Is the Constitution Still Relevant? On Watergate, the Saturday Night Massacre, and Why we Need Zombie Fred Thompson

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Let us put aside, for the moment, the fact that Donald Trump never wanted to be president. A pin we shall place in discussions of his gross incompotence, which was discussed seriously by only small, but important cadre of Republicans throughout his candidacy; three million more Americans than those who voted for Trump saw it as well. As much as it pains us, we must rush past more than mere mentions of his outrageous Twitter behavior, his painfully awkward encounters with State leaders, his irresponsible logorrhea that upends international diplomacy, his fundamental lack of even the most basic understanding of U.S. history and the Constitution, the complete dearth of intellectual curiosity that drives him to watch hours upon hours of cable news as his source of information, or even that he favors crackpot, ideologically-based, but facts-challenged bloviating from people like Andrew Napolitano over actual government intelligence to support his unfounded, historically-unparalleled accusations of illegal wiretapping by a then-sitting president. Let us admit that this paragraph could continue as one horrible, run-on sentence filled with evidence from the FAKE NEWS with which he is obsessed. Because all of that is really a distraction to what has happened in the past 24 hours.

I realize that in my small but faithful readership there are many people who actually lived through Watergate. I did not; I was born in 1976, but I grew up in an intellectual, politically-involved family. I am a voracious reader and an avid watcher of documentary films. My favorite on Watergate is the 1994 Daniel Shorr/BBC doc, A Third Rate Burglary. Released the year Richard Nixon died, this comprehensive, over 6-hour examination narrated by a man who was himself a member of Nixon’s “enemies list,” chronicles in great detail the sinking of Nixon’s Titanic; even today, reasonable people can disagree on when exactly it hit the iceberg. Was it in ordering the plumbers to take photos of Daniel Ellsberg‘s psychiatric records to staunch the bleeding from the steady release of the Pentagon Papers? Was it the moment conspiracy was spoken about in the Oval Office? Was it when he fired Archibald Cox, the independent counsel charged with determining if our president is a crook? Was it because Nixon knew that the unredacted tapes would be end of him, so in what became known as the Saturday Night Massacre–a bloodless Night of the Long Knives— Nixon, incensed that Cox would not accept the outlandish Stennis Compromise (hey, let’s exploit a hearing-impaired Senator and hope he doesn’t hear the bad parts when transcribing; seriously, click the link), he ordered the Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Cox; he refused, and was fired, as was Deputy AG William Ruckelshaus, who was succeeded by the man who did pull the proverbial trigger, Robert Bork (who was later denied a seat on the United States Supreme Court in a brutal hearing).  Was it when Nixon then made a pathetic attempt to release redacted versions of the tapes (made known only because of the begrudging Senate testimony of Alexander Butterfield)? Or when the tapes were released after the Supreme Court had to tell the president that they were not his personal property? When did the presidency start to take on water and how rapidly it occurred is a fun intellectual game because we are removed from the fear and the danger. What did the president know and when did he know it? 

Not so today. The firing of Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey has some parallels and some important differences. There was no denying that Cox was fired because Nixon was trying to protect his own threatened power; Democrats wanted Comey fired because of his inarguably inept handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails (which is in itself a symbol of the partisanship that has broken our government), something that appears to have impacted the presidential election in not insignificant ways. I imagine decades from now there will still be debate about this, but right now there is no denying that we are in a Constitutional crisis.

And the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is currently taking time to excoriate Democrats about Obamacare. That’s what’s happening, and that’s what worries me. Fiddling while Rome burns.

Our current AG, Jeff Sessions, who has financial ties to for-profit prisons while calling for a return to draconian drug sentencing, is so morally questionable that Coretta Scott King wrote a letter about him. He is more Bork than Richardson or Ruckleshaus. Our current House Judiciary Committee has rabid partisans in the majority, such as climate-change denier Lamar Smith or my home state’s Steve Chabot, a staunch defender of Trump. I know that I was not alive during Watergate but I think I have a working understanding of the details, and I don’t have much confidence right now that there are principled Republicans in power who will get moving the wheels of justice. It is time for us to stop this knee-jerk, partisan reactionary behavior and understand that we are at a vital juncture in our nation’s history. We need leaders of the majority party such as Fred Thompson, who before becoming an actor and a part-time presidential candidate, managed to ask the most important, aforementioned question to Butterfield about the listening devices in the Oval Office. (Some feel Thompson gets more credit than he deserves.) Millions of citizens already are convinced that elections do not reflect the will of the people; we can jump down the rabbit hole of the Electoral College another time, but there is no doubting that Trump is the most unpopular incoming, nascent president. We’ve already breezed past his gross incompetence, so it is not as though we owe the man a thing. He has to go.

