Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Where — and why — Erick Erickson misses the boat

Some of the howls of rage concerning what some have referred to as a miscarriage of justice in the Philander Castile case, during which a police officer shot him to death but found innocent of murder, have come from unlikely places. One of those came from activist Erick Erickson, who on the blog “The Resurgent” went through a litany of examples of what might be called “microaggressions” that social-justice warriors would have applauded.

But the most jarring part of his piece was this bit of naïveté: “But I am a conservative and I oppose judging any person based on a group. Each man is entitled to his own dignity, not the dignity he gets by virtue of being a part of some group. To think otherwise is not conservative.”

It’s naïve because everyone belongs to some “group” — and yes, I mean everyone. In fact, we all belong to several groups, whether racial, ethnic or cultural and all with some kind of history (which often includes some social injustice in which the wounds have yet to heal). I have to admit that I didn’t appreciate that myself until I was a teen because I’ve been crossing racial and cultural lines since I was 6.

And it’s that history that Erickson ignores. Indeed, the vast majority of Americans have ancestors who emigrated from other countries and in many cases, especially in major cities, have kept those respective heritages alive.

Of course, when you don’t acknowledge someone’s heritage you don’t get an idea of his or her thought process, which might differ from yours — which is why we’ve needed a “diversity” movement in the first place but that, I suspect, Erickson fears. In other words, the basic message is that “We don’t want or intend to change our views,” which is a major issue.

During my first year of college I read an article in the now-defunct HIS magazine, published by the Christian missions-focused ministry InterVarsity. The article’s subject was racial and cultural diversity in South Africa, and one white South African student was quoted as saying, “You must have your own culture — and love the other one, too.” I didn’t appreciate it at the time but certainly do today, and I hope Erickson gets that someday.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Hating the 'left'

If you’re wondering why worshippers of President Donald Trump are really encouraging the rollback of environmental protections, the repeal of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act and other things since Trump’s inauguration, Brian Beutler of The New Republic and Paul Krugman of The New York Times have both summed it up nicely.

This clause by Beutler about the ACA should explain it: “Republicans simply stapled together whatever set of measures they needed to pass a bill in the House, because the claim to having dismantled something important to Obama and liberals matters more to them than the underlying state of the U.S. health care system.”

Krugman has written that the opposition to the Paris Accord in particular and climate change in general “is largely driven by sheer spite.  [M]uch of today’s right seems driven above all by animus toward liberals rather than specific issues. If liberals are for it, they’re against it. If liberals hate it, it’s good.”

This is the reason our country is so divided — the contempt those on the right have for those perceived as left-leaning.

It started as far back as 1980, with the negative advertising against Democrats resulting in the first “Republican Revolution” and even some evangelicals referring to those more on the left as dangerous; since-disgraced evangelist Jimmy Swaggart once referred to liberal politics as “akin to Communism.” Later on conservatives did their best to have President Bill Clinton — who really wasn’t all that liberal, truth be told — removed from office, activists during the 1992 presidential campaign filing suit in Federal court to have him removed from the ballot and, failing that, setting him up for a failed impeachment.

Some years ago the evangelical ministry Sojourners that has always focused on social justice set up a blog, “God’s Politics,” after a 2004 book by the same name by founder Jim Wallis. Almost immediately conservatives started denouncing it, some of them making snide comments and others personally attacking folks who dared to disagree with them. Sojo tried everything to lower the temperature, even going to a Facebook-based commenting system so that people simply couldn’t anonymously flame others for disagreeing.

Not even that worked, as I suspected that it wouldn’t. The hate proved to be just too deep.

Recently I read an article online about narcissists, who exhibit the symptoms of “gaslighting,” projection, changing the subject and desiring control, and recognized that such typify many Trump supporters. They simply refuse to be confronted on their behavior, just like the object of their worship (and I don’t think I’m exaggerating, either). I don’t see liberals acting the same way; the few that do are basically on the margins and have little, if any, power.

