Voting Choice, Voting Down, Clinton Scandal, Nat’l Security

The Self-Made Man
and His Religion

It’s kind of an open secret that, as Christians, most of us are not well versed when it comes to scripture. Even the basics are buried for the sake of simplicity.

Resurrection has gone from a universal foretelling, applying to everyone, to only a singular event. With the exception of Jesus who was resurrected and rose to heaven (that was THE resurrection), most of us take for granted that everyone who tries really hard to be good will pretty much go to heaven as soon as breath leaves the body. Of course, that’s not what it says in the Bible. Scripture is pretty clear that people who die, die. Then, at some future time, everyone comes alive again, when the sea shall give up its dead, and death and the grave shall give up their dead, in the life of the world to come.

Resurrection is not central to my own belief. If, after death, I awaken amid a crowd of fellow souls coming out of the ground, I’ll be okay with it. If I find myself at the other end of a brightly lit tunnel, I won’t complain. If, as friends point out, all of the imagery is part of an implausible myth, that none of it is true, that all that lies beyond is emptiness, I won’t be around to be disappointed.

But I am sometimes startled, in minor surprise, by those who have never heard of beliefs as written in biblical times. What I see as ignorance extends to spiritual law.

Jesus pretty much summed up his entire approach when challenged about which biblical instructions from God were most important.

I don’t know, but I do try to imagine what answer most religious folk in those days might have given. I suspect they would have insisted that there is no priority. Every biblical law must be followed to the fullest.

But Jesus said that following completely in the path of love toward God and toward every other member of the human family was the foundation of all spiritual instruction. You do that, and everything else would be okay.

Paul was even more explicit when he said that everything is lawful, then added that not everything is helpful. He insisted that love is the first last and middle of everything positive. Everything that God requires.

So Jesus and Paul make things simple for me. When Jesus says he came to fulfill the law, not to break it, that fits right in. So do the times he tells crowds of people not to judge.

Hell, Jesus even used as an example of that love a fictional Samaritan. Samaritans were a sort of offshoot from traditional Jewish beliefs. Most Jews pretty much despised Samaritans. Think of Irish Catholics and Protestants from not so long ago. Or the Hatfields and the McCoys. Or Sunni and Shiite Muslims. al Qaeda, and now ISIS, pretty much hate Christians, but they have been most aggressive in going after Shiites, and those Sunnis whose hatred of Shiites they see as insufficient.

In ancient times, the relationship between most Jews and most Samaritans was not really brotherly.

But Jesus deliberately described a Samaritan, someone of different religious beliefs, as the ideal example of brotherhood, fulfilling the true law of love.

This tolerance for someone of a different belief was followed a bit by Paul. When he spoke in Athens on the Hill of Mars, he started out by complimenting the local folk on their faithful worship. He told them that the sheer number of temples to pagan gods was evidence of their great spiritual devotion.

We are reminded by Paul that our blind belief is not entirely willful. That blindness is an inability to comprehend anything more than the small part of true reality that is bent toward our limited understanding. So we are wiser to resist a too tempting attitude of superiority. Everyone tries to finds a path that meets their spiritual needs, and we all take that long climb toward that truth of which we might come to some limited understanding.

And so I try not to be judgmental, but . . . DAMN . . . it’s hard sometimes.

I have tried to avoid the more judgmental of my brethren, at least partly because intolerance makes me kind of mad, which pretty much is counter to the whole idea of non-judgmental love, isn’t it?

Some of what I sometimes hear makes me sometimes bite my lip until it bleeds.

Jesus went through a lot of trouble and considerable pain to tell us to stop worshiping rules and get back to what should have been behind those rules – a decent regard for the inherent value of every child of God. God is just crazy about you, and God is just as crazy about those you may have been taught to hate.

Jesus started the original movement for the separation of church and hate.

So it pains me to see Christians proclaim that what Jesus REALLY wanted was to abolish old rules that got between God and his children, and put in their place new rules to get between God and his children.

When Jesus saved a woman from execution by stoning, he told the crowd that those who were without sin could throw their stones first. That poor woman was lucky there were no Christian evangelicals back then.

God loves you, you see, and He joins in your hatred of gays, Muslims, Obama, and Hillary.

Makes my teeth itch.

I do have to admit that some of those who use evangelical Christians have also given me uncomfortable bicuspids.

