Thursday, October 12, 2017

Why Canadians are concerned about American politics


Recently some Facebook "friends" have taken me to task for commenting on American politics. They label me a "lefty" and have told that I have no business discussing American affairs. Trump and gun control are the two topics that rile them especially.

An op-ed article in the Toronto Star similarly argues that "Canadians seem to forget that we don't elect U.S. politicians." True enough, but that doesn't mean that they should not be concerned about what happens south of the border.

What happens in Washington or Las Vegas, and many other places in the U.S. impacts Canadians as much as it does Americans. We -- to switch for a moment to the first person -- know that the U.S. is their country and not ours doesn't negate our involvement in American issues.

The long border we share doesn't stop the weather crossing the border in both directions. It also doesn't stop drugs or guns flowing across the border. Ideas too cross the border without any control from immigration or customs agents.

Canadians watch American TV programs, read American newspapers, and visit American internet sites. That much of this traffic is one-way is the result of Canada having a much smaller population, approximately the same size as California. Thus we know what is going on in the U.S.




That Americans are often ignorant of anything outside their town, state, or country does not mean that Canadians are equally ignorant. Canadians are affected by what happens in the U.S. and therefore they need to know what is happening there. Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau famously likened Canada's position to its southern neighbor to "a mouse in bed with an elephant." The mouse is in mortal danger whenever the elephant turns.

Let's stop the nonsense of not allowing Canadians to comment on American affairs. For one thing, Canadians and Americans are family. Many Canadians have relatives living south of the border, and if not family, they have friends there.

Whether family or just friends, what happens to one affects the other as well. Blood is thicker than water. But, as happens too often, family or friends do not always agree. Canadians often pride themselves as different from Americans. In fact, this sometimes becomes a defining difference.

Many Canadians are happy that they cannot vote in American elections. That absolves them of any responsibility for electing Donald Trump. They are thankful that this disaster of a president is not their president. They can and do commiserate with Americans who rue the day of his election.

I have shared more than one glass of wine with American friends in order to console them. While Canadians didn't vote for him, they share some responsibility for the election of this incompetent, lying, promiscuous braggart. Trump says he wants to put "America first, " but the whole world knows he is interested only in putting himself first.




But Canadians are well aware that the same populism that helped to elect Trump exists north of the border as well. They pride themselves on having elected a government led by Justin Trudeau, a youngish prime minister who in many ways is the antithesis of Trump.

But this does not mean that the same populism cannot rear its ugly head in Canada, as it already has in many other countries. Thus Canadians are justified in studying what is happening in the U.S.  and commenting on the phenomenon of populism, especially as exemplified in Trump.

The partisanship that virtually stalemates the political process in the U.S. is not as strong in Canada. Nor is gerrymandering possible since electoral districts in Canada are fixed by independent bodies and generally involve straight lines rather than the contorted figures found in the U.S.

Canadians also ask how Trump could have been elected as president when he lost in the popular vote. The anachronism of the electoral college makes them shake their heads. Lest Canadians get too triumphalistic, under the parliamentary system governments can be elected with less than a majority of the vote. A plurality suffices.

When Canadians look at their own system and compare it with the American one, they admit that both systems have their strengths and weaknesses. But Canadians are still thankful for their own system, in spite of its flaws. The Canadian constitution has many faults, but it does not give Canadians the right to bear arms, as guaranteed by the Second Amendment as it has been interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, erroneously in the opinion of Justice Warren Burger.




American guns stream across the border, but for most Canadians carrying guns is not an issue. Americans are shocked when at the border their guns are confiscated by Canadian Customs. Open carrying is not allowed anywhere in Canada, even though many Canadians love to hunt.

Canada has a universal health system that many Americans would love to have, but such a system is not possible in the poisonous atmosphere that exists currently in the U.S. The Canadian system has its weakness, but many Canadians list it as one defining aspect of Canada.

I am making these comparisons to illustrate why Canadians look across the border and are unhappy with what they see. Many are grateful that they live in Canada and not in the U.S., especially in the age of Trump. Some Canadians are afraid to visit the U.S. lest they be shot on the street.

Canadians do not have the right to vote in American elections, but if they were able, Trump might never have been elected. Canadians are rightfully concerned about what is happening across the border. They are affected almost as much as many Americans.

Perhaps Canadians are worse off since Canada would not be under the American umbrella if a war breaks out with North Korea. Korean missiles would fly over Canada, but the U.S. does not have to defend Canadians against missiles that are directed at the U.S.  There is no such agreement between the two countries, and many Canadians would not like such an agreement if there were.
Canadians see much of what is happening in the U.S. and thus it is not surprising that they comment on what they see. These comments should not be interpreted by Americans as motivated by feelings of superiority (although sometimes it is). These comments should be viewed as being made by a close neighbor who cannot avoid seeing what is happening next door.

Americans may not always like it, but they must realize that Canadians are family. Families do not always agree with each other, but they remain family. Yet when families live in close proximity to each other, little things can begin to grate. Sometimes these become big things, like Trump and guns.

Familiarity breeds contempt. This helps to explain why Canadians are critical of the U.S. Canadians have a love-hate relationship with their neighbor to the south. They are jealous of its size and wealth, but they reject its exceptionalism and disdain for others which manifests itself as racism among other not-so-endearing qualities.

