Thursday, February 09, 2017

Ideas Have Consequences, or How to Resist Trump/GOP

Ideas have consequences!  As GK Chesterton wrote, "the men writing books are throwing bombs."

Alternative Worlds and the Words that Dismantle Them

A Philosophy of Rhetoric
A few years ago, I wrote an essay describing my philosophy of rhetoric. It was a required component of my coursework toward my PhD in rhetoric and writing.
I think it was my favorite assignment of all time.
I start off my philosophy of rhetoric with the following description of my favorite Heschel quote:
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was a theologian, author, teacher, and active participant in the civil rights movement. In a telegram to President John F. Kennedy, Heschel urged the president to declare a state of “moral emergency” regarding the treatment of African Americans, noting that “the hour calls for high moral grandeur and spiritual audacity” (Heschel vii). A famous photo from a civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 reveals Rabbi Heschel on the front lines with Martin Luther King, Jr., separated from King by just one person. King himself called Heschel “one of the truly great men of our age” (Parachin 48).
Approximately 20 years after his death, Rabbi Heschel’s daughter Susannah edited and published a collection of her father’s essays, titling them Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity in honor of that letter to JFK. In her introduction to the collection, she writes of her father:
Words, he often wrote, are themselves sacred, God’s tool for creating the universe, and our tools for bringing holiness—or evil—into the world. He used to remind us that the Holocaust did not begin with the building of crematoria, and Hitler did not come to power with tanks and guns; it all began with uttering evil words, with defamation, with language and propaganda. Words create worlds, he used to tell me when I was a child. They must be used very carefully. Some words, once having been uttered, gain eternity and can never be withdrawn. The Book of Proverbs reminds us, he wrote, that death and life are in the power of the tongue. (viii-ix)
This excerpt illustrates the power of language—both for good and for evil. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, language is the source of creation for the entire universe (“in the beginning was the Word”[1]): God spoke, and there was. The Genesis story doesn’t begin with God thinking; it begins with a depiction of a formless void, and God’s first action (beside hovering over the waters) is to speak. God creates the world through the use of words. Words are the source of life.
But I begin with this quote from Heschel because it is referring to more than the physical world in which we live. Heschel was speaking of the intangible worlds we create by the power of our words, worlds of ideology that construct multiple lenses through which we interpret events, people, and phenomena—worlds of ideology that can, at their very worst, justify genocide. In The Rhetoric of Rhetoric, Wayne Booth makes a similar assertion, declaring that “rhetoric makes realities, however temporary” (16). Heschel witnessed Hitler’s ascent to power beginning with the influence of his words, recognizing the evil that can be spoken into the world and the realities that negative rhetoric could create. But he also recognized the potential of rhetoric to have the same influence for good. His faith and theological training reminded him that words carried the power of positive creation, and he put that power to use during the civil rights movement. Heschel’s experiences remind us that the words we choose have awesome power, particularly when in the hands of a “good man speaking well” (Quintilian 12.1.1.). Martin Luther King, Jr. described Heschel as not just a good man, but a great man—and many would say the same of King (I would, certainly).
These men illustrate the potential of rhetoric—when paired with an ethical person—to act as a positive force of creation. We construct so much of our reality by the use (and misuse) of words that attention to those words becomes an incredibly important endeavor. This is the realm of rhetoric.
[1] John 1:1
My essay continues to flesh out the idea of maintaining an ethical component in the teaching and use of rhetoric. But the basis for my ethical argument is this: Words have power. Words create worlds.
Possible Worlds
Above, I describe the “intangible worlds we create by the power of our words, worlds of ideology that construct multiple lenses through which we interpret events, people, and phenomena.” I am, to an extent, describing my own abstract interpretation of David Lewis’s “possible worlds” theory. This theory uses counterfactuals to propose nearby possible worlds; for example, if I were to say, “if it were raining, I would have brought my umbrella,” this creates a nearby possible world in which everything is the same except it is raining and I have an umbrella. This is a way-oversimplified explanation of this theory, and I may have slightly botched it. But the basic idea is this: language creates other worlds in which proposed ideas are reality.
Now, Lewis believed these worlds actually existed.* That is not what I am proposing; instead, I believe that we should apply Heschel’s idea that “words create worlds” to the psychological worlds in which we live—those “lenses through which we interpret events, people, and phenomena,” and keep in mind how real those worlds feel to the people living within them. The words we use can create an entire worldview through which we filter all events, opinions, and facts. Allow me to provide an example…
