Archive for July, 2018

Good and Great

Good and Great
Fr. Larry

Alexis de Tocqueville the famous French diplomat, political scientist, and historian is famously quoted as writing in his Democracy in America, published in 1838, that after much thought he had come to the conclusion: “America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” It has been a favorite quote of presidents, congressional representatives, political commentators, historians, and the media for 180 years now. The thing is, Tocqueville never said any such thing. Apparently its original source has been traced to the sermon of a Presbyterian pastor. It is really a rather “self-congratulatory” illusion that sounds real and genuine when, irony of ironies, it is put into the mouth of a foreign citizen and outsider –– and a political historian at that. The reality is that America is not good and whether she is great depends on what one means by greatness. I am not suggesting that there are not many good people in America. Obviously there is quite a large number of people who are deeper, more moral and ethical, and more spiritual than myself. But when the people of the world think of America today, “goodness” is not the first word that comes to mind. What I am saying is that if America could let go of its self-righteousness and see itself as it is, if it could take a “rigorous and fearless moral inventory,” it could open the possibility of a new era of peace and liberation from its self-created culture of violence.

Economic Violence
As I wrote in my book, Hell’s Abyss, Heaven’s Grace (2006), “the details of our selfish life are daunting in their number and kind.” In June 2016, the International Monetary Fund warned that the high U.S. poverty rate needed to be tackled quickly and vigorously by raising the minimum wage and offering paid maternity leave to women to encourage them to enter the labor force. In December 2017, the United Nations special report on extreme poverty and human rights investigated the effects of systemic poverty in the United States, and sharply condemned “private wealth and public squalor;” that is, a society in which privately owned resources are generally clean, efficient, well-maintained, and improving in quality while public spaces are dirty, overcrowded, and unsafe. The Alston report issued in May 2018 found that 40 million U.S. citizens live in poverty and over five million “live in ‘Third World’ conditions.” According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 73.7 million children between 1 to 17 in 2011 in the United States. Of this number, it was estimated that approximately 18.6 % lived in poverty; that is, about 13.5 million children. Beginning with Bill Clinton and continuing under George Bush and now Donald Trump, and the Republican Party, programs for the poor, including children, continue to be slashed. Consequently, the number of children living in poverty has risen steadily at a rate of 2.8% every five years. Children under the age of six have been the most affected showing the highest level of poverty of any demographic group. Older children, teenagers, in low income communities are at risk for being forced to join gangs, sell drugs or turn to prostitution because they cannot afford food. A 2013 UNICEF report ranked the U.S. as having the second highest child poverty rates in the developed world. Almost two-thirds were staying in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program and the other third were living on the street, in an abandoned building, or another place not meant for human habitation.

It is interesting that around 44% of homeless people are actually employed. Interesting because Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and the Republican Party see anyone who accesses an anti-poverty program as a “taker” –– what the Nazis, whom I would assume Trump idolizes for their efficiency, called “useless eaters,” or “Lebensunwertes Leben” meaning “life unworthy of life,” as the designation for those segments of society who have no right to live. Or, in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, admired by Paul Rand and the “Libertarians,” there are the “looters.” “Makers and Takes” is actually a Republican meme. The basic idea is that the takers take from the makers –– usually by using the power of the government such as taxation. When the rich are taxed so that we can provide for the health and common good of all, they think you are stealing from them. Political conservatives and religious fundamentalists see the poor (takers, useless eaters, looters) as the problem.

Yet, it is the policies of the wealthy oligarchy that rules the United States that creates poverty. Dealing with an insurance company, for example, is like playing against the house in Los Vegas. Republicans are all for privatizing education not as an honest effort to provide a better and more accessible education for all, but as a money-making venture. We have an unjust criminal system that is loaded against the poor and minorities and one need not look far for the reason –– there is big money to be made in the incarceration business. And, there is “The Big Business of Housing Migrant Children.” Juan Sanchez, is the CEO of Southwest Key Programs which is a charity providing shelter for unaccompanied minors. Most of its income comes from government funding. Sanchez’s salary in 2016 was 1.5 million. There is a line in Cloud Atlas that an evil character keeps repeating: “The weak are meat, and the strong do eat.” The “eaters” are the elite, and it is the poor and vulnerable that they eat. As a priest I can’t help but recall Jesus’s words directed against the rich, the powerful, and the religious fundamentalists of his day, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows homes, even while for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore, you shall receive the greater condemnation (Matthew 23:14).