Not that Canadians do not have problems of their own, but they see some of their problems enlarged in their neighbor. The Bible pictures that as the "log" in one's own eye. Canadians have a fascination with the U.S. Thus they will continue to look south for the foreseeable future.

Canadians will also continue to be concerned about what is happening there. The futures of both countries are closely intertwined. American politics affects the whole world, especially Canada. Remember the story of the mouse and the elephant.

Therefore -- in typical Canadian fashion -- we apologize for staring at the U.S, We do so out of a real concern for Americans and their politics. Sorry!



Sunday, September 10, 2017

The insanity of war


The world once again stands on the brink of a major war. The posturing of North Korea and the United States makes me, and doubtless many other people all over the globe, fearful of what might be in store for us.

Will we wake up one morning in the next few weeks and find out that Seoul has been wiped off the map and that 10,000,000 Koreans have died or been severely injured as a result of a nuclear attack by the North? And, as a further consequence, are we the next to die?

North Korean missiles are already capable of reaching Toronto (which is where I live). Many parts of the US are equally vulnerable. Are we all soon going to experience a nuclear Armaggedon? I sincerely hope not!

War is insane. No rational person, it would seem, wants to engage in war. Conventional war is already catastrophic enough, nuclear war is infinitely more so. The after effects of a nuclear strike will linger for decades or even longer.

The cost of a war in lives lost and property destroyed is only part of the accounting. The wasted resources, both human and material, are part of the equation as well; they could be put to better use. For example, poverty could quickly be eliminated all over the world with the money that is saved from waging wars.


The two main protagonists,  Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, have both been described as insane. But the insanity does not stop with them. War itself is insane. But the insanity increases many-fold when these two maniacs are added to the brew.

An oft-quoted expression, attributed to Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin, among others, is that insanity may be defined as "doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." One would think that after millennia of war we would stop this insanity. The results are always the same.

Insanity originally meant "the condition of being mentally deranged." In the 19th century, it began to take on a looser sense, "extreme folly or unreasonableness." Today, insanity can be used in both senses. Certainly, the latter interpretation applies to both Kim and Trump.

By discussing the alleged insanity of Kim and Trump I do not mean to imply that only the insane will wage war; war itself is insane, but this insanity is multiplied many times over when people who are possibly insane are involved.

I am not suggesting that both men are insane; rather, I suggest only that both have displayed aberrant behavior at times. I am not a psychiatrist nor have I examined them closely, but I trust the experts who have made such charges. That these strange characters currently head their respective nations should be enough to fill much of the world with fear.


Is a Second Korean War imminent? Or does this mark the beginning of World War III? Journalists have already mapped out several scenarios for this new war on the Korean peninsula. All point out the huge number of deaths and other casualties that will result, but very few dwell on the aftermath, which will probably be as long and as dismal as the quagmire that resulted from the wars in  Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kim may seem crazy, but he is wily as a fox. He does not need a war since it will likely spell the end of his regime, but he does need to stand up to the perceived threat that the US poses to North Korea. The only way to stand up is to possess nuclear weapons and the necessary delivery system.

Yet if his country is threatened even further, he must resist and go to war. In other words, he is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. He would be crazy to go to war and crazy if he doesn't. Some choice! This too illustrates the insanity of war. There is nothing rational about this choice.

Trump is in a similar position. He must continue to project the might of the US as the strongest and most powerful nation in the world. As Commander-in-chief, he must ultimately make the decision to go to war with North Korea. But the consequences are terrifying for everyone.

Is he prepared to sacrifice millions of Koreans on both sides of the border between the two Koreas? Will the American populace accept the deaths of thousands, if not millions, of American lives in the war itself and in the aftermath?


Yet not to go to war if South Korea is threatened by the North, and even more so, if Americans are endangered, would be political suicide for the American president. In both instances, he is damned and might even be judged insane. There is no easy way out of this dilemma.

Diplomacy is vital. It is better to jaw-jaw than to go bang-bang! War is insane, as both Kim and Trump must realize in their more lucid moments. Both may seem crazy, but the insanity of war will not prevent their nations, and probably the rest of the world, from being driven to this Armeggedon.

War is insane. It gets us nowhere. It brings death and destruction not only to the losers but also to the victors. Victory comes at such an enormous cost that it can often be best described as pyrrhic. In the end, no one really wins.

Even the two world wars in the previous century cannot be labeled as unqualified successes. Ostensibly intended to defend democracy, the motivations for these conflicts were not as pure as they might seem on the surface. In addition, both wars laid the seeds for further conflicts in the future.

Because of this, wars will never really end. They must always carry the label, "to be continued." There will always be wars as long as human beings reside on this planet. Wars spring ultimately from the evil that resides in all of us.



That is true of all wars, past, present, and future. The only war that is the exception is the war that God fights in order to restore the creation to the purpose that he intended. That war was won by Christ decisively on the cross on Good Friday in c.33 CE, even if appearances still suggest otherwise.

