Saints, Sinners, and Sophistry

“One may safely affirm that all popular theology has a kind of appetite for absurdity and contradiction…. While their gloomy apprehensions make them ascribe to Him measures of conduct which in human creatures would be blamed, they must still affect to praise and admire that conduct in the object of their devotional addresses. Thus it may safely be affirmed that popular religions are really, in the conception of their more vulgar votaries, a species of daemonism.” David Hume, The Natural History of Religion

A recent piece of mine (https://joebroadmeadowblog.com/2020/10/17/nationalism-militarism-patriotism-government-and-a-social-market-economy/) brought with it the usual criticisms, recriminations, condemnations, castigations, and accusations. Of course, this is why I do this. Truth be told, I often learn things from those who hold different opinions, and, on the rare occasion, it changes my point of view.

One comment concerned whether I support abortion on demand. They then launched into the usual macabre reference to third-trimester abortion, which is never merely on-demand besides being the rarest of abortions. Nor would any such rational legislative body seek to make it so.

The comment also included a quote from Mother Teresa. 

“America needs no words from me to see how your decision in Roe v. Wade has deformed a great nation. The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships. It has aggravated the derogation of the father’s role in an increasingly fatherless society. It has portrayed the greatest of gifts — a child — as a competitor, an intrusion, and an inconvenience. It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered dominion over the independent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters” And, in granting this unconscionable power, it has exposed many women to unjust and selfish demands from their husbands or other sexual partners. Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be declared to be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or a sovereign.” 

Rather interesting moral pontificating from a woman who, while she certainly accomplished many good and worthy things, did not differ from the missionaries in the past. They came unbidden, sure of their just purpose, wrapped in the best of intentions, and set about converting those who did not embrace the Christian Faith as the priority, using charity and kindness or, when necessary, more direct measures to mask their real purpose.

If forced baptisms and compelled deathbed conversions to Catholicism were not a well-documented element of her mission, I would have a different perspective. But the truth is, she does not differ from every missionary who dragged Native American children to Indian Schools. They were sincere in the fervor, and it blinded them to what amounted to cultural genocide. What they saw as doing God’s work saving souls allowed them to ignore the destruction of one religious philosophy for the sake of another.

Often those who appear saintly turn out to be a mere self-deception by those who would believe. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Mundi vult decipi—ergo decipiatur (The world wants to be deceived, so let it be deceived.)

Petronius

So, on to Mother Teresa. First, I have no doubt about her sincerity that she was doing God’s work. But then every missionary believes in the necessity to convert the heathen masses to the Word of (Insert the name of the particular God here.)

People needed saving from the devil’s false gospel and to bathe in the blood of Jesus. The problem is you can substitute any devil and God in the form of an alternate orthodoxy of any faith and still have the pretense of doing good. At the same time, your real purpose is merely conversion. 

Mother Teresa needed the poor more than they needed her. Here’s what she had to say in her own words from various interviews, movies, and television appearances.

In an interview for a film documented by Christopher Hitchens in his book, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, the good sister had this to say about a cancer patient’s suffering.

“She described a person who was in the last agonies of cancer and suffering unbearable pain. With a smile, Mother Teresa told the camera what she told this terminal patient: “You are suffering like Christ on the cross. So Jesus must be kissing you.”  Unconscious of the account to which this irony might be charged, she then told of the sufferer’s reply: “Then please tell him to stop kissing me.” (The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice pg. 44 Kindle Edition)

While being honored at a luncheon meeting at the International Health Organization in 1989. She had this to say about tolerance.

“During her acceptance speech, she spoke at length of her opposition to contraception and her activities to save the unwanted products of heterosexual activity. She also touched on AIDS, saying she did not want to label it a scourge of God but that it did seem like a just retribution for improper sexual conduct. (The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice location pg. 52 Kindle Edition)

While one can argue she inspired many to dedicate their lives to helping the poor and downtrodden, it is a legitimate criticism that her primary purpose was not to alleviate the suffering but to frame it in the context of her fundamentalist Catholic Doctrine.

Many former sisters, volunteers, and medical personnel questioned her rationalization for resisting using pain medications—even in hospice situations—because, she insisted, God sent the suffering and we must be willing to accept his decisions.

Her opposition to abortion aside, arguing against contraception, the one inexpensive and non-invasive method of population control, family planning, and effective means of eliminating overburdened families in poverty, cannot be rationalized.  

It is based on interpretations of ancient texts, rewritten and revised by Popes, Kings, and Priests with vested interests in their promulgation and maintaining male dominance of the religion.

It is nothing but the antithesis of compassion.

There are also many questions about her handling millions of dollars in donations that remain unanswered. These are well documented and available for anyone to inquire about. Her close association with brutal governments, albeit supported by Catholic clergy, questions her judgment.

That some in America would point to her as a beacon of morality is troubling. Leo Strauss, who had a profound influence on the Republican Right-wing majority, said this.

“Christian America cares for people before they are born and after they are dead but is only interested in clerical coercion for the years in between.”

