May 4, 2015

May 4, 2015: Commitment to Folly, Experience Powerless to Instruct, In all the Papers


 
“That no instruction should have been drawn from constant and adverse experience; that the same confidence should have repeatedly grown from the same failures”

          ------Edward Gibbon, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”

As noted in the previous post, Gibbon’s observations concerning Europe’s persistent commitment to failure and folly reveal a truly troubling aspect of human nature.  The internal logic governing every conflict in which sacrifice must be vindicated by more sacrifice quickly assumes command of the commanders.  The conflict in short order assumes its own justification often pushing the conflict past the ‘sublime’ into the ‘ridiculous’, conflicts that can transcend years, decades, even centuries.  What is remarkable is that so little instruction is drawn from the experience.  Experience, it appears, does not teach; lessons go unlearned.

A few brief recent examples may be instructive concerning the changing nature of war and the lessons unlearned.  The American Civil War was a bloody affair, killing nearly 600,000 men as a result of poor sanitation and treatment of wounds, but also because the tactics of war were not equal to the innovations in weapons and armament.  With the introduction of the mini-ball and later the repeating rifle weapons became much deadlier at longer ranges producing horrendous casualties whenever a general ordered a frontal assault on an entrenched defensive position.  The Federals suffered great loss at Fredericksburg, Lee and his Confederates were to do the same a few months later at Gettysburg.  Yet as late as 1864 we find General Sherman making just such an assault at Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia with the wholly predictable results. 

One would think that lessons would be learned.  But even though the European powers had observers on both sides of the line during the American Civil War, as well as the British engagements in the Boer conflict in South Africa later in the century, the lessons went unheeded.  Accordingly throughout the First World War the commanding Generals could think of no better strategy than to amass thousands of men and have them walk in tight formations into the teeth of machine gun fire.  One would assume that one or two encounters would be sufficient to teach a lesson that should have been learned decades earlier by simple observation.  Experience, it appears, proved powerless to instruct, and the world was left to witness attack after attack for four long years.  At the Battle of the Somme alone the British suffered 60,000 casualties on the first day, but the battle raged on for another two months.  Repeatedly employing the same tactics both sides suffered losses of over a million men before it was over, with very little ground gained or lost.  As late as 1917 at Ypres, the British force advanced again this time gaining only a few miles at a cost of a quarter of a million men before they were driven back.  In the end it wasn’t the military that found a solution but the civilian leadership that demanded the introduction of tanks and mortars in a last ditch effort to break the stalemate.  Such is the folly of war.

April 30 marked the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon.  From the beginning of the recent conflicts in the Middle East we have been assured by our leadership, citing the examples of Algeria and Viet Nam, that we will win these ‘wars’ against an ever growing insurgency throughout the region.  From Afghanistan to Iraq to Yemen and Syria the Middle East is exploding before our very eyes as the insurgent forces gather strength.  Still we employ many of the same tactics, losing in the bargain the hearts and minds of those in the region.  Not only have we failed to learn the military lessons, but we failed to learn the more important historical lesson: that as is in the case of the Crusades so it was with Algeria and Viet Nam.  We lost those conflicts, it was in all the papers. Experience has proven powerless to instruct.

 

 

May 2, 2015

May 2, 2015: The Dogs of War, Died in Vain, Ends of Innocence


 
Amidst his recounting the Crusades, Edward Gibbon also had this to say by way of preliminary summary:

   “The enthusiasm of the first crusade is a natural and simple event, while hope was fresh, danger untried, and enterprise congenial to the spirit of the times.  But the obstinate perseverance of Europe may indeed excite our pity and admiration; that no instruction should have been drawn from constant and adverse experience; that the same confidence should have repeatedly grown from the same failures; that six succeeding generations should have rushed headlong down the precipice that was open before them; and that men of every condition should have staked their public and private fortunes on the desperate adventure of possessing or recovering a tomb-stone two thousand miles from their country.  In a period of two centuries after the council of Clermont, each spring and summer produced a new emigration of pilgrim warriors for the defence of the Holy Land; but the seven great armaments or crusades were excited by some impending or recent calamity; the nations were moved by the authority of their pontiffs, and the example of their kings; their zeal was kindled, and their reason was silenced, by the voice of their holy orators…” (1)

Before it was over the flower of Europe had died on the foreign sands of Arabia.  In the end, with nothing left, Europe sent its children in the famous, or infamous, ‘children’s crusade’ on the dubious assumption that innocence itself would be the savior of the cause. So unhinged and so divorced from reason had society become after decades of stress and sacrifice.

