Monday, March 25, 2019

The Resurgence of Fundamentalism


Last month I posted an article about the (slightly) updated first chapter of my book Fed Up with Fundamentalism: A Historical, Theological, and Personal Appraisal of Christian Fundamentalism (FuF), which I plan to re-publish at the end of the year. This article is about the updated and renamed second chapter.
Christian Fundamentalism from 1980 to 2005
The first chapter of FuF was largely a historical review of the rise and fall of fundamentalism as a major movement among Christians in the United States in the years between 1915 and 1940.
The second chapter is now primarily historical also, summarizing Christian fundamentalism in the twenty-five years from 1980 to 2005. That was a period marked by the renewal and resurgence of fundamentalist prestige and power, a period of unprecedented growth in denominational organizations and institutions.
Moreover, during those years the fundamentalist-fueled “Religious Right,” also called the “New Christian Right,” greatly increased in numbers and strength not only in ecclesiastical circles but especially in the political arena.
In fact, perhaps the major difference between the fundamentalism of 1915~1940 and the fundamentalism of 1980~2005 was its pervasive participation in politics during the latter period.
Fundamentalist Leaders from 1980 to 2005
In Chapter One I wrote about four main leaders of Christian fundamentalism from 1915 to 1940. Among many leaders that might have been considered in the second chapter, I focus on these four: Tim LaHaye, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Albert Mohler.
Two of these four have already died (Falwell in 2007 and LaHaye in 2016) and one is now quite elderly (Robertson celebrated his 89th birthday this month). Only Mohler (b. 1959) is still an active leader and spokesman.
Understanding the thought and public activities of these four men—and because of its inherent patriarchalism, the fundamentalist leaders past and present have been men—goes a long way toward understanding the growth and power of conservative evangelicalism in this recent historical period.
Moreover, their strong influence continues to the present day.
Fundamentalism in Other Religions
In the introduction of her widely-read book The Battle for God (2001), Karen Armstrong asserts: “One of the most startling developments of the late twentieth century has been the emergence within every major religious tradition of a militant piety popularly known as ‘fundamentalism’” (p. ix).  
Interestingly, perhaps now more people associate the word “fundamentalists” with Islamists more than with Christians. At any rate, the third part of Chapter Two gives a brief summary of Islamic, Jewish, and Hindu fundamentalism. 
As I say at the end of the chapter, fundamentalists in all religions are the “true believers,” committed to what they consider to be the absolute truth. Consequently, they are not willing to accept any compromise with anything they deem as deviant from their foundational faith.
While writing this chapter back in 2005, it seemed that there was every likelihood that in the years ahead there would be escalating conflicts between Christian fundamentalists and the fundamentalists in other religions—but now it seems as if that scenario has not developed as much as considered likely then.
However, I also wrote then that there would be ongoing conflicts between fundamentalists and other Christians in this country—and that has certainly been the case from 2005 until the present, seen particularly in the support of DJT by conservative evangelicals.
When working on FuF 15 years ago, I never dreamed that the fundamentalists, by whatever name they’re called, would be the demographic most in support of a President such as the current one.
Chapter Three, which I will write about next month, deals largely with this question: why in the years between 1980 and 2005 did Christian fundamentalism grow in such numerical strength and political power?

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Worst Aspect of Racial Segregation

Vital Conversations is a monthly discussion group that meets in the Northland of Kansas City. June and I have been regular members of that group for more than twelve years now, and we have enjoyed many profitable discussions there.

Some of My Best Friends are Black

At the March 13 Vital Conversations meeting, the 25 or so who attended discussed Tanner Colby’s book Some of My Best Friends are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America (2012).  


The meeting was a very helpful one, especially since there were four African-Americans present—including the venerable Alvin Brooks (b. 1932), a civil rights leader who is a former police officer and former city councilman of Kansas City.

The second part of Colby’s book is about racial segregation in housing—and in getting loans for purchasing a home. The situation in Kansas City is a prime example of segregation having been actively enforced by housing planning—and restrictions.

In particular, Colby writes about J.C. Nichols, whom Colby (no doubt rightfully) calls “the most influential real estate developer” in the U.S. during the first half of the twentieth century. Colby adds, “One could make the argument that he still holds that title today, despite being dead for sixty years.” (p. 82).

(Specifically, Nichols died in February 1950, several months before his 70th birthday.)

Nichols was the developer of Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza, regarded as the nation’s first shopping center. After his death, he was memorialized with the impressive J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain, just east of the Plaza, and the nearby street renamed the J.C. Nichols Parkway in 1952.