In the United States, income inequality, or the gap between the rich and everyone else, has been, by every major indicator, growing almost exponentially. Please forgive me all the euphemisms which follow here, but it’s the way this sort of thing gets reported. At any rate, “income disparities” have become so pronounced that America’s top 10 percent now average more than nine times as much income as the entire bottom 90 percent. Americans in the top 1 percent tower stunningly higher. They average over 40 times more income than the bottom 90 percent. But that gap pales in comparison to the divide between the nation’s top 0.1 percent and everyone else. Americans at this lofty level are taking in over 198 times the income of the bottom 90 percent. The recession in 2008 did dampen this top 0.1 percent share, but only momentarily. The upward surge of the top 0.1 percent has resumed. So much for the notion of trickle-down economics –– the delusion that the richer the rich become the wealthier everyone will be. Was it P.T Barnum or a rich Republican that said, “A sucker is born every minute?” Sounds a little low but I haven’t seen any scientific studies.

Speaking of the working-class, unions today have a much smaller economic presence than they did decades ago. With unions playing a smaller economic role, the gap between worker and CEO pay was eight times larger in 2016 than in 1980. The CEO-worker retirement benefit gap is even larger than the wage gap. As of the end of 2015, just 100 CEOs had company retirement funds worth $4.7 billion — a sum equal to the entire retirement savings of the 41 percent of U.S. families with the smallest nest eggs. Workers lucky enough to have a 401(k) plan through their employer had a median balance of just $18,433. With the recent decision of the conservative Supreme Court matters are not likely to improve.

One would think that especially the working poor would be incensed, making it impossible for any Republican to be elected to office. But there is a strange phenomenon at work. The poor and the oppressed always hope, regardless of how unreasonable their hope actually is, that they will one day through luck, genius, hard work, magic, or divine providence join the oppressors. Saint Paul was indeed correct: “Money is the root of all kinds of evil.” Spiritually and morally it is the love of money, of power, and of status that is the problem for both individuals and societies and not its actual acquisition. But ahhh! “The American Dream.”

The last time I looked it up the poverty line for a family of three was a yearly income of $20,780 and $25,100 for a family of four. This roughly equals a monthly income of $1,700 and $2,100 respectively –– pun intended. The average monthly cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Oceanside California, where I have ministered the last seven years is $1,800, and that of a two bedroom $2,300. Which means neither family can afford to rent an apartment. If our poverty family of three were by some miracle able to find a place $100 cheaper and the family of four something $200 a month cheaper there would still be nothing left for food, clothes, transportation, medicine, or school supplies

I started, just now, to write something I thought humorous, but then remembered a woman with a teenage daughter who would come to Saint George Episcopal Church in Cherry Hills Village Colorado where I was the rector, begging. And it knocked the humor right out of me. She had never been wealthy but with her and her husband both working real jobs they had done okay. With time his drinking had grown worse and he became abusive. She made the decision to get out. And everything cascaded down, down, down from there. She developed a major health problem and couldn’t work. She had no insurance. One Colorado winter her car which would barely go was vandalized –– most of the windows were knocked out. She left it that way because she couldn’t afford the repair work. Begging was humiliating and so she didn’t show up at the church often regardless of her need. When she did knock on the church door she never asked for much. She would say something like, “I am sorry I have to come again, but if you could just help me with the purchase of a sanitary product so my daughter can go to school I would be very grateful.”

Both Republicans and fundamentalists, according to numerous surveys, believe the poor are poor because they are morally deficient. A rather strange conclusion for a party whose greed and criminal corruption dwarfs even that of Ulysses S. Grant, a Republican. But, I guess not so surprising for a political party or a church whose members believe God wants them to buy their pastor a $42,000,000 plane. Obviously, it is not an honest argument. It is a cruel, unholy, self-justifying fabrication

Last week the U.S. intensified its policy of violence against poor American children and families (its own children) by pulling out of the U.N. Human Rights Council. Nikki Haley, our Ambassador to the U.N., responded to a special United Nations report on poverty in America by saying: “It is patently ridiculous for the U.N. to examine poverty in America.” In saying this Nikki shows herself not to simply be ridiculous, but to be just a bad person. It is unclear from reports whether Nikki Haley is a Methodist or Sikh. Either way here are some proverbs in which anyone sincere and serious about the practice of either tradition and the distinction between good and evil might find wise guidance.

Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker,
but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.
(Proverbs 14:31)
One who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth
and one who gives gifts to the rich — both come to poverty.
(Proverbs 22:16)
A ruler who oppresses the poor
is like a driving rain that leaves no crops.
(Proverbs 28:3)

Just a couple of days after the above story broke the Unite States began threatening the United Nations and its member countries for supporting breast feeding over manufactured formula substitutes. The U.S. delegation threatened retribution on trade and military aid to Ecuador in an effort to get Ecuador to drop a resolution recognizing the importance of breast feeding for infants and working against misleading attempts to sell substitutes for a mother’s milk. It was further suggested by the United States that if the resolution were adopted funding for the World Health Organization might be cut.

Jesus’s words about giving a drink of water to a little one may take on new meaning in 21st century America. Fourteen million American households find water bills too expensive And, in the not all too distant future that number may well triple. It is estimated that water prices will increase by as much as 41 percent in the next five to ten years. That will mean nearly 41 million households, or one third of all US households, may not be able to afford water for drinking, cooking, bathing or sanitation.

Attacking the Sick and Injured
The number of Americans without health insurance increased by about 3.2 million during President Donald Trump’s first year in office. The 1.3 percentage point increase in the uninsured rate was the highest increase seen since 2008, two years before Obamacare became law. As a result of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate it is expected the number of people without health insurance will rise dramatically –– probably to 49 million uninsured persons. A total of 12.2 percent of all adults now lack health insurance, and insurance premiums are projected to be 10 percent higher than they would have been as a result of the mandate’s repeal.

The cost of providing health care in the United States is more than double the average of second place Switzerland. Of course, the Republicans would like to lower what is spent, or at least by cutting Medicare and Medicaid, shift who pays for health care more from the rich to the poor. But think about this: Medicare spent $2,000,000,000 on one drug while the manufacture paid doctors millions to promote the drug. Again, the reason for the high costs of health care in the United States is based on a simple principle: “The weak are meat, and the strong do eat.”

Perpetual War
A report by the U.S. military, obtained by the New York Times, acknowledges the U.S. is currently engaged in seven wars around the world. It has been fighting sixteen years in Afghanistan against the Taliban, the Haqqani network, Al Qaeda, and the Islamic State group. In Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya the U.S. is fighting and materially supporting regional combatants to defeat the Islamic State group. The fighting in Iraq has gone on since our attack on Saddam Hussein and his forces fifteen years ago (an illegal war of aggression according to international law). Actually, we have been bombing in Iraq for twenty-five years. “Support” is given Saudi Arabia to defeat the Houthi and Saleh-aligned factions in Yemen. The direct sale of U.S. weapons to the Saudi government has reached well over two billion dollars since that conflict began in 2015. Right now, the whole world is in mourning for the fifty-one people, forty of them children, who were killed when Saudi war planes bombed that school bus in Yemen. It is probably appropriate that America, “great and good,” has shown no grief as a nation over this vile tragedy, for American complicity would render any display of sympathy for the victims hypocritical.  It should be further noted, that not included in our list of seven wars are places like the Republic of Niger, where four American soldiers on a military mission were ambushed and killed. Even a casual reading of the most pro American history books leaves the honest reader with the awareness that America is a nation perpetually at war.

When I was a young boy my family sincerely believed that America had never been involved in a war of aggression. They believed that every war America ever fought was purely defensive. The opposite is, of course, true. America has never been involved in a war which meets the criteria established by just war theory. The closest, in terms of motivation, would be World War II, but even the Second World War was not waged according to just war principles. The atomic bomb was dropped on the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with great deliberation, as was the firebombing of Tokyo. On the night of March 9-10, 1945, what is regarded as the single most destructive bombing raid in history occurred. Sixteen square miles (41km2) of central Tokyo were annihilated, over one million people were made homeless with an estimated 100,000 civilian deaths. Drone operators now kill innocent civilians with the ease and casualness of playing a video game.