And I tell you, with the evangelicals, they get it. They get it. They get me. They understand me. I’ll be the best thing that ever happened to them. I mean that 100 percent.

– Donald Trump, in Jupiter, FL, March 8, 2016

Hurts my molars.

When Donald Trump described himself as the best thing that ever happened to evangelicals, Josh Marshall responded:

“The resurrection had its run. Times change.”

The church members Donald Trump is pursuing are developing a more forgiving attitude. The marriages, the language, the complete lack of familiarity with basic Christian concepts.

Two Corinthians, right? Two Corinthians 3:17, that’s the whole ballgame.

Donald Trump, Liberty University, January 18, 2016

Okay, so many of those who occasionally go to church might not be aware that, as he traveled, Paul wrote a series of letters to the churches he had established. So it isn’t Two Corinthians. It’s Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. Any of the liturgists in our church might have made that mistake.

There is a certain brashness in never needing forgiveness.

I have a great relationship with God. I have a great relationship with the evangelicals. In fact, nationwide, I’m up by a lot. I’m leading everybody.

I like to be good. I don’t like to have to ask for forgiveness. And I am good. I don’t do a lot of things that are bad. I try to do nothing that is bad.

Donald Trump, CNN, January 17, 2016


I admit I have developed a jaundiced view of many conservatives. I try to remember that even bad actors are more than the two dimensional caricatures we see on screen. We should hate the sin, not the sinner. We should hate the bite and not the biter. When we are intolerant of intolerance, as we should be, that does not mean we need to become intolerant of the intolerant.

The embrace of Mr. Trump by evangelicals might be laudable. Their embrace of his proclamations is less so. It brings to plain view the dark shadows of religion. Are evangelicals willing to depart, not only from the liberating teachings of Jesus, but also from their own crimped interpretations? All to be baptized in the boiling hatred they happen to share? Is that hatred a result of their religious fervor, or was that religion merely a cover for the hate that was already there?

I’ll tell you, with the evangelicals, they get it. They get it. They get me. They understand me.

When Mr. Trump proclaims that evangelicals get it, that they understand him. It is possible they see something many of us miss. Perhaps they perceive something deeper and more worthy than a hatred of others, a mocking of the disabled, a preening pretense of moralism.

I think back to the Old Testament, as Moses asked God how he should present the Commandments to the Israelites. How should Moses speak with authority. How should he say that the Lord had sent him? And so we hear from the Creator of the universe by way of scripture.

God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

Exodus 3:14

And, as he is asked and asked again, to moderate his public statements, to use judgement and a decent regard for the value of others, we hear from Donald Trump, by way of Twitter.

I am who I am

He invites evangelicals to a new discipleship, joining him in a different sort of reverence.

Donald Trump considers himself a self-made man. Let’s think about that as he invites others to join in worshiping his Creator.

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Trump Claims, Assassination Threats, Admitting Mistakes


In ancient times, shipping was the key to trade. And trade was the key to wealth. Not everyone benefited, and those who benefited did not benefit equally, to be sure. Stratified wealth, with rare exceptions, was roughly proportional to inherited social position. Social mobility was confined to those already born into the elite.

Trade was the greatest area of opportunity for the wealthy to increase their wealth. But there were risks. Piracy or weather could wipe out an entrepreneur. One legend, isolated pretty much to the insurance industry, has it that the concept of shared risk, the precursor to the concept of formalized insurance, originated in ancient trade.

Enterprising traders would seek out competitors and form alliances. We can imagine ten competing traders, each assuming great risks in order to achieve great profits.

Ten individual shipments from those ten different traders could each be sent on an individual ship. If one ship was captured by pirates, or was taken by a mutiny, or fell victim to a violent storm, or simply sank because of bad seamanship, one of the ten would be wiped out. The other nine would prosper.

But all of the ten made the proper agreement, each one could divide a shipment among the ten ships. If one ship sank, all ten entrepreneurs would take a minor hit. But profits from the other nine ships would overcome that one loss many times over.

Shared risk.

But all ships shared a common downfall that could not be overcome by sharing risk.

Grain was the most common substance of trade. And grain attracted more than profits. It attracted rodents. Mice and rats would find a comfortable home on a ship. Even when a shipment was something other than grain, food storage for a crew would provide nourishment for an army of rodents.

Trading consortiums had to find a way to deal with rats. They discovered cats.

The occasional mouse catching cat was more than a ship mascot. Cats became beloved crew members in their own right. When it came to a cat, no ship could leave home without it.

