Shock and Awe; Degrade and Destroy

Posted September 15, 2014 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

A few days ago, I watched a ten-minute video of our bombing of Baghdad, on March 21, 2003 in what we called shock and awe in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The bombing followed an ultimatum from President Bush for Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave Iraq. We watched on television the bombardment of the many palaces of despotic splendor and other government buildings. It was a spectacular light show of military pyrotechnics.

This event was a year and a half after we watched the destruction of the World Trade Towers. We have now spent thirteen years of memorial tributes to the brave fire and rescue people who gave their lives on nine-eleven. We have built a memorial to the thousands who lost their lives in this horrendous act of inhumanity, and continue to read their names written in the black granite on which we document the losses of wars and terrorism.

Standing on the rubble of the Trade Towers, President Bush made an appeal to the resolve of the American people and united our country in a patriotic support for a war on terrorism. Thirteen years later President Obama is appealing to the American people and Congress for support of possible military involvement in Syria to degrade and destroy another Islamic group similar to and more inhumane than those who drove the planes into the towers and the Pentagon.

In our 11 year occupation of Iraq, America has grown weary and disillusioned with the series of events in Iraq and Afghanistan and the loss of life and capital and the untold loss of life of Iraqis and Afghanis beyond the losses that have touched our lives and divided our nation politically. We question the decision to invade a country that had done us no wrong, on a deceptive warning of potential risks of mass destruction. We overthrew a dictator, dismantled an army, shifted the advantage of Sunni and Shiite in a religious war, and found no semblance of victory or establishment of a democracy in a world that we do not understand.

Our moment of shock and awe, followed by a decade of boots-on-the-ground combat, has now brought us another political strategy that we call “degrade and destroy.” This is a combination of diplomatic appeal to the Islamic nations and our Western allies to condemn the new Islamic State terrorists and limited missile attacks to destroy those who rape women, kill children, and behead journalists. Our reluctant Commander in Chief, who opposed the two wars, and made a campaign promise to bring them to an end, struggles with the semantics of a war on terror that has no political, religious, or geographic borders.

We are also hearing the voices of those who believe we solve all of our national security problems militarily. We are hearing the same voices of those who gave us shock and awe who were poised and ready to degrade and destroy President Obama for whatever he might have proposed in his speech.
I looked for a definition of “degrade.” I found it to mean “to reduce in rank or status; to dishonor or disgrace; to reduce in worth or value.” This requires diplomacy and some reasoned humanitarian restraint on the part of the President, the Congress, and the military. For this we need the help of the Islamic countries in the Middle East to show some outrage for those who bring dishonor to their religion, and commit acts of cruelty in the name of their god. The more we can degrade ideologically, the fewer we have to destroy militarily in the name of our God.

Thou Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks

Posted August 29, 2014 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

One of the more interesting quotes by Shakespeare is almost always misquoted as “Methinks the lady doth protest too much.” Queen Gertrude’s line in its original form in Hamlet, is “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” This line from 1602 has become a figure of speech, in various phrasings, to indicate that a person’s overly frequent or vehement attempts to convince others of something have ironically helped to convince others that the opposite is true, by making the person look insincere and defensive.

Our founders included the right of people “to peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This was given equal status to freedom of religion, speech, and of the press. Like many of the Bill of Rights, this has two or more interpretations. Our early Colonial history included protests, uprisings, and most famously the dumping of tea in the Boston Harbor. A protest can be either a formal declaration of disapproval or objection issued by a person or group, or it can be the physical presence of dissenters in the public square. We normally think of protests as a large unruly and boisterous band of patriots or rabble, obstructing the peace and creating disorder.

Peaceful assembly usually goes unnoticed, and violent or destructive protests are usually counterproductive. In the recent history of unrest both conservative and liberal historians and politicians have come to revere the methods of Dr. King, and have immortalized Ghandi as the archetype of peaceful revolution. The demonstrations, looting, and violence in Ferguson, Missouri and other cities raised public awareness of racial inequity within the field of law enforcement and criminal justice.