The King of Kings County

In addition to the County Club district and Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri, a lasting legacy of J.C. Nichols is the development of Johnson County, Kansas, whose eastern border is just a mile west of the Plaza.

That story, which is told to some extent in Colby’s book, is the theme of the novel The King of Kings County (2005) by Whitney Terrell, a nephew by marriage to J.C. Nichols’ son Miller.

As Colby writes, the novel “tells the story of Kansas City’s blockbusting and suburbanization in a way that only a novel can: fictionalized, but brutally truthful” (p. 291).

(In the book, Nichols is called Bowen, the Plaza is Campanile, and Johnson County is Kings County, but for those who know the history of Kansas City, the identification is obvious.)

“Troost Avenue”

Adam Hamilton is the best-known Christian pastor in Johnson County, Kansas. He is pastor of the 20,000-member Church of the Resurrection, said to be the largest United Methodist Church in the U.S.

“Troost Avenue” is the title of the fifth chapter of Hamilton’s 2018 book Unafraid: Living with Courage and Hope in Uncertain Times.

As also explained in the books mentioned above, Hamilton writes, “The street in Kansas City that serves as the dividing line between predominantly white and black communities is Troost Avenue” (p. 57).

As some blacks sought to move west, Nichols and Bob Wood, an unscrupulous realtor, found ways to profit greatly by the development of Johnson County. They developed “restrictive covenants” that prevented African Americans from buying homes in many of the new, and white, communities.

Black homeowners and communities were also greatly disadvantaged by redlining and other means that meant financial loss.

I used to think that racial segregation was bad because of the deprivation resulting from being separate—and certainly repressive restrictions and lack of freedom are major problems.

But I have come to see that maybe the worst aspect of segregation has been the financial inequity entwined with forced separation.
or
Perhaps now the major goal is not integration (or equality) but rather thoroughgoing equity.


Friday, March 15, 2019

Is It Anti-Semitic to Criticize Israel?

Anti-Semitism has a long and sordid existence in world history. As is the case with all discriminatory language and actions, anti-Semitism cannot be condoned no matter when or by whom it is expressed. But neither can charges of anti-Semitism be used as a means to stifle legitimate criticism of the nation of Israel.


The Recent Ruckus
As has been widely covered in the news media over the past few weeks, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has been accused of making anti-Semitic remarks that have upset many Congresspeople, among others, including some Democrats.
Some, though, understand Rep. Omar's voicing criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and as not being anti-Semitic at all.
According to Merriam-Webster, “anti-Semitic” means “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group.” There was nothing in Rep. Omar’s statements about the Jews. She spoke only with reference to the nation of Israel and its supporters.
(Of course, it clouds the picture that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has recently publicly stated that Israel “is the national state, not of all its citizens, but only of the Jewish people”—in spite of the fact that about 20% of the population are Arabs.)
Pro-Palestinian Pronouncements
President Jimmy Carter had considerable experience on matters directly connected to the Middle East. He made a vital contribution to implementing the 1978 Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt—which resulted in Menachem Begin of Israel and Anwar Sadat of Egypt being awarded the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize.
More than 25 years later, Carter wrote a highly controversial book: Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid (2006). Carter and his pro-Palestine stance were castigated not only by many Jewish people but also by some Democrats (such as Nancy Pelosi) who were/are not Jews—and by many conservative Christians.
June and I read Carter’s book in 2007 and were convinced that his criticism of Israel was correct—but certainly not anti-Semitic.
A much-maligned Jewish group goes by the name Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). The JVP, founded in 1996, has, along with some other Jewish groups and many individual Jews, publicly voiced strong support for Rep. Omar.
JVP’s mission statement (see here) clearly states that JVP members “are inspired by Jewish tradition to work together for peace, social justice, equality, human rights, respect for international law, and a U.S. foreign policy based on these ideals.” 
What about BDS?
As perhaps most of you know, a movement known as BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) is a strong opponent of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people. I first heard about BDS  in 2015 when I was in Israel.
I ended my 6/30/15 blog article, “The Plight of the Palestinians,” with a positive introduction of BDS. I was disappointed, but not particularly surprised, when I was reprimanded by a local Jewish rabbi whom I considered my friend.
Rep. Omar (b. 1981) has said that her grandfather taught her about the history of racial oppression in South Africa. Consequently, she has compared Israel to an “apartheid regime”—which is what Carter did, in effect, in his 2006 book.
In a 2017 speech, Rep. Omar said she remembered her grandfather talking about apartheid in South Africa and how some people “decided that they were going to engage in boycotts of that government.”
And, as we know, by 1994 apartheid had ended in South Africa.
It seems to me that the BDS movement was organized for the same sort of purpose as the anti-apartheid activities in opposition to South Africa’s policies.
So, I am not critical of Israel and in favor of the BDS movement because I have negative, prejudicial attitudes toward Jewish people. My criticism of Israel is because of that nation’s ongoing and patently unjust treatment of Palestinians.