This is a statement of faith. You may not agree with me about the role of Christ, but you must acknowledge the continuing nature of war. Not only Christians but also many other people of faith insist that there will always be wars until -- as I would put it -- heaven and earth are reunited and God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

Until then, there will always be war and so will the insanity that is associated with it. War is insane. There is no justification for war. The Just War theory, as I have written in a previous post (see http://hellemanworld.blogspot.ca/search?q=just+war+theory), is no longer viable if it ever was.

War is insane. It is immoral. It is absurd that it continues until the present moment and will not stop anytime soon. But stop it must. God himself will end it one day. In the meantime, he calls on us to do what we can to end wars in our age. All human beings are created in God's image. Therefore we must love them. We are commanded to love even our enemies. We are not allowed to kill them. All life is sacred to God.

If war is insane, why should it continue? Is there any rational reason or any justification for war? I think not! I hope you agree with me, especially in the face of looming Armageddon.
         

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Christians and the Trump


Christians come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. They belong to many denominations or sometimes none at all. They can be found in every country of the world. They belong to different political parties or no party. Some are rich, but the majority are poor. And very few are famous.

The Trump comes in only one size, shape, and color. He lives in the United States at the most prestigious address in the country. He belongs to a political party (although some contend that he is his own party). He is rich. And he was famous even before he became president.

What are Christians to make of Trump? This question is absurd in a way since there are maybe as many opinions about the American president as there are Christians in large parts of the world. Moreover, although it may hurt Trump's ego, there are still many Christians all over the globe who have never heard his name. There are also many Christians who never want to hear his name again, except for his resignation or departure from office in some other way.

My previous post was entitled, "Dump Trump!" That represents my own personal view. Other Christians may agree with me, but some Christians will not. That is why I could not call this post. "The Christian and Trump." There are many Christians, not just one.

Thus there is no thing as the Christian. Their diversity precludes such a title. Even Jesus cannot be called the Christian. He is the Christ. but he is not a Christian. As I repeatedly tell a Jewish friend who worships in church with me but  had promised his mother to remain a Jew, "Christ was born a Jew, lived as a Jew, and died as a Jew."


This is not the Jesus we learned about in Sunday School

Christ never became a Christian, since that name refers to someone who follows Christ. For Christ that is a logical impossibility. Thus he cannot be the Christian or even a Christian.

We should not ask Christ what he thinks of Trump, although we may be able to surmise his opinion. Christ is God. God alone can make the final judgment about any human being. This includes Trump.

His followers, however, those who bear his name,  do make judgments about Trump, just as I did in my previous post where I wrote that Trump must go. The sooner the better. But he must leave through Constitutional means. And his leaving must not lead to civil war.

That is my opinion as a Christian. Nearly all American Christians have opinions about Trump. They have made up their own minds about him. Many Americans (as well as people all over the globe) condemn him. But others continue to support him in spite of what he says and does.

Polls reveal that 81% of white evangelical Christians voted for Trump in the last election and many will continue to vote for him.  Similarly, 60% of white Catholics voted for him. It has been observed by many that white Christians awarded the White House to Trump.


The term "evangelical" is hard to define. Today it has acquired even more negative connotations because of the association with Trump. Many who identified themselves as evangelical in the past prefer not to do so now. I admit that I find it increasingly difficult to identify myself as such today.

Christian leaders responded in different ways to Trump after Charlottesville. Leaders from mainline churches condemned Trump's but very few evangelical leaders did. The few who did condemn hatred and violence were for the most part silent about white supremacy and racism.

Evangelical leaders did not mention Trump by name. Their silence and refusal to name Trump are part of my motivation for distancing myself from these evangelicals. They give evangelicalism a bad name. That is also what motivated me to publish my previous post.

It is not too late to ask all Christian leaders, whether Catholic, mainline, or evangelical, to speak out and universally criticize Trump for his racism and his reluctance to condemn white supremacy. The people sitting in the pews largely echo their leaders. No wonder the deafening silence.

Churches everywhere must pray, of course, for those who are the victims of racism and white supremacy, but that is not enough. Racism and white supremacy must be soundly condemned. In addition, they must reject a president who openly displays such racism.


Racism runs so deep in the American soul that it is almost impossible to eradicate. But that does not mean that Christians must not attempt to do so. As followers of Christ, they are commanded to love everyone, just as God does. There is no room for hate. They must love even the Trump.

How can people listen to sermons every Sunday in which they are reminded that God loves them unconditionally, and then spew hatred against those of another color or religion? In Charlottesville, Jews and Muslims were also made the targets of hatred?

Why the disconnect between what the message Christians hear on Sunday and their behavior outside of church? How can they support a president who is a racist and a sexist (and the list seems endless)? For me, the argument against him remaining as president is very simple: Trump is a racist (and lots of other evil things) and therefore he must be dumped. QED.

Do I hate Trump? No! But I do hate much of what he stands for and represents. I must respect the office he holds and I must and do pray for him, but I despise his policies and the way he treats people, including members of his own family.

Do I hate his supporters? No! Many of them are fellow believers and followers of Christ who have chosen to support a man whose behavior is unchristian. They may be Christians, just as I am, but that does mean that I have to agree with them.

Does this support make them racists? Not necessarily. They may support him for many other reasons: abortion or the supreme court or unemployment. Their support for Trump is often politically motivated and not necessarily theological, as they would like to make others believe.  What is so theological about the makeup of the supreme court?