Growing up, I was often called “stupid.” It didn’t take long for that idea to gain a foothold in my brain, and I began to believe it in spite of any evidence to the contrary. I was an excellent student; however, I believed that it was just because I worked really really hard (surely the smart kids didn’t take that long to get there). Or, in some cases, I assumed I had somehow duped people into *thinking* I’m smart. (Which is an interesting juxtaposition, if you think about it—I’m not actually smart, but I’m crafty enough to dupe people into thinking I’m smart? How does that work?) It took me clear until graduate school to finally think of myself as an intelligent person.
For most of my life, the words others spoke to me created my own little world—a bubble around me through which I interpreted everything. I lived in a world where the reality was “Tana is stupid.” How people spoke to me, how people interacted with me, the value they placed on the things I said or did—these were all filtered through that lens. Anything less than an “A” was unacceptable to me, because it would just be proof that I’m stupid. Any joking insult to my intelligence was a slap in the face. Every mistake I made was not simply a mistake; it was more proof of my stupidity.
I know that many other people live in such worlds. They view everything through the lens of being stupid, or worthless, or “trouble,” or “less than,” or any number of other labels. But it is important to note that it affects not only their perception of themselves or how they view others; it also affects the decisions they make. There is a ripple effect for everyone who lives in an altered world built of someone else’s false and hurtful words; it doesn’t merely stop with them, but it affects us all. And that makes it our collective responsibility to carefully consider the words we speak to and about others. Our words build other people’s worlds.
And this is where I think the concreteness of Lewis’s proposal has some merit. Because viewpoints affect actions, and actions affect more than just the one who acts.
Alternative Worlds
In a sense, we are seeing Lewis’s theory play out quite potently with the current occupant of the White House.** Both political parties attempt to create “worlds” for their members…we paint the world, its occupants, and their actions in a particular light in order to gain their adherence to the party platform. Once we are politically affiliated, we begin to interpret everything else—particularly what the opposite party does—through our cultivated lens. Trump took this idea to the max, taking existing ideas and shaping them into an extreme worldview that warps reality. In Trump’s world, the “other” is so unbelievably scary that we must institute bans and build walls, regardless of what statistics tell us (or how extreme the vetting process already is, for example). His language is harsh and unforgiving; his tolerance for dissent practically nonexistent. Trump’s ascent began with “uttering evil words, with defamation, with language and propaganda.” He essentially created an alternative world for his followers, and at this point they can’t seem to find their way out of it (nor do they seem to want to).
What is most concerning about these alternative worlds is that they are built on “alternative facts,” not just evil words or defamation. My world was built on others’ opinions of me—the harsh and harmful words they said to me. Though I would argue that the statements they made were untrue, they were more “perspectives” than facts the speakers were trying to offer up and defend. But we now have a leader and administration who propose “alternative facts” that contribute to the building of these worlds. And I fear these lies make this alternative world that much stronger.
I was reading through a comment thread on a friend’s Facebook post a few weeks ago, and my friend made the comment that Trump lost the popular vote in the election. One of the commenters said, “well that’s debatable.” My friend responded, “No, that’s math.” This is an example of the kinds of ideas that are coming from the alternative worldview: objective facts are now up for debate. Some folks—and this happens on the left as well—are so entrenched in their worldview that they can’t admit to anything that might threaten it at all. For people living in Trump’s alternative world, the danger is even more pressing: these “alternative facts” are the very building blocks of their world; denying them means their world starts to crumble. And that’s a scary thought.
Every false utterance, every “alternative fact” that comes from the White House continues to build and strengthen Trump’s alternative world, and with each building block, objective facts and reality become increasingly warped. I dismantled my altered world by adding up facts: I did well in school, I graduated summa cum laude from college, I got into graduate school. But in Trump’s alternative world, facts are not concrete; they are fluid, squishy, and, in some cases, “fake news.” To combat a world built on alternative facts with actual facts is just not possible.
So what are we to do?
Create worlds.
My two examples of world-building were negative. But positive worlds can be built as well. In my philosophy of rhetoric essay, I create my own definition of rhetoric:
