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Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Category

It is not news that the Roman Catholic Church has been embroiled in sex scandals for a good many years.  Most of these scandals seem to have involved priests taking sexual liberties with little boys and sometimes little girls.  There were major, and expensive, scandals in Boston, Los Angeles, Louisiana, in the U.S. and many others in many parts of the world. Recently, many cases of abuse were reported in Ireland going back many years. The problem now appears to be a worldwide issue for the Catholic Church.  Almost as horrific as the abuse itself was the systematic coverup of the cases by the Church. Now, the Church is facing accusations of coverup at the highest level.

Today, it was reported that a priest in Germany had been molesting little boys in the 1980’s. So why is that suddenly news? Isn’t this just one more of the countless cases of abuse and coverup by the Church? Yes, but there is a bit of a difference here. It turns out that the current Pope, Pope Benedict XVI, was the archbishop of Munich at the time and the abuse occurred in his archdiocese and on his watch.  It also appears that the priest who committed the abuse was returned to service after a stint of rehab while the Archbishop Ratzinger was still in Munich – before he became Pope.  Also, before he became Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquistion).  It was during this time, in 2001, that he sent a letter to all Roman Catholic bishops, instructing them to send all cases concerning child sexual abuse to his office.

So, one must ask: what did he know and when did he know it? Actually, the world is about to ask this question. As countries with large Catholic populations come to grips with the extent of the scandal, and more and more previously repressed reports are made public, the Pope is facing a potential problem that could have an enormous impact on the Church.  Too many Catholics have already voted with their feet and left the Church in America and Ireland. It looks like Germany will be next.  At this time the Vatican appears to be in its normal take cover mode, determined to stonewall and tough it out.  Yet the secrets are already out. Who do they think they are kidding, except themselves?  In todays age of instant communications, the old coverup and stonewall tactics of the past are ineffective. How many of today’s politicians have been brought down by much lesser scandals using these same stalling tactics? The question now is this: Can the Pope survive? Or perhaps a more difficult question for the Church itself: “Should the Pope survive?”

These are difficult and dangerous times for the Roman Catholic Church.  Caesar’s wife, it was said, must be above reproach.  Shouldn’t the Pope be held to even a higher standard than the wife of Caesar?  Is it possible for someone to be one of the moral leaders of the world and also be under suspicion of a coverup of sexual abuse? No, it isn’t. It’s not even possible to be the moral leader of a troop of boy scouts with that hanging over you.

Today, the Vatican is claiming that there is a witch hunt directed against the Pope in Germany. Perhaps so. Maybe not. The facts are the facts and they will have to come out.  This is not the time for stonewalling. There is no longer anywhere to hide.  There can be no more coverups.  The Vatican and the Pope have to meet this mounting crisis head on with a full disclosure of what the Pope knew and when he knew it. A failure to do so can, and will, have disastrous consequences for the Church worldwide.

I wonder if they know?

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Emotions have run high on both sides of the issue.  Is access to health care a right, a privilege, or a commodity?  The answer, it seems, depends upon where you stand.  Today, as the U.S. Congress continues to thrash through the process of considering the health care bill, accusations fly from both sides, with Senator Joe Lieberman caught in no man’s land, trying to please both sides but pleasing no one – an army of one.  The left-most side of the debate has already turned on their leader, President Obama, declaring that he has misled, misdirected, and misfired.  Dire predictions abound about 2010 and 2012.  On the extreme right, Republicans chortle with glee, knowing they have stymied a process that might have led to low cost health care for most Americans.  It’s hard not to be emotional about this whether one is on the left or the right. Health, after all, can be an emotional issue. But, then again, so is money.

There can be little doubt that we are a nation divided on this issue. There may be a majority of people who want to change the present health care system. There may be a majority who favor a public option or expanded Medicare or some other version of a government supervised health plan. But it apparently isn’t a two-thirds majority or a three-quarters majority. And that is the problem for this Bill.  Our Constitution was written to ensure that the majority rules, but not the simple majority.  The way the system is supposed to work is that 60% of the people (i.e. 60% of the Senators who represent the people) can make laws – but 51% just isn’t enough. There are not 60 Senators who want this health care bill.  It is that simple. It also seems that there are not 60% of the people who want it either – maybe 55%, maybe 59%, but it doesn’t look like 60%. So, it’s not going to happen – at least not in its present form.  That is the way our government works – that is who we are.