I respect their right to support Trump even if I cannot agree with their choice. Similarly, I request that they would respect my right to advocate dumping Trump. Even when we sit in the same pew (especially then, I might add), we must respect each other's position on Trump.

Christians can and do differ on politics. They can and also do differ on theology. But they must never equate the two in such a way as to suggest that someone who is conservative in theology must also be conservative in politics and vice versa. There is no mutual entailment between politics and theology.

Christians come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. They also come in different political and theological guises. They differ greatly in every which way. In spite of the many differences, mutual respect must always be present. Above all, love must always prevail when they interact. (The same principle applies in relations with people of other faiths.) There is no room for hatred in the life of a Christian.

What I want to do post-Charlottesville is to continue to plead for the dumping of Trump. You may not agree with me. If so, please respect my right to advocate his dumping. There are numerous people, both Christians and those who are not, who agree with me even if you, for example, do not.

At the same time, I will continue to respect your right to support Trump. However, if I begin to feel that you are expressing racism and you seem to be motivated by hate, I reserve the right to criticize you for that. In turn, you may also criticize me for my political stance, but you must do it out of love.

Then, and only then can we together openly discuss Christians and the Trump.
         

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Dump Trump!

The format of this post is different from my usual ones. This one has no illustrations on purpose. I will argue that Donald Trump has exposed himself (for what he really is), and thus I do not want to portray him naked (after all, he the president). I am not partisan in what I am writing about him. I am not American, but I am concerned about a country that I have grown to love and a people that are wonderful (much of the time). Unfortunately, they have elected a truly awful leader.  Americans deserve a better president. 



It is high time to dump Trump! He needs to go for the sake of his country (and the rest of the world). The sooner the better!

When one thought that nothing worse could happen in Trump's sad saga, along came Charlottesville. The murder of Heather Heyer was tragic, but the tragedy did not end there. President Trump has made the situation much, much worse, both by what he said and what he didn't say.

First, he blamed the violence that contributed to her murder came from "many sides." Right and left, in his opinion, were equally guilty. The next day, he moderated his remarks, on orders, it seems. But the day after that, he reverted to his previous message, muddying the waters once more.

In his now-infamous news conference, he attributed the violence equally to what he coined the "alt-left." He avoided condemning the white supremacists who had organized the rally in Charlottesville, but he blamed "both sides" for all the violence.

He did criticize neo-Nazism and racism as repugnant to Americans, but he left no doubt where his own views lay by what he left unsaid. Both what he said and what he omitted saying have made him repugnant to many of his fellow citizens as well as people all over the world.

While he is not a white supremacist (at least not yet), he has revealed how deep-seated his racism is. Add that to his misogyny and mendacity, as well as his many other shortcomings, and one must conclude that he is not the leader that America needs today. He must go!

America deserves better! Trump did not receive a plurality of votes in the last election but he did get a majority in the electoral college. Thus he is legally president, but he has failed thus far in being the president the country deserves and needs, especially today.

While American infrastructure is literally falling to pieces, Trump has failed to demonstrate true leadership. Instead, he has demonstrated that he is unfit for any public office, let alone the presidency.

He is not only incompetent but also morally bankrupt, and so self-centered that he is totally unqualified to remain as president. He must go!

Even some Republicans are now waking up and openly criticizing Trump, they are ready to ask him to leave. This message goes beyond partisanship. It is now an undeniable truth unless one refuses to see his racism, his Islamophobia, his misogyny, and the hatred that his supporters have demonstrated.

The CEOs of many major companies are already deserting him. They are no longer willing to remain on his manufacturers' councils because of what happened after Charlottesville.

Trump's revelations post-Charlottesville were the last straw for them. His failure as a businessman-turned-president is now so evident that an exodus has started. There soon may be more deserters.

His character flaws are plain for all -- except for the extremists among his base -- to see. Instead of uniting the country, he has divided it even further.

That these extremists have not turned against him is proof of the divisiveness he has promoted. White supremacists and other racists use race as a tool to divide nations. Thus they support him.

The task of a president is to unite, but that is not in Trump's character. In his worldview, there are only winners and losers. He is a winner, while everyone who disagrees with him is a loser.

Now it is high time for all  Americans to join those CEOs and politicians who have seen Trump's flaws and are willing to talk about them publically. Many now also want to see him go for reasons that are not necessarily partisan. Trump has been a failure as president. A total disaster!

Unfortunately, he will not change in the foreseeable future.

He is the real loser, and he must go. The only way that the nation will be united again is if he departs. The sooner the better, in fact, for the sake of the country. 

All Americans must put aside their partisanship for the moment and urge Trump to go. By impeachment if necessary, by resignation if possible.

The reasons should be obvious by now. After Charlotteville, the emperor's new clothes can be seen by everyone, except those who are blind. Trump now stands naked before the whole world. He has exposed himself. He has shamed the United States.

Now he must have the decency to go either by himself or by force. Dump Trump for the sake of the nation and indeed the whole world!

Do I expect him to go soon? No, not unless his base deserts him en mass, which is not likely to happen. 

Trump may well risk a civil war in order to stay in office. The risk of a civil war in the Trump era has been rated as anywhere between 30% and 95% by experts. No one wants that.

