[This blog post is the opinion of Greg Nooney and not necessarily the view of the First Unitarian Church of Sioux City.]
In his 11-13-2021 editorial in the Sioux City Journal, Marc Thiessen proposes that critical race theory (CRT) is dangerous and is being used to indoctrinate America’s children. Thiessen argues that CRT has its roots in 18th Century philosopher Immanuel Kant’s work, and, as so, rejects reason. It has been almost 50 years since I studied Kant, but a cursory understanding of his work is sufficient to realize that such an interpretation is patently false, since Kant systematically argues the importance of reason in public discourse. In his essay “What is Enlightenment?” Kant stated “the public use of one’s reason must be free at all times, and this alone can bring enlightenment to mankind.” CRT is based on postmodern thought, is much too complicated and nuanced to be taught to elementary or high school students, and Thiessen offers no evidence that CRT is actually being taught to our children.
What is important is the way in which CRT is being used as a catchphrase to disguise the conservative view that racism shouldn’t be acknowledged or taught in our schools. In his November 20, 2021 editorial, Leonard Pitts pointed out that when conservatives ask how young is too young to teach children about race, what they are really asking is how young is too young to teach white children about race, because Black and Brown children already know about racism from their experience of it. When I attended school in Sioux City in the 1950s and 1960s, I was taught that there were some bad slave owners, but there were bad people of all races and most slaves were happy with their lot. I was not taught that young white men were recruited into militias to patrol plantations to prevent the slaves from running away. I was not taught that there were hundreds of violently crushed slave uprisings. I was not taught that white slave owners could impregnate their female slaves and snatch the babies from their arms and sell them to the highest bidder. I was not taught that an estimated two or three Blacks were lynched each week in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and that lynchings were celebratory family events for white families.
When my father returned from his service in World War II, he utilized the GI Bill to attend Morningside College and to get a low interest loan on a house, which made it possible for my family to join the middle class. I was not taught that Black soldiers were routinely denied GI benefits. If they did try to purchase a house, they were redlined and not allowed to purchase houses in the neighborhood I grew up in.
When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968, 75% of white Americans disapproved of him and almost a third of Americans thought he brought it on himself. Today conservatives are praising him while misrepresenting his teachings. By arguing that Dr. King did not see America as systemically racist, Theisen is embracing what Ibram X. Kendi (the Atlantic, 10/14/2021) calls “the second assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.”
Dr. King’s writings and teachings speak for themselves. As Kendi reports, King wrote this in 1967: “Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.” He also told a NBS correspondent on May 8, 1967 that the “dream I had [in 1963] has at many points turned into a nightmare.” In his 1967 book, Where Do We Go From Here? He wrote: “It is, however, important to understand that giving a man his due may often mean giving him special treatment.”
The conservative CRT narrative is having a negative effect on teachers who worry they may suffer consequences if they talk about racism in their classes. In Virginia’s gubernatorial race, The Democratic candidate was criticized for saying that parents should not be telling schools what they should teach, and the winning candidate Glenn Youngkin proposed that parents should be in charge of their children’s education. If we accept Younkin’s position, what happens if parents decide that schools should teach, as I was taught, that slaves sang songs while picking cotton, and were generally content with their lot? It would appear that Youngkin and Thiessen would like to take us back to the 1950’s. I hope we have moved a little past that today.
[This blog post is the opinion of Greg Nooney and not necessarily the view of the First Unitarian Church of Sioux City.]
False equivalence occurs when two points of view are seen as deserving of equal consideration even though flawed or false reasoning is involved. For example, we know for a fact that the earth is a sphere. The evidence is incontrovertible. In spite of this, based on made-up scientific- sounding verbiage, there is a growing conspiracy traveling the Internet that the Earth is a flat disc. It would be false equivalence to argue that those who believe the Earth is flat should be given equal consideration to those who know the Earth is round. Another example would be comparing the theory of evolution to creationism. Evolutionary theory is the centerpiece of biological science. Creationism is a religious belief system that has been doctored up with scientific-sounding terminology to appear to the uneducated as a legitimate theory that ought to be given equal weight.
It has come to light recently that Facebook’s role in promoting hate speech, misinformation and disinformation in order to improve profits underscores the challenge of maintaining any semblance of useful public discourse. False equivalence, in my view, exacerbates the problem. In Ruben Navarrette’s opinion piece published in the Sioux City Journal on 10/21/2021, he argues that progressive’s use of the slogan “pay their share” in reference to wealthy Americans is equivalent to the alt right’s claim that under Biden we have “open borders.” Navarrette admits that this claim is a boldface lie when he stated: “There are too many agents, guns, fences, vehicles, sensors, lights, helicopters, boats, drones and holding cells for that to be true.”