The question we need to ask is this: what does this say about the American people? Somewhere around 30% of the people don’t have and can’t afford health insurance.  Many people go without critical medical care because they can’t pay for it.  Many people die because they can’t pay for the medical care they need. We all know that. It also seems that pretty close to half of us are OK with that too.

It’s just who we are.

We Americans like to say that we believe in freedom – in many ways that belief defines the essence of America: freedom to be what you want, do what you want, say what you want. It is also the freedom to not do things, to not help someone, to not pay someone else’s bills, to not take care of strangers. It is the freedom to look the other way.  We do that all the time.  Many people may have forgotten by now, but there  was a tragic case of murder that occurred in New York City in 1964. A young woman named Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death at the entrance to her apartment building. She screamed that she was dying. A lot of people watched. No one helped.  A few years ago New Orleans was inundated by Hurricane Katrina.  President Bush flew over the city and looked out the window of his airplane at the drowning city as he flew by. He didn’t help. The U.S. government didn’t help. The people drowned.

It’s just who we are.

It is indeed ironic that it is the Republican Party that has led the fight against health care. It’s ironic because so many Republicans are staunch “Christians”. Yet, standing by and watching people suffer and die is the opposite of Christianity, isn’t it? Isn’t that a value more to be attributed to the Roman Empire where people were thrown to the lions just for fun? I must admit, I don’t understand the mental gymnastics that people have to go through in order to call themselves Christian and at the same time vehemently and violently oppose health care for the sick and dying people of America.

It’s just who we are.

In the end though, we have to recognize one truth.  Regardless of how strongly we feel about this issue, we as a people, have an agreed upon method for creating rules. We have an organization we call Congress that makes the rules on our behalf. The process is complex and involves a lot of horsetrading, money changing hands, posturing, threatening, and cajoling. Money counts in our system. Money buys influence in our system.  The average citizen’s only voice is his single vote in the elections. We voted. There is now a majority of Democrats in the Senate, but not an overwhelming majority. We made it that way.  We could change the system. We could eliminate lobbyists and payoffs.  We could eliminate the deal-making and the lying. But we don’t.

It’s just who we are.

In the end, whether a watered-down health care bill passes or it doesn’t, it is because this is what we, as a people, voted for.  We have this form of government because we want it and we don’t want to change it.  If we don’t choose to provide health care for the poor and unfortunate people of America it is simply because we don’t want to do so. That’s what this all means.  It isn’t President Obama’s fault. It isn’t Joe Lieberman’s fault.

It’s just who we are.

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The book is in the bookstores, the crowds are eagerly waiting in line for autographs, the book tour is set to travel through a number of key battleground states. So is this it? Is this the beginning of Sarah Palin’s 2012 Presidential campaign?  Sarah’s supporters are already saying they would vote for her in the next election.  She is being compared to Ronald Reagan, the former movie star turned President of the United States.  Let’s face it, if Ronald Reagan, a man who got his inspiration for important government decisions and policies from watching old Hollywood movies, could be elected President – twice – there is certainly a reasonable chance that Americans might also vote to put Sarah in the White House. I know it is something that is hard to accept for a lot of people, but we have to consider it, just as scientists and policy makers contemplated the “unthinkable” many years ago when it seemed that there was a possibility of global thermonuclear war.

So what would happen if Sarah were elected President? Can we discern anything from her actions as a mayor of Wasilla and governor of Alaska?  Is there something in her speeches and interviews that provides us a foretaste of things to come, should the unthinkable come to pass? Most of her political experience comes from being the Mayor of Wasilla, a small town in Alaska. She was mayor for ten years and seems to have made several accomplishments, although in a heavy-handed way, that helped the town to prosper. She appears to have a record of trying to “clean up” Alaskan politics and is driven by an ethical concept that seems to be shared by a lot of Alaskans. She only served as Governor of Alaska for two years and her time as Governor was marked by significant friction with the political establishment. She seems to place little value on being a “team player”.

Interestingly, although she is officially a Republican, she has supported some initiatives that required major government intervention.  It would be hard to characterize her as a Libertarian in her deeds, regardless of her words.  She wholeheartedly supported and signed a bill that would provide government funding to build a trans-Alaska gas pipeline. She also signed an energy bill that gives $1,200 to every qualified resident of Alaska. The money comes from Alaska’s revenue from the oil and gas.  It sure seems a bit Socialist to me, hardly a Republican ideal, and certainly something that no pure Libertarian would ever dream of.  In her statement about the gift of government money to Alaskan families she said that these people needed the money to buy groceries and heat their homes.  An admirable thought, but hardly Republican ideology.