Rats did provide a stunning spectacle whenever a ship floundered and was about to be lost. Rats pretty much don’t like being trapped in closed quarters amid rising water. They probably have something against drowning. As a vessel took on water, sailors in lifeboats would watch amazing hoards of rats gather on deck and dive away from the sinking ship. The sheer number of rats produced a dazzling sight.

I sometimes think about ancient ships and the steps taken to ensure their cargo when I read about the angst experienced by principled Republicans in the current campaign season.

It began as Donald Trump abandoned classic conservatism, with its emphasis on free trade, free immigration, small government, voluntary association, and freedom from regulation. Instead he embraced what we used to call racial conservatism.

The forgotten secret at the underpinnings of political conservatism has been an appeal to racial resentment. In recent times, the appeal has been much more passive than what those of my generation witnessed in the long ago days of my youth. If older wealthier white Americans just wanted to keep material benefits from flowing toward those whose ethnic and racial backgrounds made them less deserving, many modern political figures considered that to be an unfortunate fact of life that just happened to benefit the ascendancy of true conservatism. Happily, it was a minor fact of life that was rapidly disappearing as the conservative movement won on ideology.

Donald Trump exploded that view. Racial resentment was not a sad but minor part of conservatism. The Republican base, for the most part, did not care at all about classic conservatism. Ideological fidelity was cast aside by an electorate fired up by more primitive concerns.

They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

Donald Trump, June 16, 2015

Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.

Read by Donald Trump, December 7, 2015

A few Republicans, classic conservatives who take their conservatism seriously, began their separation from Donald Trump right away. They were a precious few.

Then, during the primary season, more reflexive Trumpisms came into public display.

“He is not a war hero… He is a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, OK? I hate to tell you. He is a war hero because he was captured. OK, you can have — I believe perhaps he is a war hero.”

Donald Trump, July 18, 2015

This was not a catalyst for any massive defection of Republicans. John McCain was the war hero who became not a war hero, then perhaps a war hero, even though he was guilty of the disgrace of capture, imprisonment, and torture by America’s enemies. But even John McCain declined to disown Mr. Trump, should he become the Republican nominee.

The hope of many was that he might begin to moderate his public statements, or at least curb his language after he received his party’s nomination. Alas it was not to be.

When he was criticized by an American Muslim whose son had died in combat saving American troops, Mr. Trump went on the attack. He began by suggesting that the father whose son had died had not criticized him on his own. He had, perhaps, simply read what some Clinton speech writer had written for him. Then Mr. Trump accused the man of muzzling his wife. He speculated that the grief stricken mother of the slain army captain had been forbidden to speak.

His wife. If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably — maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me.

Then, he went further than anyone could reasonably have expected. He suggested that if Hillary Clinton was elected then Second Amendment people might want to take their own form of action.

By the way, and if she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the 2nd Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.

Defenders insist that he was merely suggesting, in an inartful way, that those who want to preserve the right to bear arms, and who believe Hillary Clinton wants to take their guns, should vote against her.

That interpretation requires an elegant bit of creative parsing. If she is elected, then militant gun enthusiasts should prevent her from appointing judges by … voting against her? After she is elected? And even then, only those whom Mr. Trump calls 2nd Amendment people should vote against her?

The famous 2nd Amendment solution advocated by some is dangerous and irresponsible. But at least the incitement to violence is coherent.

There is some background noise that Republican officeholders, especially those seeking re-election, in particular those running for re-election in tight races, intend to separate themselves from Donald Trump.

Some public figures, politicians, pundits, and Republican advisors, have already come out. Talking Points Memo has been keeping a running account.

A few intend to support Hillary Clinton. More will support neither candidate.

So far, they include:

Reagan staffer Doug Elmets:

He’s managed to hoodwink America into believing that he will lead this country through the fire. I think he will thrust us into the fire.

President Reagan’s Political Director, Frank Lavin:

Donald Trump was quite, quite, cavalier in suggesting that Korea or Japan might develop nuclear capabilities.

Colonel Peter Mansoor, a lifelong Republican:

He lacks the character and the foundation of knowledge necessary to be President. By his own admission he gets his information from the shows.

Representative Carlos Curbelo of Florida:

I could never explain to my two little girls that I would support Donald Trump.