It is a fact that many wealthy people pay a smaller percentage of their income to the IRS than hard-working Americans in the middle class, and that many billionaires pay no taxes at all. Based on these facts, I believe it is is reasonable to adopt the opinion that they are not paying their fair share, but this is an opinion. Navarrette is within his rights to form a different opinion, that people earning $400,000 a year are already paying their fair share in taxes. However, he offers no opinion regarding those who make ten or one hundred times that amount. He also offers no facts to support his opinion, except to note accurately that $400,000 doesn’t go as far in Boston than it does in Billings, Montana. In spite of the differences in opinion between Navarrette and myself, it would not be false equivalence for the two of us to argue our cases regarding this issue as long as we agree upon the same set of facts.
On the other hand, stating the opinion that wealthy people are not paying their fair share, based on undisputed facts, is not equivalent to lying about the U.S-Mexico border. One cannot compare opinions to lies and argue that we should give equal weight to each.
Similarly, the Big Lie promoted by Trump that the 2020 election was stolen from him through widespread fraud, which is believed by the vast majority of Republicans, cannot be seen as equivalent to the fact that this is not so. Just because millions of people believe a lie doesn’t stop it from being a lie. A lie or a series of lies, should never been seen as equivalent to the facts.
Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, a staunchly conservative Republican, is among the few Republicans who have publicly refused to promote the Big Lie. Knowing he will be targeted in the upcoming primary by someone who promotes the Big Lie and can thus be supported by Trump, he has decided not to seek reelection. After he made his announcement, Trump said, “2 down, 8 to go.” He was referring to the ten Republican Congresspersons who voted to impeach Trump for his role in the January 6th insurrection, as Ohio Representative Anthony Gonzalez, who was one of the ten, also announced his retirement.
The current Republican party is beholden to Trump, refuses to accept that Biden won the election, and is working hard to change laws throughout the country to make it easier to actually steal elections. These are fascist behaviors. I understand how people become frustrated with the log-jam in Congress. However, to consider disagreements in the Democratic party whether to pass a $3.5 trillion or a $1.9 trillion bill as somehow just as bad as such fascist behaviors is false equivalence at its worst.
For decades we have seen our country as having a two-party system. The Republican party has been seen as primarily conservative and the Democratic party as primarily liberal. However there has been an underlying assumption that both parties, although having at times vastly different opinions as to which laws and policies to promote, stand by the underlying principles of democracy. This is no longer the case. Liz Chaney, Adam Kinzinger, Anthony Gonzalez, and a few others have remained in the Republican party while advocating for these principles. Unfortunately, they are a small minority, and the party has been overtaken by Trump and those who support his lies. It is time to call out the current Republican party as a fascist party that stands against democracy and the Constitution. We are now at a point in our history where it is false equivalence to consider the Republican party and the Democratic party as deserving of equal consideration.
[This blog post is the opinion of Greg Nooney and not necessarily the view of the First Unitarian Church of Sioux City.]
We are alone.
These times of staying at home, afraid of a tiny microscopic virus who can invade our fragile bodies and kill us, are times for reflection. I have been reflecting. I am now 70 yers old, and I have been reflecting on my short life, and what is left of it.
There were two things that helped me get through adolescence: religion and science fiction. Both told me that we are not alone. My Catholic upbringing told me there was a God who ruled over everything but still had enough time to specifically pay attention to me, love me, and be concerned with my welfare. He might even intervene or send one of his angels to intervene whenever I got into trouble. Science fiction taught me that we are unlikely to be alone in the universe. All the stories I read were about other species on other planets. Isaac Asimov was one of my favorite writers and even he said that in order to write a science fiction story that was true to the science, it was OK to break one or two laws, but no more than that.
So the big one was that someday we will have faster-than-light (FTL) travel. It is explained as subspace, or traveling through a wormhole, or warp speed, or jumping. All are false. There is no such thing. If there are intelligent species on other planets orbiting other stars, we will most likely never know this. We get irritated when a newscaster has a three second lapse while interviewing someone due to satellite time lapse. Can you imagine trying to carry on a conversation with someone with a fifty-year lapse? Will we ever meet an alien species? Without FTL, the only possible way to travel to another star would be with a generation ship where it might take centuries to get to another planet. I guess that is possible, but extremely unlikely.