From the time of the first American colonies Europeans engaged in genocidal aggression against the Native American population, at times even engaging in germ warfare by giving them smallpox infested blankets. In 1829 President Andrew Jackson, who had killed thousands of Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks and Seminoles, proposed to Congress that all these peoples be removed from their own lands, guaranteed to them by treaty, to West of the Mississippi as a solution to the “Indian problem.” It is all somewhat simpler today. We don’t need to send an entire army. Now if they protest that they do not want a potentially environmentally devastating pipeline across their tribal lands and rivers we just call out a few armed enforcers and the bulldozers. “Treaty? Treaty?” The American government  “don’t need no stinkin’ treaty.”

In recent history the Vietnam War and both Bush wars against Iraq were based on fabricated evidence. You can look the word “fabricated” up in the dictionary but in this context it just means “lies.” The resulting death and destruction visited on Iraq was both enormous and horrifying. Even before actual combat hundreds of thousands of children under the age of five died as a result of U.S. sanctions. We have littered the land of Iraq with munitions coated with depleted uranium guaranteeing that we will continue to kill untold numbers with cancer well past the furthest horizon. Toby Keith sang at the beginning of the Iraq War:

Don’t mess with the U.S. of A.
’cause we’ll but a boot in your ass.
It’s the American way.

Yeah, and we may do it even if you don’t mess with us. Like if we decide our oil is under your ground.

Fifty-three cents of every federal discretionary dollar goes to military spending while only fifteen cents is spent on anti-poverty programs. What ordinary people simply do not get is that for the elite, for the wealthy and powerful oligarchy that controls this nation, war with its unspeakable violence, maiming and killing means enormous profits. For the people as a whole it represents financial, physical, moral, psychological, and spiritual catastrophe. That is because the rewards of war, and even the preparation for war, are private where as its costs are public and social. Historically, nations have squandered their resources on senseless wars leaving them without the means to care for their own citizens or to defend themselves against enemies. There is says, the Republican congress and their Blue Dog Democratic friends, no money to rebuild infrastructure, create a sustainable environment, educate children, insure everyone has adequate medical care, food to eat, clothes to wear or a place to live because we must dominate the whole world –– and now outer space as well. But to reiterate. It is not the rich who suffer the direct consequences but you. Empire, even an American empire, is inherently evil because it is based on greed, violence, selfishness and dominance.

In the movie “Gandhi” there is a wonderful scene in which a young Gandhi in South Africa quiets an unruly and chaotic assembly of Indian men, who are shouting they will kill any British soldier who dishonors their wives by entering their home in their absence. After quieting them Gandhi tells them he too is willing to die for this cause, but that there is no cause for which he is willing to kill. This is goodness that is greatness. There are convictions, commitments, and loves to which I have given my heart and for which I would hope to be willing to endure any suffering. But there is nothing for which I would be willing to torture another person.

During his State of the Union Address, President Georg W. Bush spoke of the horrifying torture inflicted on political prisoners under the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. Bush described the use of electric shock, burning with hot irons, acid and rape. Children were tortured, he said, to get parents to confess to crimes. “If this isn’t evil,” he concluded, “then evil has no meaning.” Yet Bush would go on to authorize, with a wink and silly grin, “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The brutal German Gestapo had a similar term, “verschärfte vernehmung” or “sharpened interrogation.” But no matter how high one piles the euphemisms or the rationalizations torture is what it remains –– an evil act inflicting hideous agony on a helpless victim and reducing the perpetrator to not only something subhuman, but to a thing that does not meet the threshold of animality.

In the early part of the U.S. War on Afghanistan and Iraq it was denied by both the military and civilian government that America was engaged in torture. In time it came to be not only acknowledged but accepted as an appropriate means of gathering information. Even the late Antonin Scalia, so idolized by conservatives as a great Supreme Court Justice, offered his personal opinion that torture was in some cases justified. And yes, I am aware he was Roman Catholic, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he was any more than “culturally” Christian. Just days ago Gina Haspel was appointed as the CIA Director. Gina was the CIA Agent who destroyed the recordings, evidence, of the torture sessions conducted by CIA interrogators, including herself. Gina, and her colleagues, should have been turned over to the Hague for investigation and possible prosecution for War Crimes. I suspect that one reason the newly elected President Barack Obama did not do so was that he knew that this could mean the eventual prosecution of Bush and Cheney for Crimes Against Humanity. This may make it sound as if America’s inhumanity to humanity, as if its enthusiastic use of torture, is a development of contemporary history, but the reality is torture has been employed across our history –– against the indigenous population, against African slaves, against the Filipino people fighting for their independence first from Spain and then the United States, and in every war before and after. The thousands of lynchings that occurred in the South were not just lynchings, but included torture, castration, and mutilation of the victims To appropriate former President George W. Bush’s own words: “If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning.”

