Let the Kurds and Catalans Go!

The Kurds in the former Iraq have voted–let them go!  The Catalans want to vote–let them! What is this mentality that the borders are sacrosanct?   By all means, split these “countries” up into viable entities that can thrive and be trading partners and good neighbors to the Arab part of Iraq, to the rest of Spain, the rest of Europe.  Think outside the box!  Split Libya up, split up the South Sudan, Syria, the Ukraine and yes, Turkey, the UK, the USA if that’s what the people in one region want.  It will be expensive and confusing at first, but then, with good will on all sides, it will be better.

Self-determination has been a watchcry of democracy for eons.   The problem is defining at what level the self-determination will take place:  the city? the county? the province?  There will always be a tension there, but this bullying, chest-thumping attitude has no place in the 21st century.   I had a Spanish student who told me that if the Catalans tried to break away he would be there with a gun to make sure they did not.   Is it worth even one life to keep the border as it is now?  Do we think we’re locked into the political map of the world that exists today?  Folks, get out a historical atlas and take a look at the shifting borders over the centuries.  There will always be changes and the question should be, how will we facilitate them so that no one gets hurt, no wars flare up, no dictators seize power in wars of aggression.

 

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The Unpardonable Sin: Examples from Christianity and Islam

The Bible contains a cryptic passage in Mark 3:28-9 where Jesus tells his disciples that all sins and blasphemies can be forgiven

But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.

There have been a lot of sermons written on this idea of the unpardonable sin, but perhaps what it really means to “blaspheme against the Holy Ghost” is to deny the divine spirit that exists in each of us, that part of us that raises us above the beasts and makes us human.

We have seen examples of what it is to deny our humanity too often recently.   A death cult has grown and spread that under the guise of religion, of serving a deity,  demands that its faithful seek out innocent people and kill them in any manner possible. Blow them up, hack them to death, gun them down—it doesn’t matter.   Men, women, children, Christian, Hindu—it’s all the same if they are infidels. That’s the way to a better world, by starting a war of attrition that will end with a lot of people dead, but remember, the infidels don’t matter, and the faithful die as martyrs and martyrdom is a great blessing. It must be true, that’s what the holy men say, and if I doubt what they say, then perhaps I am an infidel too.

Lest we in the Western World get too righteously indignant, let me remind you of an event that occurred back in the 13th century. At that time in southern France a sect of Christianity spread called Catharism, which among other things, rejected the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church, and so, logically, rejected the priest’s power to perform these miraculous rites. Rome got worried about this challenge to its power, and let it be known that if anyone would take up arms against these heretics, all past sins would be pardoned, and not only that, any sins committed in this crusade against the Cathars (Albigensians) would be pardoned too.   That was nothing short of a license to rape, plunder, and murder at will, and there were plenty of knights and desperados kicking around who were just waiting for an opportunity like this.   Led by the newly-formed Inquisition they ravaged, ravished, and burned these unfortunate, good-hearted people, until none of them were left, one of the first recorded genocides.   The crusade succeeded and God smiled once again on his servants in the Vatican. It was just a warm-up for the Inquisition which continued to torture and immolate infidels and apostates for six centuries.

I’ll have more to say about the Cathars later, but the point this time around is that we’re re-living that horrible time in history, where religious leaders utterly distort the central message of the founders of their faith.  It’s no longer “help people who are suffering,” but “believe what I tell you or I will kill you.” The focus should not be on conversion, but compassion.   To twist that around is to forget we are human beings, it’s to become a kind of monster that sees a crowded street full of people, full of life,  as nothing more than a place to spill blood.  That is the unpardonable sin.

After Charlottesville Will It Be West Side Story?

If anyone wants to know where we’re heading now after Charlottesville, it’s easy to see. More rallies are planned, more anti-rallies will confront them. The ideologies are diametrically opposed, but the hotheads on both sides are united in their hope  for a good fight and will look for any excuse to lash out. They are the Jets and the Sharks, pounding their chests, as they circle each other singing:

We’re gonna hand ’em a surprise…Tonight.