Leo Straus

This perfectly sums up the good sister’s intentions. While she was the founder of a worthy order and can be admired for inspiring many to serve the poor, unmasking her motivations reveals a darker, troubling side. Suffering that can be eliminated or minimized should always be the goal. To subvert that worthy cause in pursuit of some egomaniacal claim to understanding God’s will is abhorrent.

That in the 21st Century, we have people who still believe in beings who can operate outside the laws of physics astounds me. In the debate over morality, if one wants to use religious tenets and the actions of those who embrace them as a justification for holding certain beliefs, one must be willing to scrutinize them.

Like many myths, they rarely survive the inquiry.

But here’s something that is not a myth and can stand up to scrutiny.  One of the most effective ways to reduce abortions is access to birth control and medical care. 

Organizations like Planned Parenthood, whose primary purpose is not to encourage abortions but to provide sound medical advice and options to women of childbearing age, is one such entity.

In the philosophy of Mother Teresa, contraception is against the Word of God and thus equal to abortion in moral terms. Such archaic morality flies in the face of human sexuality. The tongue-in-cheek title of Hitchens’s book, The Missionary Position, illustrates this well. And there is little need to mention the duplicitousness of the Catholic Church’s moral stance in the sexual abuse scandal.

Here’s another myth needing to be dispelled. Third-trimester abortions are common and made at the whim of the mother. Nothing can be further from the truth.

Third-trimester abortions are the rarest of events, always done for medically sound reasons, and are among the most heartbreaking decisions a woman has to make. That anyone would believe this is an appropriate place for external governmental or religious doctrinal intrusion is ludicrous.

Mother Teresa may become a Saint one day in the Catholic Church. Part of that process will include the advocatus diaboli, the Devil’s Advocate. It would be interesting to hear how those arguments are framed.

In the mythical realm of Saints and Sinners, we are all just human. No evidence exists to the contrary.

______________________________________________________________________________

As always, I await the onslaught of criticisms, recriminations, condemnations, castigations, and accusations. I shall prepare another coffee and await my fate…

Saving America

We need to put the choice of a Supreme Court Justice to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg in perspective. It is not about constitutional concerns, presidential obligations or prerogatives, or precedent.

The truth behind the push is infinitely simpler, and more sinister.

Three things cannot long be hidden; the sun, the moon, and the truth…

Buddha

The rush to force a vote is driven by evangelical pressure to reverse Roe V. Wade, to drag America back into the dark ages of male-dominated, Christian-centric, theologically tainted government, and to reassert the once absolute dominance of white men.

Therein lies the real danger.

Ginsburg’s entire career focused on broadening equal rights, equal access, and sharing of power for women. She was the irresistible force that overcame what was once considered unchangeable, working on some of the most important cases for women’s rights.

This is one example. Her work led to women being able to open a bank account, get a mortgage, or get a credit card without a man’s signature. (https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/420/636/)  

Now think about that for a moment. Until 1974, with the passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and the case cited above argued by Ginsburg before the United States Supreme Court in 1975, a woman, regardless of her financial position, education, or professional credentials, could not open a bank account without the signature of a man, nor enjoy most of the other financial rights of men.

This was in the United States of America in 1975, not 1575.

And let’s be perfectly clear about something, the evangelicals’ claiming the moral high ground on issues like abortion, LGBTQ rights, and religious freedom is a smokescreen. Reclaiming dominance of white heterosexual males is their true goal. Their vision of making America Great Again is not one of inclusivity.

You can spin this anyway you like, but all one has to do is look, not even an in-depth look, at their savior for reclaiming a moral America, Mr. Trump, to see the incongruities.

The Christian Right, pummeled by Roe V. Wade (which was about equal access, never about abortion. The wealthy always had access, leaving the poor to dark alleys), distraught over Gay rights and equal opportunity, and horrified that science and rationality were gaining dominance over philosophies formulated in the dark ages, is fighting for its life.

Their intransigence, and duplicity, is an effrontery to those religious adherents who embrace tolerance and understanding. Their actions are in direct contradiction to the words in the Bibles they clutch to their chests or wave in the air as evidence of the righteousness of their cause.

There actions are a mockery of Christian philosophy. They do not seek religious freedom, the seek religious dominance by their self-serving interpretation of evangelical doctrine and the suppression of those who follow other paths.

They see in Mr. Trump their opportunity to reclaim their once firm grasp on power and control over those who are different or follow a different path. That anyone could see Mr. Trump as a moral savior is an example of willful ignorance at best or total psychotic illusion at worst.

As long as he promotes their party line, his lack of character is unimportant. This is not a Republican party line; it is the party line of intolerance and domination.

In a debate stimulated by an earlier piece I wrote (https://joebroadmeadowblog.com/2020/09/18/a-simple-straightforward-question/) someone who supports Mr. Trump posted this article as illustrative of all the “good” Mr. Trump has done for black Americans.

Read the case yourself and draw your own conclusions.

https://thehill.com/opinion/white-house/511551-donald-trump-has-done-more-for-african-americans-than-we-think

My reading of the case would suggest the writer argues that Mr. Trump’s implicit racism, pandering to white supremacists, and misconstruing the purpose of the Black Lives Matter movement has brought the issue of racism to the forefront.

A rather strange way to sing Mr. Trump’s praises.

