Monday, January 15, 2018

American Empire, 1898-2018

We all know who POTUS #45 is, but do you know who was #25? That would be William McKinley, who was born 175 years ago this month—and who became President 121 years ago, in March 1897.
Learning about McKinley
June and I have the good fortune of living only about 12 miles from the Truman Presidential Library and fairly often are able to hear talks given there by guest lecturers. Such was the case last fall when were able to hear author Robert Merry talk about his new book President McKinley, Architect of the American Century.
Perhaps like many of you, I have never known (or cared?) much about McKinley, except that he was the third President to be assassinated in office (all within the space of 36 years!).
Even five years ago when I posted a blog article titled “Remember the Maine,” I didn’t mention the President when that event took place 120 years ago on February 15, 1898.
Merry titled the Introduction to his book, “The Mystery of William McKinley,” and it is somewhat mysterious that McKinley has not been more highly regarded—especially if, as Merry thinks, he can rightly be considered to be the “architect of the American century.”
Achievements of McKinley
While there are certainly other aspects of McKinley’s presidency that are noteworthy, none are more significant that the expansion of American power during his time in office. In fact, the events of 1898 initiated the beginning of what some call the American Empire.
The Spanish-American War began in April 1898 and ended with the Treaty of Paris, signed on December 10 of that year. Merry summarizes the benefits received: “The president [McKinley] got all he wanted: the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, Spain out of Cuba and the Caribbean, with no debt assumed by the United States” (p. 340).
It was also in July 1898 that the U.S. annexed the Republic of Hawaii, which had formerly been known as the Sandwich Islands.
McKinley was serving “Uncle Sam” new territory for his enjoyment, as is expressed by the following cartoon by Boz in the May 28, 1898, issue of the Boston Globe newspaper. (The cartoonist could see which way the winds were blowing.)  
By the end of 1898 it looked as if the U.S. had, indeed, become an empire, which Merry recognized by titling his 21st chapter “Empire.”
Questioning McKinley’s Achievements
There was strong opposition, however, to what seemed to be the surge of American imperialism under McKinley. On June 15, 1898, the Anti-Imperialist League was formed especially to fight U.S. annexation of the Philippines. It included among its members such notables as Andrew Carnegie, Mrk Twain, and William James. 
It was in that context that James, the eminent American philosopher and Harvard professor, exclaimed, “God damn the U.S. for its vile conduct in the Philippine Isles” (cited in Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, p. 307).
(With reference to his much-criticized remarks back in 2008, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s former pastor, said he was quoting James. See my brief article about that here.)
The U.S. relinquished its sovereignty over the Philippines in 1946. Then in 1959 statehood was given to Hawaii, even though it is not in North America.
Guam and Puerto Rico still remain U.S. territories and their inhabitants are citizens of the U.S.—although they seem to be treated as “second-class” citizens as the insufficient response to last year’s hurricane destruction of Puerto Rico has shown.

In recent decades the American “Empire” has been seen primarily in its global leadership and international influence, positions now being considerably weakened because of the words and actions of #45.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now

During this year of 2018, I will be doing something different with many of my blog posts. For 30 out of the 72 scheduled articles for the year, I plan to post articles based on my as-yet-unpublished book that has the title you see above.
In the preface of the book, which you can read here, I tell how the idea for the book came from Gordon Livingston’s 2004 bestselling book Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now.
There are 30 short chapters in the book, so 30 times this year I plan to summarize a chapter in 600 words, or less, and then provide a link so that those who have the time and interest can read the entire chapter.
Please give attention now to the main points from the first of the “thirty true things” (which I will occasionally abbreviate as TTT).
#1  God is Greater Than We Think, or Even Can Think
I don’t fully understand God. And unless you are greatly different from everyone else, you don’t fully understand God either. But that is all right, for as someone wisely said many, many years ago, “A comprehended god is no god.” (That statement may go back as far as John Chrysostom, c.349-407, but it is often attributed to Gerhard Tersteegen, 1697-1769, a German Pietist.)     
One of the reasons why God is greater than we think or even can think is related to the assertion that God is the Creator, maker of heaven and earth. If God is really the Creator, the cause or source of all that is, for that reason alone we are not able to comprehend the greatness of God. Since we cannot even begin to grasp the size and nature of the physical universe, how could we possibly grasp the “size” and nature of God, the creator of all that is?
If God is really the creator of all, then every person must be related to God in some way, and there surely must be some awareness of God by all the peoples of the world. John Hick (b. 1928) has been one of the most prominent and prolific religious philosophers / theologians during my lifetime, and he is the author of a book titled God Has Many Names (1980).
A recognition of the fact that God has many names helps free us from one of the main problems of many religious people, Christians included: the problem of tribalism, the belief that one’s own “tribe” is inherently superior to all others.
So, why is this “true thing” important?
First, it is important because it allows us to embrace a view of God large enough that there will be nothing we can learn about the physical universe that will conflict with our belief in God.
Further, when we truly understand that God is greater than we think, or even can think, we can then more easily affirm the idea that God is the God of all people, regardless of how they perceive God or even regardless of whether or not they acknowledge God.
So, even though Livingston was probably right in saying that most people get “too soon old, too late smart,” and even though it may be rather late in life for some of us, let’s try to be smart enough now to comprehend that God is, indeed, greater than we think, or even can think.