We’re gonna cut ’em down to size…Tonight.

We said, “O.K., no rumpus,

No tricks.”

But just in case they jump us,

We’re ready to mix….Tonight.

Planning to go to a future rally near you?  Be aware that many young men love the idea of  fighting and violence.

We’re gonna rock it tonight,

We’re gonna jazz it up and have us a ball!

They’re gonna get it tonight;

The more they turn it on the harder they’ll fall!

You’re not going to have a reasonable discussion with anyone. It’ll be more along the lines of

JETS: Well, they began it!

SHARKS: Well, they began it!

ALL:  And we’re the ones to stop ’em once and for all,   … Tonight!

The answer is not to do nothing, it’s to hold your own rally in a different part of town or, if you find yourself in the presence of speakers or marchers you disagree with,  silently turn your back in protest.

Just a reminder: both the leaders of the Jets and the Sharks ended up dead.

see also Charlottesville and John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry

 

Charolottesville and John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry

I was struck by some similarities between the conflict in Charlottesville and John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859.   Fanatics were the leaders in both cases, and both groups were looking for instant publicity in order to stir up a rebellion: Brown wanted the slaves to rise against their white masters, while the alt-right wants the whites to rise up and claim their putative place in the Home of the Brave. The alt-left or the antifas also want to stir up their side and confront their opponents head-on.   The disciples of violence are primed and ready. More confrontations are being planned.

Watch out! These clashes will only escalate and lead to a Second Civil War, just as Harper’s Ferry led to the first one.   They get everyone going, mad at the other side, spoiling for a fight. Have we learned nothing in 150 years?   Even our saner leaders are not doing enough to head this off.

This is the USA.   Certain things are legal: to carry guns, to march in protest, to say what you want to say in public and private forums.

But…

we could make things illegal and safer if we wanted to by passing new laws that would forbid non-governmental marches and protests in which people are carrying weapons of any kind.   We could outlaw military-style firearms period.   We could censor (yes, dammit, say it proudly, censor!) certain kinds of speech as the Germans have done, in outlawing any support or symbols of the Nazi ideology. The Germans have figured out you need something called “defensive democracy” designed to keep the state safe from demagogues.  German  law bans the incitement of hatred or violence, or ridiculing parts of the population in a manner apt to breach the peace—including racist speech (Volksverhetzung).

This is what’s needed. So, come on, Congress! Step up to the plate and pass some laws for the greater good!

In the meantime, if you disagree with someone’s views, don’t do this:

Yell and scream at them

Throw things at them

Provoke them in any way

Do this: hold your own rally in a different spot of town or stand in silent protest with your back turned to the speakers or marchers that you disagree with.  You could also try to reason with them, but Reason is in short supply these days.

see also Charlottesville: In the Absence of Reason Try Reconciliation

Free Speech in Germany?  Up to a Point

 

Charlottesville: In the Absence of Reason Try Reconciliation

Charlottesville goes down in history now. Once again we have people on both sides hell-bent on confrontation–shouting, raging,… you can almost hear their blood boiling as fists are clenched, the curses fly, and the trigger fingers start itching.

What an exercise in futility!   The anitfas are not going to change anyone’s mind this way.   They are just going to make more people on the margins become actively sympathetic to the alt-right.  We all know that the good people of Charlottesville did not want to let a white nationalist march go unchallenged, but where does this kind of angry challenge get us?  Innocent people dead and injured.

Ideally, rational people would sit down and talk about their differences and come to a way of working them out. But there comes a time when reason is absent, when people are so brainwashed, so ignorant, or so worked up they can’t think straight. What do you do then?

Suppose someone stands up in a meeting and says something outrageous, like “We should kill all the _________” (fill in the group of your choice).  There are several options for how to deal with it:

1) ignore it.