Many Republicans are hesitant to ask for Trump's resignation because that would be political suicide in today's climate. Only if his base deserts him will that be possible.

Yet go he must. But by Constitutional means only. Anything less will guarantee civil war.

Trump has already been rated the worst president ever in the history of the republic.  By any measurement, he comes at the bottom of the list.  How much longer can he last?

Trump may even resort to war with North Korea if he feels threatened by the ongoing probes into his Russian connections. That same fear makes him unwilling to submit his tax returns.

Democracy itself is under threat in the Trump era. Ronald Reagan expressed that threat aptly in his 1967 California Inaugural Address: 
Freedom is a fragile thing and it’s never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by way of inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. And those in world history, who have known freedom and then lost it, have never known it again.
Remember these words. Inscribe them wherever possible. Reflect on them often.

And then respond appropriately by dumping Trump!

Dump Trump!
         

Friday, July 21, 2017

An ecumenism of hate

My postings are not as frequent as before. I had some physical problems, including my eyes, that kept me from writing as much as I did previously. Even this post took longer than I intended, but I hope you enjoy it. The topic, "An ecumenism of hate," is religious, but it has enormous political implications.


"An ecumenism of hate" is how an influential Jesuit magazine describes the apocalyptic world view fostering hatred, fear, and intolerance that unites certain fundamentalist evangelicals and "militant" Catholics. Islamic fundamentalists, jihadists, and others might also be added to these hate-filled groups.

La Civilta Cattolica, a Jesuit journal, appeared in the mid-July/August edition and released online on July 13. The article was reviewed by the Vatican before publication, as is normal. It was written by the journal's editor, Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, and Marcelo Figueroa, a Presbyterian, who is the director of the Argentine edition of the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.

The title was "Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism: A surprising ecumenism." The article, among other things, examines how this world view has influenced US culture and politics. It points especially at the administration of President Donald Trump.

One feature of this "ecumenism of hate," according to the article, is a clear "Manichean" delineation between absolute good and evil and a confident sense of who belongs in which camp. Here it cites President George W. Bush's list of nations in an "axis of evil" and President Trump's fight against a wider, generic body of those who are "bad" or even "very bad."


The authors briefly examine the origins and spread of evangelical fundamentalist thought and influence in the United States and how many groups or movements became targeted by them as a threat to "the American way of life" and then demonized. In the past, communism and feminism were perceived as the enemy; today, "migrants and Muslims" are the targets.

The article foresees a constant conflict, culminating in a final battle, between good and evil, between God and Satan. Biblical support for this conflict is found in the Old Testament accounts of conquering and defending the promised land and ignores Jesus' love in the Gospels.

The article even makes brief mention of the theological-political vision of Rousas John Rushdoony, a founder of "Christian Reconstructionism," which calls for a nation built on Christian ideals and strict laws drawn from the Bible. This "Dominionist" doctrine, it claims, has inspired groups and networks like the Council for National Policy, as well as the White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon, with his "apocalyptic" world view.

However, a theocracy with the state subjected to the Bible, the article explains, uses a rationale that is similar to that of Islamic fundamentalism. "At heart, the narrative of terror" that feeds the jihadist imagination and the neo-crusaders draw from wellsprings "that are not too far apart."


According to the authors, "a strange form of surprising ecumenism is developing between evangelical fundamentalist and Catholic integralists" as they appeal to similar fundamentalist values and have "the same desire for religious influence in the political sphere."

Evangelicals and Catholics share similar values and goals when it comes to abortion, same-sex marriage, religious education in schools, and other moral issues. Both "condemn traditional ecumenism and yet promote an ecumenism of conflict that unites them in the nostalgic dream of a theocratic-type state."

"Triumphalist, arrogant and vindictive ethnicism is actually the opposite of Christianity," they warn.
The most "dangerous" feature of this "strange ecumenism" between Catholic and evangelical fundamentalists is the xenophobia and Islamophobia that promotes "walls and purifying deportations" they add.

The authors explain that these abuses in fundamentalism, as well as confusing spiritual power with temporal power, are some of the reasons why Pope Francis is "so committed to working against 'walls' and any type of 'war of religion.'" Religion must be put "at the service of all men and women. Religions cannot consider some people as sworn enemies nor others as eternal friends."

"Today, more than ever, power needs to be removed from its faded confessional dress, from its armor, its rusty breastplate," the article notes. A "truly Christian" theological-political plan looks to the future and "orients current history toward the kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice and peace"; it fosters "a process of integration that unfolds with a diplomacy that crowns no one as a 'man of Providence.'"


Vatican diplomacy, according to the article, seeks to "establish direct and fluid relations with the superpowers" without preconceived notions or automatic alliances. It is also why "the pope does not want to say who is right or who is wrong for he knows that at the root of conflicts there is always a fight for power."

The article concludes by warning that the temptation to build a false alliance between politics and religious fundamentalism is built on a fear of chaos and the breakdown of established order. That fear can be manipulated when politics increase the tenor of conflict, exaggerate the potential disorder and make people upset by painting "worrying scenarios" that have nothing to do with reality.

Religion is then used as a way to guarantee order, and a political platform comes to exemplify what would be required to get there, the authors explain. "Fundamentalism thereby shows itself not to be the product of a religious experience but a poor and abusive perversion of it," That is why Pope Francis upholds a narrative counter to "the narrative of fear" because "there is a need to fight against the manipulation of this season of anxiety and insecurity."