Rhetoric is the epistemic process through which we develop, communicate,
exchange ideas in pursuit of the common good.
I describe this definition a little bit more fully in the essay, but the basis of it (besides the incredibly crucial fact that rhetoric [and writing] is epistemic, which is another post for another time) is the idea that rhetoric should be rooted in ethics. I close my essay by saying:
Rhetoric can be—and should be—a power for good. If we, as scholars and teachers of rhetoric, seek to instill a positive ethos in our students, we can work to create a cultural value of discourse as that which is positive, productive, and works toward the common good. I would argue that in many ways, the discipline of rhetoric as a whole has lost sight of Quintilian’s definition of rhetoric as the “good man speaking well,” and that the time has come to restore the teaching of ethics to the discipline of rhetoric. It is time that we use rhetoric to work toward the common good.
It is time to restore the art of the (excuse my paraphrase and update of Quintilian) “good person speaking well” to the realm of rhetoric. But how do we do this? Surely, facts are part of speaking well; truth is a positive value. It is good. But if facts aren’t working, then what?
We need artistic proofs.
Artistic Proofs
In his philosophy of rhetoric, Aristotle described the use of artistic and inartistic proofs. Inartistic proofs were pieces of evidence that could be supplied outside of the speaker—a legal document, for example. Artistic proofs required the creativity and ingenuity of the speaker—the modes of persuasion labeled ethos, logos, and pathos. These were Aristotle’s building blocks for rhetoric, and he seemed to prefer them to inartistic proofs because of the skill they require. It’s easy to see how Aristotle’s theories could be extended and warped for evil: the modes of persuasion can be used to move the audience toward wrong instead of right, evil instead of good.  And this is what we see not only in Trump but in many other circumstances: rhetoric is used to arouse suspicions, instill fear, and stoke hatred.
But it can be used for good, too.
It is clear that Trump’s alternative world cannot be dismantled with inartistic proofs (facts). So we need to take a page out of his book and use artistic proofs. That doesn’t mean I think we should start inventing our own “alternative facts”; it means that if facts are not being accepted, then we need to turn to the creativity of language. We need to use our words to work toward the common good.
We need to create worlds.
What does that look like? That’s a good question—one that I am wrestling with, and I invite you to wrestle with, too.
How do we create good worlds?
Though I am still wrestling with how to use my words to build worlds that work toward the common good, here are some conclusions I have come to:
It is important to abstain from using our words to insult Trump just for the sake of insulting Trump (i.e., calling him names that make fun of his hair, “orangeness,” size, etc.). Those words are not helpful; they do not work toward building worlds in which good reigns. Criticize his policies? Yes. Point out that his behavior is unacceptable? Absolutely. Protest? YES! But body-shaming him is not acceptable; we shouldn’t reduce ourselves to that which, until now, we have criticized others for doing.
And this is not just for Trump: we should avoid ad hominems in arguments/conversations with all people.
So, does this mean we should only speak in glowing, positive tones, free from any substantive—or perhaps even harsh—critique? Heavens no! Working toward the common good doesn’t always mean our language will be all marshmallow fluff and Laffy Taffy; it simply means that we root our language in reality and respect for others. Passion is a necessary part of the process.
We need to build passionate and persuasive arguments for the dignity of all humankind.
We need to build passionate and persuasive arguments for the value of human life.
We need to build passionate and persuasive arguments for honoring the people who lived in “America” before we colonized it.
We need to build passionate and persuasive arguments for helping those in need.
We need to build passionate and persuasive arguments for reforming the criminal justice system.
We need to build passionate and persuasive arguments against racism, xenophobia, queerphobia, and misogyny.
We need to artfully use our words to create worlds in which we are working toward the common good. Passionate, compelling, and strong words will create some amazing worlds. When we create these worlds, we create spaces in which people can imagine a world that is different, good, and productive. If we work hard enough, those worlds will become reality.
Speaking Well
I invite you to create artistic proofs that begin to dismantle Trump’s alternative world(s). But more than that, I invite you to not only dismantle but to create. Use your words to create good worlds. Explore the power of language to build sanctuary worlds for those fleeing Trump’s alternative world. Play with language. Test its limits. Fight for rhetoric as the art of the “good person speaking well.”
Yes, these times call for action—I’m not denying or ignoring that by writing this essay. But this all started with words, and we need to remember that words are part of the good fight. Now is the hour for “high moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.”
It is time to create worlds.