All this flies in the face of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is at heart about reconciliation — with God through His cross but also with each other. That in America the Christian faith is often considered synonymous with right-wing politics thus should be problematic, and some churches I wouldn’t even attend if it displayed conservative literature.

I would hope that those of us who are followers of Christ develop the humility to learn what any opponent is thinking and how he or she comes to his or her convictions. Perhaps we all could learn something.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

One difference between right and "left"

A couple of days ago, comedian Kathy Griffin displayed a fake severed head of President Donald Trump on TV. A lot of liberals condemned her in the process, and she lost her job at CNN as a result.

Over the past few years, right-wing rock musician Ted Nugent has said that both President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should both be executed. Not only did Nugent face no similar fallout from conservatives but he was also invited to the White House after Trump's inauguration. 

Please don’t even try to tell me that the "left" is merely a mirror image of the right, because it isn’t and never has been. What we're seeing is the result of a long-standing double standard in that a conservative taking shots at someone perceived as more liberal is "truth" but even mild criticism of conservatives is "politically correct," "biased" or a personal attack. The only thing that seems to matter to that side of the political fence is that "liberals" are humiliated or destroyed, in the words of Malcolm X, "by any means necessary." That's the real reason our country is so divided.

This has been going on for decades; I first began to notice it in the 1980s, but it became obvious with what the political right was doing to President Bill Clinton to try to drive him from power. What was his real crime? Getting elected.

During the last presidential campaign, a T-shirt with a vulgar reference to Hillary Clinton was being sold at the Republican National Convention, and no conservative to my knowledge displayed similar disgust. Indeed, eight years ago GOP presidential candidate John McCain was criticized for refusing to denounce Democrat then-candidate Barack Obama as a “Kenyan socialist” or "closet Muslim," among other things. 

But at some point people get tired of being bullied and will eventually lash out, and I won't blame them one bit for doing so. We're already seeing this on certain college campuses, where conservative firebrands such as Ann Coulter, Milo Yiannopoulos and even Charles Murray have been shouted down because the students are smart enough to recognize their true purpose — sliming opponents. (No, it's not about "exposing people to different views" because the speakers themselves, there specifically to cause trouble and well paid in the process, don't offer anything constructive or are even attempting to.)

Why am I not similarly criticizing the left? Primarily because it doesn't operate the same way — remember that Griffin lost her job as a result — and I refuse to engage in false equivalence. They're just not the same.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Be careful what you wish for ...

The complaint during the last general election was that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was too beholden to the “establishment.” As a result she faced a strong opposition from Sen. Bernie Sanders, not even a registered Democrat until he decided to run; and was ultimately defeated by real estate tycoon Donald Trump.

But in the four months that Trump has been president he’s had numerous goof-ups, most recently and notably allegedly sharing classified information (“state secrets”) with the Russian government.

A number of his defenders over the past few months have said something to the extent of Give him time — he needs it to get things right. They should have thought of that beforehand because rookies don’t make those kinds of egregious mistakes.

They're also saying, He’s got good people around him. But from where will they come? The ranks of the “establishment” which they said they voted against.

This leads to the question: Why is politics, especially in Washington D.C., the one occupation where experience is a bad thing? It seems to me that at that level you would want someone who knows how to legislate, which these days includes making deals with other politicians, and dealing with foreign governments. After all, in any other line of work you need experience and, whether we want to admit it or not, politics is a line of work.

The myth — and it is a myth — of the “citizen legislator” certainly dies hard. The thinking goes that folks would go to Washington [or the state capitol of your choice], stay for a term or two and then come back home. What they don’t tell you is that the only people who had the time to do that were wealthy landowners, especially considering that nearly three-quarter of Americans lived on farms and didn’t have the time or energy to get involved in political matters. Like it or not, we’ve always needed a “political class” that knows what it’s doing, and that’s especially the case since the “Industrial Revolution” at the turn of the last century.

Frankly, we’ve always had an élite class running things at the top, and there’s no reason to believe that that will change now. And, even more frankly, whether we want to accept that or not, Trump has always been a part of that élite class. (Would you have even heard of him otherwise?)