Our Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment, was written in 1789, thirteen years after our Declaration of Independence. The image of King George shaped our fear of a tyrant or royalty and our passion for representative government. The early conflicts between the Federalists and our evolving into a democratic republic enabled us to effect a workable government of duly elected representation of the majority. We still debate over whether we define our government as a majority of states or a majority of the people.

Whether we are a republic or democracy, as individuals, we often find ourselves in a minority status governed by a prevailing majority. We found in the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement of the sixties, that government was slow to hear the will of public consensus on racial issues and opposition to an unpopular war. We still argue over whether our protests prolonged the war or hastened its end. Public demonstrations intensified racial hatred, but government eventually enacted laws mandating, if not fully implementing, racial equality.

The protests of the current era are more difficult to define. Social media has given voice to the diversity of trivial malcontent without our storming the halls of government. We speak for our right to defend the noblest causes and most obvious grievances, and look with disdain on others who challenge our own closely-held traditional values. We tend to define our status of majority and minority within the smaller units of community, Congressional district, or State. We assert our rights in verbal outbursts at meetings of Aldermen, County Commissions, and School Boards. We assemble in the public square in small groups with crayon-quality signage, and are depicted on the news at six and ten as a band of radicals. Our protests at times attract demagogues and opportunists, and incidents of violence and looting. Ultimately our First Amendment rights and the voices of reason and civil rights prevail, but redress and fairness come slowly.

Dueling Voices of Animosity, Futility, and Blame

Posted August 24, 2014 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

My life has spanned the historical periods of World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights Movement. I missed the recession by a few years, and was not around for most of the first century of the continuing battle for States’ Rights, including the Civil War. I like to believe I am a dedicated social activist. I have written five books which I had hoped included definitive and rational analyses of political, religious, and philosophical logic. I have run out of ideas. The world seems no better.

This morning I woke up to television coverage of massive carnage in Iraq, Syria, Gaza, Israel, and Ukraine, and political unrest in a dozen or more other countries. In any conflict, there seems to be a cycle of blame. Liberals blame President Bush for our invading and occupying Iraq and Afghanistan. Conservatives blame the events of 9/11, our eventual withdrawal of troops, and the numerous failures of President Obama, whatever those might be. We agree on Israel’s right to defend its people, while some question its proportionality and occupation.

We are all concerned about the racial unrest in Ferguson, and other American cities. We celebrate the voices of ministers and community leaders who plead for peace and racial harmony. But the louder voices spread animosity, prejudice, disregard for human life and the conflict between an oppressed and frustrated people and those on whom they depend for their survival and protection.

Our political conversation includes impeachment, indictments, legal challenges, treason, negligence, and partisanship. We discuss the elections of 2014 and 2016 as if democracy, free enterprise, Christianity, intellectual integrity, minority and majority rights hang in the balance.

The Middle East now has a new inhumane Islamic cruelty killing its own women and children, which has earned the wrath of the civilized world, and a new resolve for humanitarian and military assistance from the United Nations.

In times like this, people of faith turn to God. An extreme few speak of End Times and Judgment, assign blame on sinners, and seek God’s revenge and deliverance. Secularists more likely trace most conflict to religious intolerance in America and religious fanaticism in the Islamic world.

The founders of our democracy and drafters of our Constitution created an enduring and all-encompassing document. After having established our three branches of government with clearly defined powers and responsibilities, they saw an immediate need for restraint of government and a Bill of Rights.

Consequently, the founders determined that government and religion should be separate; that we needed a well regulated militia without our quartering of troops; that we be free from undue search and seizure; that we have a right to trial by a jury of our peers and not threatened by cruel and unusual punishment. They reserved rights not specifically prohibited by the Constitution to the States and other rights not prohibited by government were reserved to the people.

Within the framework of that document, governed by those three branches of government, and the ensuing amendments to a living document, we have become an angry and divided nation, distrusting our government at every level.