The second one was that time was universal throughout the universe. Not true. Time is relative. If there was an intelligent species on a planet orbiting a star 50 light years from here, and I were to ask “What is happening on that planet now?” It turns out that question is a nonsense question. There is no such thing as “now.” Every planet is running on a different time line. There is no “Star date” as Star Trek relies on.
The reality is that we are alone as a species, and it is our own damn fault.
We were not the only human species to evolve on this planet. There were at least two other human species with whom we shared the planet at one time: the Neanderthals and the Denisovans. Both species became extinct. Yuval Noah Harari in Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind suggests that Home Sapiens exterminated them, that is, forced their extinction. One could say we practiced genocide on those two human species.
Now we are alone.
Returning to religion. I have let go of the idea that there is an all-powerful deity who sets the rules, intervenes in human problems as he wishes, granting favorites to this football team and not that one, offers rain for crops in one part of the world, creating drought for another, answers prayers for those with cancer to allow them to live, but allows others to die, watches innocent children be abused and does nothing, but intervenes to allow some dude to win the lottery because he prayed harder. I have also let go of the idea that this deity demands that we worship him and obey his rules, and if we don’t, condemns us after we die to eternal suffering and torture. If there were such a creature who would choose favorites and break the laws of nature at a whim, such a creature doesn’t deserve homage, in my opinion. Such a creature ought to be challenged, as Job challenged, but in the end, not succumbed to, as Job did succumb. Also I have rejected the idea that this creature will come and rescue us from our foibles at the end of time, casting aside the unworthy and embracing those he determines to be worthy.
No, again, we are alone. The chaos we create as the dominant mammal on the planet will destroy us, or we will change it. There is no help from aliens or gods.
I remember books written by another great science fiction writer, Larry Niven, who introduced the reader to a species called Puppeteers. This species shared their planet with abundant love for one another. In fact, in the stories, the only Puppeteers humans ever met were insane because for a Puppeteer to want to travel off their planet was strong evidence of insanity. Why would any Puppeteer want to leave their planet where they loved all others of their species?
Our species is of course a long way from there. We have designed intricate and devious ways to hurt each other, over and over again. We have learned to ignore our innate sense of compassion and empathy not only for our own species, but for the other species on Earth. Our cruelty seems to have no limit.
So. We are alone. And we are hurting.
I once asked a psychiatrist friend of mine if he thought that 90% of humans are living unconsciously 90% of the time. He disagreed. He said he thought it was 99%. So what to do? What hope is there? My work is to become more mindful, to become more curious about my life, and to encourage others to become curious about their lives.
We will still be alone as a species and to some extent alone as individuals. But, perhaps, such work will make a difference, will improve our lives, remind us to love each other because there is no one else. Maybe, just maybe, we will find a way out of this mess we have created.
Review: Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, by Mary L. Trump, Ph.D. Published by Simon & Schuster: 2020
I recommend this book for anyone who might be interested in what makes Donald Trump tick. However, for those who do not have the time to read the book, who do not want to pay the $25 to own it, or do not want to wait in line to get a hold of a copy from their public library, I offer the following review. I believe I offer a decent summary, but also permeated with lots of my opinions.
I am a clinical social worker and have been working with people diagnosed with mental illness for over thirty years. In spite of the Goldwater Rule which forbids physicians from making a mental health diagnosis of someone unless they have examined them and they have consent to do so, many have speculated as to what mental illnesses might be attributed to Donald Trump. One of the favorite diagnoses speculated was Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I am convinced that Dr. Mary Trump, daughter of Donald’s brother Freddie, is in a perfect position to address this question due to her intimate experience of the Trump family along with her training as a clinical psychologist.Read more
I re-read a science fiction novel published by Isaac Asimov in 1965 entitled The Naked Sun, due to its relevance for today. The story is about a planet of humans who live almost entirely separate from one another. Routinely, they “view” each other through a sophisticated technology of holographic imagery, a kind of Zoom on steroids. As a result, over the centuries, they developed an adverse reaction to any form of actual human contact. Those who are married tolerate physical contact for the sole purpose of procreation.
In the story, there is a particular character named Gladia, who is considered psychotic because she craves human contact. There is a scene at the end of the book, (Bantam books, pp. 257-258) where she allows herself to say goodbye to the protagonist, a human from Earth named Elijah Baley as follows:
Again a silent moment while they faced each other at ten paces.
Then Gladia cried suddenly, “Oh, Elijah, you’ll think it abandoned of me.”
“Think what abandoned?”
“May I touch you? I’ll never see you again, Elijah.”
“If you want to.”
Step by step, she came closer, her eyes glowing, yet looking apprehensive, too. She stopped three feet away, then slowly, as in a trance, she began to remove the glove on her right hand.