[Addendum: On March 17, 2019, an op-ed piece by Rep. Omar was posted on The Washington Post’s website; her clarifying earlier statements as well as emphasizing the imperative for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine are most commendable.]

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Celebrating Einstein (and Pi Day)

This Thursday will be March 14, which, since it can be written as 3.14, has also become known as Pi Day (sometimes represented by a pie). But did you know that Einstein was born on Pi Day 140 years ago? He was, and with that in mind I am posting this to celebrate his life and legacy. 
Einstein’s Brief Bio
Albert Einstein was born in the German Empire on March 14, 1879. Even though the Einstein family were non-observant Jews, young Albert attended a Catholic elementary school for three years until the age of eight.
In 1896, Einstein renounced his German citizenship to avoid military service and enrolled in a Zurich, Switzerland, university. He graduated in 1900 and the following year he acquired Swiss citizenship. In 1906 he received his doctorate from the University of Zurich.
The year before finishing his doctorate, Einstein made a series of discoveries that altered the course of modern science. Those discoveries were embodied in his theory of special relativity, best known by a simple, elegant equation: E = mc2.
Einstein’s theory of general relativity was confirmed 100 years ago, in November 1919, during a total eclipse of the sun. Three years later, Einstein received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on quantum theory—and became world-famous.
Shortly after the Nazis seized power in 1933, Einstein emigrated from Germany to the U.S., where he became a member of Princeton University’s Institute of Advanced Study—and he remained there until his death in 1955.
Even though Einstein was involved in the development of the atomic bomb, as a lifelong pacifist he was an outspoken advocate of nuclear control and world peace. As early as 1930 he declared, “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only come by understanding.”
(Einstein’s thoughts on peace can be found in Einstein on Peace, the 2017 version of which is available on Kindle for just a few dollars.)
Einstein’s God
Krista Tippett is a journalist and author. Beginning in 2003 she conducted discussions on public radio related to the theme “Speaking of Faith”—and then in 2010 the name of her program was changed to, and has remained, “On Being.”
Einstein’s God (2010) is the title of Tippett’s second book, and it is based on interviews with 13 people and those interviews are said to be “conversations about science and the human spirit.”
The first chapter of Tippett’s book, and the only one explicitly about Einstein, contains material from the author’s interviews with Freeman Dyson and Paul Davies, two noted physicists.
Davies (b. 1946) points out that while Einstein did not believe in a personal God, as he clearly stated, he was a deist and was fond of using the word “God.” Here is one of Einstein’s most-cited quotations: “God does not play dice with the universe.”
(Einstein made that statement to express his antipathy to quantum physics and its indeterminism.)
Einstein on Science and Religion
According to Davies, Einstein believed “in a rational world order, and he expressed what he sometimes called a ‘cosmic religious feeling,’ a sense of awe, a sense of admiration at the intellectual ingenuity of the universe” (Tippett, p. 34).
At a 1940 conference on science, philosophy, and religion, Einstein asserted (see here) that there were “strong reciprocal relationships between science and religion.” Further, “science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration towards truth and understanding”—and that “source of feeling . . .  springs from the sphere of religion.”
Einstein then memorably stated that the interdependency of science and religion may be expressed by the following image:

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

What about Project Blitz?