There was a famous moment in Bill Clinton’s first term after the Republicans swept into power in the unprecedented 1994 midterm election. He was being so overshadowed by the bombastic Newt Gingrich that Clinton had to say to the press, “The president is relevant.”

Is the Constitution?

Our responsibility as citizens is to make it impossible for the government to do anything until it does due diligence and shows us that, indeed, the Constitution is still relevant and it still works. Let’s hope we don’t have to call upon a zombie Fred Thompson to get it done.

To the Imams Khan: I Have Sacrificed Nothing

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Like a vast majority of Americans who are not terrible people and have a soul, I watched the appearance of Khizr Khan and Ghazala Khan, the parents of fallen U.S. Army Captain Humayun Kkhan, a patriotic young man who lost his life owed to the reckless policies of the Bush Administration, with tears in my eyes. Anyone who questions if the American dream is still alive need only look at these dignified, proud people who understand what true political oppression feels like. Looks like. They know what it means to go to another country and seize opportunities, such as Mr. Khan has done as an attorney. As their son did as a soldier deploying and redeploying as called upon by his country. And the image of Mrs. Khan, standing silently but proudly, wearing a hijab, providing strength for her husband as we imagine she has done for family all her life, is now seared into the American consciousness. Watching them, I felt proud to be an American. I don’t say stuff like that a lot. False patriotism is ugly. I have sacrificed nothing for my country. I am not a veteran. I have taught at private institutions. My community service and work is not a sacrifice. It is a great joy. A privilege. My religious freedom is not as the result of anything I have done; it has been given to me. While I am a lifelong, dedicated pacifist I have friends who are Marines and soldiers in the Army; sailors and Air Force. Veterans and active duty. One of my dear friends’ father is a retired Air Force Colonel. Another friend lost her brother in Afghanistan. I live a stone’s throw away from the second largest AFB in the country, and there are armories to the south and east. I know lots of people who have sacrificed by serving in the Peace Corp or Teach for America.

I have sacrificed nothing.

The splenetic, infantile responses of the Orange Baboon are a perfect illustration of what is going on in this country right now. Really, if we are honest, it has been going on for hundreds of years. Rich men who never serve a day of their life in the military continually decide to send our volunteer forces into impossible situations with suspects motives to seeks amoral outcomes. See also: History. Drumpf, who is woefully unaware of geopolitics, including dangerously inaccurate statements about Crimea and Ukraine, claims that he has made sacrifices by working hard, creating jobs, and building “great” buildings. One is reminded of his statement that his love for the differently-abled community can be seen in his spending millions of dollars to

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comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Sacrifices abound.

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We cannot ask for a better situation to demonstrate the macrocosm through the microcosm. Here we have an immigrant family who are fiercely proud of their adopted country; who raised a son with a sense of devotion and service that I have never even approached; who laid bare their own pain and suffering out of concern for their fellow citizens, to offer as an example an American who never would have existed had The Donald been in power when the Khans left Pakistan; who passionately used as their defense for having such fundamental questions about Drumpf’s qualifications, knowledge of the fucking Constitution of the United States. And as John Oliver has said, it seems the first time that noble document has been used as a middle finger.

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I felt proud because I see, in a small way, that we are inching closer and closer to fulfilling the maxim that all persons are created equal. A Muslim couple who still speak with accents, proudly and courageously challenging the odiousness that is passing for GOP policy positions. And, of course, the response is no longer a surprise. The asshat with “one of the great temperaments” reacted like a foul-mouthed parrot that has learned how to tweet. And, seriously. What the hell is with that sentence construction? One of the great temperaments? I must have missed the day in school in which Ms. Davis, the legendary history teacher from my high school alma mater, went over the Great Temperaments. As I am a man who likes to know things, I spent the morning doing deep research on the Great Temperaments (one cannot recommend enough the seminal work of Monsieur Derriere-Chapeau) and I found rare footage of Trump’s noble forbears:

I have written before (and before and before) about the darkness and irresponsible vision of the country the GOP nominee is presenting. But I am asking people to look very closely at what is happening: Drumpf wants to be president, but he can’t even fulfill the most basic tasks. He will send armed forces into areas of the world he knows nothing about, and will be unable to comfort the families when our heroes return in boxes. The man is a walking id, as I’ve said before. He is a blight on humanity.