Much of what I write relates to the religious and secular conflict in America, which is part of the ideological Liberal and Conservative dichotomy. According to polls, most people in America believe we are going in the wrong direction. I like to believe that we are all marching, maybe in step, as patriots to defend and save our country. That we are traveling in opposite directions should be no implication of wrongness of either, or cause for animosity, futility, or blame.

The Age of Humanism and Religious Contradiction

Posted August 16, 2014 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

Television coverage of mega-church preachers has brought a renewed twenty-first century message of blessing. They and their followers seem to be blessed, successful, and healthy. We who grew up in religious families place much of our optimism on the Sermon on the Mount, specifically in the first eleven verses which we call the Beatitudes. I am certain that none of my good fortune was derived from contributions to, or having watched televangelists.

Much of my confusion about being blessed is that I don’t know if it is a verb or an adjective, and I don’t know how to pronounce it. Is it blessed or blest; does it have one syllable or two? I don’t know if it is only a religious reference to blessings coming from God, or if it has application in the secular world.

I look for synonyms—fortunate, loved, rewarded, secure, or lucky. It is obvious that I am blessed, be it a verb or adjective. In reading the Beatitudes, I find a paradox. Blessings come to the poor in spirit, the mournful, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted, the reviled, and those who are subjected to all manner of evil spoken against them falsely. Most of us find merit in mercy and peacemaking, but might question persecution and bad public social media even though they tend to make us stronger.

So often when I try to write the narrative of the events of my life, I debate on writing blessed or fortunate. When I talk to religious people I hear a singular implication of favoritism coming from a personal God, either by reward for good behavior or a divine plan before the Creation. When I talk to non-religious people I hear attribution to hard work and cleverness, with some uncertainty why some people with equal motivation and wisdom seem to fail.

We have watched the violence in Gaza and Israel, and we wonder why God allows genocide and slaughter in the name of religion in a land he gave to his chosen people. We watch the conflict between tyrants and anarchists in the Ukraine, Syria, Egypt, and Libya and we marvel at the restrained civility of an angry and divided American republic. We watch the racial violence in Ferguson, Missouri and we give thanks for our local police, our mayor, our governor, and our president. We are truly blessed to live in the tranquility of where we are among people who love us.

Religious people raise their voices to God as the Creator and a continuing presence in the daily mundane and trivial routine of their lives. Agnostic people seem to share the good and suffer the bad in indiscriminate proportionately. Unbelievers voice no appreciation for blessing nor assign blame to a supernatural influence, though equally blessed or tormented.

What we may have lost in our world of contradiction, is the age of Humanism. This was, “The Renaissance movement that emphasized secular concerns as a result of the rediscovery of classical literature, art, and civilization.” It was, and is, “a system of thought that centers on humans and their values, capacities, and worth.”

Out of this juxtaposition of faith and secular reason, we have contrived a contradiction between what God controls and what has been left to the mischief or genius of his most advanced creature. We should not dismiss the humanist as irreligious. We should not condemn the agnostic for his uncertainty or disbelief. We should not discredit the fundamentalist who assigns to God the human responsibility for mercy, peace, compassion, and the cause or relief of human suffering.

Elitism and the Aspiration Gap

Posted August 10, 2014 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

There is in America an intellectual elite, real or imagined, whose forte is academia of some ilk—the university, the media, or the arts and literature. There is also an economic elite—Wall Street, industry, finance, investment, inheritance, commerce, and other forms of capital. The heartbeat of America is a different form of elitism; that inexplicable satisfaction of excellence attained from the labor of the ordinary person. This would include any hourly wage-earner, the small business owner, the electrician, the engineer, the professional, the craftsman, the farmer, the secretary, the manager, and the euphemistic affection for the blue collar worker, whoever that might be. Politicians compete for and are elected or defeated by these groups.  Republicans more likely assume the support the economically elite and Democrats more likely assume the favor of the intellectual elite, with some notable defections in each group. Ultimately, each party accepts the inevitable rejection of being excluded from ideological and cultural commonality.