"Moral Politics" : The Hermeneutic of Authoritarianism vs. Nurturant Parenting

The whole chapter is worth reading.

An excerpt from

Moral Politics
How Liberals and Conservatives Think
George Lakoff
Chapter Two
The Worldview Problem for American Politics

The Basic Claim
To date, I have found only one pair of models for conservative and liberal worldviews that meets all three adequacy," conditions, a pair that (1) explains why certain stands on issues go together (e.g., gun control goes with social programs goes with pro-choice goes with environmentalism); (2) explains why the puzzles for liberals are not puzzles for conservatives, and conversely; and (3) explains topic choice, word choice, and forms of reasoning in conservative and liberal discourse. Those worldviews center on two opposing models of the family.
At the center of the conservative worldview is a Strict Father model.
This model posits a traditional nuclear family, with the father having primary responsibility for supporting and protecting the family as well as the authority to set overall policy, to set strict rules for the behavior of children, and to enforce the rules. The mother has the day-to-day responsibility for the care of the house, raising the children, and upholding the father's authority. Children must respect and obey their parents; by doing so they build character, that is, self-discipline and self-reliance. Love and nurturance are, of course, a vital part of family life but can never outweigh parental authority, which is itself an expression of love and nurturance—tough love. Self-discipline, self-reliance, and respect for legitimate authority are the crucial things that children must learn. Once children are mature, they are on their own and must depend on their acquired self-discipline to survive. Their self-reliance gives them authority over their own destinies, and parents are not to meddle in their lives.
The liberal worldview centers on a very different ideal of family life, the Nurturant Parent model:
Love, empathy, and nurturance are primary, and children become responsible, self-disciplined and 'self-reliant through being cared for, respected, and caring for others, both in their family and in their community. Support and protection are part of nurturance, and they require strength and courage on the part of parents. The obedience of children comes out of their love and respect for their parents and their community, not out of the fear of punishment. Good communication is crucial. If their authority is to be legitimate, parents must explain why their decisions serve the cause of protection and nurturance. Questioning by children is seen as positive, since children need to learn why their parents do what they do and since children often have good ideas that should be taken seriously. Ultimately, of course, responsible parents have to make the decisions, and that must be clear. The principal goal of nurturance is for children to be fulfilled and happy in their lives. A fulfilling life is assumed to be, in significant part, a nurturant life—one committed to family and community responsibility. What children need to learn most is empathy for others, the capacity for nurturance, and the maintenance of social ties, which cannot be done without the strength, respect, self-discipline, and self-reliance that comes through being cared for. Raising a child to be fulfilled also requires helping that child develop his or her potential for achievement and enjoyment. That requires respecting the child's own values and allowing the child to explore the range of ideas and options that the world offers.
When children are respected, nurtured, and communicated with from birth, they gradually enter into a lifetime relationship of mutual respect, communication, and caring with their parents.
Each model of the family induces a set of moral priorities. As we shall see below, these systems use the same moral principles but give them opposing priorities. The resulting moral systems, put together out of the same elements, but in different order, are radically opposed. Strict Father morality assigns highest priorities to such things as moral strength (the self-control and self-discipline to stand up to external and internal evils), respect for and obedience to authority, the setting and following of strict guidelines and behavioral norms, and so on. Moral self-interest says that if everyone is free to pursue their self-interest, the overall self-interests of all will be maximized. In conservatism, the pursuit of self-interest is seen as a way of using self-discipline to achieve self-reliance.
Nurturant Parent morality has a different set of priorities. Moral nurturance requires empathy for others and the helping of those who need help. To help others, one must take care of oneself and nurture social ties. And one must be happy and fulfilled in oneself, or one will have little empathy for others. The moral pursuit of self-interest only makes sense within these priorities.
The moral principles that have priority in each model appear in the other model, but with lesser priorities. Those lesser priorities drastically change the effect of those principles. For example, moral strength appears in the nurturance model, but it functions not for its own sake, but rather in the service of nurturance. Moral authority, in the nurturance model, functions as a consequence of nurturance. Moral guidelines are defined by empathy and nurturance. Similarly, in the Strict Father model, empathy and nurturance are present and important, but they never override authority and moral strength. Indeed, authority and strength are seen as expressions of nurturance.
What we have here are two different forms of family-based morality. What links them to politics is a common understanding of the nation as a family, with the government as parent. Thus, it is natural for liberals to see it as the function of the government to help people in need and hence to sup-port social programs, while it is equally natural for conservatives to see the function of the government as requiring citizens to be self-disciplined and self-reliant and, therefore, to help themselves.
This is just a mere hint of the analysis of the conservative and liberal worldviews. The details of the family models and the moral systems are far more complex and subtle and, correspondingly, so are the details of the political analysis. This overview is also too brief to discuss variations on the conservative and liberal positions. The full-blown analysis requires a lot more, beginning with a detailed account of our moral conceptual system.

Friday, February 03, 2017

"That Day In Bowling Green" by Dave Stinton

As one commenter wrote, "What percentage of Trumpanzees won't recognize the satire ? (-; "

Friday, January 27, 2017

Stanely Hauerwas on Donald Trump

Stanley preaches it. Simple, clear, to the point. This is right up there with his Reformation Day sermon, in my book.

Christians, don’t be fooled: Trump has deep religious convictions

Many Americans appear ready to give President Trump a pass when it comes to his lack of religious knowledge, sensibilities or behavior, but I think that’s a mistake.
Trump is quite pious and his religious convictions run dangerously deep. But his piety is not a reflection of a Christian faith. His piety is formed by his understanding of what makes America a country like no other.