Baley started a restraining gesture. “Don’t be foolish, Gladia.”
“I’m not afraid,” said Gladia.
Her hand was bare. It trembled as she extended it.
And so did Baley’s as he took her hand in his. They remained so for one moment, her hand a shy thing, frightened as it rested in his. He opened his hand and hers escaped, darted suddenly and without warning toward his face until her fingertips rested featherlight upon his cheek for the barest moment.
She said, “Thank you, Elijah. Goodbye.”
He said, “Goodbye, Gladia,” and watched her leave.
Even the thought that a ship was waiting to take him back to Earth did not wipe out the sense of loss he felt at that moment.
Each day I go for a walk along Perry Creek here in Sioux City. When humans pass me, I move as far off the path as I can and tighten my mask. I wave and they almost always wave back, happy to see another human, but with no desire to touch or even get within a few feet. I confess that I am worried that extended periods of isolation will make me afraid of touching other humans, especially those whom I do not know well. Dr. Anthony Fauci, NAIAID Director has said that handshakes should be a thing of the past even after a reliable vaccine against COVID 19 is developed. Is there a danger that we will end up like Gladia, trembling and shocked at herself for taking off her glove and touching another human being?
I sincerely hope not. Human touch can of course be violent. There is even an expression “He put his hands on me,” which is a description of an assault. Odd expression. At the same time, human touch can be healing. I remember Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross saying that the minimum daily requirement of hugs is eleven. I am fortunate to be sheltering at home with my spouse of 40 years so we can hug each other. So many humans are all alone, without hugs, without human touch. What effect will this have in the long run?
One of the criticisms often made against liberals is that we do not have a faith-based world view, and consequently we lack a moral compass. I could argue that humanism is a more viable moral compass than the Abrahamic religions that routinely justify warfare and discrimination, but I will leave that for another time. My concern today is a lack of moral outrage by those with a faith-based world view in light of President Trumps’ ordering the assassination of Qassem Soleimani. His role in Iran is similar to Gina Haspel’s role as the Director of the CIA in the United States. She was the chief of a CIA black site in Thailand in 2002 in which prisoners were tortured. These were war crimes. Now as the director, there is no telling what atrocities she may be authorizing, using the justification of fighting terrorism.
I invite the reader to imagine the moral outrage that would deafen our airways if a foreign country were to assassinate Ms. Haspel as she landed at an airport in Iraq, or Paris, or London. I would guess that the only reason we are not at war with Iran at this moment is because of Iran’s restraint. I would also guess that their restraint is due to the fact that we have nuclear weapons and they do not. Consequently their motivation to obtain a nuclear weapon is now greatly increased, especially as they no longer have to abide by the US/Iran nuclear deal negotiated by President Obama.
There have been arguments regarding whether Trump’s action was strategic, whether it was wise, whether it will do more harm than good. My point, however is that I am not hearing arguments that his action was immoral. So, as a liberal humanist, I am writing to express my moral outrage at his actions. I invite religious folks to join me. Absent such an outcry, in my view, those with a faith-based world view who have been willing to justify Trumps’s other moral failings, have lost whatever speck of credibility they may have had left.
Abortion: A Modest Proposal
I am reluctant to write about abortion because it is such a hot contentious topic. However I am interested in the recent Alabama law that criminalizes abortion except for when the life of the mother is endangered. There are staunch “pro-life” proponents who say well, perhaps we should allow exceptions for rape and incest. I wish to understand this better and would invite any pro-life” person to respond to my questions. By the way I put “pro-life” in quotations because it seems to me that if someone is pro-life they would also be in favor of easy access to birth control and more governmental assistance for children who have been born, to support their life, such as Medicaid and other parts of a safety net and would also be against capital punishment. I am sure some pro-life folks are in fact in favor of these things but many are not.
If a person actually believes that human life begins at conception and a fertilized egg should have all the rights of any other human being, then it makes absolutely no sense to allow exceptions for rape and incest. It would still be murder to “take the life” of a fertilized egg or fetus who was conceived through rape or incest. Also, the doctor should be charged with first degree murder and the mother should be charged with felony murder. This would be consistent with the belief. As a corollary, if a lab tech with pre-meditation, destroys embryos, they should be considered a serial murderer and be treated as such.
As long as such a “pro-life” person agrees to rape and incest exceptions, and denies the need for extreme criminal prosecution for both the doctor and the mother, then it seems to me they are going against their belief that the fetus is a human being with full rights. For those "pro-life" proponents who agree with allowing an exception for rape and incest, on what basis would you provide for these exceptions?