2) suppress it. We are loath to do that in our country because of the First Amendment.

3) shout them down. That’s what the counter-protesters were trying to do in Charlottesville.

4) indicate your disapproval publically but silently.   Stand up in the meeting and turn your back. Line the march with counter-protesters but silently fold your arms, shake your heads.

The fourth way is the best and is something I’ve heard the Quakers sometimes do. The third will almost surely lead to increasingly violent conflicts and ultimately deaths. It breathes oxygen into a smoldering fire.    The second way has its place, and every country in the world does outlaw certain kinds of speech, but this will lead to underground movements espousing forbidden causes. The first runs the risk of outrageous viewpoints spreading, which also is the case with the third.

This issue of the Confederate monuments is a difficult one. Of course Robert E. Lee was on the wrong side of history, defending a horrible institution, but is there a better way to go about this than rubbing the noses of the soldiers’ descendents in their defeat?

How about a competition to commemorate all sides in the War Between the States—more monuments to be placed near Lee’s, representing slavery, emancipation and most importantly, reconciliation.   I believe the leaders of Charlottesville are wise enough to realize that simply telling the alt-right to “Go home!” as the governor of Virginia did is not the answer. They ARE home and we have to live with them, just as they have to live with us.

see also Free Speech Rallies and Death in Portland and Confronting the Dark Side in Portland

6 Formulas for Peace: Which Do You Think Works?

1) Divine Right.  God gave us this land. He means for us to have it. Accept that or we’ll kill you until you do.

2) Divine Love.  God wants us to love each other, so let’s not fight.

2) Social Justice.  Forget God. We’re all brothers and sisters. Let’s learn to live together by dividing up our resources fairly and not get hung up about who owns what.

3) Partition.  You are different than me and that’s never going to change. So let’s draw a line:  you live on that side, I’ll live on this side. You can do whatever you want over there, as long as you don’t make problems for me, and vice versa.

4) Current Practice.   A: That was mine and you took it. Give it back or I’ll kill you.

B: It wasn’t yours it was mine. Go away or I’ll kill you.

A: If you try to kill me I’ll get all my friends to kill you, you thief!

B: I’ll do the same, you coward!

A: Bully!

B: Fascist!

5: Deterrence.   Leave us alone or we have a weapon that will destroy everyone in your country.

Hint: None of these will ever work unless we control population growth because too many people inevitably will mean too little food, water, and shelter. Once that happens, the people have to go somewhere to survive. The Romans were two-thirds right on what the masses need: bread and circuses they got. Now add condoms or we’re doomed.

For further reading: A Lost Parable: The Sin of Contraception

Wonder Woman, Is All You Need Love?

Just saw Wonder Woman where the writers pose some interesting questions.   For example, the bad guy (Ares, the god of war) claims that he was given a bum rap when he led a failed rebellion against Zeus in the good old days. All he was trying to do was to get things back the way they were before Zeus stupidly created the human race. Humans, he argues, are such horrible, selfish creatures that the only thing to do with them is destroy them, or have them destroy themselves in war. Once the last human has been exterminated, then the gods can go back to living in a paradise. Humans are so debased that they will inevitably sink to the vilest, most despicable behaviors. This calls to mind  Hobbes’ state of nature where we are all at each others’ throats in the blink of an eye, out only for ourselves, and what we can gain.

The picture Ares describes has a lot of similarities with Trumpworld, where our main concern is being “great,” whether as an individual or as a nation. You can’t be great unless someone else is not great, right? So it’s all about competition, getting ahead, out-maneuvering someone else. It’s a tough-guy, belligerent, pushy kind of world, where if you don’t give me what I want, I’d just as soon knock you over the head to get it.   Nice guys finish last, you losers.