The Project Blitz I am writing about in this article is not the footwear company that goes by that name or the 2018 Tony Alderman album with that same name. Rather, this is about the Project Blitz that is being waged by a coalition of Christian Right groups.
What is Project Blitz?
The Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation (CPCF) was formed in 2005 with a vision statement that includes “restoring Judeo-Christian principles to their rightful place” in American society.
Now the CPCF, along with other similar groups, is seeking to do this partly by Project Blitz.
According to their website, the purpose of Project Blitz is “To protect the free exercise of traditional Judeo-Christian religious values and beliefs in the public square, and to reclaim and properly define the narrative which supports such beliefs.”
As Wikipedia adequately summarizes, Project Blitz “is best known for providing model legislation, proclamations, and talking points for state and local legislators who wish to introduce bills that support religious freedom and liberty as defined by the Project.”
Project Blitz has introduced recommended legislation in many states and such legislation has already been passed in at least five states.
One Major Activity of Project Blitz
On January 28, President Trump tweeted, “Numerous states introducing Bible Literacy classes, giving students the option of studying the Bible. Starting to make a turn back? Great!”
DJT’s tweet was in support of the activities of Project Blitz. Already this year, six states have introduced legislation pushing for public schools to offer Bible literacy classes.
Missouri (where I live) is one of those states. On Feb. 28, House bill No. 267 was passed by a committee and is moving toward a vote of the entire House—where it will likely pass.
The Missouri bill, like those in most other states which have already passed or are currently considering similar legislation, stipulate that the Bible classes are elective and do not violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Still, there are serious doubts about such legislation and opposition by even many Christians and Christian organizations.
Opposition to Project Blitz
Recently, the Kansas City Star published an editorial declaring, “Bible classes don’t belong in Missouri’s public high schools.” The editors write, “Allowing taxpayer-funded religion classes—and teaching a course centered on the Bible amounts to a religion class—raises troubling questions about the separation of church and state.”
Accordingly, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an organization I have supported for many years, has publicly announced opposition to Project Blitz. Soon after DJT’s 2/28 tweet, along with 43 other prominent organizations, they urged state lawmakers across the country to oppose Project Blitz.
They see the Project problematic because of their attempt to enshrine Christian nationalism into law.  
At the end of last year, Frederick Clarkson, an author who has long opposed the Christian Right, warned that Project Blitz was going to come on strong in 2019. I recommend the reading of his article (here) posted by Religion Dispatches.
Jonathan Davis is a youngish Baptist pastor in Virginia. On Feb. 25, Baptist News Global posted his opinion piece titled “Why I spoke out against Virginia’s ‘Bible bill,’ and why you should too when it comes to your state.”
The Virginia Senate passed SB1502 by a 22-18 vote, in spite of vocal opposition of Pastor Davis and other Baptists, among others, in the state.
Separation of church and state is a long-held principle of true Baptists, such as those of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, who are also actively seeking to counter the efforts of Project Blitz. (See this link.)
I heartily applaud all such efforts.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Let's Go Solar!

Even though it was cold (in the upper teens) this past Monday morning, the workers came as scheduled to install solar panels on the roof of our house and to convert our usage of electricity almost completely to solar energy.
Our Decision
About three months ago I saw an ad about a local (Kansas City, Kan.) firm that was wanting to talk with people about the possibility of installing solar panels. I had given this some thought previously, but not a lot. Still, it seemed like something worth considering.
On Dec. 5 a salesman from Smart Home Innovations came to talk with June and me, and before he left we had ordered the solar panel system for our house—and written him a check for $10,000.
It took more than ten weeks for them to get everything surveyed, planned, and designed, but, as indicated, installation started on Feb. 25 and was completed the next day.
Time will tell whether we made a good decision on that Dec. 5 morning.
Our Purpose
Perhaps most people have solar panels installed in order, over the long haul, to save money on their electricity bills. Given time, that will surely happen. Given June’s and my age, however, I am not confident that we will ever break even, let alone save money.
If we don’t live in our current house long enough to break even, though, the likelihood of the increased value of the house when sold (by us or our heirs) will quite certainly make the installation of the solar panels a good investment.
Nevertheless, regardless of financial considerations, our purpose for going to solar panels is for the sake of the environment and to make a public statement (some of the panels are clearly visible on the front of the house, although we had most panels installed on the back side, as you see from the following pictures).
 
Whether anything like the Green New Deal (which I wrote about, here, earlier this month) ever comes to fruition or not, June and I think that switching to solar panels is one small step we can take to help stem the steady, and deadly, advancement of global warming.
Our Plea
It is our considered opinion that global warming is a clear and present danger to the future of human life on earth. It is an urgent issue which, inexplicably, is not only downplayed by many people, it is even denied by others.
If adequate response to the current climate crisis is to be made, it will have to be made with massive governmental decisions—which makes it distressing that the White House now seems to be moving in the opposite direction.
According to a Feb. 24 Washington Post article, “The White House plans to create an ad hoc group of select federal scientists to reassess the government’s analysis of climate science and counter conclusions that the continued burning of fossil fuels is harming the planet.”
Evidently, this ad hoc group would seek to combat the government’s report, issued last November, which delineated the increasingly detrimental effects of climate change in the U.S.
Soon after that report was released, DJT was quoted as saying (see here), “a lot of people like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence but we’re not necessarily such believers,” in the content of the report.
There are many reasons to be negative about the Trump administration; its almost certain wrongheadedness about environmental issues is one of the main reasons for my negativity.
So while it is not much, individuals beginning to use alternative energy is a small but definite step in the right direction.
Let’s go solar!