So I applaud the Alabama Congress and governor for their law although, as pointed out earlier, they should go further and charge the doctor with first degree murder, and the mother and all the attendants with felony murder. Otherwise they are saying that a fetus does not have the same rights as a human being who has been birthed. If a doctor with the consent of a mother goes into her home with pre-meditation, and murders her one-year-old, the doctor would charged with first degree murder and the mother with felony murder. Why should it be any different with a fetus, if in fact the belief is that it should have full human rights?
So providing these exceptions and giving only a maximum sentence of 99 years to the doctor, is to admit that, in fact, a fetus does not have the same rights as a birthed human. It is a slippery slope, folks, to deny these fetuses these protections. What next, maybe we would allow a woman who has a deformed fetus the right to abort it? Then what? Abortion on demand?
So I propose much stricter laws be put on the books and let the Supreme Court decide.
Oh, I almost forgot, the Supreme Court already decided this in Roe. vs Wade. By the way, I would recommend that people actually read this decision as it works hard to balance the rights of the pregnant woman and hesitates to allow the government to intervene in the rights she has over her body, except in extraordinary circumstances, that is, when the fetus is viable and could live outside the womb. Only at that point would the government have the right (not the requirement) to set up some restrictions.
I have been living on Maui for nine weeks now. Every day I have gone on a beach walk, sometimes for half an hour, sometimes for an hour or more. (I missed a day or two here and there.) Same beach. Usually the same time of day, around 4:30 or 5:00 p.m. Anyone who lives by the ocean knows this, but for those of you who do not, the ocean is relentless. Every few seconds the waves crash upon the shore. Day and night. Tide coming in or tide going out. Like your heart beat. It never stops. And every single wave crash is different than every other wave crash. It is impossible to precisely predict where a wave will hit the shore and with how much intensity. The water is not neutral in its effects. The waves ever so slowly turn rocks into sand. The waves move huge pieces of driftwood around. The waves move rocks into piles, and the waves disrupt those piles. The waves pile sand up on objects then, as an after thought, knock those object around. One day a nice piece of driftwood makes for a handy perch for this old man to sit and watch the waves. Another day the wood has been obscured by piles of sand and is no longer inviting.
Please understand that I am talking about changes that have occurred over days or weeks. I notice these changes because I walk along that beach every day, and the changes occur slowly, almost imperceptibly. Nine weeks is not even a blink of the eye when we attempt to consider larger time periods. Ho long does it take ocean waves to turn a small rock into sand? One hundred years? One thousand years? How about a big boulder? One million years? It is impossible for this human to comprehend one thousand years, much less one million years.
Earth was formed about 4.5 billion years ago and single cell organisms appeared about 3.5 billion years ago. It then took almost 3 billion years for those single celled organisms to evolve into multi-celled organisms. This takes my breath away. Life, like ocean waves, is relentless. It is ever changing, but at a pace that is impossible to comprehend. Intelligent design believers say, for example, that the eye could not have evolved, that it must have been created by an entity outside of the universe as we know it, who, detail by detail, created it. To the extent that we can comprehend the vast amounts of time involved in the evolutionary process, it makes much more sense, it seems to me, to see how evolution is much more likely. It is relentless. It is patient. Life is quite content to take two and a half billion years to figure out how to combine single cells into multi-cells. What is the hurry? There are no clocks. There are no intelligent beings who have decided to divide the passage of time into nanoseconds.
So I continue my walks and will do so for the next month until I leave the island and return to the midwest where there are no oceans and no mountains. But I will remember. And I will work to hold on to a different understanding of the passage of time than my iPhone tells me. I am just beginning to understand the Buddhist concept of impermanence.
May all beings be well. My all beings be happy. May all beings be free form suffering.
I have been thinking a lot about faith lately. At my mother’s funeral many years ago, the priest said that she “kept the faith.” Sometimes people talk about how they “lost their faith.” No matter how hard I try, I have been unable to understand what these phrases mean. The news this week is filled with stories about an Easter bombing in Sri Lanka where suicide bombers killed hundreds of people. It must take a great deal of faith to strap on a bomb vest to kill as many people as possible including oneself. What kind of faith is that? Faith in a leader that tells you that the cause is just? Faith that you will be rewarded in the after-life? Faith in your own concept of a divine being who would support such an act? These callous murderers “kept their faith.” No one I know would condone such behavior. Yet, many people support the idea of “keeping the faith,” as long as that faith is congruent with that person’s belief system.