But I’m about solutions. Positivity. Rejecting Trump does not happen just at the ballot box, it comes with the actions we engage in each day. Because this is what we are facing:

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This was left on a female friend of color’s FB post. I reported it and alerted my friend, who is out of the country. But this is what Drumpf is stirring up. We can be reactionary and go into word battles with them–which, actually, can be fun, so go ahead an inundate them with tweets and posts–but we can also engage in action. And that’s what this post is ultimately about. I feel like Mr. and Mrs. Khan have been our Imams. They have presented to us a challenge.

Pastor friends, Christian friends, friends who teach Sunday School. Join me. Join me as I continue to teach the children of First Presbyterian Church of Yellow Springs the Five Pillars of Islam. I connect each pillar to Christianity, highlighting similarities and differences, but they are learning about Islam. We are then going to a local mosque, and in return we will invite members to come to the church. My hope is that we can become sister communities, coming together every year to share. To support. To love one another. I’m asking you to do the same, or to do something to connect the congregation you serve or attend to a local Muslim community. It is time to make sure that as many microcosms as possible shift. That this be the end of a major politician being able to stoke fear and xenophobia.

The Khans are doing their part. Are you doing yours?

 

Ideals, Not Ideology

In my Facebook feed, battles are ongoing. Posts have 50, 60, 70 comments. Threads go in various directions simultaneously. Perhaps it is the diversity of my friend group, but there are no demographical trends one might point to in order to make sense of it all. White friends in their 70’s voice opinions echoed by biracial friends in their 20’s. Libertarians agree with Socialists; articles and blog posts and Twitter screen captures are posted and reposted. There is a lot of talk. A little less communication. And even less confidence as to what will happen in November.

The biggest rows I see revolve around some form of this question: Is refusing to vote for Hillary Clinton the same as voting for Trump? I imagine we all have seen and heard the arguments given on all sides. A vote is simply a vote for the candidate for whom it is cast. Or, my vote is not for Clinton, but rather against Trump. Or, I find them both despicable, so I am voting for a third party candidate or a write-in. We’ve seen the articles arguing that not voting for Clinton places at risk GLBT+, POC, immigrants, Muslims, or other vulnerable groups. We’ve seen articles from queer-identified POC telling Whites to stop saying they are voting for Clinton to protect others. We have seen the arguments about how votes for a third party candidate helps get a fledgling party closer to the 5% threshold needed for public funding during the next cycle. Everyone seems to be discussing suffrage, enfranchisement, civic responsibility, and political philosophy. In one way, that’s awesome. I think it is good that people are engaged and paying attention.

However, there are some just flat-out incorrect suppositions and arguments going on, and not just from Fox News. (See Bill O’The Clown’s defense of slavery.)

We are conflating ideals with ideology. Ideals should motivate us. Ideals can also influence our philosophies. Plato’s concepts of the Forms helped us conceptualize ideals and analyze how culture and sometimes arbitrary decisions influence our definitions of things like beauty and justice. The Book of Job is about many things, but at its basis it is a text about the nature of pure justice. Job has one ideal, God another. Ideals can push us to be more compassionate, more industrious, more hospitable.

But ideology is dangerous. Ideology becomes more important than people. When ideological purity is demanded, we venture into dangerous territory in which lives can be seriously damaged. Ideally, we would have an electoral system that provided us with a cleaner process, parties with a greater range of choices, a spirit of cooperation and a shared sense of citizenship. But we don’t live in an ideal society. We can continue to strive to get closer to the ideal, but the sad fact is that it does not exist now and will not before November 8.

Ideology is what led the GOP to say the number one priority was to make President Obama a one term president. Ideology is what keeps Congress from giving a timely up or down vote on hundreds of judicial nominees. Ideology is what drives us to say that strongly held principles are more important than mitigating or reducing danger to the greatest number of people. Ideology gives us a sense of righteous indignation that others will question our decisions when they are not adequately rooted in reality.