There is a common misconception in America that widespread racism and discrimination is a thing of the past. Indeed, Justice Ginsburg spent much of her career shining a light into those dark corners of America where it still flourished, and flourishes to this day.

I recall a story told to me by a friend from the FBI. As a young agent he was sent to a rural county in Alabama to investigate a civil rights violation by a Sheriff and two deputies in the arrest of a black man.

During an interview with one of the deputies, the agent asked if race played a part in the violent arrest of the man. The deputy’s answer stuck with the agent for the rest of his career.

The deputy said, “I didn’t beat that man because he was black, sir. I beat him because he forgot he was black.”

This was in 1985. 120 years after the end of slavery. Thirty years after Brown V Board of Education. Twenty years after the Civil Rights Act. Racism may not be as overt as it was in 1865, or even 1965, but make no mistake about it, it still permeates much of our society.

And we have a President who either intentionally or out of ignorance encourages such attitudes. Or maybe he just doesn’t care.

Then, as if what amounts to promoting white supremacy isn’t enough, Mr. Trump takes it down another notch by saying the shooting of an MSNBC reporter covering a protest was “beautiful.” And the saddest part is many in the audience laughed and cheered.

The President of the United States jokes about a member of the media being wounded. This is about as dystopian as the world can get.

The Free Press, the cornerstone of American freedom, the institution that in my lifetime help end the war in Vietnam and brought down a corrupt and criminal Presidency by focusing attention on government lies, is not something we should laugh at when they suffer injuries doing their job.

But not this President.

Leaving aside for the moment the argument about whether a Supreme Court nomination should take place in an election year, this is a critical turning point in America.

To paraphrase a line from Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, If Christ could see America today, he’d puke.

Those who would force us into the past are pointing a loaded gun at the heart of America and threatening to pull the trigger. If we lose focus in the fog of all the noise and distractions, they just might be emboldened enough to do it.

There is much in America’s past of which we can be proud, and equally as much for which we need be constantly vigilant against its re-emergence. But the path to American greatness does not reside in our past, it beckons from our future. A future that hangs in the balance this November.

*****

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Moral Imperative?

In the ongoing debate over abortion, some states have proposed codifying the protections of Roe V. Wade. Rhode Island being one.

The latest proposed measure, The Reproductive Health Care Act, failed in committee in the Senate. The bill mirrors the measure passed by the house (http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText19/HouseText19/H5127.pdf)

There were two arguments made against the bill that troubled me. One was from a Senator who opposed the bill because of the “Moral Imperative in the sanctity of life endowed by our Creator.” He said he understood he held a secular office, but this “Moral Imperative” guides his decisions. While he didn’t specify the Christian basis for his opposition, the implication was clear.

I would argue this, if one will invoke a “higher authority” imposing a moral imperative on operating government, is it too much to ask that we see actual evidence of the higher authority? Something other than quotes from ancient texts? Something other than faith, no matter how sincere?

If a legislature wishes to pass laws that meet the standard of moral imperative, shouldn’t we be able to test the validity of such a statute without having to resort to our imagination? Without having to imagine what such higher authority is. Without pushing incredulity to new heights.

I don’t think it too much to ask we keep crafting secular laws, operating a secular government, and secular enforcement of such laws, secular.

The second argument is even more ludicrous and disingenuous. Some Senators who opposed the current format of the legislation expressed concern the language of the legislation would mitigate other laws protecting unborn fetuses injured by criminal actions.

Under Rhode Island law, killing a pregnant woman can result in two counts of murder. Thus, one may argue, Rhode Island law already defines a fetus as a human. It does not, but that is not what strikes me as incongruous.

It is this trend to creating special classes of victims because being just a “plain ole” victim doesn’t seem enough to warrant protection under the law.

It reminds me of the TV show Law & Order Special Victims Unit.

The term “special victims” always struck me as odd, Now I understand the inherent abhorrence about sexual assaults and crimes against children, but the term “special” victims implies there are “not so special” victims.

Or “sort of” victims. Or “we’ll get to you when we have time” victims. Or “you deserved what you got” victims. I understand the perception we often ignored these “special” victims, but that doesn’t mean we solve it by ignoring others.

Perhaps the problem is not losing the option to charge someone with two counts of murder when the case involves a pregnant woman. Maybe the problem is the way we’ve created a special class of victims.  Wouldn’t it be enough if we considered all victims of crimes equal under the law?  Wouldn’t treating every victim the same accomplish the purpose?

If someone commits murder, why should it matter the condition of the victim? Why would we need to waste time and effort arguing that killing a pregnant woman somehow requires more severe punishment than an elderly woman, or a woman who is not pregnant, or a man? Why does the status of the victim determine the severity of the crime?

I do not see the difference between killing a woman and killing a pregnant woman. If killing the pregnant women is “worse” than the implication is killing a non-pregnant woman is not as bad. Now that is ludicrous.

Shouldn’t taking a human life—a living person—be enough to warrant the same penalty no matter who they are or what they are in life?

I can only hope rationality reasserts itself in this debate but, under the specter of the moral imperative and with disingenuousness raised to an art form, I have my doubts.