So it seems that the endorsement of faith is dependent on what that faith consists of. I do not think it would be honest to suggest that those suicide bombers had “lost their faith.” I wish they had lost their faith. Rather, they kept their faith and they embraced that faith to a much greater degree than most people. How many people do you know who would kill themselves if their religious leader told them to, or if they believed that their god told them to? Not me. Life is too precious. And how about if their leader or their god asked them to kill others? In fact, every day we train soldiers to kill other humans whenever ordered to do so. They must have faith in the chain of command, or perhaps faith in those who tell them that they are killing in order to protect some ephemeral concept such as freedom or democracy. In reality, I would guess that their desire to kill others only gets activated strongly when their comrades have been killed and they want revenge, or they want to protect themselves or others.
In the book of Genesis (22:1-12) the god of Abraham ordered him to sacrifice his only son as a burnt offering in order to test Abraham’s faith. Abraham was prepared to do it. He did not lose his faith. He kept his faith, and as a result today he is recognized as the father of the three most powerful and populous monotheistic religions in the world: Christians, Muslims and Jews. In fact, over 56% of all humans on this planet belong to one of these religious groups. They all worship the same god. When they act in murderous ways, they often do so claiming that their god endorses such actions.
From time to time there are stories of cult leaders who are charismatic and who develop followers who have strong faith in those leaders. Jim Jones considered himself a Christian and called his church The People’s Temple. In 1978 over 900 followers of Jim Jones died, some from voluntarily drinking Flavor Aid mixed with Valium, chloral hydrate, cyanide, and Phenergan. One third of those who died were children. Some apparently lost their faith and were forced to drink it by Jones’ lieutenants with guns. A total of 33 of those who lost their faith escaped to the jungle and survived the event.
I know there are also many stories of people who under extreme duress, such as prisoners of war, Japanese interned during Work War II, slavery, the holocaust, genocide of Indigenous peoples in this country, who survived solely because they kept their faith, whatever that faith may have been. So I do not want to discount this reality. To believe something fervently and resoundingly can be a powerful thing. I think of Susan B. Anthony’s words: “Failure is impossible” in encouraging her fellow suffragettes, knowing that she would not live to see women having the right to vote. Such words illustrate an incredible amount of faith. Was such faith justified? In fact women did not gain the right to vote for 14 years after her death. Perhaps she had faith in the human species to continue to evolve, and that refusing women the right to vote was such an oppressive thing that there was no way it could be sustained forever.
There are many people today who have a strong faith in Donald Trump. Their faith seems to be unshakable. What is it based on? Many of such faith are evangelical Christians and claim their faith in god as consistent with their faith in Trump. They call anyone who doesn’t have this sort of faith a Trump-hater. I am not a Trump-hater. I am a distraught old white man. I would like to hope that many who have faith in Trump might lose their faith. However I do not believe this will happen. It appears to me that they are caught in a cult even stronger than that of those in Jonestown. Jim Jones had to have armed lieutenants to enforce his outlandish claims to power. Trump is the commander in chief of the most powerful military force on the planet, but hasn’t as of yet had to use it to keep his so-called base in line. They seem to be men and women of deep faith.
Ultimately, faith is believing something when there is insufficient evidence to support such belief. It can be powerful and at times even helpful. However in my view it usually does more harm than good. Perhaps we would do well to praise those who lose their faith rather than those who keep it.
Bertrand Russel a famous British philosopher, when asked if he was willing to die for his beliefs is quoted as replying: “Certainly not, after all, I may be wrong.” He also said: “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.” I also very much like the following quote from the American journalist Neal Gabler: “True religion, I believe, begins in doubt and continues in spiritual exploration. Debased religion begins in fear and terminates in certainty.” So now that you have little idea of my worldview, you are free to continue reading or scroll down.
I recently attended a public lecture series exploring the Apostle Paul and the law, presented at my local library and sponsored by a Messianic Jewish group. I was interested in this topic because I have recently been reading and reflecting on the early Christian communities that sprung up after the death of Jesus of Nazareth. From what I have been able to glean from early writings and scholarly study, in the first years after the death of Jesus, the first version of the Gospel of Mark was published. The current version in today’s Bible was clearly altered in significant ways in the decades after its first publication. For example, the first version had no virgin birth, no resurrection, and no notion of the divinity of Jesus or the idea that he died for our sins. Rather, the account was one of a faith healer who challenged the strict interpretation of Mosaic law, and set about to relieve devout Jews of those restrictions. As a result he came into conflict with the Jewish leaders of his time, was crucified with two thieves, both of whom derided him. At his death the temple curtain was torn in two from top to bottom. This was Mark’s way of saying that the old Mosaic law had been struck down. The followers of Jesus no longer had to burden themselves with strict detailed practices of the law, which in fact were virtually impossible for anyone to follow completely, which of course gave the Pharisees and Sadducees the power to control the population as they could enforce those provisions that they wished to enforce with those people they wished to control.