By any reasonable metric, Hillary Clinton is not the same as Donald Trump. Hate the player, hate the game all you want but she is damn good at what she does. We might find it deeply depressing, but the political system is what it is and Hillary Clinton has an encyclopedic understanding of what it takes to run the country. And believe me, on November 9 I will once again pick up my megaphone and start working toward the legislative changes that are important to me. People I love are in prison. People I love are veterans who suffer from PTSD. People I love are drowning in student loan debt, have inadequate salaries and insurance, and worry about being able to carry the tax load for a family home. Yes, I love myself thank you 😉

So we’ve gotta stop saying that we’re gonna eat a shit sandwich either way. Or, what the hell. Go ahead and say it. But I’m here to tell you that consistency and amount makes a huge difference when one is facing a shit sandwich. And you’re never going to convince me to stand in Trump’s line. I’m going to be pretty pissed off if the ideological stances of others forces all of us to strap on our bibs and start shoveling shit into our mouths.

For those of you who are holding onto your principles, I get it. I respect it. Believe me, I’m a devout Christian. Everyday I wake up and try to be like Christ, so that means every single day I fail. Ideals are good. But ideology is not. Especially now. You don’t get to pretend that we are in an ideal situation in which your ideological stance doesn’t have consequences for others. And, frankly, enough of the privilege accusations on this one. Really. Enough. I am very aware of my privilege, and where I’m not I admit that I’m not. But on this one, we are facing a situation in which no one is really safe. It is not my privilege that is asking you to vote for Clinton. It is my intellect and the fact that I’m not eager to be governed by a sociopath.

With Clinton, we will have a much better change of continuing the slow, but steady changes.

Seriously. Do we not remember 2004? Do we not remember crying together in Ohio when the marriage ban passed? Look at where we are less than 15 years later. And a vast majority of that came during the Obama Administration. We have the possibility of great social justice progress, even amidst frustration and moderate push back, with Clinton. That will never, ever happen with Trump.

Hold onto your ideals. Dump the ideology.

A System of Competing Goods

Much of philosophy is concerned with the good. Good understood in the meta sense; good as both a means and an end. Good as peace. As love. As compassion. As justice. Greek philosophers yearned to describe the eudaimonia, the good life. Not swimming pools and movies stars, but morality and ethical consistency. And much of human history can be understood as clashes between systems of competing goods. 

I wrote earlier on the Wikileaks scandal and how, in my limited opinion, it demonstrates the corruption of the Democratic National Committee. The release of emails, when paired with my growing disdain for how the DNC obviously favored one candidate over another, has left me with little to no faith in a party that I grew up favoring. A number of my friends disagreed with me, which is not unusual and one of the reasons I write as much as I do: intelligent conversation and informed disagreements are part of the good. Of the eudaimonia. I conceded a number of points–election fraud/tampering is often charged but rarely proved; Clinton thoroughly trounced Bernie in a process that has served the party for decades; and people are imperfect, so chicanery happens, especially when competition is involved–but what I pushed back against were arguments that were based in accepting the premise of competing goods. 

To wit. We all can agree that stealing $10 million from an orhphanage is loathsome. So is stealing their food. One can criticize the latter without reference to the former. What I won’t accept is the idea that stealing food isn’t really that bad because the theft of ten million dollars is so much worse. Is it? It depends on our rubrics. It depends on our perceptions. For a diabetic child whose blood sugar drops and goes into a coma, the chances that the theft is worse are pretty good.  


Bandying about ideas as to how Bernie Sanders’ atheism might make a difference to evangelical voters in southern states is not as loathsome as wanting to put a ban on all Muslims entering the country. But I wasn’t writing about the latter yesterday, I was writing about the former. And to me, this is one of the problems with two party politics: any criticism of one system can be interpreted as a damnation of the entire thing, and ipso facto an affirmation of the other system. Decrying that the CFO of the DNC floated an idea about how Bernie was “skating by” on his Jewishness whilst really an atheist seems to me a legitimate position to take. It is not an endorsement of the RNC. It is not a statement that one should not vote for HRC . It also seems pretty fair to point out that the emails are symptomatic of larger issues which are alienating for younger voters, particularly Millennials, with whom Bernie did well (and, no, this is not a post about how Millennials did not show up in large enough numbers during the primaries).  Many Millennials are distrustful of party politics and they have tried to express that; sadly, I feel that often their concerns are met with defensiveness and closed ears. I’ve read about how Bernie wasn’t really a Democrat; that of course the party is going to support Clinton because she has been loyal for so long; that this is how things work and people are getting upset over nothing. It goes again to my point yesterday that party politics are about money and quid pro quo relationships, and it seems any critique of it is passed off as naïveté, sour grapes, or immaturity. I understand the contemporary political reality; I get that there are far worse dangers and concerns, and that most of them are squarely within the GOP. But what I don’t accept is the idea, which has been voiced, that pointing out the deficiencies in the DNC’s approach to this election is somehow inappropriate given what is going on in the GOP. I think we’re adults. I think we can do more than one thing at a time. 