Trump proclaimed Jan. 20, the day of his inauguration, a “National Day of Patriotic Devotion.” Patriotic devotion? Christians are devoted to God, not to any nation. Trump defended his call for a day of patriotic devotion by drawing attention to his other claim — taken on faith — that there are no greater people than American citizens. Faith in Trump’s view, though, requires belief in those things for which we have insufficient evidence.

There is nothing, in Trump’s view, the American people cannot accomplish as long as we believe in ourselves and our country. But Christians do not believe in ourselves or our country. We believe in God, but we do more than believe in God. We worship God. Nothing else is to be worshiped.
Christians have a word to describe the worship of that which is not God: idolatry. Idolatry, of course, can be a quite impressive form of devotion. The only difficulty is idolaters usually end up killing someone for calling into question their “god.”

Trump’s inauguration address counts as a stunning example of idolatry. His statement — “At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America and through our loyalty to our country we will recover loyalty to each other” — is clearly a theological claim that offers a kind of salvation.

Christians believe that only God demands “total allegiance.” Otherwise we run the risk, as Trump exemplifies, of making an idol out of some human enterprise.
The evangelistic character of Trump’s faith should not be missed. He suggests that we will rediscover our loyalty to one another through our total allegiance to the United States. Quoting the Bible, he even suggests we will learn to live together in unity.

But history tells us people experience repressive politics for challenging such “oneness.” It is difficult to imagine those who have faced slavery and genocide can be in solidarity with those who believe we can let bygones be bygones.

Consider Trump’s use of the phrase “the people” in his inaugural address. “The people” have borne the cost. “The people” now own, rule and control the government. “The people” have not shared in the wealth of the country but now they will. “The people” will have their jobs restored.
To which one can only wonder: Who are these people? The answer must be that they are Trump’s people who now wait for his call to action, that is, to make America great again. Trump, in his mind, is not just the president of the United States. He is the savior.

Trump identifies as a Presbyterian. However, he has said he does not need a prayer for confession of sins because he has done nothing that requires forgiveness, one signal that he does not believe in a basic Christian tenet. He has identified with Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote the book “The Power of Positive Thinking,” which does not represent Christian orthodoxy. Christianity in Peale’s hands was closer to a set of beliefs a follower could make up to suit their desires. Trump has adopted this strategy and applied it to the country.

Christians must call his profound and mistaken faith what it is: idolatry. Christianity in America is declining if not dying, which makes it difficult to call Trump to task. Trump has taken advantage of Christian Americans who have long lived as if God and country are joined at the hip. I do not doubt Trump thinks of himself as a Christian, but America is his church.
Christians have a church made up of people from around the globe. That global interconnectedness might just produce a people with the resources to tell Trump “no.” At the very least, Christians in the United States have little to lose by beginning to reject our long love affair with American pretension.

Stanley Hauerwas’s most recent book is “The Work of Theology” (Eerdmans). He is retired from the Divinity School of Duke University. Most recently he was chair in ethics at the University of Aberdeen (Scotland).

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Resistance as a Spiritual Practice

Insofar as promoting truth, beauty, goodness and holiness is a spiritual practice, I think non-violent resistance to lies, ugliness, and evil is a spiritual practice.

Following Jesus in the Age of Trump: Resistance as a Spiritual Practice

“Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet. Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.”
― Napoléon Bonaparte