Saturday, February 23, 2019

What is Fundamentalism? (Redux)

As I indicated last month (here), this year I am planning to update my book Fed Up with Fundamentalism (2007) and to re-publish it at year’s end. In that connection, here are highlights from the (slightly) updated first chapter.
Beginnings of Christian Fundamentalism
In the first main section of the chapter, I explain that fundamentalism was originally “a sincere movement to preserve or to restore the true faith.” That is, it was not militant—and it certainly was not political as the Christian Right has been in recent years.
Even though there were some precursors, the actual beginning of what came to be called fundamentalism was the publishing of twelve small books between 1910 and 1915. The overarching title of the twelve volumes was The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth.
In June 1920, the Northern Baptist Convention held a conference on “The Fundamentals of Our Baptist Faith” in Buffalo, New York. Writing about that conference in the Baptist publication The Watchman-Examiner, C.L. Laws, the editor, proposed that those “who mean to do battle royal for the fundamentals shall be called ‘Fundamentalists.’”
Laws’s proposed term seems to be the first public use of the word “fundamentalist.”
Changes in Christian Fundamentalism
During its first 25 years, from 1915 to 1940, there was a considerable shift from being the kind of “mainstream” movement it was in the beginning to being a separatist and a more militant movement.
The Scopes Trial of 1925 marked a definitive change in attitudes toward fundamentalism—thanks mainly to the daily newspaper reports written by reporter H.L. Mencken of the Baltimore Sun. By the end of that “trial of the century,” for most in the general public, and for many even in the churches, fundamentalism was largely discredited. 
The picture is a scene from "Inherit the Wind," a movie about the Scopes Trial.
For the next several decades, then, fundamentalism was “alive and well” only among the militant “biblical separatists.” Four of the most influential proponents of this new type of fundamentalism were J. Frank Norris, J. Gresham Machen (to whom I referred in a recent blog article), Bob Jones, and John R. Rice.
Of these four, Norris (1877~1952) was the most colorful—and the best example of militant fundamentalism. Barry Hankins of Baylor University published his biography of Norris under the title God’s Rascal.
Hankins writes, “While some became militant because they were fundamentalists, Norris became a fundamentalist, in part at least, because he was militant by nature” (p. 176).
Earlier in his book, Hankins states: “Militancy was the indispensable characteristic of fundamentalism—the one that distinguished fundamentalists from other conservative evangelicals” (p. 44).
In this regard, it is important to remember the words spoken before 1925 by the early anti-fundamentalist leader Harry Emerson Fosdick: “All Fundamentalists are conservatives, but not all conservatives are Fundamentalists.”
Shifts in Terms for Fundamentalism
Because of the negative connotations of the term fundamentalism, in the 1940s under the leadership of Carl F.H. Henry, among others, a group of “moderate fundamentalists” formed the National Association of Evangelicals and the movement came to be known by the name “neo-evangelicalism” instead of fundamentalism.
Gradually, the “neo-“ part of the new term was dropped, and conservative Christianity came to be known as just evangelicalism. Still, there were differences in their ranks: there were those who were more progressive, such as people like Jimmy Carter. Time magazine declared 1976, the year Carter was elected President, as the “year of the evangelical.”
Unlike the more progressive evangelicals such as Carter, there were still many conservatives who formed a large part of that wing of the church—and so it remains today. Accordingly, “conservative evangelical” is now largely a synonym for “fundamentalist.”


Monday, February 18, 2019

Are Humans Like the Dog Named Rover?