America is blessed in being a democracy, or some would argue a constitutional republic. The tyrannical abuses and eventual failure of communism and fascism are testimonials for the survival and flourishing of our combination of capitalism, democracy, and moral harmony of religion and secular ethics. Within the more recent displays of civil unrest, we have heard the words fascist and communist (or socialist) bantered as political epithets without evidence of comprehending either. Conservative governments seem to attract the support of the financially successful, the pragmatic, and traditional cultural orthodoxy.  Liberal governments seem to attract intellectuals, idealists, the working class, and the disenfranchised.  Liberal politicians historically have attracted voters with both high and low measurable intelligence; conservative politicians usually attract voters with measurable test scores statistically close to or slightly above average. Again, there are individual exceptions, anomalies, and eccentrics in each group.

Think of these, not as demographic strata, but fields of successful endeavor in a culture of equality. There are other groups that are harder to identify. This would include an older generation that has left the workforce, the world of commerce, and academia, some by choice, some from infirmity of mind or body.  There are also the young—toddlers, teenagers, students, and some would add the unborn. This includes the unemployable with lack of skill, education, or physical ability. There is the underemployed in menial low-paying tasks.  There is the veteran wounded physically and emotionally in wars of three generations, and often homeless. There is the factory worker, the skilled craftsman, technician, or seamstress whose factory has closed and whose job has been taken by the global anonymity of third world labor.

We define people by gender, age, religion, country of origin, legal or undocumented.  We ask the invasive questions—what do you read, what television network do you watch, where do you go to church, marital status, relationships, favorite athletic team, and the economic right-of-passage, “what do you do?”

I had the good fortune of being raised by a mother and grandmother in a rural culture that had no barriers, either artificial or real. Nobody told me I could not be a merchant, elected official, Sunday school teacher, author, preacher, philosopher, or social activist. Nobody told me whom I could or could not love and marry, or that I was denied access to country clubs, restaurants, schools, restrooms, and water fountains. Nobody told me about the aspiration gap. Nobody told me about demographics or class warfare. I never heard the word elitism in derision or suspicion. My granddaddy talked about somebody “not being our kind of people.”  Even he envisioned the traditional aspiration of “amounting to somebody” whatever that meant. My grandmother didn’t have an aversion to elitism or book-learning. She seemed to equate that with some degree of excellence, sometimes real and obvious, sometimes imagined, or as Granddaddy said, “getting above one’s raising.”

 

 

The Religious Right and School Board Elections

Posted August 10, 2014 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

Across the country, thousands of Religious Right groups are pressuring school officials to ban books, asking city councils to introduce sectarian proclamations, and running for local offices, specifically school boards. Many people are concerned about inroads the Religious Right has made in society in the past two or three decades. Local elections are extremely important and church-state separation activists should keep an eye on all of them, no matter how insignificant the office may seem. Once seated on a school board or city council, these people can create untold mischief.

At its most extreme, the Religious Right encompasses a loose conglomeration of organizations that forthrightly call for scrapping the First Amendment and reordering government along lines of the Bible’s Old Testament. This is premised on the idea that people must totally submit to God in all areas of their lives, including the government they form. The problem is, many religious people believe only they have the correct and proper interpretation of “God’s will.” Usually, their interpretation is quite extreme. In a country where an estimated 2,000 separate religious denominations strive to live together in peace, the problem inherent in the Religious Right approach is obvious.

The most radical of the groups believe “that pluralism or diversity is a myth. God and his law must rule all nations. At no point in the Scriptures do we read that God teaches, supports, or condones pluralism. To support pluralism is to recognize all religions as equals. In the name of toleration, the believer is asked to associate on a common level of total acceptance with the atheist, the pervert, the criminal, and adherents of other religions as though no difference existed. “

Some would formulate a reordered society that would strip away all forms of secular government leaving citizens accountable to local church authorities. Taxes would be replaced with mandatory tithing, and social services would be provided by church groups. Security and law enforcement would be provided by local militias.