Violence in the Streets
The United States is according to a number of indicators the most violent country among developed nations. One report concluded that Americans are seven times more likely to be murdered than people in the sixteen other industrialized countries with which it was compared in the study, and twenty times more likely to be killed by a gun. Nearly 300,000 students are physically attacked in secondary schools each month, 100,000 students carry a gun to school each year, and more than three out of four say they have been bullied. A report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds in the United States, and the equivalent of a classroom full of children die every week, more than five children a day, as the result of child abuse. This is the worst record of any other industrialized nation. Firearm deaths among U.S. children younger than fifteen years of age is nearly twelve times higher than that of children in twenty-five other industrialized countries combined. Among the twenty-five wealthiest countries in the world, the United States has the highest rate of youth homicides and suicides. Every nine seconds in the United States a woman is assaulted or beaten, and up to 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence annually.

Finally, here is a statistic I would guess that even as I write is already out of date An average of one school shooting per month (175+ total) has occurred since 1997, and more than five mass shootings per month (450+ total) since 2005. That amounts to one in every six days. The last day of school this year our grandson, a super nice, good looking, and incredibly intelligent fifteen-year-old (As Walter Brenan used to say on The Guns of Will Sonnett, “No brag just fact.”) decided, along with a friend, that the assembly presented an inviting target to any would be shooter, and so they just hid out until it was over and returned to class. Students live in fear, teachers live in fear, parents live in fear. All the while Republicans and religious conservatives resist even minor steps that might nudge America toward a culture of nonviolence.

Conservatives instill fear in the gullible and ignorant that their Second Amendment rights are about to be taken away. The Second Amendment does not, of course, guarantee every angry psychotic, or even every citizen for that matter, the right to run around with an AK47 in their pocket or hanging like an ugly necklace around their neck. If the Supreme Court, beholden to the Oligarchy (whether a U.S. or Soviet oligarchy it is no longer always easy to tell) makes such an interpretation, then the Constitution itself needs to be changed so as to make sense in the 21st Century. It is in the self-interest of Republicans to ratchet up anxiety in such matters –– it provides a distraction from the money and power to be found in cooperating with the corrupt NRA and Russia in the slaughter of our own children. A culture of violence results in a culture of fear, and in a culture of fear everything eventually crumbles.

Violence at the Borders
Concern for the integrity of national borders is most certainly a legitimate concern. I remember Anthony Kempster, a British scientist, international peace worker, and at that time President of the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship, saying over ten years ago that with the growing world population, starvation, and especially climate change the future would see mass migrations the likes of which the world has never witnessed before. If you can find a stronger motivator than hunger, thirst, and physical safety then you will have found the solution to not only the American but the global migration problem. Kempster noted that there were already, at that time, governments preparing for how to deal with the problem with military force. I was a little dismissive of Tony’s “prophecy.” But with the migration out of Africa and across the Mediterranean to Europe, and what is now happening on our southern border I am far less skeptical. The Associated Press, June 25, reported that Algeria is forcing thousands of migrants, many at gun point, out into the Sahara Desert with deadly effect –– 13,000 in the last fourteen months. As they wander dehydrated in the blistering heat they have only two hopes –– that they will either be picked up by U.N. rescue workers or find a tiny town where there is water. But large numbers have already perished in the desert waste.

If America were good it would seek to find creative ways of working with other governments to solve the problem at its source. The fact is that the U.S. is responsible for creating much of the problem to begin with The United States of America has overthrown democratically elected governments. It has backed right wing terrorist groups whose weapons say: “Made in the U.S.A.,” and followed economic and political policies that keep the people of Central and South America in the depths of fear, misery, and poverty which are the source of the present problem. Well the real source is in wicked hearts, but you get the idea. Last August, Trump held a meeting to discuss new sanctions against Venezuela. At the end of the meeting, he shocked aides and senior officials by asking, “Why can’t the U.S. just invade the country?”