As always, I appreciate feedback and comments!

We’re Not Allowed to Laugh

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They started appearing almost the instant Donald Trump “humbly” accepted the nomination of the once proud Grand Old Party to which my grandparents were lifelong members (except for my beloved grandma who voted for Obama twice). The tweets. The FB posts. The IMs. Usually this is my favorite part of both conventions: the witty, urbane, deeply educated comments from my wide circle of friends that includes rocket scientists, professors, pastors, teachers, nurses, welders, writers, actors, artists, dancers, photographers, retail workers, business owners, managers, lawyers, diplomats, economists, and trust fund babies. I count Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Tea Partiers, Socialists, Democratic Socialists, Anarchists, and Communists among my friends, at least the ones with whom I remain in digital contact. We squabble, but over the years I’ve managed to weed out the most obstreperous on all sides and am lucky to have a pretty awesome FB and Twitter feed.

There was no congenial jocularity last night. No moments in which we could reach across the proverbial aisle and type in response, “If this candidate wins despite my voting for someone else, I known I can support a few things in the platform; I’d prefer to not have this president, but I understand why others do.” Even my staunchest Republican friends were either silent or posted about deep pain in watching their political party hand over the reigns to a grossly incompetent narcissist who all but promises martial law, racial profiling, mass deportations, foreign policy chaos, and economic recovery (despite the relative strength of most major markets and indicators).

My night went a little something like this: I tried some attempts at humor.

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If I do say so myself, that is kinda funny. Chuckle-worthy at least. Then I saw a post from a friend who came to the country as an refugee, is Muslim, and has children. He wrote that before his family escaped Iran in 1979, there were similar promises for purity, strength, security, and elimination of undesirables. I stopped chuckling. He has family who are not citizens but who understandably do not want to go back to Iran.

I tried an intellectual approach.

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Rather astute, if I do say so myself, and at the time I felt rather proud of myself for having such a sweeping grasp of historical geopolitics. Then a friend reminded me of the homeless man who was beaten by Trump supporters for being an immigrant, an action Trump refused to denounce. Intellectualism also was not successful in keeping me at a distance from the shitshow unfolding before the world.

I tried sarcasm, the last refuge I could see that might keep me from a total surrender to despair.

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As Trump struggled to pronounce GLBTQ+ and promised our community protection from a “foreign ideology,” a not-so-coded reference to the shooting at the Pulse nightclub, which has yet to be connected to Islamic extremism, into my feed came this Advocate slideshow about the trans* persons who have been killed this year. Crap. Sarcasm wouldn’t work, either.

Righteous indignation at the baffling ignorance being trumpeted as strength and leadership seemed the next logical approach:

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As the balloons fell down upon the assembled crowd all I was left with was this:

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The song selection seemed so meta I reasoned it had to be unintentional. Certainly neither Trump nor anyone in his clusterfuck of a campaign could be witty enough to chose the song as a slight to states like my own, which loudly and proudly cast delegate votes for Gov. John Kasich, who has been disastrous for Ohio but seems downright Churchillian in comparison. No way, I thought, that this was a pointed jab at Ted Cruz, who refused to endorse Trump the penultimate night of the convention. No. Way! Right? And it certainly couldn’t be pointed at the American people, could it? A message to the so-called “moochers and takers,” to use House Speaker Paul Ryan’s verbiage, and the “losers,” which Trump believes includes Republicans who dare to disagree with him. That couldn’t be what we just saw, right?

Right?

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Right.

A friend of mine who is a scholar of dystopian literature and one of the sharpest thinkers I’ve ever known, usually is able to pull me out of Chicken Little mode. But even he was almost speechless and described himself sad, noting that Orwell was not writing a political handbook. Alas, we have found ourselves in Oceania. War is peace. Slavery is freedom. Ignorance is strength. One has to wonder if Trump wins the presidency, will yearly conventions be held in Cleveland? If so, one can only hope that it one day hosts international criminal court proceedings to bring to justice the regime that we are on the precipice of putting into place by so-called democratic means.