Perhaps it is not so popular now, but Rover has been one of the most common names for dogs, perhaps second only to Fido. But what happens when Rover or other pet dogsor humansdie?
Do Dogs Go to Heaven?
As a means of comforting children—or adults—who are grieving over the death of a beloved pet dog, it is sometimes emphasized that the pet has gone to Heaven and is happily waiting for the grieving person to join them there in the (hopefully distant) future.
While, admittedly, such talk likely has comforting value to the person grieving, the credibility of dogs going to Heaven is highly questionable.
For most who think about the matter seriously, the likely conclusion is that, no, dogs (and other pets) do not go to Heaven in any literal sense.
This latter assumption lies behind what the famous American short story writer O. Henry (1862~1910) once said when asked about the afterlife:
I had a little dog
And his name was Rover
And when he died
He died all over
This apparently meant that O. Henry thought that death, whether for humans or for dogs, means the end of one’s existence.
Do Humans Have Immortal Souls?
Those who deny that dogs go to Heaven most likely do so because they do not believe that dogs have immortal souls. Many of those same people, however, unhesitatingly affirm that human beings do have immortal souls.
The idea of the “immortality of the soul” has a long history and was particularly strong among ancient Greeks.
Most great BCE Greek philosophers, it seems, believed that the human body was the tomb of the soul and that the soul was liberated from the body at death. That belief is sometimes explained like this: the sōma (σῶμα=body) is the sēma (σῆμα=tomb) of the soul.
There is no question but that this idea infiltrated Christian thinking at an early date and has been a widely-held belief of many Christians through the centuries.
Nevertheless, this is not the basic Christian idea and is not necessarily true.
The characteristic Christian concept of the afterlife of human beings is based on belief in resurrection, not natural immortality. That belief affirms eternal life as a gift from God, not as a natural human attribute.
So, What Happens at Death?
In keeping with the basic belief in resurrection, some Christian theologians have rightly seen death as the end of existence—until resurrection. According to the repeated teaching of the Bible, some people receive the gift of eternal life.
What about those who do not receive that gift—especially those who not only reject it but also consciously reject God and God’s grace?
Traditionally, such people were thought to go to Hell where they are punished endlessly.
Last month I wrote (here) about annihilationism, an explanation of what happens at death that rejects the cruel idea of unending punishment. Still, some interpret God’s annihilating the “wicked” or “non-believers” as vengeful and unloving.
Annihilationism has long been linked to the idea of “conditional immortality,” the belief that humans do not have immortal souls. This latter position, sometimes just called “conditionalism,” is probably a better term than the more common label of annihilationism.
It is amazing how the traditional view of Hell is linked so often to John 3:16, that key verse of the Bible that declares, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life” (CEB). 
Here, however, it seems quite clear that eternal life is a gift and that those who reject that gracious gift perish (=die like the dog named Rover).

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

What about the Green New Deal?

Most of us are quite familiar with the term, and the significance, of what was known as the New Deal in this country. But in recent days we have been hearing about the Green New Deal, a relatively new idea that deserves serious thought and positive action.
The Proposal for a Green New Deal
On February 7, Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) introduced a Green New Deal resolution in both the Senate and House of Representatives. That 13-page resolution can be found here.
Markey (b. 1946) was a U.S. House member from 1976 to 2013 and has been in the Senate since then. Ocasio-Cortez (b. 1989), as you probably know, is the outspoken new House member who is often just called AOC.
When presented, Markey’s resolution was co-sponsored by ten other Senators—mostly names you know quite well, such as Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren.
While it is a long way from something being presented as a resolution and it actually being legislated, this is surely a significant start for serious consideration of a vital issue.  
The Purpose of the Proposal
The title of the 2/7 resolution is “Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal.” Its purpose is to elevate awareness of the fearful realities of global warming along with other environmental issues and to set forth goals for Congress to consider over the next ten years.
Rather than being a proposal for detailed legislation, the Green New Deal (GND) resolution is a statement of what will most likely be necessary to meet the challenge of ever-worsening climate change. It presents the need for massive infrastructure programs and many other imperative actions for the creation of a sustainable future for our society and the world.
Thus, the GND resolution is a challenge to bold, creative, and long-term thinking about the most crucial issue of the present-day.
So, What About It?
One of my favorite op-ed writers is Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post. His February 7 article was titled, “A ‘Green New Deal’ sounds like pie in the sky. But we need it.”
I fully agree with Robinson when he writes that “climate change is the biggest, most important story of our time. Our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will judge us by how well we meet the challenge, and so far we are failing. Miserably.”
Of course, there are those who staunchly oppose the proposal for a Green New Deal. The main criticism is that it smacks of socialism.
DJT no doubt had the GND in mind when he said in his SOTU message that “we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country.” He then went on to assert, “Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”
It must be recalled, though, that the New Deal proposed by President Roosevelt and enacted by Congress in the 1930s was also castigated for being socialist legislation.
Even among those who inveigh against socialism today, however, there are not many who are willing to give up their Social Security, which was one of the most important parts of the New Deal.
Just as the New Deal helped solved some of the most serious problems in American society many decades ago, the Green New Deal is a proposal for solving even potentially greater problems for the U.S., and the world, in the coming decades.
In the view from this Seat, the sooner the Green New Deal proposals are enacted, the better!