Rather than seeing the migration problem, which is in many respects really a refugee problem, as a humanitarian crisis Donald Trump, the Republican party and the religious right sees it as an “infestation” problem as if all the suffering men, women, children and babies, are nothing more than cockroaches. Do not doubt this: No one who thinks of any other human being as an insect or as dirty vermin, “life unworthy of life,” “useless eaters”, or “takers” thinks any higher of you than they do of the person they are calling a cockroach. If the child in the arms of a poor Honduran woman who comes to the American door seeking sanctuary is not safe, no child held in its mother’s arms, not even yours, is safe. For the devil it is all merely a question of timing and expediency, not moral goodness.

The American War Against the Planet
In May 2010, the National Research Council concluded that “climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for, and in many cases is already affecting, “a broad range of human and natural systems.” Denial of climate change due to human activity is the Medieval equivalent of denying the earth is a sphere. Climate Change or Global Warming is not a theory, it is a fact. Congressional Representatives who deny climate change ought to be given a lie detector test, and if they pass it ought to then be given a competency hearing. I am being silly of course. Republican leaders do not really disbelieve climate change is taking place. But they have prostituted themselves to corporate lobbyists and that  requires saying things both stupid and evil. Actually you don’t really need any scientific knowledge or explanations to understand the catastrophic effects of pollution. It is simply a matter of common sense. You can only put a limited amount of feces in a finite space. Or, fundamentalist might think of it like this. In the limited space between “the dome above and the dome below” (Genesis 1:6-8), you can pump only so much poison before it kills everyone –– kind of like turning on the gas to your oven and sticking your head inside.

The risks to public health and the environment from climate change are substantial and far-reaching. Climate change will lead to more severe storms, heavier more frequent flooding, drought, and raging  wildfires – events that can cause deaths, injuries, and billions of dollars of damage to property and the nation’s infrastructure. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas pollution will leads to more frequent and intense heat waves resulting in an increased mortality rate for the poor and elderly. Growing ground-level ozone pollution enhances the possibility for  the spread of waterborne and pest-related diseases.

Other effects of Climate Change, or human pollution of the environment, include ocean acidification, sea level rise and increased storm surge, harm to agriculture, damage to forests, species extinction and injury to the ecosystem that cannot be reversed. Climate change is already leading, in certain regions of the world, to food scarcity, water shortages, disease, mass migration and violence as security concerns grow. Yet, the United States pulled out of the Paris Accord and is busy dismantling its own Environmental Protection Agency. But do not be mistaken. It is not the rich powerful who will suffer. They have the means to escape. No. They do not suffer. They inflict suffering –– on the whole planet

Chlorpyrifos, is an organophosphate pesticide sprayed on agricultural crops in places like California’s Central Valley. Symptoms of exposure include nausea, dizziness, confusion and, in the highest levels of exposure, respiratory paralysis and death. The EPA’s 2016 Revised Human Health Risk found there are no safe uses of the pesticide. The EPA was set to ban this pesticide and then suddenly reversed its decision in March 2017 under the newly appointed antienvironment EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Researchers have identified exposure to organophosphate pesticides, like chlorpyrifos as a serious health threat. In 2011, three studies found a link between levels of prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides and lower IQ in the children at the age of 7, in both rural and urban settings. A 2014 study from the UC Davis MIND Institute found that pregnant women who lived near fields where organophosphate pesticides were sprayed saw an elevated risk of their children being born on the autism spectrum. Research also indicates a link between parents who are exposed to high levels to pesticides, for example in farm workers, and increased rates of cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma, both in the parent and their children. Exposure can also occur through dust or residue that can blow into homes and schools near farm fields, as well as residue on produce. One study noted that more than half a million pounds of pesticides were applied within a quarter mile of public schools in the 15 counties with the most agricultural pesticide use; more than 118,000 students attended the schools within a quarter mile of the highest levels of pesticide application. Hispanic children were significantly more likely than their white peers to attend schools where exposure was higher.

A favorite counter argument of the wealthy corporate farmers in the Delano, CA area was that the abnormally high rate of cancer in the poor children there could have nothing to do with the use of pesticides since their own children breathed the same air and they would never expose their children to something they knew to be harmful. The flaw in their logic was that their children lived in airconditioned home where the air was filtered, showered and shampooed in clean water every day, and went to schools and played in playgrounds of less exposure.

Polluting industries have put our waters in great jeopardy. They’ve been pushing to weaken the Clean Water Act ever since it first passed more than 40 years ago. After spending millions of dollars on lobbyists and lawyers, they carved loopholes in the law that have left more than half of America’s streams open to pollution.