“Religion is the opiate of the people.”
― Karl Marx
Trump, at some point in his bid for Presidency, recognized the reality of those two statements. Then seemingly out of nowhere, never having been a particularly religious person himself, he “found God.”
Don’t get me wrong, I think Christianity is very important to Trump. Just read what he had to say at the Republican National Convention:
At this moment, I would like to thank the evangelical and religious community because I’ll tell you what. Because the support they’ve given me, and I’m not sure I totally deserve it, has been so amazing. And has had such a big reason for me being here tonight. True. So true.
― Donald Trump
Yes, Christianity is very important to Trump. Being Christian, however? Well, that’s a different story.
Christianity is important to him for the very reasons Napoléon and Karl Marx named it as a helpful tool. Like Trump said, the support of the evangelical religious community was a “big reason” that he eventually became the Republican candidate for President. You better believe Christianity is important to him.
But how do I justify saying that being a Christian is not that important to him?
I could give you example after example, but let’s just look at “the Wall.”
Ok, there’s not actually a wall – yet, but as campaign promises go, “the Wall” was one of Trump’s biggest – both figuratively and possibly literally. Ask yourself, is that a Christian thing to do? Do we have biblical examples of Jesus demanding that people stay in unhealthy situations? Examples of Jesus denying people a better future? Does actively working to keep people in a oppressive situation seem like something the God of Exodus would prefer?
Obviously, not.
I say obviously not, but unfortunately, for some people it is not so obvious. Which makes it all the more important that those who see that most of Trumps actions thus far are clearly un-Christian not only be willing, but actively resilient in confronting Trump and his administration every time they make morally repugnant moves. Honestly, it’s the only Christian thing to do.
Yes, you read that right, confronting Trump when he makes moral repugnant moves is the Christian thing to do. You see, when Jesus was confronting the Sadducee and Pharisees, he wasn’t just confronting religious leaders; they were also representatives of the government. Jesus wasn’t crucified because he was a super awesome guy that quietly went around asking people to please be nice to each other. Jesus was crucified because the Roman authorities of the day saw him as a real threat to the state, a threat to political order, and most importantly, a threat to those in power. He was a threat because he directly and, at times, aggressively confronted the powers that be when they took advantage of their power at the expense of “the least of these.” As the “Cleansing of the Temple” story shows us, this was particularly true when they used religion to do it.
There are those who will try to argue that Jesus wasn’t political. Frequently, they will be the very same people who want a Christian nation (their personal brand of Christianity, of course). The biblical reality is that it is laughable to say that Jesus wasn’t political. If you call yourself a Christian and you value the teachings of Jesus you have no other option but to confront a morally corrupt government.
After only a few days in office, Trump has placed gag orders on the EPA, CDC and USDA to withhold data from the public – data that is funded by the tax dollars of the very people the information is being withheld from. A very troubling move considering that each department’s work and the information they produce are essential in maintaining and improving the health of the nation.
He has signed executive orders to push through the Dakota Access pipeline and Keystone XL pipeline in spite of recent public outrage and resistance to the projects which will create massive environmental risk the could ultimately and severely impact the access to clean water. On top of that, Trump owns stocks that will benefit from the orders, bringing further into question his already questionable morals as well as questioning how much the public can trust that his choices are in the nation’s best interest when he has a personal conflict of interest.
He’s signed an order that will begin destabilizing the funding of ACA/Obamacare and still has not offered a viable replacement. His administration has presented lies as truths to the press, as they did with the attendance size of his inauguration, and then said their “intention is to never lie” to the press. Trump himself has repeated the blatant lie that there was massive voter fraud in the Presidential election to the tune of 3 million people or more.
The list of morally reprehensible actions is certainly longer than this and it is undoubtedly going to grow longer and longer.
The actions that this new administration have already taken should be a call to arms for Christians who wish to truly follow the life and teachings of Jesus. For that matter, some of the actions of the Obama administration should have been as well.
Given what we know of Trump and his administration, I believe that we must start seeing resistance as a spiritual practice. It must be a daily practice. It is our spiritual responsibility to stay informed. It is our faithful duty to stay vigilant. It is our moral obligation to make our voices heard and to share with those most in need the access that our places of privilege offers. We must stand up not only for our own rights and interest but for the rights and interests of others. We must promote equality, justice, and love in our every action, but not fall victim to the false perspective that to do so means we do so timidly and with trepidation.
Resistance must become our spiritual practice.
  • Contact your representatives on a daily basis. Let them know your position on current issues and encourage them to support their constituents rather than Big Business and Big Oil.
  • Speak out public on issues on injustice. Blog, write lop-eds for local papers, or make social media posts promoting better ways forward and encouraging others to join in making resistance a daily practice.
  • Volunteer locally and particularly at agencies that may have their funding cut under the new administration.
  • Do not become complacent in the face of “alternative facts.” Confront them actively.
  • Share resources like and widely.
  • Be aware of where you get your news. Focus on reputable news sources.
  • As much as possible avoid the lazy approach of littering the presentation of your position with name calling. In doing so you are only appealing to to those who already agree with you and distancing those who might have been convinced otherwise.
  • Contribute to organizations and even individuals who are working to aid the resistance , as well as organizations like PBS and NPR who may be losing their funding.
  • Attend every march and demonstration you can.
  • Promote and lift up those who are putting themselves, their careers, and quite possibly their personal welfare on the line for the sake of stopping draconian legislature and executive orders.
  • Share articles (like this one), meme’s, relevant quotes, and other social media content that moves the conversation forward as widely and as frequently as you can.
Feel free to use the comment section of this article to add to this list your own suggestion for how to resist. Do be warned however, those trolling the comment section will have your comments deleted in order to help keep it a usable list.
Resistance must become our spiritual practice. Repeat that to yourself. On a daily basis.
Resistance must become our spiritual practice.
Resistance must become our spiritual practice.
Now go and do likewise.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Song for the Inauguration Follies, Jan. 20, 2017

A Song  for Inauguration Day (to the tune of Springtime for Hitler)
by Beth Bilynskyj, with apologies to Mel Brooks

‘Murika was having trouble
What a sad, sad story
Needed a new leader to restore
Its former glory
Where, oh, where was he?
Where could that man be?