 Rather than strengthening the social bonds that held medieval society together, the conflict only served to depopulate the region, raising the working wages and loosening the feudal bonds. A process that would lead, by degrees to the ‘freeing of labor and capital’ and introduce the modern liberal democratic state as well as a capitalist and quasi-capitalist economy.   Additionally,  with the eventual loss of the Holy Land and the resulting plague that the Crusaders brought back with them, the ties between the people and the Holy See began to fray; a process that once begun would prove inexorable and end in the Protestant Reformation.

“That we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain;” (2) Abraham Lincoln intoned at Gettysburg, for once loosed the ‘dogs of war’ become a force unto themselves, a force to be reckoned with, a force that consumes not only the adversary ,but themselves, and perhaps their masters as well.  Those that gave their ‘last full measure of devotion’ to the cause must be vindicated and the thought that they have, in fact, perished for nothing is repugnant to every patriot. An internal logic emerges in which the war must go on in order to justify the sacrifices; with the result that the conflict becomes its own justification. 

The problem is that rarely does war present us with victory on all sides, and often victory even eludes the victors.  We are presently honoring the centennial of the “Great War”, fought in the killing fields of Flanders, Verdun and the Somme, with a parallel struggle waged in the trenches of Eastern Europe. Two armed camps waged relentless war upon each other for four long years, killing approximately 16 million people and introducing a world-wide epidemic that emerged from the trenches killing an additional 18 million souls.  The war originated from a need to ‘punish’ a nascent insurgency my a nationalist movement called the ‘black hand’, responsible it was said, for the assassination of the heir to the throne of the Austria-Hungarian empire.  By punishing a people, instead of the individuals responsible, the actions of the empire evoked a response from the Russians who had strong cultural ties with Serbia.  Once the Russians entered the fray, a system of treaty alliances brought the other world powers into the contest resulting in the tragedy that was to define the 20th century.  Before it was over Europe had been bled white, and the empires of Austria-Hungary, Russia, Germany and the Ottoman Turks were no more. 

Barbara Tuchman (3) and others have made careers of documenting the follies of war.  One pattern emerges very clear, however, and that is that the ends of the ‘war’ however and whenever fought almost never resembles the purposes for which the conflict was begun in the first place.  In the end a war presents a very different face than when it began and the longer it goes on the greater the variance between what one imagined a resort to arms would accomplish at the beginning and the place in which one finds one’s self at its conclusion.  One looks in vain for an example of a war that ended accomplishing only the declared intentions at the beginning.  The “War of Jenkins Ear” perhaps, but even that unlikely conflict was subsumed by the later “War of Austrian Succession” (4).  No one thought that the American Civil War would last as long as it did and no one, least of all the Confederates would have imagined a national conscription, a national currency, and an emerging national army. (5)  Similarly, no one—least of all the intellectually challenged European elite—could have imagined the war bringing an end to their respective monarchies and empires.  But even Wilson was not immune to the vicitudes of war.  Declaring the conflict a ‘war to end all wars’, the ‘Great War’ served only to lay the groundwork for an even more terrible future conflict after a decent interval in which Europe would be allowed to produce another generation of cannon fodder. 

Similarly the end of the Second World War brought with it uncertain resolutions.  The war began in defense of the territorial integrity of Poland and ended with that country firmly under the Soviet yoke.  In the bargain Britain lost her empire and Europe was once again reduced to ashes.  Finally, at the end of the ‘cold war’, Germany was re-united.  While some things were accomplished, the new world economic order negotiated at Bretton Woods, (6) for example, the war served to shift the locus of world power from Europe to a bi-polar configuration between the United States and the Soviet Union, certainly not an outcome contemplated by any of the parties beginning the conflict.

I raise these subjects because one George W. Bush has recently joined his Vice President in roundly criticizing President Obama’s handling of the conflict in Iraq, calling the president na├»ve and accusing him of creating ISIL.  Conveniently forgetting that ‘Ol Two-Cows’ and the fools that surrounded him had promised that we would be ‘welcomed as liberators’ with ‘flowers in the streets’, and that we would establish a democratic regime to introduce the fruits of western civilization to this last bastion of resistance, Bush went about nearly unchallenged in his indictment of the current occupant of the oval office. 

It was George, of course, who famously used the term ‘Crusade’ when the conflict first began, being as innocent of the historical record as the children who set off for Jerusalem all those years ago.  It was George who announced the intended purposes for this conflict not understanding the nature of the ‘dogs of war’ that once loosed they tend to devour everything, even their own.