The Western Creed
In 1983 Charles T. Tart published what he called “The Western Creed.” It represents, contrary to all the vociferous denials, the guiding principles by which most Americans live. It reads as follows.

I believe in the material universe as the only and ultimate reality, a universe controlled by fixed physical laws and blind chance.
I affirm that the universe has no creator, no objective purpose, and no objective meaning or destiny.
I maintain that all ideas about God or gods, supernatural beings, prophets and saviors, or other nonphysical beings or forces are superstitions and delusions. Life and consciousness are totally identical to physical processes, and arose from chance interactions of blind physical forces. Like the rest of life, my life and consciousness have no objective purpose, meaning, or destiny.
I believe that all judgements, values, and moralities, whether my own or others’, are subjective, arising solely from biological determinants, personal history, and chance. Free will is an illusion. Therefore, the most rational values I can personally live by must be based on the knowledge that for me what pleases me is Good, what pains me is Bad. Those who please me or help me avoid pain are my friends; those who pain me or keep me from my pleasures are my enemies. Rationality requires that friends and enemies be used in ways that maximize my pleasure and minimize my pain.
I affirm that churches have no real use other than social support; that there are no objective sins to commit or be forgiven for; that there is no retribution for sin or reward for virtue other than that which I can arrange, directly or through others. Virtue for me is getting what I want without being caught and punished by others.
I maintain that the death of the body is the death of the mind. There is no afterlife, and all hope for such is nonsense.

Tart’s Western Creed is ugly and evil. It could be thought of as The Creed of the American Dream. No nation where people live believing, whether the belief is acknowledged or unacknowledged, that other human beings are to be used to maximize personal pleasure, power, status, or wealth can be considered good. The blatant racism, corruption, violence, selfish ambition, criminality, and inhumanity of Donald Trump and his ilk are not Christian virtues.

Symptoms of Evil
M. Scott Peck, the well-known psychiatrist and popular author, wrote a helpful book on the nature of evil as psychological pathology. Truly evil people Peck argued in his book, People of the Lie, are not usually to be found in prisons and jails. They are most often encountered among legislatures, government officials, clergy, the helping professions and church leaders. They are after all people of deception, “people of the lie,” and it is therefore important to them to look good. However, Peck said, if one looks at the history of such a person, what will be discovered is a trail of damaged and destroyed human lives. He thought it important for the progress of psychology, philosophy, and theology, as well as the good of society as a whole, to develop an understanding of evil as a discreet pathology.

Evil, Peck thought, as a discreet diagnostic category includes the same abdication of responsibility found in the other character or personality disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual but it is further distinguished by the following criteria:

1) a personal history or life-pattern of behavior which is harmful, destructive and even fatal to   others, especially the vulnerable, physically, intellectually, psychologically, or spiritually.
2) consistent scapegoating behavior which can be either overt or quite subtle.
3) excessive intolerance to criticism, and other forms of narcissistic injury.
4) pronounced concern with a public image and self-image of respectability, contributing to a certain stability of life-style but also to pretentiousness and denial of hateful feelings or vengeful motives,
5) intellectual deviousness, with an increased likelihood of mild schizophrenic like disturbance of thinking at times of distress.

With considerable ease one can apply these criteria to Donald Trump, to those he has gathered around him, and to the evangelical leaders who have aligned themselves with him (Jerry Falwell and Liberty University is even making a morally revolting propaganda film, “The Trump Prophecy”) but that is not the point here. The point is that Trump and his henchmen and henchwomen (to be politically correct) have come to power by the will of the American people. In one way or another we are all complicit. And so, I repeat, America as a nation is neither good nor great.