This reminds me of some of the housing code practices in Chicago when I lived there in the 1970’s under the reign of “His Honor The Mayor” Daley. The housing stock was old, and those housing codes were so strict that Daley or his minions could punish anyone they wished to punish simply by showing up and finding some code violations. Mayor Daley was once asked if he had considered running for president and he answered he had not because he had much more power as mayor of Chicago than he would ever have as president of the United States.
But I digress. Along with Mark’s Gospel, Paul’s letters are some of the earliest writings of the time. The first version of the Gospel of Luke wasn’t written until 66 C.E., and Mathew as a counter to Luke in 68. The Acts of the Apostles were probably written in 72 to counter Mathew’s account. The Gospel of John was written much later probably in the second century. The doctrine of the Trinity has no mention in the Bible at all, and didn’t develop until centuries later.
So as a result Paul’s letters are important. It seems clear that there was significant conflict between Paul and Peter. Peter represented the early Jewish communities who were followers of Jesus. They appreciated the importance of repentance. They practiced the baptism of John the Baptist, not the Baptism of the Spirit that included speaking of tongues as well as healing and prophesy powers. As mentioned above, they did not think of Jesus as divine or as having resurrected, and they had no notion that he died for their sins. Their sins were their sins and they needed to repent from them as John the Baptist said and Jesus repeated. They were forced to accept that Jesus was not in fact the Messiah who would liberate them from the occupation by the Romans and the oppression that resulted from that occupation. They however worked hard to build community, and they longed for the return of Jesus, hopefully in their lifetimes. Mostly, I expect, they felt liberated by not having to follow all the strict rules propagated by their religion leaders. They were good Jews, and they certainly did not want to bring Gentiles into their closely knit communities.
Along comes Paul, a Pharisee, a tent maker by profession, and a Roman citizen. It is unclear how anyone at that time could be a good Jew and be involved in the making of tents since most tents at that time were made of pigskins. Jewish law prohibited the touching of the carcass of any animal except for those that were slaughtered according to Jewish rituals, and to touch the carcass of a pig would never be permitted under any circumstances. Such an act would cause the the guilty party to be considered ritually unclean and would ban him from traditional Jewish worship. Paul never met Jesus of Nazareth, but claimed to have had a vision resulting in blindness whereby Jesus spoke to him. However, there are two separate accounts of this in the Acts of the Apostles that contradict each other. One states that his companions heard the voice but could see no one, and the other states they saw a light but could hear nothing.
What is certainly clear, however, is that it was Paul who propelled the early Jewish Jesus sect into a world religion by allowing Gentiles to join the group without having to follow Jewish law and in fact without even having to be circumcised. There is clear argument between Peter and Paul about this very issue, Paul arguing that circumcision was too heavy a burden to place on Gentiles and Peter arguing the opposite. Obviously Paul’s argument won out eventually. Had Peter’s position taken hold, it is unlikely that Christianity would have developed into a world religion. In addition Paul presented many of the views that are now accepted as doctrine in Christianity including the divinity of Jesus, that he died for our sins and resurrected from the dead, that believing in him will save us, and the power obtained through the baptism of the the Spirit.
So back to the lecture series. I attended hoping to have the opportunity to discuss some of these issues with others who had studied and reflected on these ideas. Boy was I wrong. Instead I found myself in a room of people who claimed to be speaking from the authority of God, who believed that the Bible was a book directly inspired by God, and who had the amazing ability to either ignore or possibly not even see the many contradictions which would be apparent, it would seem to me, to any thinking person. OK, I know there are people like that. I just didn’t know that that was the group I would be sitting with. What was even more bizarre though was that the presenter who wrote a book about this, argued that in fact Paul remained true to Mosaic law and that Christians today should also adhere to those laws. When asked about this he backed off a little saying that there were some laws we could no longer follow but that we should follow as many as we possibly could.
I tried to sit still and listen. However toward the end of his lecture, the presenter went off on a tirade about how terrible the idea of evolution is and all the Satanic influences in our modern culture. It appeared that the group was in concert with him. He then made the argument that since humans have many biological systems and if one system were to be eliminated then the person couldn’t survive and the this was an argument against evolution. In my view it is an argument in favor of evolution, but that is neither here nor there. He then said, (as a joke perhaps?) that if you took the brain away from a human he would turn into a Democrat. I was activated at that a point, full amygdala fight-or-flight reflex and I decided to call him on it. I told him I was a Democrat and was offended. To his credit he did apologize, but he couldn’t help himself, I guess, in arguing that either you believed in killing babies or you didn’t, that he had 13 children and didn’t believe in killing babies.