_______________

1.Gibbon, Edward. "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." Vol. VI, methuen & Co. LTD, London 1912. AMS Press, New York.  Pg. 345


3.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_W._Tuchman

4.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_of_Jenkins%27_Ear

5. Formerly while there was a national ‘dollar’, most currencies were printed by state chartered banks, soldiers were conscripted by the several states and the resulting military units were organized under the banner of each state.  Hence the Michigan 21st Infantry, for example.  By the end of the war the country was seeing its first military units listed under the U.S. heading.  The same was true in the Confederacy which, in fact, introduced national conscription before the Union did, as it did national currency.  In the end Jefferson Davis was to lament that if the Confederacy died of anything it was ‘states rights’.  The demands of war trump all else.

6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bretton_Woods_Conference

 

 

 

 

May 1, 2015

May 1, 2015: The Republic of Heaven, Laugh With the Sinners, Invisible Man


 
“I don’t believe in the Kingdom of heaven; I believe in the Republic of Heaven”

                                    -----from the ‘Quotations of Chairman Joe’

Several years ago I was working at a facility that builds railroad cars.  Working on a third shift security detail, one finds that one has a lot of time on one’s hands.  Accordingly, one of my co-workers, a man named Robert, and I would frequently engage in conversations ranging across the spectrum from current events, to politics, to philosophy and religion.  A devoutly religious man, Robert asked me in the course of one of the conversations: “I believe in the kingdom of heaven, so do you, don’t you?”

“No, I don’t”, I replied.

“What DO you believe in then?” he asked incredulously.

“I don’t believe in the Kingdom of Heaven, I believe in the Republic of Heaven”, said I, an answer that evoked a nervous laugh from my companion.  “In the modern age how could it be otherwise?” I continued, “The idea of a kingdom violates modern sensibilities, it rings hollow in the modern ear”.

“But the Bible”, protested Robert.

“Yes, the Bible,” said I, “and whose version are we talking about?”

“The King James version”, said he.

“A book sanctioned by a king…case closed.  That heaven should be described therein seems a bit self-serving don’t you think coming as it did at the dawn of the age of ‘Divine Right’. The monarch is claiming his legitimacy as divinely ordained and the confusion becomes complete.  No, to the modern era in which nearly every government on the face of the earth from constitutional monarchies and authoritarian regimes to parliamentary democracies to federations call themselves ‘republics’, or ‘democratic republics’.  In the modern age how could paradise be seen as otherwise?”

I was only being half facetious in my reply, for I had been given a glimpse of paradise among the ‘elect’ in parochial school; the prospect of spending ‘eternity’ with these people...

I’d rather laugh with the sinners

Than cry with the saints

The sinners are much more fun”    ----Billy Joel “Only the Good Die Young”

Jimmy Carter was quite right to sever his ties with the Southern Baptist Convention over the church’s positions on women’s rights and the place of women in human society.  There are other equally compelling reasons, I was to learn under the tutelage of my schoolmasters, including the war against natural history, reason and science and, at times, the contemporary historical record itself. There are a lot of counterproductive lessons taught in the American Madrasa, not the least is a sense of worthlessness (see Luther’s Small Catechism); but it was the overriding blind adherence to ‘doctrinal authority’ and the treacherous undercurrents of resulting intolerance that was most unsettling.  I entered this institution a bright, wide-eyed, confident and curious young lad, with a voracious appetite for learning. I emerged from the administrations of my parochial tutors timid, withdrawn, and badly prepared for what lay ahead. 

Accordingly I was assigned to the industrial arts classes upon entering the public school system, complete with courses in “General Math” instead of algebra.  During my first year in the Grand Haven public school system I was given the battery of aptitude and knowledge tests known then as the ‘Iowa Tests’.  Sometime late in my freshman year in high school I was called into the counselor’s office and told that they were changing my curriculum.  Over the course of the next three years I would take algebra and geometry, English literature and other advanced courses but the damage had been done.  The requisite background in mathematics simply wasn’t there, and there was no time to pass through the required classes in time to take calculus, physics, or chemistry.  I could do what I could to get as much out of the experience as time would allow, but I decided to study history and government given that I was more prepared in those fields and wouldn’t lag so far behind.    

As a sophomore in High School I found myself in Mrs. Madigan’s world history class.  Timid and withdrawn I found myself singled out as Mrs. Madigan would read my exam essays (yes 75% of my exams were essays) to the class, a practice my instructors would repeat in college and graduate school.  I could write, but I couldn’t speak having spent 9 long formative years doing my level best to be the ‘invisible man’. So began my journey that led me down the path of historical research and inquiry.