Wishing for Fake News
I have been promising the people of St. Auggie’s Parish that I world complete and post this blog for several weeks now. One of the main reasons I have not done so is that I have been unable to keep up with the torrent of real, tangible unmitigated evil reported night and day. For instance, moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to solidify the support of both fundamentalists, with their bizarre eschatology, and the American Jewish community for the Republican Party. Israel is, I guess according to those in power (Trump, Pence, the Republican Freedom Caucus and the Jewish Republican Conference) kind of like Russia in that it is one of our closest allies. It is for sure that Israel like Russia is a brutal, ruthless, oppressive regime.The only people in the world who either don’t seem to know that or care are  American fundamentalist, Republicans, and the Israelis. Then I see Sacha Cohen, who has made a career out of punking celebrities and stupid ass politicians, has a new show in which he is able to get well known Republican leaders to endorse the arming of school children age twelve down to four. My Mama used to ask when someone had said or done something really egregious, “Well what on earth ever possessed them to say such a thing?” Something pretty bad would have to possess your mind and the heart of your political party to say what Cohen got these Republicans to say. The title of Cohen’s new show is “Who Is America?” A pertinent question indeed. This last Tuesday Trump again slashed funding that helps people sign up for Obamacare. The Affordable Care Act, brags Trump and the conservatives is “now essentially dead.” Yes. Cohen’s question is a good one: “Who is America?” Who is America that it can deny the sick life sustaining medical care without compunction? In the face of not only an American but a global refugee crisis, it has been pointed out by those who actually understand his teachings that Jesus was himself a refuge –– fleeing from Israel into Egypt in the arms of Mary and Joseph in order to escape the massacre of the innocents by the diabolical King Herod. But Paula White, a preacher of the so called “prosperity gospel,” which in reality is no gospel, and supporter of Trump, argued last week that no comparison can be made between modern refugees and Jesus because, although Jesus was a refugee he didn’t do anything illegal. How asinine! And how wicked –– but maybe no more so than Paula’s scamming men and women out of the money that is their living. It is obviously true that Jesus did nothing illegal, but then no child under the age of two does anything illegal. Whether his parents did anything illegal or not we don’t know Paula, because we don’t know every detail of the story or ancient Egyptian immigration law. Furthermore, when mothers and fathers show up at the border, our American border, seeking asylum they are not doing anything illegal. Paula being more than a little ignorant of Christian Scripture and an obscurantist of the wealthy “religious” right, is not aware that more to the point than the flight into Egypt by Jesus, Mary and Joseph is the flight out of Egypt by the ancestors of Jesus hundreds of years earlier. From their own escape from suffering and oppression, from their own experience as homeless refugees they should have, says Moses instructing them in the way of God, learned something of compassion and kindness. Therefore, the law of God is this, says Moses: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21). And what are we to say of Jesus’s identification from birth to death on the cross with the poor, the vulnerable, the hungry, the sick, the suffering the oppressed, and the outcasts. None are so blind as those who have eyes but will not look, much less see. It’s enough to make you wish news of all the evil in our country was fake news.

As for being great, whether America is great depends on what one means by “greatness.” If by “greatness” is meant the power of one nation to overthrow the legitimate government of another, to intimidate, to impoverish, to extort, to blow someone to hell without fear of reprisal, then America is indeed great in the sense of being powerful –– just as Mordor, dark, desolate and dead, is powerful. Actually, China is probably now the greatest military and economic power in the world. If by “greatness,” however, is meant responsiveness to human need, then America’s response to the devastation in Europe and Japan after World War II was a sign of greatness, but alas those days are rapidly disappearing in the rearview mirror of rapidly accelerating time. The question for America is not how it can remain the most powerful nation in the world in perpetuity, for that path leads, as historically it always has for every empire, to fatigue, exhaustion, and complete collapse. The humbler question of how America can simply contribute to peace, justice, and the well being of humanity in all it says and does is the better question.

Do you remember how The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, President Obama’s pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago’s South Side, said that the United States had brought 911 on itself through its own terrorists acts around the world and the injustices perpetrated on its own people? And that blacks and the poor shouldn’t therefore sing “God Bless America,” but rather “God dam America?” I have been thinking about that. To be “damned” suggests something, or someone, has been condemned or is deserving of condemnation. Certainly, evil needs to be resisted and condemned. Not rationalized and praised as virtue. Love of country cannot mean there is no accountability for national sins, for cruelty, and unmitigated mendacity. Yet, Christian resistance begins and lies along the lines of nonviolence, courage, purity of heart, the recognition of one’s own complicity in the ills of the nation, and soulful repentance. To be Christian is to be profoundly committed to the triumph of justice, not to the sort of justice in which someone suffers for the damage they have done or the hurt they have caused, but justice as a pervasive and transformative sense of mutual compassion and energetic caring –– that spiritual, I would say divine, power that alone can redeem the soul of an individual or a culture.

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