[To read the five-page first chapter of TTT, please click on this link.]

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Beginning of “Spiritual Warfare”

Tomorrow (Jan. 6) is “Epiphany” on the liturgical Christian church calendar. Among other things, it is a celebration of the visit of the Magi to the Christ child. That “Visit of the Wise Men” is told in Matthew 2:1~12. Matthew continues with “The Escape to Egypt” (2:13~15) and then with “The Massacre of the Infants” (2:16~18).
The “War” against Christ
In recent years there has been much talk, especially by the Christian Right, about the “war on Christmas.” But Matthew’s Gospel tells about the war on the Christ-child.
Properly understood, the attempt of Herod to destroy Jesus was the beginning of “spiritual warfare” seeking to destroy the one born to be the Savior of the world. Or to use different words, this was the beginning of the attempt by the “principalities and powers” to destroy the Christ.     
"The Flight to Egypt" (c. 1650) by B. Murillo
“Principalities and powers” are often interpreted as being “invisible” forces of evil that war against people of faith. But those words most likely refer to concrete, visible forces—such as King Herod.
The spiritual warfare that began soon after the Magi returned to their homes “by another road” was not just nebulous activities by unseen powers. No, it was the slaughter or massacre of the baby boys that was intended to include Jesus.
Stringfellow’s Explanation
In my Nov. 15 blog article, I briefly introduced William Stringfellow and his book An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land (1973). A major theme of that impressive book is the author’s elucidation of the meaning of “principalities and powers.”
According to Stringfellow’s deep understanding of the Bible, the “principalities and powers” are not some esoteric spiritual forces of evil in a nonvisible realm. Rather, they are “all authorities, corporations, institutions, traditions, processes, structures, bureaucracies, ideologies, systems” and the like (p. 27).
Such principalities and powers inevitably reside in those, such as Herod, who have abundant possessions, power, and prestige – and, according to Stringfellow, they “are legion in species, number, variety, and name” (p. 77).
“Thus,” he avers, “the Pentagon or the Ford Motor Company or Harvard University or the Olympics or the Methodist Church or the Teamsters Union are all principalities” – as are capitalism, humanism, science and scientism, white supremacy, patriotism etc., etc. (p. 78)
Stringfellow even suggests that we should “perceive the President as a victim and captive of the principalities and powers (p. 142). (This was written when Nixon was in the White House but is certainly applicable to the current occupant as well.)
The Victory of Christ
The New Testament later testifies to the victory of Christ over the principalities and powers by his resurrection. That important emphasis is found in 1 Corinthians 15, which prognosticates “the end, when Christ hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he brings every form of rule, every authority [principality] and power to an end” (v. 24, CEB).
The eventual victory of Christ, however, began on the cross. As Brian Zahnd elucidates in Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God (2017), “Jesus was killed by the principalities and powers” (p. 100)—embodied in the religious and political leaders who colluded to put Jesus to death: Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate.
BZ goes on to state, “Paul says the cross heaps shame on the rulers and authorities that preside over structural sin. ‘In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities [principalities]. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross’” (pp. 106-7, citing Colossians 2:15, NLT).
The struggle against principalities and powers continues. In this new year let’s deliberately and definitely choose to be on the side of Christ, who will finally win through sacrificial love and unconquerable truth.