Finally, it pisses me off that this is exactly what Trump wants. He desires his supporters to feel emboldened and justified, and he wants to imbue with fear those of us who do not view the world in an infantile “winner and losers” rubric that most people shed by kindergarten. He wants us to believe his dark, ominous, wildly inaccurate claims and depictions of the United States. He wants to play upon White fear and insecurity; label as enemies immigrants and Muslims; and celebrate as wisdom ignorance of such gobsmacking depths that even Jules Verne couldn’t imagine the bottom.This is how we will make America great again.

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American Manicheanism at the RNC

Before Augustine of Hippo acceded to the pleas of his besainted mother Monica and St. Ambrose, he was a Manichean. This religion was a melange of Zoroastrianism, folk traditions, and Buddhism. But above all it was heavily dualistic, visioning the world as a fierce, clear battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. In some ways they were not unlike the Essenes that some scholars believe influenced John the Baptizer. The traces of the Essenes are not seen as heavily on Christian theology as are the large stains of dualism, and much of that has to do with Augustine’s misreadings of Paul’s epistles. While he didn’t create the notion of original sin, he did propagate the term concupiscence which essentially characterizes the human experience as being an ongoing battle between the lower appetites (what Paul calls sarx or flesh) and the soul; in this way the human person is a microcosm of the heavenly macrocosm, which will play itself out in an apocalyptic battle. Hatred of the body can be laid at the feet of Augustine, although not him alone, and by the Middle Ages flagellation and other bodily mortification were prevalent ascetic practices for monks trying to overcome the power of the flesh to elevate the spirit. This was borrowed directly from dualistic traditions of the ancient world. See, for example, the War Scroll of the Qumran community, which foretells the impending clash between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness. The scroll depicts graphic scenes in which the enemies (the Sons of Darkness) are laid to waste by the heroes (Sons of Light). As they awaited this war, the members of the community lived under strict conditions and practiced extreme austerity. While this paragraph blurs some lines and loses nuance for the sake of expediency, it is safe to say that Gnostic influences can be found all over the formative years of Christian theology and tradition.

One might think that with the advent of science, philosophy, history, and knowledge over the last two millennia human religion–especially Christianity, which has under its umbrella an estimated 33,000 denominations— would have evolved beyond fantastical visions of an Earth that will be little more than a massive Risk board for God and Satan. One might think, but one would be wrong. Gnosticism is on full display at the Republican National Convention that sadly is being hosted in my beloved home state of Ohio. I thank God I am on the other side of the Heart of it All lest I be attacked.

Gird up your loins and give this a look. Or, if that’s too much read the text below. Or both. Your choice. I pride myself on service.

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Derrick Weston has written a good piece on how this is bad theology; Mark Sandlin has offered how he would have delivered the prayer; and the New York Post has reported that a Muslim-led prayer in the same place was met with screams of derision. I don’t want to rehash what has already been done well, but I do want to offer a new perspective that, perhaps, can add to intelligent conversation.

It seems clear that the GOP has abandoned even extreme Evangelical Christianity  in favor of what I’m calling American Manicheanism, a mix of nationalism, apocalyptic Christianity, and a heavily dualist view of politics, society, religion, and policy. It is evident not only in the prayer offered by Burns–notice all the blame assigned to one side; the descriptors are violent and divisive; and the name of God is invoked in a call to destroy so that peace may come–but also the language of Trump, for whom people are either winners or losers. Seriously. The New York Times ran an article detailing the 239 people Trump has dumped upon. We have seen Chris Christie, Newt Gingrich, and a whole host of other people have tried to get back into Trump’s good graces to once again be labeled a winner. Ted Cruz, it seems, did not achieve that with his non-endorsement of the nominee on Wednesday evening. Trump made his displeasure known.

gettyimages-578133654.jpg    Shudder. I keep expecting him to release the flying monkeys. 

These sort of quasi-intellectual posts might be fun, or an opportunity for me to momentarily stop crying over the nearly $150k student loan debt I’ll have by the time I finish the doctorate in early 2018 and show that all this education is not for naught. I can be witty and sarcastic with footnotes! The average person probably does not care that what we are seeing is a repeat of what has happened for millennia when empires begin to teeter. It might make me feel witty to quip that Commodus is about to take over for Marcus Aurelius. Time for guffaws is long over. We are faced with a terrifying situation. Out of fear, the GOP has retreated to their corners to prepare for an epic battle; they believe themselves to be led by a higher power who has charged them with defeating an enemy, one that is sly and difficult to detect. One that is close, familiar, and perhaps was once a friend. They have cast complicated issues as either/or propositions, and depict the world as dark and dire with suffering to come, unless those who are in the right gather together behind a leader and overthrow the demons.And have done so with a buffoon as a candidate who, according to experts, could create chaos in the world.