In an attempt to save money for the state, Sarah sold the governor’s jet plane and fired the governor’s private chef.  It seems, from her actions, that she has no problem with spending hundreds of millions of dollars for gas pipeline construction, some of the proceeds of which will then be given as a gift to the people of Alaska so they can buy necessities , but she is against spending taxpayer money for non-essential things, like jet planes and chefs.  Overall, it appears that her political philosophy is more aligned with the Democrats than the Republicans.  However, her religious views can only be viewed as deeply “conservative”.  And it is the clever alliance the Republicans have made with the conservative Christian movement that seems to be the principle reason she calls herself a Republican.

Now we come to the last election.  Sarah was quickly catapulted into the national limelight as John McCain’s Vice Presidential running mate. The infamous interview with Katie Couric clearly showed that she was in way over her head. And that is the problem.  The simple fact is this: if there is one thing the campaign showed us about Sarah Palin it is that she is woefully unprepared to be President of the United States. Her knowledge of foreign policy and geography, the fact that she seems to read almost no magazines or newspapers, her inability to respond intelligently on major issues of interest to Americans simply showed that she has not concerned herself with the world outside of Alaska.

So now she’s written a book – a best seller, even before it was in the bookstores. It shows what name recognition can do for you – the one thing that the American publishing industry cares about (but that is a subject for another time).  Now she is on the campaign trail, sort of pretending it’s a book signing tour. There is no doubt that she will find many supporters who love her down-home, simple, goldurnit, aw shucks logic.  The question we all have to ask ourselves though is this: does she really have the knowledge and skills to run the country? Could she be a good President? The thing to recognize is that while many people might have what it takes to be a good mayor of Wasilla, after all there are thousands of Wasillas and thousands of good mayors all over the U.S., it is quite another thing to be President of the United States. Well, what about being Governor of Alaska? Remember, she was only governor foe two years, and then she walked off the job there.  Remember also that she was continually at odds with the other politicians in Alaska.  She has a sort of “take no prisoners” way of doing business when she is in charge. It’s her way or the highway, it seems. Not exactly the way a competent and seasoned politician operates, and certainly not the way to be successful in Washington.  It is my guess that if she were elected, she would be the most ineffective president in our history, because she doesn’t understand how the U.S. system of government actually works. In a word, she is naive.  And that spells great danger for our country, because the same people who voted for the movie star, Ronald Reagan, might vote for her too.

Our forefathers anticipated this potential moment in our nation’s history. The knew that a time might come when the common people might be deceived; they knew that it is possible for a slick talker to convince people, based upon emotional arguments, that they are the best candidate, when in fact they are simply incompetent.  That is why we have the electoral college. It is our last hope – a group of people of learning and experience, who in the end have the ability, the right, and the obligation to overrule the people and protect them from a grievous error in judgment.

When I contemplate the unthinkable I am left with this: This small group of people, the electoral college, may well be the only thing that can save this nation from itself in 2012 –  I wonder if they will have the courage to do so.

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I suppose it might be difficult for some members of the extreme right wing to accept, but God did not invent Capitalism.  Another fact, equally hard to accept for the extreme right wing is that Jesus did not condemn Communism.  I know.  It’s hard to believe. After all, if Jesus was alive today, wouldn’t he be a Capitalist?

Of course there is the difficulty of some of the things Jesus is quoted as saying.  I am referring to expressions like, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven”. Or, “Sell all you have and follow me.”  I wish I could find a Republican extreme right wing Christian who could explain these discrepancies to me, because I just can’t figure it out. And, since the Christian right wing seems to be exclusively Republican, I figure they must know the truth about this.  Please feel free to explain this to me.

Meanwhile, I’ve been wondering.  Have you noticed in our Capitalist economic system, where everybody supposedly has an equal chance to be a millionaire, how it seems sort of like the system is sort of rigged in favor of the people who already have a lot of money?  For example, take a look at our laws on taxing estates – that’s what is left over when you die.  Under the administration of President Bush the tax on estates of less than $3.5 million was reduced to zero. Yes, zero dollars.  The wealthy can pass on their gains to their heirs and pay absolutely no tax on anything under three and a half million dollars.