But Wonder Woman learns that love can triumph over anger, greed, and war. In the final battle, she snatches victory from the jaws of defeat by drawing on the power of love that her friend Steve has shown her. The message is that we must accept the fact that human beings are flawed, but redeemable.   Wonder Woman’s mission is now to help us find our higher selves and keep that Ares-side in check. Not a bad moral. I could hear John Lennon’s voice ringing in my ears:  “All you need is love!”

But unfortunately, that’s wrong, that’s not all we need.   All we need is justice.   No one should know this better than Gal Gadot who plays Wonder Woman and comes from Israel where justice is in short supply.   You can flood the Middle East with as much love as you want, but until you solve the land issue—who owns what parcels, who can build where, who will be empowered to make decisions—you’re never going to have peace. Maybe Gal Gadot could use her newfound status as a superhero to smack some sense into the extremists on both sides who are holding that whole blighted region hostage and doing so much to make the world a more dangerous place.   Ares has been hard at work there for decades, but in disguise as Jehovah and Allah, in whose name the extremists claim the right to the land they’re killing each other for.  Time to unmask him and get serious about some practical solutions, not built on the impossible notion of what land God gave to whom, but rather on what would be fairest to everyone.  Love would help of course, and friendships need to be built, but any kind of peace has to be a just peace if it’s going to stick.

Next film up with Wonder Woman is the Justice League—how timely.

More on Jimmy Carter’s Relationship to the Bible

I began to worry that my post about Jimmy Carter leaving the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) may have been some of that fake news we’ve been hearing so much about, but no, some investigation revealed that it was real (see “Jimmy Carter Edits the Bible”). However, to my surprise, I found out that it was a recycled story from 2009.   Carter had written it back then as an open letter to the SBC and an Australian newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald and an online periodical The Age republished it as if it were brand new in April of this year. It was picked up and put on Facebook where I found it, and my commentary was in turn picked up by a Christian website Daily News Update –but to my surprise they titled the lead-in headline “More Apostasy — Jimmy Carter Edits the Bible.”  The thrust of my post was that this was welcome apostasy, that Carter was right to reject the belief that women should be subservient to men even though St. Paul tells us that’s the way it should be. My point was that everyone should be in the business of editing the Bible, and every other holy book we have latched onto here on Middle Earth.

There are two kinds of people in the world:

  1. Those who believe that God has delivered sacred words to holy men who wrote out lessons for posterity

2. Those who do not.

But even if you are in the first group and believe God has spoken to us through prophets, wouldn’t you agree to at least one of two propositions?

A) That the holy men or, later on, the  scribes who wrote things down, may have been in error at times or have been reflecting their culture as it existed at the time they wrote

B) That we still have to live together peacefully with those in the other group, or with those in groups who have a different holy book

If you agree with the first proposition, the task then becomes to comb through the sacred texts and figure out what might be words to live by and what might be myth or cultural bias or let’s just say something that doesn’t make sense. That’s what Carter did. He believes that God did not proclaim that a woman should submit to her husband’s will. He believes that women have equal rights in a marriage.

If you can’t bring yourself to the point of doubting that the holy book could be wrong about anything, it is to be hoped that at least you would subscribe to the second proposition, and could find common ground with those of other faiths or of no faith through the Seven Universal Sacraments.  Think about it.

 

 

 

Christianity and Islam in the Pursuit of Pain

The greatest threat to the modern world can be found in the revival of a belief from the Middle Ages: the pursuit of pain is a good thing. As Stephen Greenblatt points out in his recent book The Swerve, once upon a time there was a notion that inflicting pain upon our sinful bodies was a holy pursuit.   To mimic the kind of pain that the Savior experienced on the road to Golgotha would allow us to share the sanctity of His suffering, so it was not unusual in those benighted times to wear a hairshirt, or to find groups of flagellants publically flogging themselves with iron-pointed whips, or monks beating each other with rods, all in an effort to imitate Christ.