The pope, the authors conclude, courageously offers "no theological-political legitimacy to terrorists, avoiding any reduction of Islam to Islamic terrorism. Nor does he give it to those who postulate and want a 'holy war' or to build barrier-fences crowned with barbed wire." The only barbed wire for a Christian "is the one with thorns that Christ wore on high."


This article has been criticized by many, especially conservative Catholics. Their criticism is directed in particular at the perceived ignorance of the authors of American politics and their supposed liberalism. Whether this is true or not is beyond the scope of this post. What is noteworthy is that the Vatican gave this article its imprimatur.

That alone is enough to irk these conservatives who despise Francis. He, and many influential figures at the Vatican today, they assert, want to move away from traditional Catholic teachings, and form a new alliance with modernity. It is clear why these conservatives oppose this article. so vigorously.

What intrigues me in this article is the idea of  an "ecumenism of hate." Ecumenism, as it commonly understood, is based on love. Love for those who are different; love for those whose theology may contrast sharply with our own, but who nevertheless are part of the Body of Christ because the Body by its very nature consists of many parts, each of which is necessary for the proper functioning of the whole.

The authors perceptively have noted how an ecumenical unity of sorts can be built on hatred for others and an intolerance for them and their beliefs. Such an ecumenical unity of hatred shares a world view that is not limited only to Christians of various fundamentalistic stripes but also to other fundamentalists, whether Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish or Muslim.

All these types of fundamentalism are founded on a hatred of others that often expresses itself in violence. Intolerance breeds a contempt that is not afraid to resort to violence. The goal, ultimately, is to destroy the other. That, of course, is the antithesis of love. Fundamentalism is rooted in hatred.


Fundamentalism is also Manichaean. It is a dualistic belief that there is a good/ spiritual world that is in constant conflict with an evil/ material one. The good world is associated with light, while the evil world is associated with darkness. In such a world view everything is either good or evil, white or black, positive or negative. There is nothing in between.

Theirs is a binary world in which everything is reduced to its basic simplicity. Then there are no grays, but only white or black. In that world, thinking is unnecessary, since everything is clearly right or wrong. Sacred books are interpreted literally or, if that is not possible, are manipulated to say whatever has already been determined to be correct. There is no room here for any ambiguity. Small wonder that so many are attracted to it, blindly follow leaders, such as Trump, and are even willing to die, if need be, for their cause.

Not all who appeal to the fundamentals of a belief system are fundamentalists of the type portrayed in this article. But many fundamentalists are motivated by hatred, even if they do not realize it. Some (maybe, many) evangelical Christians and Catholics have hated each other for centuries. However, they have not always been aware of the common ground they shared and continue to share on contentious issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. There are, indeed, many more issues on which they are united.

To call this an "ecumenism of hate," as the authors of this article do may sound "preposterous" to their critics, yet there is a ring of truth to it. Spadaro and Figueroa have put their fingers on some of the common elements that unite various expressions of fundamentalism in many different religions. This includes ISIS. Widespread Islamophobia does not mean that there is no common ground even with this extreme form of Islam.

The critics blame the authors for gross inaccuracy and the use of extreme language, but even the whole industry of critics that sprouted up in the days immediately following publication of the article has not been sufficient to disprove the thesis of the authors about an ecumenism of hate that unites these fundamentalisms.

"An ecumenism of hate" is indeed a special ecumenism that deserves our careful consideration. One does not have to agree entirely with the authors in order reflect on this new type of ecumenism, one that is based on common elements, but these elements are rooted in hatred rather than love, as in traditional understandings of ecumenism.
       

Friday, June 16, 2017

An Open Letter to the President about Lying

Mister President, 

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor" (Exodus 20:16).

This is an open letter to you that I am also sending to all those who read my blog. You are the reason why I have written so little on my blog. But now I feel compelled to write to you about lying. As your problems continue to mount, I suggest that you should stop lying to others and, above all, to yourself. 

I am sorry if it seems that I am piling on you when everyone is dumping on you. But if it seems that lying is only a minor issue, you are wrong. How can people trust you if you lie all the time? That is why I emphasize the commandment forbidding lying so much. Truth telling is a sign of integrity. Instead, we have your tower of lies.

I am hesitant to write this letter. I am writing it not out of vindictive spite but because I am concerned about your great country and its rich promise. I am concerned for my grandchildren who live in the US. I don't want to see them suffer as a result of your presidency.

Let me begin with a story, one that you probably know very well. It's a story that goes back to the very beginning of American history. In fact, it goes back even before the US began. 


To the regret of many American parents, the story that the first American president, George Washington, once chopped down his father’s favorite cherry tree is, unfortunately, a myth, but the story is important, nonetheless. It's the moral that counts. 

The story goes that when he was about six years old when he was given a hatchet that he enthusiastically used to chop at just about anything in sight. One morning, he even chopped a cherry tree, eventually cutting it down. When confronted about it by his father, George hesitated but told his father, "I cannot tell a lie."

He admitted to the crime. Rather than punishing George for chopping down the tree, his father said that his son’s honesty was worth more than a thousand trees. It’s a lesson in integrity that shows one of Washington’s many supposed virtues.