Friday, February 8, 2019

Celebrating the NAACP

It was 110 years ago this month that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded. As my contribution to Black History Month, I am posting this article in celebration of the NAACP and its meritorious contributions to the improvement in the status of people of color in U.S. society.
(Through the years I have written about several of the people mentioned in this article; the hyperlinked names are links to blog articles about those persons.)
The Beginning of the NAACP
The NAACP gives February 9, 1909, as the date marking their founding. That date, not by accident, was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. (The name was not officially adopted until the following year.) 
Prior to the formation of the NAACP, W.E.B. Dubois had organized the Niagara Movement (a civil rights group you can read about here). He then became one of the co-founders of the NAACP and from 1910 to 1934 was the founding editor of “The Crisis,” the organization’s official publication.
In his editorial for the first edition of The Crisis (Nov. 1910; see here), Du Bois wrote, “The object of this publication is to set forth those facts and arguments which show the danger of race prejudice, particularly as manifested to-day toward colored people.”
Other than Du Bois, the main early leaders of the NAACP, such as William English Walling and Mary White Ovington, were not “colored people.” The first African-American to hold a high leadership position was James Weldon Johnson, who served as Executive Secretary from 1920 to 1931.
Historical Highlights of the NAACP
The history of their first 100 years is highlighted in the large (456 pages and weighing over four pounds!) and nicely done book NAACP: Celebrating a Century (2009). Here are just a few highlights gleaned from that book.
** The NAACP organized protests against the 1915 film “The Birth of a Nation,” which glorified the KKK.
** By 1919, their tenth anniversary, the NAACP had 90,000 members and “The Crisis” had a circulation of 100,000.
** Their 14th Annual Conference, in 1923, was held in Kansas City, and over 550 delegates journeyed to Leavenworth Federal Prison to visit black inmates.
** The NAACP helped convince President Truman in 1948 to issue Executive Order No. 9980, prohibiting racial discrimination in federal military service.
** Largely due to the work of Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP’s top attorney from 1938 to 1961, the “Brown v. Board of Education” Supreme Court decision legally desegregated America’s public schools.
The NAACP Today
According to their current website, “The mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination.
Their website also links (here) to a 2/1/19 article titled “28 Ways to Celebrate Black History Month.” No. 6 was “Become a member of a Black organization.” Last year I became a member of the NAACP for the first time, and I am happy to be a supporter of this significant organization.
In the Foreword of the NAACP book mentioned above, then Board Chairman Julian Bond wrote, “We hope you will feel called to join this one-hundred-year-old crusade for justice by joining the NAACP. . . . anyone who shares our values is more than welcome” (p. 7).
Perhaps not many of you will decide to join the NAACP, but at the very least I hope you will celebrate their 110 years of existence by acknowledging their many significant accomplishments since 1909 and by actively joining in the ongoing struggle to eliminate race-based discrimination in our nation.


Monday, February 4, 2019

In Praise of Dom Helder Camara

Just like Fred Korematsu, the subject of my previous blog article (found here), Helder Camara is similarly not a household name. But Camara, who was born ten years before Korematsu, is also a man well worth remembering with acclaim.
Introducing Dom Helder
Helder Pessoa Camara was born on February 7, 1909, in northeastern Brazil. From an early age, he played at saying Mass; when he was only eight or nine years old, he talked about becoming a priest. At age 14 he entered the seminary and was ordained eight years later, in August 1931.
Dom Helder, as he was usually called in Brazil, had 54 years of active ministry, including 21 years as an archbishop, before his retirement in 1985. Twenty years ago, in August 1999, he died at the age of 90.
The Washington Post article announcing Camara’s death referred to him as “a former Brazilian Catholic archbishop and proponent of Liberation Theology who became a noted human rights crusader and champion of agrarian reform.”
Dom Helder was a tireless advocate for and friend of the poor and marginalized people in his native country and around the world. Here are his most widely-cited words:  
Learning from Dom Helder
Through the years I saw various references to Camara and was impressed by what I read by and about him. Now that I have just finished reading the book Dom Helder Camara: Essential Writings (2009), I am even more impressed.
Camara championed liberation theology, which has often been charged with inciting violence. But Dom Helder was a man of peace. He declared,

"We, as Christians, are on the side of nonviolence, and this is in no way an option for weakness and passivity. Opting for nonviolence means to believe more strongly in the power of truth, justice, and love than in the power of wars, weapons, and hatred" (p. 81).