What about income tax?  Surely the wealthy pay their fair share there, don’t they? Well, under President Bush’s “tax cuts” the tax on the wealthiest Americans dropped by almost 40% while the tax on the poorest Americans dropped less than 1%. Our American tax system favors the wealthy. Why? Well, for one thing who do you think writes the tax code? It surely isn’t the poor people. Senator Kerry is the richest man in the Senate, worth close to a billion dollars.  A lot of the Senators are worth many, many millions of dollars. Overall the median (not the average) net worth of U.S. Senators was $1,700,000 in 2007. For Congressmen it was $684,000.

President Obama has talked in the past about restoring the tax rates to be the same as they were under President Clinton.  At that time the wealthy paid a larger share of the country’s tax burden.  However, since his election there hasn’t been much talk about tax reform, even though one might think that recirculating some of that tax money might help to stimulate the economy.  I get the impression that Congress is not too eager to vote for a tax increase on their own pay. So the money of the wealthy just continues to sort of clot up in their bank accounts.

Here’s something to consider: the bonuses for the bankers on Wall Street are growing astronomically while everyone else’s salary is just sort of keeping up with inflation. Goldman Sachs employees will receive bonuses of about $700,000 apiece this year. How fortunate for them!  And even more so because of George Bush’s tax cuts:  they will have to pay very little tax on their bonuses. Aren’t you glad for them?

Meanwhile, average Americans are continuing to lose their homes to foreclosure.  Millions are out of work and can’t find a job.  One can only ask one question: is this right? I don’t mean in a legal sense – of course it’s legally right – the laws of our country have enabled this. The question is this: in a moral sense, is it right? The thing I find it hard to understand is how the “Christian” right – those diehard Republicans who claim to be true Christians and just love the George Bush style of government – reconcile this with the teachings of Jesus. Are we reading the same Bible here?

It’s a simple question. Are the Capitalist values of America and the resulting coagulation of wealth for a very small number of people in America, at the expense of the vast majority of people, compatible with the teachings of Jesus? A simple yes or no will do, but if anyone can explain how they truly are compatible I would love to hear the explanation.

And here’s a second question for the Republican “Christian” right: if you cannot answer my first question then why do you call yourselves Christians?  I would love to hear that answer too.

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It is John McCain’s greatest fear: the redistribution of wealth.  He’s not the only one who is afraid of course, there are plenty of other people like him.  They have made their fortunes one way or another, and they are damned if they are going to share it with anyone.  Good Christians all, I suppose.  It’s a touchy subject for the very wealthy – they would rather we talk about something else, like lowering taxes or the right to bear arms or freedom of choice in health care.  All good subjects, no doubt, and all emotional trigger issues that are guaranteed to distract the easily distracted from something they would rather not dwell upon.  America has become a country polarized by unequal – very unequal – distribution of its wealth.  Current estimates are that the total wealth of the United States is about $53 trillion. That is a lot of money.  The thing that John McCain would prefer that you don’t know or dwell upon is that, of this amount, about $18 trillion (a bit more than 1/3 of all the wealth of the U.S.) is owned by only 1% of the population.  The other thing that Johnny doesn’t want you to think about is that at the other end of the spectrum, the total wealth of almost half the people in the country – add up the wealth of 150 million Americans – is only about $0.5 trillion, i.e. less than 1% of the total wealth of the country.  Of course John McCain and the other rich folk think this is perfectly OK – and let’s talk about something else, can we? Like freedom, or the enemy, or taxes, or big government, or something.  Anything else. This is America, right?  Anyone and everyone has an equal chance to be a billionaire, don’t they?  So stop whining.

I am reminded of a new song written by a very good Irish songwriter, Jimmy McCarthy, called The Sky Road.  It tells about a young man named Danny who, I suppose, left Ireland long, long ago – centuries ago.  It starts like this:

Danny’s made his mind up

He’s leaving for America

He’s leaving for America

Leaving all of us behind.

He says there’s nothing here not drenched in beer

In blood and retribution

And the wealth distribution’s

Been weighing heavy on his mind.