Many parents have used this story to teach their children about the meaning of integrity and the importance of telling the truth. This lesson is especially crucial today when you and the former FBI Director have accused each other of being liars. That was then, this is now!


I have purposely written little on my blog recently largely because of your eccentricities. I prefer not to use your name in my blog. That is why, without apology, I omitted your name at the beginning of this letter. Eccentricity is a polite way of describing you. More bluntly, you drive me and countless other people around the world crazy, whether through your speeches, your behavior, and your tweets.

I have studiously avoided writing about you for many months. This time I am motivated by a concern for a new generation of children who may be led to believe that your behavior is normal. Let me inform you that lying is never appropriate behavior for anyone, much less a president.

The recent drama surrounding the firing of FBI Director James Comey has brought the issue of your constant lying to the fore once again. Both of you have accused each other of lying. I know whom I believe is telling the truth. Unfortunately, it isn't you. Let me warn you: if you continue to lie when you are asked to testify under oath, that will be one more item on the growing list of possible articles of impeachment.

I am not interested in the political and legal storms that you have raised ever since you became president but by your immoral behavior. You are someone who has no regard for God or any other human being. Your concern is only for yourself. You are interested only in increasing your own wealth and enlarging your own brand. 

Your outrageous public comments and behavior make you totally unfit for any public office, much less the presidency. Even in your brief term thus far, you have already been rated as the worst American president of all time. Yes, you are indeed number one! First on that list of infamy! That speaks volumes, considering all the incompetents and criminals whose names are also on that list.


As president, you have revealed your disregard for God and others, especially when I measure your behavior by the standard of the Ten Commandments as recorded in Exodus 20: 2-17 (NIV). For those, like you, who may not be as familiar with these commandments, I have included them here.

The first four focus on our relationship with God. These are prefaced by God's reminder that he saved his people: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." Then follow these four commandments:
I. “You shall have no other gods before me.
II.“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
III. “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
IV. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work,  but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
No one can keep all ten commandments perfectly, but that is not the point. The commandments teach us both how far we fall short of God's standard and (just as important!) how we must live in thankfulness for his salvation. That was the context in which the people of Israel lived.  Reading these commandments or (more likely for the Israelites) hearing them read would have been a constant reminder of their shortcomings and how they could thank him for his salvation.

You seem to pay little or no attention to either these four commandments or to the second set that focuses on our relations with our fellow human beings. For your sake again, since you don't seem to know the Bible very well. I also list these commandments:
V“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
VI “You shall not murder.
VII“You shall not commit adultery.
VIII “You shall not steal.
IX “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
X “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
The ten commandments are summarized in the great commandment to love God and our neighbor as ourselves. Of course, none of us can keep that central love commandment perfectly. The ten commandments make it quickly evident when we do not. The greatest commandment is love. God demands our love and he also demands us to love others. How about you, Mr. President?

You seemingly don't care about any of these commandments, much less the God who gave them. You worship money and power. Your name adorns buildings all over the world. You swear. And you are not known to attend church regularly, if at all.


The first four commandments deal with God. In response, you demonstrate your disregard for him. The next six commandments are immediately relevant to us when you show a total disregard for others and therefore for us, for all Americans, and for the rest of the world. We are your neighbors. You don't care about us at all. You care only for yourself.

Among other things, you are a womanizer, a thief, and an inveterate liar. And your greed is well known. Many other people all over the world behave this way, but they are not the president. As president, you are supposed to set a good example to your nation, but you don't.

Other presidents have been equally guilty of transgressing these commandments, but you as president have shown a blatant disregard for everyone, even God. Hence my concern for a younger generation who have you as their example: a president who lies so frequently and blatantly that I doubt you know what the truth is. For you, the truth is whatever you say it is.

I pity parents today. Earlier generations of parents knew the truth. And they knew the difference between the truth and a lie. They had the famous example of George Washington even if it was a myth. But that was then, this is now. Today you are the president. Now you must set an example for your nation. It saddens me to say this: some example you are!

Is it too much to expect you to change? To start telling the truth? I rather doubt it! But God is all-powerful. He can change hearts, yours included!
     

Monday, May 15, 2017

Is America addicted to war?



Only rarely in its history has the United States of America not fought a war, and sometimes more than one at the same time. America was born in war and seemingly that has become its legacy. No wonder that many are asking the question: Is America addicted to war?

Graph 1 and 2 record all the wars the U.S. has been involved in from the American Revolution to the present. Look closely at the two graphs and it is readily apparent that there have been very few years when the U.S. has not been at war. It is remarkable that the U.S. has not become sick of war, but the explanation lies in part in its violent birth. Revolution breeds further revolution.

If we examine only the 12 major wars that the U.S. has fought, there is already enough evidence to prove this addiction. I cannot think of any other country that has been involved in so many wars for so long during its relatively short history. There cannot be any doubt that the U.S. is addicted to war.

Graph 1: American Wars 1775-1900



Graph 2: American Wars 1900-Present


The twelve wars in chronological order are (with the size of American involvement, death, and the reason for the war):

1. Revolutionary War (1775-83). U.S. troops engaged: 217,000. American battle deaths: 4,435. The 13 American colonies fought for independence from British rule to become the United States.