That explains the saying “Be careful what you wish for — you just might get it,” the implication that it might not be all it’s cracked up to be. People demanded a president they perceived as independent from the “establishment” and thus should be prepared to accept more of the incompetence that he’s so far displayed. Perhaps they’ll learn better next time.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The math doesn't add up

My estimation of Bishop T.D. Jakes has risen just a little.

Jakes, long-time pastor of Potter’s House in Dallas, Texas, was caught on a CBN News tape challenging the idea that churches should be in charge of feeding the hungry but also some other diaconal issues in the community rather than government welfare programs that many conservatives despise. He said that he “pulled out my calculator,” the math didn’t add up and the church would go bankrupt in trying to feed the hungry in its zip code alone — not to mention helping to pay for prescriptions for the elderly woman who may have “five things wrong with her.”

Two things we can take from Jakes’ diatribe: 

1) The church of Jesus Christ is not primarily a social-service agency; its primary function is to bear witness to an unseen world and live by Kingdom values and, in the process, draw people to Him. Well, didn’t the early church meet physical needs? Yes, but for one specific reason: Its members had personal experience with destitution, as it originally was an underground, often friendless institution that obliged them to lean on each other.

That’s a far cry from today, especially in America where attending a church is a sign of respectability and discipleship is little more than a private affair having no bearing on what people do with their money and possessions. In many cases churches, particularly larger ones, aren’t even located in poorer areas and are often out of touch with those who are suffering. 

2) In referring to the woman who may need medicine, which can be expensive in its own right, Jakes also critiqued the occasional — and, some would say, systematic — rapaciousness of capitalism, which wouldn’t go over well with some others trying to defend that system against “socialism.” It’s not even about the money, however; it’s about access, which people who worship (and I use that word deliberately) at its shrine never address, insisting that living properly and maintaining Christian “morals” is the key to prosperity. Never mind that Jesus rejected that bad theology, which is why the Pharisees, who “loved money,” couldn’t stand Him.

During President George W. Bush’s first term the idea of “compassionate conservatism” was thrown around, with churches invited to apply for government aid to maintain their programs. But only to churches, not mosques or secular agencies, I suspect because they were supposed to “convert” people and thus stay out of trouble. Thing is, however, that the forces that keep the poor in their state are often systemic — something not to be addressed because the power of the “rich” might be threatened.

Which is the point of the Magnificat, what Mary recited when she learned she was pregnant with Jesus — and also possibly the point of the Gospel.

Jakes said something that a lot of people don’t want to hear: Following Jesus costs something. And it may cost more than some may want to pay — not just money, either.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Trump idolatry

During the last election campaign I said to a woman on Facebook who supported Donald Trump for president, “You worship Trump.” She became angry and immediately unfriended me, but I was OK with that because I knew that she did.

And despite all of his promises and pronouncements that he has made, not to mention the deflections and evasions that have occurred on his watch — including this week’s firing of FBI director James Comey, apparently for requesting more funds to investigate the probe of Trump’s possible connections to the Russian government and if it indeed interfered in that election — folks are still defending him.

I can thus assume that it’s due to Trump being an idol in his own right, a symbol of their fears not afraid to denigrate any opposition. And from a spiritual perspective, that should be frightening.

They’ve been silent as of late, but some folks were actually predicting a revival due to his “reign,” and frankly I don’t understand why. In order to spark revival you have to admit and confess sins, including the ones you commit or are involved with. And so far that hasn’t happened, nor do I expect it to because he’s apparently so full of himself. Sure, he signed an executive order guaranteeing “religious freedom” but which proved to be basically toothless and, really, irrelevant anyway because revival won’t result from getting rid of gays in society.

Trump has been in the Oval Office for not even four months, and in that time he has yet to demonstrate any respect for his office, the Congress or the bureaucracy that are a part of government. Perhaps he’s aping Louis XIV, who famously said, “L’état, c’est moi” (translated: “I am the state”).

Dude — no, you’re not.