This is pretty much what messianic expectations have detailed for thousands of years. A time of crisis; fear gripping the land; and the cries to God to send an agent of delivery. Take a look at Burns’ prayer again; look familiar? But gone are the subtleties and finer points; absent are notions of grace, compassion, and love; peace is pitched as occurring only in the wake of destruction. Blessings are bestowed only upon those with the secret knowledge, the proper pedigree, the anointing of the divine. Hope is placed in the idea that the destruction of the many is necessary for the salvation of the few.

And Trump is expected to win the Evangelical vote.

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Define “Religious”

I talk about religion a lot, often because I am asked to or I am asked questions about religion. For a number of years, even after my conversion and after I became serious about practicing the faith, I hesitated to call myself religious. It seemed to have so many negative connotations for others and even for myself. I actually fell, for awhile, for the New Atheist insistence that to be really religious means to be a fundamentalist, which is absolutely not true and perhaps the topic for a future blog post. But in the past five years, and right around the time I started this blog, I have evolved on my position. Yes, I am in fact religious. As the tagline of this page states, “Reasonably Religious, Religiously Reasonable.”

The origins of the English word religion are interesting. It begins with the Classical Latin religare, which means “to bind.” Religare morphs into religio, which adds a connotation of reverence or high regard. Scholars trace the first written use of it to Cicero, who employs the term in connection to strict observance of local cultic practices. Further, we see that by the time Middle English emerges with “religion,” Old French had added to the word ideas of monastic strictures such that the term has been freighted with all sorts of expectations and requirements, yet without the specific details of what expectations must be met. We know what religion means, but what it is remains to be decided.

At its heart, religion seeks to bind us. To God, to ourselves, to one another. Religion is about relationships, and a sense of obligation and commitment to remain in those relationships even through difficulties. Religion might mean a commitment to certain behaviors and moral codes; it might mean the performance of certain rituals or rites; it can be attenuated by sacred scriptures or other written/oral traditions; and a whole host of other features. And defining religion? Well, it depends on your discipline. The legal definition is very different than the one provided by the IRS. Academic definitions can vary widely; and if you ever want to start some static in a room full of intellectuals, ask whether Buddhism is a philosophy or a religion. Then run. Or get a drink and some popcorn. Either way, something dramatic is going to happen. I used to give the assignment as a final essay to my students, and some of them would hand in the papers with the look of someone who had been crying all night.

I offer all of this because I have spent most of my academic and professional life thinking about and reflecting upon religion. I love having conversations with people in various traditions and disciplines to talk about religion, faith, community, and all the other things that come hand-in-hand with religion. That wonderful yet terrifying creation that has been responsible for some of the most beautiful and more destructive forces in the world. And the more I learn and discover the more I know that I don’t know, and the more that I understand religion can come in ways that are surprising, revolutionary, and unexpected.A religious act can be eating bread in mindfulness, or anointing the body of a person recently deceased. It can be sprinkling water on the forehead of a child, or the passing of an ancestral sword to the next generation. Religion–that which binds us–can be indescribably beautiful.

What it can’t be is the amoral, opportunistic, vapid, insubstantial, self-aggrandizing, Mammon-serving claptrap that Donald Trump displays in his life. He is bound only to himself, to his fragile ego that can only be protected by a worldview that relegates people to being either “terrific” or “losers.” He has never asked forgiveness from God because he does not know how to extend it. Or maybe that should go the other way around. He famously holds grudges for decades, sending quippy notes and emails to rub his perceived success into the face of someone who was inadequately fawning. For him, being religious means winning the Evangelical vote.

If this is not a gut-check time for Evangelical America, I don’t know what is. You’ve been saying to us for years that you vote your values. You have excused horrible treatment of women who seeks abortions, GLBT persons who want to marry, and immigrants who want to have a track to citizenship for years because of your values. And you’re willing to vote for this man, and accept that he calls himself “religious”?

So, I guess I’ve been wrong the past five years. Guess I’m not religious after all.