2. The War of 1812 (1812-15). U.S. troops engaged: 286,730. American battle deaths: 2,260.
The U.S. declared war on Great Britain during its war with France.

3. Mexican War (1846-48). U.S. troops engaged: 78,718. American battle deaths: 1,733. The U.S. fought against Mexico over Texas and California, in the name of "manifest destiny."

4. American Civil War (1861-1865). U.S. troops engaged: 2,213,363. Battle deaths: 140,414. The northern states and the southern states fought over slavery and states' rights.

5. Spanish-American War (1898). U.S. troops engaged: 306,760. American battle deaths: 385. Spain declared war on the U.S. because the U.S. supported Cuba's wish to be independent of Spanish rule.

6. WWI (1914-1918). U.S. troops engaged: 4,734,991. American casualties: 53,402. The U.S. joined the Allies (Britain, France, Russia, Italy, and Japan), who were at war with the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey). The U.S. declared war on Germany April 6, 1917.

7. World War II (1939-45 -- U.S. involved, 1941-46). U.S. troops engaged: 16,112,566. American casualties: 291,557. The U.S. joined the Allies (Britain, France, and the USSR) to fight the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) after the U.S. forces were attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor in 1941.


8. Korean War (1950-53). U.S. troops engaged: 5,720,000. American battle deaths: 33,741.
North Korea's Communist forces fought against South Korea's non-Communist forces supported by U.N. forces, principally made up of U.S. troops. The Korean War was the first armed conflict in the global struggle between democracy and communism, called the “cold war.”

9. Vietnam War (1954-75 -- U.S. involved, 1961-75). U.S. troops engaged: 8,744,000. American battle deaths: 47,410. The U.S. helped non-Communist South Vietnam fight invasion by Communist North Vietnam.

10. Persian Gulf War (1991). U.S. troops engaged: 2,183,000. Allied casualties: 147. U.S., Britain, France, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, and Italy went to war with Iraq.

11. Afghanistan War (2002). Cause: Afghanistan’s Taliban government harbored Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda terrorist group responsible for Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Outcome: The Taliban government was ousted and many terrorist camps in Afghanistan were destroyed.

12. Iraq War (2003). Cause: Saddam Hussein’s alleged possession of illegal weapons of mass destruction and Iraq’s suspected ties to terrorism prompted the U.S. and Britain to invade and topple his government. Outcome: Iraq was defeated and Saddam Hussein removed from power.

These are just the biggest mountains. If you look at the charts, you will notice how many more mountains there are. The U.S. has won many wars, but by no means all; some wars were inconclusive and others were lost. Experts conclude that the U.S. might win a war against the rest of the world combined, but victory is not certain.

The Cold War, the longest war in U.S. history, involved not just weapons and warfare but especially words and ideas. I began in 1945 and was a struggle between the U.S. and the USSR. The U.S. wanted to contain the spread of communism. The Cold War ended in 1990 with the collapse of the USSR. Even this war cost the U.S. enormous funds and contributed to the demise of the Soviet Union.




This almost constant warfare has led to the U.S. as a source for production of weapons.  Warfare has utterly transformed the U.S. economy. Today that is labeled the military-industrial-congressional complex, a three-sided relationship, which results in the largest military spending budget in the world.  The U.S. now spends more than the next ten countries combined.

In 2015 the spending on the military alone consumed 54% of the budget of the U.S.  Aside from the question of the wisdom of spending so much on the military, this measures the cost of the American addiction to war. Not only has the U.S. waged war almost continuously since its inception it also spends more money on the military than any other country and the largest portion of the budget is devoted to defense.




The Defense Department is a misnomer. It should be called the Department of War. When presidents need to boost their popularity, they turn to the military, since such spending and the military itself are immensely popular.  President Trump is no exception.

Via an executive memorandum, Trump detailed plans to fulfill his campaign promises to invest in a bigger military -- including more troops, warships and a modernized nuclear arsenal. He declared he was beginning "a great rebuilding of the armed services of the United States." Later he added:
Developing a plan for new planes, new ships, new resources and new tools for our men and women in uniform-- and I’m very proud to be doing that, As we prepare our budget request for Congress --and I think Congress is going to be very happy to see it -- our military strength will be questioned by no one, but neither will our dedication to peace.
Trump's comments are hypocritical and false. His proposed military buildup is a major departure from the Obama administration on national security issues. It is an ominous development in a nation that is already addicted to war. This is not what the U.S. needs at the moment. 

What the U.S. needs is a large-scale reduction in its military and its defense budget. It does not need almost two million men and women bearing arms and a budget that exceeds a trillion dollars a year. A country that is addicted to war is not ready to listen to the biblical message of Isaiah (2:4, New Living Translation):
The LORD will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore.

Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares, a sculpture by Evgeniy Vuchetich 
in the United Nations Art Collection

Yet this is the message that the U.S. must listen to and take to heart. The humongous defense budget can be put to better use that to support a bloated military.  If there is ever to be peace on earth, then non-stop war must end. A nation that fancies itself a Christian nation must turn its swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks and overcome its addiction to war. Then and only then shall peace reign on a war-weary world. May there be peace on earth!