We looked around and then we found
The man for you and me

Springtime for Donald and ‘Murika!
Congress is happy and gay!
We're marching to a faster pace
who cares if it’s a HUGE disgrace?

Springtime for Donald and 'Murika!
Winter for Mexico!
Springtime for Donald and 'Murika!
C’mon Conway, go into your dance!

(I was born in Punxsutawney
that is why they call me Ronnie
Don't be stupid, be a smarty
Join the Republican party)

Springtime for Donald and ‘Murika!
All news is fake news today
Putin’s got lots of spies again
Trumps telling lots of lies again!

Springtime for Donald and ‘Murika!
China is flexing once more
Springtime for Donald and “Murika,
Means that soon we'll be going--
We've got to be going--
You know we'll be going
 To WAR!

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

How American conservatives might have ushered in the post-truth mess of the Trump era:

How did defenders of absolute truth become post-truth ideologues?

Alex Jones (Brent Humphreys)
A crucial part of my conservative evangelical upbringing was learning about the difference between “absolute truth” and “relativism.” We were taught that conservative evangelicals believed in truth, while liberals believed that each person gets to make up their own “truth.” So I thought that conservatism was defined by loyalty to the truth. To be a conservative meant to believe and tell the truth even when the whole world around you is telling lies.
What eroded my conservative evangelicalism more than anything else over the past two decades was to see my fellow defenders of absolute truth turn into peddlers of fake news and post-truth ideologues. I think it started in the nineties with their vehement opposition to Bill Clinton. I remember in particular the Clinton Chronicles, a 1994 fake documentary funded by Jerry Falwell that was filled with outrageous, unsubstantiated charges against the Clintons. In the nineties, it became okay to spread lies about a morally sleazy politician, simply because his immorality justified it. There was no accountability or remorse when conspiracy theories were proven false; new ones were cooked up immediately to take their place. And there was always the assumption that even if 95% of the conspiracy theories are proven wrong, 5% of them must be right because there are so many.
The right-wing outrage industry got its start as a reaction to Clinton, and it’s become as lucrative and morally devastating as the porn industry. The false witness epidemic in our culture today is no less a specimen of porneia than our culture’s sexual immorality. And where are the preachers speaking out against false witness the way they do against porn? There is no one who embodies the permissibility of lying in our culture like Donald Trump, who won the presidency because of his support from 81% of evangelicals. Sure, it’s true that many evangelicals made the same kind of lesser-of-two-evils choice that people did who voted for Hillary Clinton. But the way that Trump beat out so many morally superior candidates in the Republican primary field precisely because he played dirty exemplifies the moral crisis that has resulted from decades of normalizing false witness in conservative media.
I’m not sure whether conservative evangelical youth groups today talk about absolute truth the way they did in the early nineties. It seems like the cognitive dissonance would be unbearable. So how did the defenders of absolute truth find it so easy to become the very relativists they defined themselves against? I’m not saying that all or even most conservatives have made this move, but somebody has been buying Dinesh D’Souza and Ann Coulter’s books or else they wouldn’t be millionaires. Not every plant in the garden is toxic, but the ground sure is caked in rotten fruit.
I think it’s a question of how we define absolute truth. Being committed to absolute truth can mean two very different things. On the one hand, absolute truth can signify that the universe has a single reality despite the fact that we perceive it from billions of vantage points. In this sense, absolute truth means the universe around me is not a dream that’s all in my head. The objective facts that surround me in the world matter. I don’t get to make up my own facts. There are universal laws and principles that exist independent of my subjective, culturally conditioned position.
When I was indoctrinated with absolute truth as a young evangelical, this first definition was how I was taught to understand the concept. However, I came to learn that, for evangelicals, absolute truth was not as much about the existence of universal truth as it was about obedience to an infallible authority. For conservative evangelicals, the authority to obey is of course the Bible, or more truthfully, their particular doctrinal superstructure within which they encase their interpretation of the biblical text. When you’ve made the decision to define truth as obedience to doctrine, then you’re not actually committed to the notion of a single, universal reality, because reality is whatever makes your doctrine work.
I’ve seen conservative evangelical leaders like Tim Keller and Michael Horton admit this much when they discuss their need for the Garden of Eden story to be an actual historical event. The reason they need for Adam and Eve to be historical figures and not allegorical representations of humanity is because otherwise their Calvinist system for understanding original sin doesn’t work. The slippery slope to a post-truth reality starts with defining truth as whatever makes your doctrine work.