Senator Susan Collins of Maine:

…by his derogatory comments, by his mocking of the most vulnerable people in our society, by his marginalization of ethnic and religious minorities…

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ)

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R)

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE)

Gov. Charlie Baker (R-MA)

Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY)

Former Michigan Gov. William Milliken

Hank Paulson, Treasury Secretary for George W. Bush

Former Sen. Larry Pressler (R-SD)

Meg Whitman, who ran in California for the US Senate

Former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson

Maria Comella, longtime communications director
                          for Chris Christie

Sally Bradshaw, close advisor to Jeb Bush

The list is impressive and will probably grow.

The cynical among us might think back to those ancient times, and recall rats deserting a sinking ship.

Not all of those swimming away from Mr. Trump are seeking re-election. Not all are even holding office. It is not at all clear that those who are running will benefit from their stand against the Republican nominee.

I have been predicting for years the demise of the Republican Party as a national institution. I think it will happen by the end of this decade. So I do not fondly dream of Republican survival. I do not even believe the party will somehow find within itself a final brave moment, and disengage from this dark path.

But I do retain what may be a naive, visionary hope that humankind, even conservative politicians, even the conservative movement itself, can act out of principle that goes beyond self-preservation.

I don’t think of rats deserting the ship.
I see the faint possibility of the ship deserting the rat.

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Faith & Reason, Faith & Honor, Baby Cries, Conservative Cries

Listen to the Voices 8/6/2016

Mr. Trump’s Right to Attack

The father of a fallen soldier asks whether Donald Trump has even read the Constitution. Mr. Trump attacks. The man has no right to ask such a question.

Actually, the Constitution guarantees that right. It also gives Mr. Trump the right to attack two grieving parents.

And it gives the rest of us the right to call Mr. Trump a godawful jerk.

He should read about those rights.


More – –

Mr. Trump’s Right to Attack

I am told that middle age in the United States is about 35, give or take a year or two. That is the average median age of everyone in the country.

So most Americans alive today were not alive in 1977 when the Nazi Party, swastikas and all, announced that they would march victoriously through Skokie, Illinois. They chose Skokie because lots of Jews lived there. More than half of Skokie was Jewish. The Nazi Party wanted to march there because thousands of those Jews had survived the Nazi-run death camps of World War II. They really wanted to push hatred right into the faces of those they hated.

America has its history of race hatred and religious intolerance. There was a time when some members of Congress would never have been elected without the support of the Ku Klux Klan. The voice of Billie Holiday still haunts us with the song “Strange Fruit” and lyrics about beautiful poplar trees, “black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze.”

But America also has a competing tradition of caring for and protecting the targets of hatred. There exists a huge reservoir of good will and a tremendous capacity for action. By 1977, many of those who had survived the fury of Hitler’s followers thirty and forty years before had grown frail, but the memory of those times still had to sear. Survivors did not deserve more confrontation with another generation’s cheerleaders for evil.

Those opposing the Nazis got an injunction against the Nazi march.

Leave the survivors alone.
Leave Jewish citizens alone.
Keep your Nazi symbols away from everyone willing to take a stand.

The Nazis fought the injunction all the way to the Supreme Court. They were joined by the ACLU. The argument was about free speech and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

In the end, the parts about free speech and the right to assemble meant the Nazis could march. The injunction was struck down. Swastikas could be paraded in front of those who had almost perished during the last nightmare in Europe.

When the injunction was lifted, another similar injunction, this one in Chicago, was also struck down. Chicago was a bigger stage, so the Nazis held their little parade through those streets instead. They never did march in Skokie.

The debate over Skokie and the Nazis was national and fierce. The right of a persecuted people to be left alone was, in the end, legally overruled by the right to speak, a right guaranteed even in the case of speech that any decent person would find abhorrent.

I thought about the march that never was, that court decision, and the sometimes painful freedom guaranteed by the United States Constitution as the war of words escalated between a national candidate for President of the United States on one side and, on the other, the parents of an Army captain killed defending those freedoms.

As Khizr Khan held up his own pocket copy of the Constitution, he challenged Mr. Trump.

Let me ask you: have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy. In this document, look for the words ‘liberty’ and ‘equal protection of law’.

It was a scathing indictment, provocative because it personalized what had been a debate involving what seemed like distant principles, legalities. It suddenly became a father’s dignified anger and a mother’s wordless grief. A dry debate became vivid sacrifice, a matter of life and death and pain.