Most Religious Right groups advocate the death penalty. Some observers of the Religious Right have observed that the scope of punishable offenses is so great that if ever implemented in the United States, few people would be left to live in it. If sins were crimes as prescribed in the Old Testament most of us would be on death row. A partial list of offenses meriting the death penalty include: striking or cursing a parent, adultery, incest, bestiality, homosexuality, fornication, witchcraft, incorrigibility, blasphemy, teaching false doctrines, or sacrificing to false gods. In many cases the method is stoning. Stones are plentiful and available at no cost. No single blow can be traced to one person, thus reducing feelings of guilt. Stoning displays the collective responsibility for crime prevention. Executions should be public events. Stoning is symbolic of God’s crushing the head of Satan. Some cite this prophesy from the book of Genesis.

All of this is extreme. America is not at risk of becoming a theocracy. We are a nation of diverse religions, predominantly Christian. The primary threat of their ideas stems from the steady and increasing influence they have on conservative Christianity and the Republican Party. Some church leaders, while not buying into the entire package, have adopted portions of this ideology, particularly the movement’s opposition to separation of church and state. Some would favor some notion that the state should enforce religious dictates by law. Some conservative church leaders are turning away from the idea that separation is essential for religious liberty. Separation of church and state and religious liberty cannot survive unless it is supported by the religious community.

 

Churches, Charities, Taxation, and Politics

Posted August 10, 2014 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

Religious groups, like other not-for-profit organizations, enjoy tax-free status. They do not have to pay taxes on the donations they receive and are usually exempt from state taxes on the goods they purchase and local taxes on land they own. Individual clergy, however, must pay federal and state income taxes.

Occasionally, the suggestion is made that churches ought to be taxed. Religious groups have amassed great wealth. Some suggest if we taxed them we could balance the budget.

No state has seriously considered the notion of directly taxing churches. Many states do tax churches if they are involved in for-profit ventures unrelated to their religious mission, but otherwise the general tax exemption afforded churches if fairly safe.

The issue of taxing churches is not without controversy. In order to remain tax free, churches must refrain from getting too heavily involved in politics. For instance, groups considered non-profit by the Internal Revenue Service may not endorse candidates for public office. Also, they may not attack someone running for public office to the extent they effectively endorse his or her opponent. This is a gray area. Some churches are known for their political activism, and many have been accused of going too far in their political activities.

In 1991, the IRS conducted a lengthy investigation of Jimmy Swaggart and found him guilty of violating IRS rules by twice endorsing Pat Robertson for president during the 1988 campaign. He was not fined monetarily but was ordered to sign a statement promising to refrain from intervening in future campaigns. This was during a time when he was involved in a sex scandal, and the IRS may have seized the opportunity of human frailty to warn others about mixing religion with politics.

In contrast, Jerry Falwell was fined $50,000 after the IRS determined that the Old Time Gospel Hour had illegally channeled money into a political action committee ghat gave money to conservative congressional candidates. The IRS revoked his tax-exempt status retroactively for 1986 and 1987.

Many religious groups still think politics is a dirty business in which churches should not be involved. Jehovah’s Witnesses and some other fundamentalist denominations take an extreme position and refrain entirely from getting involved in politics. Some of their members do not vote.

The courts have ruled that there is no legal barrier to taxing churches and other religious groups or other secular non-profit organizations. In 1971, the Supreme Court ruled that it is not unconstitutional for state to give churches tax exemption. The Court merely said that it does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Another marginal question is issue based political involvement. For example, several Catholic parishes openly endorsed in their church bulletins, candidates who held anti-abortion positions for state and federal offices. In the fallout from this, Catholic hierarchy issued memos warning clergy not to endorse candidates; form political action committees; or distribute campaign literature. The image of the IRS as a fierce bureaucracy may be true for some groups and individuals, but it has played the game softly with churches.

The logic of tax-exempt status for churches or other religious groups is that most provide many charitable and humanitarian social services. Government believes these services provide a valuable safety net for society and reduce some of the burden on the state. If the church provides shelter for the homeless, food for the hungry and elderly, care for orphans, those are services government does not have to provide. The government does not want to, nor should it discourage the social mission of churches by imposing burdensome taxes or penalties on them.

 


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