The reason why conservative evangelicals have to believe that climate change is a myth is not because they’re being cynically dishonest out of ideological or fiscal investment in fossil fuels. It’s because if humans can destroy the world with our pollution, that poses a tremendous threat to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. And after a century and a half of battling evolution, conservative evangelicals have been trained to dismiss hostile science as a secular humanist ideological agenda. Because truth is whatever makes the doctrine work.
But the biggest problem is not with biblical inerrancy’s clash with science. More problematic is how conservative evangelicals have been socialized to respect authority itself as infallible. Sure everyone says that the Bible is the authority, but the real authority figure is the interpreter, whether it’s the small group leader or the megachurch pastor or the movement leader. What happens when this obedience to infallible authority and doctrine is transferred from the Bible to a partisan political platform? What happens when people apply their training in authoritarian church environments to their allegiance for a populist demagogue?
Fascism is what happens when a large enough mob of people are so radically committed to the infallibility of their leader and his cause that believing the leader’s lies becomes a moral imperative, when truth is whatever makes the leader right. I don’t think fascism will take over our country because there are too many factions. We have too many secular humanists and people of color, but if we were a homogeneous nation of conservative white evangelicals, it would be very easy to create fascism by converting biblical infallibility into the infallibility of the leader.
The biggest mistake conservative evangelicals make is to extol obedience for its own sake. Obedience is the lifeblood of fascism. It is the primary way that sin reproduces, because obeying the crowd is a lot easier than critically thinking for yourself. Most of the time when obedience happens in our world, people are not obeying God; they are obeying an idol whether it’s a political hero or the forces of the market or a sinful lifestyle goal. To actually obey God in a world filled with liars, narcissists, and conmen both inside and outside of the church requires constant vigilant disobedience. That’s what cruciform resistance looks like. Obedience in and of itself is not a virtue.
1 Peter 1:22 says, “Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.” Obedience to the truth is what we should all be striving for. But you cannot be obedient to the truth unless you start with the humility to recognize that obedience to the truth is a freaking infinite mystery. It’s not simply a matter of willfully resisting clear and obvious lies; actually discerning the truth is the hard part. The Bible is a huge resource for our journey into God’s mystery, but we’re setting it up for failure if we expect it to be a self-explanatory, all-encompassing answer book for every question of biology, cosmology, sociology, etc. Obedience to the truth is way more involved than simply scanning our Bibles for a chapter verse proof-text to apply to every life scenario that confronts us. While Christians should certainly use scripture as a primary means of interpreting our lives, that doesn’t excuse us from handling the facts of our world with cautious, sober integrity.
Being obedient to the truth means courageously facing the inconvenient realities that completely screw up your doctrine and force you back to square one. It means being willing to change if the truth compels it but also willing to hold on for dear life to the truth even if all of your friends hate you for doing so. It means trying to understand people who radically disagree with you, but also resisting the temptation to disown all your beliefs for the sake of agreeability. It’s the perfect balance of being able to say both “I might be wrong” and “I think this is right.” It means being willing to contradict the crowd but also willing to recognize that you can’t figure it all out on your own.
My greatest hope for the next four years is that Donald Trump’s presidency will create such an ideological Chernobyl for Republicans that the end result will be a complete reinvention of conservatism so that it becomes synonymous with integrity again. Alternatively, if Donald Trump himself has a Damascus Road encounter and becomes an honest man, I’ll take that too.
I believe in absolute truth. That’s why I refuse to accept easy explanations or mass-produced bumper-sticker doctrines. It’s why I’m very distrustful of people who valorize blind obedience. It’s why I work out my salvation with fear and trembling like the Bible tells me to do (Philippians 2:12).

Dean James Ryan's 5 Essential Questions In Life.

Dr. John Wickersham was that kind of teacher for me. I pray that I have been faithful to pass on what he gave me.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Another Christmas (or Easter) Carol; THe Crown of Thorns by Tschaikovsky

I just heard the most amazing carol on Pandora:

When Jesus Christ was yet a child
He had a garden small and wild
Where-in he cherished roses fair
And wove them into garlands there

Now as the summertime drew nigh
There came a troop of children by
And seeing roses on the tree
With shouts they plucked them merrily

"Do you bind roses in your hair?"
They cried in scorn to Jesus there
The boy said humbly "Take I pray
All but the na-ked thorns away"

Then of the thorns they made a crown
And with rough fingers pressed it down
Till on his forehead fair and youngRed drops of blood like roses sprung