Dom Helder was also a poet. I like this poem that expresses the type of man he was:
If you disagree with me,
you have something to give me
if you are sincere
and seek the truth
as best you may,
honestly, with modest care,
your thought is growth
to mine, correction,
you deepen my vision.
(pp.99-100)
As an archbishop, Camara often faced large audiences that applauded and cheered him. He wrote that at such times, “I turn to Christ and say to him simply: ‘Lord, this is your triumphal entry into Jerusalem! I am just the little donkey you are riding on!’ And it’s true” (p. 145).
Would that all God’s servants and church leaders had that sort of humility!
Praising Dom Helder
Although Dom Helder was a small man, barely five feet tall, he had a large following of admirers. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times. The Brazilian military dictatorship, his constant adversary, actively worked again his receiving that award, and they were successful.
Nevertheless, Francis McDonagh, who wrote the Introduction to the book of Dom Helder’s writings, reports, “In compensation, Norwegian churches and NGOs awarded him a ‘People’s Peace Prize’ in 1974, one of twenty-one international awards and eighteen degrees that testified to the esteem in which he was held by the international community” (p. 33).
One such noteworthy recognition was the Pacem in Terris Award, which he received in 1975—ten years after it was awarded to MLK, Jr., and the year before it was given to Mother Teresa.
Camara’s dream of the liberation of the poor and the creation of a fully just society hasn’t yet become a reality any more than MLK’s dream has, but people of goodwill must keep that dream alive and actively work toward its fulfillment.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

In Honor of Fred Korematsu: A Civil Rights Hero

While not exactly a household name, Fred T. Korematsu (born 100 years ago today, on January 30, 1919) is becoming increasingly recognized as the civil rights hero he was.
Born an American Citizen
Kakusaburo Korematsu emigrated from Japan to California in 1905. In 1914 a young woman named Kotsui Aoki came from Japan to become his wife. Five years later their third son was born; they named him Toyosaburo.
Since all the Korematsu children were born in the U.S., they were American citizens. When Toyosaburo started to school, though, his teacher also wanted him to have an easier-to-pronounce American name—so she started calling him Fred, and the name stuck.
Fred went to a public high school in Oakland and was a regular American student. Things began to change for him, however, in the years shortly afterward.
Born with a Japanese Face
As the war clouds began to grow darker in 1941, Fred and three of his good friends, all patriotic Americans, went to enlist in the U.S. military service. His three white friends were given the necessary papers, but Fred was refused. Even before Pearl Harbor there was strong prejudice in California against people with a Japanese face like Fred’s.
And things got worse, of course, after December 7. On Feb. 20, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which resulted in about 117,000 ethnic Japanese people, the majority of whom were American citizens, being forced to live in internment camps.
Fred didn’t leave for the internment camp with his parents, though; he was going to try to “beat the system.” He failed. On May 30 he was arrested and put in jail. Angry about being treated like a criminal, he vowed to fight his arrest.
Help expectantly came from Ernest Besig, a lawyer named who worked with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Besig paid the bail to get Fred out of jail—but then Fred was forcefully taken away to the internment camp where he was a prisoner again.
Born with a Sense of Justice
Fred had a strong sense of justice—and a strong sense that he and other Japanese-Americans were being treated unjustly. He cooperated with the ACLU, which took his case all the way to the Supreme Court. In Dec. 1944, Fred learned with great sadness that Besig had lost his case before the Supreme Court.
Forty years later, Fred received a telephone call from Peter Irons, a law professor. Irons said he had found new evidence related to Fred’s case and wanted to take it to the courts again. Fred agreed.
In 1983, Fred’s 1942 conviction was overturned. Five years later, Congress passed a law giving $20,000 in reparations to each surviving detainee in the Japanese internment camps.
Happily for all those involved, in 1998 President Clinton awarded Korematsu the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor given in the U.S.
And Now after His Death (in 2005)
On January 30, 2011, California celebrated the first Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution. Now Fred Korematsu Day is being celebrated “in perpetuity” by Hawaii, Virginia, and Florida in addition to California. 
Most recently, in June 2018 the SCOTUS finally reputed Korematsu v. United States; Chief Justice Roberts called that 1944 decision “morally repugnant.’
Unfortunately, however, in that decision the high court upheld President Trump’s Muslim ban. That was a painful irony for many people, including Karen Korematsu, Fred’s daughter.
Karen, who founded the Fred T. Korematsu Institute in 2009, lamented in a June 27, 2018, Washington Post article, “Racial profiling was wrong in 1942 and racial profiling is wrong in 2018. The Supreme Court traded one injustice for another 74 years later.”
On this special day honoring civil rights hero Fred Korematsu, let’s make sure that we realize—and that we help those within our circle of influence realize—that prejudicial attitudes and/or actions against racial and religious minorities are just as wrong now as they were in 1942.