oversees the investigation into Trump's ties with Russia, is their white nationalist ideological leader. ( )

Since Trump's election, hate attacks and threats on Jewish and Muslim people have increased threefold.  It appears that people who cowered in the background before are now emboldened to assert their worldview.  Trump banned Islamic countries and decried terrorism related to Islam, but hasn't addressed hate crimes related to white nationalism.  In interviews Trump refused to disavow the support of white supremacists such as David Duke.  

The immigration ban directly impacts everyone.  If one group is targeted now, every group that espouses alternate values, such as every true follower of Jesus, will eventually be targeted. Current European culture demonstrates a wonderful alternative to white "European" nationalism. Most Europeans learned the lessons of fascist Germany that we haven't. This is the European culture that has our back, white nationalism doesn't.

Who's Got Your Back? Day 4- Not Government Entitlements

Most conservative anarchists (those who want to do away with government, Bannon, for example) see us as the "entitled generation," because we feel entitled to government assistance.  Government assistance violates the rugged individualist work ethic that no self-respecting American should get assistance from anyone.  Anarchists see paying for government programs as a communistic transfer of wealth abridging their freedom to hoard wealth. 

"Entitlements" are seen by conservative anarchists as the reason our country is in debt and the reason Americans pay more taxes (so they believe) than anyone else.  They believe "entitlements" create a generation full of lazy, leeching, and libidinous liberals.  But spending anarchists want, such as Trump's "historic" windfall for the defense industry, aren't labeled "entitlements."  It lines the pockets of the wrongly entitled class- capitalists like the bankers, investors, and Goldman Sachs swamp kings appointed to Trump's cabinet.  Supposedly they deserve tax breaks and other forms of corporate welfare because they earned it and the money will convert to jobs.  Such spending conveniently starves those whom they see as an insatiable beast but who really are those who deserve our investment and would return it with dividends.

There are two classes of "entitlement" that everybody should agree do create an actual entitlement. We are entitled to funding we have paid for over the course of our lives which we need towards the end of their lives when we are incapable of producing in the capitalist system (most still contribute to society in other valuable ways).  The other is entitlement to programs that do what only the government can properly do, such as manage shared resources through agencies and regulations, or pool health risks to insure that all are covered at the lowest possible rate.

But Obama's progress with these proper entitlements is being undone by Trump. Social Security and Medicare are in the process of being voucherized and privatized so that those who are in most need of this assistance will get back only pennies on the dollar of what they paid into it.  The Affordable Care Act, painfully crafted by bi-partisan committees, is now being repealed without a replacement. Trump said today that "nobody knew that health care could be so complicated."

Government regulations are being decimated and we are desecrating God's creation for generations to come at an apocalyptic rate.  If economists learned anything in 240 years since Adam Smith, it is that regulations make free markets work for the common good.  They create a level playing field that doesn't harm free competition while ensuring that the results of the competition benefit everybody. Without regulations, corporations must choose between benefiting their shareholders or the common good. 

Trump is a wake-up call to the fact that living in the U.S. doesn't entitle us to a democracy or to receiving governmental favors.  What the Constitution entitles, we must still work for, now more than ever.   Aristotle and the fathers of the Constitution knew better than anybody that without continuous effort, our fragile form of government, representative democracy, will become an autocratic oligarchy.  We should know now that government entitlements don't have our back.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Who's Got Your Back? Day 3- Not the Freedom of the Press

It is disorienting for me to live in a society that is complicit in publicly-proclaimed falsehoods, but what has my head reeling is the prospect of not even knowing what real events underlie these falsehoods.  But this is what we are facing now that Trump is disallowing news agencies from covering press events.  Such restrictions are unprecedented in the history of White House news reporting (except a failed attempt by Obama to keep Fox News out).

The right that is needed to support all other rights in a democracy is Freedom of the Press.  Our forefathers could see that democracy can only function when the public knows the truth so that it can vote accordingly.  The framers of the Constitution strove to prevent a demagogue or autocrat like King George from gaining power.  They gave the press right of access to the government and the right to report on it without undue hindrance of libel laws.

Trump has already begun blacklisting news agencies from White House press events & calling on those correspondents who appear "friendly" at press conferences.  This cripples freedom of the press because the press needs access to White House events to survive as a business. If a news agency is threatened with not being able to attend based on how it reports the news, then the bottom line forces it to consider slanting the news to what will allow it to stay in business. Even if the reporting weren't affected, the suspicion that it is will affect its trustworthiness.

By making the "media the enemy of the American people," Trump is taking away the Freedom of the Press by discrediting what it says.  He is elevating a few far-right news agencies such as Breitbart and Fox to the status of state news outlets, depicting their problematic coverage as "real news" while labeling CNN as purveyors of "fake news."

Diminishing the press is so important to Trump because it maintains the gaslighting strategy that normalizes previously disqualifying behaviors.  If enough people see common agreement about "alt-facts" and their implications, even if this differs from previously held common belief, then these "alt-facts" become the new set of "operative facts," or "alt-facts."  But if truth tellers point out the obvious falsehood of these "alt-facts," or if all leaks aren't plugged, the gaslighting won't work.

Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are also mentioned in the Bill of Rights.  Both of these are now gravely endangered by legislation being adopted at the state level.  One bill proposes that anyone can be arrested who participates in a peaceful assembly even if there is a chance that the assembly will become violent.  Other laws make it possible for people who express a desire to attend an assembly having some violence to have their assets forfeited. When it's not possible to attend a protest without the possibility of arrest, protests are effectively illegal.

Freedom of speech is also curtailed by the NSA surveillance and social media checks by border guards which could provide information that can be used to accuse anyone of being disloyal to Trump or the U.S., thus keeping us from expressing ourselves freely over the media.  Freedom of the Press is our friend, not our enemy, but it no longer has our back.