The question about our familiarity with the Constitution touched many of us. Inquiries about pocket copies of the founding document are said to have jumped.

It came to me that I too carry with me many things I find sustaining. I have pocket photos of my loved one, our children, and another child we did not have the resources to adopt years ago. He has grown, we are told, in a healthy and happy environment with new parents who love him. I also carry a prayer from Father Thomas Merton. The paper is fresh and crisp. It is the latest replacement, as previous copies have become worn with repeated unfolding.

I do not carry the United States Constitution in my pocket. Mr. Khan must love our freedoms very much.

When Mr. Trump spoke to Republican members of Congress in July, several later expressed shock at his lack of familiarity with the Constitution. At one point, he promised to defend every article, Article One, Article Twelve, all of them. Few of us are aware that the Constitution has only seven articles. I had to look it up.

I am disappointed with those Republicans, the ones who were alarmed that Mr. Trump did not know even the number of Articles. I am disappointed that they had not already been alarmed at Mr. Trump’s lack of respect for basic freedoms contained at the end of the document, in the Amendments.

A program that would curtail the freedom of a religious minority because of the way they worship alarms me more than whether a candidate for President knows that there are seven articles. Retribution against all those people because of terrible acts of violence by a renegade offshoot seems to me a basic departure from what we hold valuable. Collective punishment is not what we do.

Mr. Khan made it personal only partially because of his words. It became especially personal because he and his wife are, in fact, persons. It is acutely personal because of their tightly restrained pain.

It became more personal because of the coarse response by Mr. Trump, his campaign, and some of his supporters. It is as if no loss of life, no sacrifice by others, no grief, no honored grave site can eclipse their rage at being crossed.

A lone, brave woman, reveals at a rally in Carson City, Nevada, that her husband is serving in the Persian Gulf. The crowd cheers for her. She questions Mike Pence, Donald Trump’s Vice Presidential candidate.

Time and time again Trump has disrespected our nation’s armed forces and veterans — and his disrespect for Mr. Khan and his family …

At the words “Mr. Khan and his family” boos and jeers from the crowd nearly drown out the rest. She bravely continues despite the volume of angry derision.

…is just an example of that. Will there ever be a point in time when you’re able to look Trump in the eye and tell him ‘Enough is enough?’ You have a son in the military. How do you tolerate his disrespect?

The question is not surprising. The boisterous anger of the crowd is stunning.

The campaign itself joins in, as close Trump allies distribute a theory. Khizr Khan and Ghazala Khan must be part of terrorist conspiracies. Even the heroic Captain Humayun Khan, killed defending his troops in Iraq, must have been an agent secretly working for terrorists.

Mr. Trump himself goes on the attack, questioning the grief-stricken silence of the Gold Star mother. He is not satisfied with Ghazala Khan’s explanation that she could not speak because of the pain of seeing a large portrait of her slain son. He demands a more satisfactory answer.

If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably — maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me.

He responds to their loss by explaining that he is no stranger to sacrifice. After all, he has worked hard to build large, tall structures. He has hired many people. That, he explains, is what real sacrifice is about.

I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I’ve worked very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs. Tens of thousands of jobs.

In a written statement, he defends his right to attack the couple.

While I feel deeply for the loss of his son, Mr. Khan, who has never met me, has no right to stand in front of millions of people and claim I have never read the Constitution, (which is false) and say many other inaccurate things.

The right of this couple, their right to stand in front of millions of people and question whether Mr. Trump has ever read the United States Constitution, that very right is precisely spelled out in that same Constitution Mr. Trump indignantly claims to have read.

The freedom of speech that would have allowed a Nazi march in Skokie certainly has to extend to a couple who lost a son in combat. It was in defense of that and other freedoms that Captain Khan served.

Mr. Trump’s ignorance of that right is more meaningful proof that he needs to read Mr. Khan’s copy than whether he thinks the Constitution has twelve articles, rather than the seven it contains.

The right of speech extends to Mr. Trump as well. He does have the right to attack this couple for daring to speak out. And the rest of us have the right to express our opinion of his attempt to bully this father and grieving mother for having offended him.

I confess to not having known before now how many articles are in that founding document, but I do know the basic freedoms it guarantees. Mr. Trump should be familiar with one of those rights. He lives it every day.

That right, in the Constitution with those other freedoms, is the inalienable right to be a god-awful jerk.

Mr. Trump can find that right guaranteed in Article Twelve.

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