Common sense would dictate that this is a bad idea. It calls to mind that unfortunate group of young people today who are cutting themselves in order to feel the pain.   Any parent who finds their child has sunk into this practice will get that child to a therapist as quickly as possible.   Homo sapiens is programmed to  pursue the pleasures of life, not the pains, but in the Middle Ages a powerful force overrode this basic instinct. That force was belief in the afterlife.

Yes, the afterlife… The Great Beyond… The Happy Hunting Ground– or the Not-So-Happy if you have been a sinner and failed to get right with God before the end. As Greenblatt reminds us, Sir Thomas More’s 16th century book Utopia which was so progressive in many of its policies (sharing the wealth, universal health care, freedom of religion) drew a hard line in the sands of that fabled island: if you did not believe in the rewards and punishments of a heaven and hell, you would be executed immediately. Rejection of an afterlife was dangerous in Utopia, because without the fear of hell, More felt that people will always try to lie, cheat, and murder their way into greater wealth and power.    We only need jails and punishments in the here and now because people don’t believe in the punishments of the hereafter.

Sir Thomas may have been right about the power of the fear of God.   Certainly there is no sign since the Enlightenment began increasing the ranks of the atheists that we’ve created a Utopia anywhere, though Scandinavia may be getting close. But More was beyond a doubt wrong about making the afterlife the foundation of his belief system. Under radical Islam, that belief is what is causing so much senseless death and destruction every day, coupled as it is with a revival and glorification of the medieval pursuit of pain.   Who would ever have believed that this cult of death would take root in the 21st century, a cult where suicide bombers and martyrdom become the highest form of community service, where men and women are encouraged to undertake “missions” that they know will lead to their painful deaths, all for a misguided idea that a reward awaits you in Paradise?

Some might argue that it’s not belief in an afterlife per se that is the problem, but rather, the particular afterlife that is being peddled to these would-be heroes.  But the problem here is that, if you are a rational creature, you would like some evidence of which afterlife that’s being offered by the religions of the world is the genuine article and not some knock-off fakery.    How would you talk a suicide bomber out of his belief that the koranic Paradise is really there, just waiting for him if he blows himself up in the right spot? By offering him an alternative view? Christ on the cross? Abraham’s bosom? Angels hosanna-ing?

What would therapy be for a deluded young person whose greatest aspiration is to be a martyr? Perhaps if we do in fact need the fear of God to keep the world from disintegrating it should be the God of Compassion–focused on making this life as pleasant as possible for as many as possible without reference to what happens when we cross that unknowable Divide.

Confronting the Dark Side in Portland

It’s just too stark—the contrast revealed in the tragedy on the commuter train outside Portland, Oregon a week ago jumps out at you.   The images say so much: On the one hand we have Jeremy Christian a scowling, angry, self-styled nihilist, spewing his message of hate, wrapped in the American flag, a blind nationalist xenophobe, someone who is clearly unbalanced, hoping for a chance to cut someone down, shouting out death threats even in a court of law…

…and then there are those brave souls who confronted this darkness: first a student/poet, second an ex-soldier-father-of-four, and finally, Taliesin Myrdden Namkai-Meche, a young man just out of college, full of life, beloved by all his friends and family, beaming with bonhomie and good-will-toward-men, who as he lay dying in the care of a stranger managed to say, “Tell everyone on this train I love them.”

And who can forget his mother,  Asha Deliverance, who at the vigil for the victims urged us to say no to hate, to “give it up for love.” As a Muslim girl in a headscarf approached her afterwards she reached out and….well, one picture is worth a thousand words.

Forget the photo of Iwo Jima, the Moon Landing, or the Fall of Saigon–this picture beats them all.  It’s a moment of transcendence, a glimpse of our higher selves. It’s the Pieta for our century, and like Michaelangelo’s masterpiece, we feel the mother’s grief at the child lost, a good life destroyed by the Dark Side, but amidst that pain the triumph over death through love.

Nihilism versus Lovingkindness. Is there really a choice about the way forward to a better world?