Allow me to put this in a little perspective:

In the aftermath of nearly a thousand years of defending itself from constant invasions from England, Ireland finally fell to Oliver Cromwell’s extraordinarily savage attacks in the mid-1600’s. (This was at exactly the same time that English colonists were busy taking America from the Native Americans in the “New World”).  Ireland now belonged to England (soon to be called The British Empire) – all of it.  Mostly,  Ireland belonged to a very small number of people – the English aristocracy.  They had promptly declared it to be  illegal for any Irish person to own land in Ireland.  There was little for people like Danny to do except leave, particularly when the potato crop failed in the mid-1800’s, and the Irish starved to death, literally by the millions.  All the while, the English-owned plantations in Ireland continuously exported massive amounts of food (beef, pork, butter, grain, and so forth) to England.  It’s a story of genocide not usually taught in our American schools, is it? One can only wonder why…

The society in Ireland before the famine in the 19th century had become polarized into two classes: a small but enormously wealthy upper, aristocratic class, and a very large class of poor, landless laborers who worked for the aristocrats.  For all practical purposes, nineteenth century Ireland was a feudal society – and the English aristocrats were delighted with that.  The important thing to note here is that the aristocratic class, those who had attained their wealth through theft and murder, hadn’t the slightest care about the welfare of the poorer class. Good Calvinists, they felt justified because they believed it must be God’s plan – otherwise things wouldn’t be that way, would they?

Today, in America, a nation of equals (at least theoretically), we find ourselves in the midst of an argument about health care. Is it a right for all?  Should it be paid for by taxes? Why should the wealthy pay for the medical needs of the poor?  The Wall Street Journal has leaped into the fray calling our Congress “reckless” for even considering higher taxes on the wealthy in order to pay for a health care plan. We are hearing commentators talking about possible class warfare and the evils of the coming wealth redistribution.  The important thing to note about all this talk is that the extremely wealthy people in America, the ones who have benefited the most from the Bush tax cuts and the elimination of the estate tax, feel entirely justified in tightly grasping and hoarding their billions of dollars while they do absolutely nothing to help those who are suffering.  After all, this is surely God’s will isn’t it?  Otherwise it wouldn’t be this way.  And therefore, aren’t these wealthy people demonstrably God’s elect? Surely they have no need or obligation to help the poorer people – let them help themselves.  Didn’t John Calvin say as much?  Christianity at it’s best.

I can still hear John McCain’s voice from the campaign trail as he warned about class warfare and wealth redistribution.  He is typical of the new class of would-be American aristocrats.  Content to sit back and do nothing while they watched the people of New Orleans drown, they are equally happy to bomb the people of Hanoi or Iran or anywhere else that suits their needs.  This new society of American aristocrats, led by their genius, George W. Bush, are without a conscience, caring only for their own wealth and intent on deceiving the American people that health care for all is the worst thing that could happen in America.  The fact that their Republican political party has aligned itself with the so-called “Christian” churches in America is an extraordinary irony.  Never mind “What would Jesus do?” What would Jesus say?

History has shown time and again that when a society becomes extremely polarized, and a small number of very wealthy people dominate, an unstable society is produced.  It is always the case that the poorer people suffer under the domination of the wealthy and that the wealthy use all their power and wealth only to amass even more wealth. We are in such a situation now.  For the past eight years, the extremely wealthy have used their power to enrich themselves, while in the process bringing the world’s economy to its knees.  The extremely wealthy have used their power to rewrite our tax laws so they could significantly decrease their tax burden while simultaneously increasing the tax burden on the poorer people.  We need only to look at the catastrophe of Czarist Russia to see what happens when a large poorer class is continuously abused by the wealthy few. It is the lesson of history  that has occurred over and over again.  And this lesson is what our current American aristocracy fears the most, which is why we hear the cries of “class warfare” and “wealth redistribution”.  Even so, they won’t relent.  They don’t believe they should subsidize anyone’s health care, and so they propagate their lies about European health care – which is in fact, far superior to U.S. health care.

In the end, the struggle is not about freedom and values and patriotism;  it’s all about money and wealth.  And greed.  Lots of greed.  The wealthy American class has tried mightily to convert us into an aristocratic society – and they have succeeded.  Now they want to keep it that way.  It’s worth remembering that two hundred years ago, when Danny left Ireland for America, he had a reasonable hope of being treated fairly in a new country where the English aristocracy didn’t already control everything.  However, our situation is different from Danny’s.  If we quietly allow our fair country to continue to spiral downward into a John McCain/George Bush style aristocracy, where only a very small number of people own all the wealth of the land, we won’t have anywhere else to emigrate to, because there is no other America.  This is it.

It is time for the vast numbers of ordinary people in the United States to stand up against the lies of the wealthy, otherwise they must inevitably surrender and forever live under the heel of this new and heartless American aristocracy.

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