Let’s put aside the fact that abortion is not mentioned even once in the entire Bible, and the fact that it is isn’t at all clear what the early Christian position on abortion was. Some clearly believed that the soul did not enter the fetus until some time after conception perhaps at the quickening so that abortion prior to then would not be the killing of a human being. Nevertheless, the presenter claimed and others in the group agreed, that his authority to so proclaim these ideas came from God himself, and that if I wanted to argue with the Creator I could do so, but I would never win such an argument. One of the participants agreed with this position and noted that he no longer will even try to argue with someone who disagrees; rather, he goes back to “From what authority do you speak?” emphasizing that he speaks of course from the authority of God.
In talking after the lecture to the presenter, I argued that saying he speaks from the authority of God is problematic due to others claim the same thing but speak differently. I wondered if he claimed that God spoke directly to him, and he would not answer this question.
I am glad that I attended this lecture for several reasons:
1) It gave me a brief experience of being in a large group and being a minority, and feeling unwelcome. This gives me a small taste of what it is like to be in that position. My wife pointed out that even so, I was sitting there with male privilege and white privilege, so my experience is of course only a fraction of the experience that a person of color of of a woman might have. Also the presenter’s anti LGBT views that spewed out of his mouth would have been much more impactful if I had not been straight and cis-gendered.
2) Many have proposed that the polarization in this county is at an all time high and that we ought to work toward narrowing that polarization. In reflecting on my experience, I am even less hopeful that this might be possible. Of course we were all humans in that room. I have little doubt that if I had fallen to the floor with a heart attack that other humans there would have helped me, or I them if such a need arose. So we certainly are much more alike than we are different. However, to take a stance of speaking from divine authority leaves little room for discussion.
3) I do agree with one thing that the presenter said. He indicated that if one did not believe the first chapter of Genesis, then the rest of the Bible could also be dismissed. Ironically, he seems to not comprehend that there are two distinct creation stories in Genesis. The first ends after the first verse of Chapter Two and the second totally different story starts at Chapter 2:2. I wanted to ask him if how he came to believe in the first version but not the second, but I knew it would be futile. So thank you anyway, since the two creation stories cannot both be correct, it stands to reason that either one is correct and the other incorrect, or both are incorrect. Or more to the point, both stories are stories, not the inspired word of God. In either case, the whole Bible goes out the window.
4) I was intrigued that this group was kind of a maverick group in that they are arguing that the two billion Christians on the planet ought to adopt old Mosaic law in order to be saved. That is quite a goal, and the chances of that happening are so insurmountable that to continue to promote this must require an incredible amount of fortitude. So I guess I must give them credit for such an outrageous stance. Perhaps the hopelessness of such a task is part of the reason that they must hold on so tightly to their positions in spite of the inconsistencies.
5) This experience has helped me to understand that once a person or a group removes reason and science as important constructs to utilize in the discussion, that there is little left to talk about.
6) The far right in this country seems to be quick to call anyone who supports liberal views to be Trump haters. The presenter was not in that room to argue against abortion or gay rights. He was specifically there to present his ideas about the works of the apostle Paul. And yet, without any provocation, his anti-LGBTQ, anti abortion rights, anti-liberal views spewed out of him with an intensity that was a bit frightening. At one point he suggested that perhaps he shouldn’t be saying these things in a public forum and several people in the audience goaded him on to continue. So does this mean that these intense hateful views are just under the surface for this group generally? So even though this group is in the minority in the Christian and Jewish communities, that what unites them even more is this hatred? If so then my idea that they are to be reluctantly admired for their maverick stance may be understated. They can disagree with mainstream Christian communities, but hold on to some sort of a shared alt-right position? And how does that impact the Jewish community who suffers discrimination and often has liberal views in opposition to the alt-right, and is in fact discriminated by the alt-right?
As usual, I am left with more questions than answers. I do not intend to continue to attend this weekly lecture series. Why should I go where I am clearly unwanted and condemned as Satanic? Once was enough. I invite comments or discussion.
If you would like to study these issues more I would recommend Jesus and After: The First Eighty Years - Study in Early Christianity by E. Bruce Brooks and Alpha v1: Studies in Early Christianity edited by E. Bruce Brooks, Alvin P. Cohen, and Glenn S. Holland -- both published by Warring States Project at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.