In order to recover the boy left behind, I found it necessary to likewise sever my ties with mother church; for I am a Camfield and a Kaye, and the sounds of the ‘farm’ beckon me. (1)  Accordingly, I have left the not-so-nurturing arms of mother church for it is no place for a wide-eyed, confident and curious young lad. Nor is it a refuge for an intellectual bohemian; for the wanderer and his shadow.
_______

1. See previous posts “November 15, 2010: Northwest of Custer, The Farm, Damn Democrats” and “November 5, 2011: Return to Custer, A Word About the Word, Pigs Breakfast”

 

 

 

 

 

Apr 29, 2015

April 29, 2015: Epitaph, Medieval Portal, In The Hands of Fools


"The wall on which the prophets wrote
Is cracking at the seams.
Upon the instruments of death
The sunlight brightly gleams.
When every man is torn apart
With nightmares and with dreams,
Will no one lay the laurel wreath
When silence drowns the screams."
(1)

    ----King Crimson "Epitaph" from the album "The Court of the Crimson King"

The lessons taught were most assuredly wrong.(2) The American Madrasa, the Christian version of same as practiced here in the United States, teaches a select history. The Crusades, for instance, were venerated as is, for some unknown reason, the works of the historian Gibbon. Reading Gibbon’s "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" I discovered that not only does Gibbon NOT say that the empire collapsed because the people had strayed from their newly established Christianity; but it was in part because of the adoption of the new religion and the resulting loss of the martial spirit that the empire declined. Moreover, his account of the later Crusades were a marked contrast from the version presented to us by our intrepid schoolmasters. Indeed the Crusades were an act of remarkable barbarity; not on the part of the Muslims, (Saracens as they were then known) but on the part of the Christians themselves.

Gibbon had this to say about the conquest of Jerusalem by the Crusaders. "In the pillage of public and private wealth, the adventurers had agreed to respect the exclusive property of the first occupant; and the great mosque, seventy lamps and massy vases of gold and silver, rewarded the diligence, and displayed the generosity of Tancred. A bloody sacrifice was offered by his mistaken votaries to the God of the Christians; resistance might provoke, but neither age nor sex could mollify, their implacable rage; they indulged themselves three days in a promiscuous massacre; and the infection of the dead bodies produced an epidemic disease. After seventy thousand Moslems had been put to the sword, and the harmless Jews had been burnt in their synagogue, they could still reserve a multitude of captives whom interest or lassitude persuaded them to spare. Of these savage heroes of the cross, Tancred alone betrayed some sentiments of compassion; yet we may praise the more selfish lenity of Raymond, who granted a capitulation and safe-conduct to the garrison of the Citadel." (3)

This is but a sample of the atrocities committed during the course of the seven crusades yet we are led to believe that these ‘savage heroes of the cross’ who were guilty of everything from pogroms against the Jews as they made their way East toward Palestine, to roasting and eating young children, to wholesale slaughter, were champions of righteousness. Clearly the man at the head of the class had not read his Gibbon nor, for that matter, much else. When my headmasters moved on to ‘higher’ callings lessons were hardly learned. The name given to our sports teams went from the ‘Royals’ to, I was later to discover, the ‘Crusaders’.

"And you don’t count the dead
when God’s on your side"
-----Bob Dylan "With God on our Side"
Every education is an abbreviation of sorts of the long collective memory. Part of this is by necessity for one cannot, for instance, review every book ever written. But some of it is by design, intentional, and every institution does it. From omitting inconvenient truth to downright falsification a version of history emerges that at some point reaches a certain common denominator defined as our "collective misunderstandings" or, as Voltaire so succinctly put it "the lie commonly agreed upon". And if your instructor hasn’t done his homework, hasn’t brought a measure of curiosity to his profession and is, in effect, an intellectual slacker you won’t get exposed to much more than the standard fare. 

The public schools hew pretty much to the standard fare, especially teachers of History and Social Studies for they tend to be the coaches of the sports teams and that is their true interest in life. Accordingly they work to stay the proverbial one chapter ahead of the student. The parochial schools, however, present us with an entirely different beast.

At base, religious doctrine teaches that man in inherently flawed and evil. It follows from this that nothing human can be trusted, particularly that attribute that best separates him from the beast in the field: reason. By this ‘logic’ it follows that faith always trumps reason, and because this is so reason and its handmaiden science are approached with the utmost suspicion. Accordingly any scientific ‘theory’ this side of gravity itself is viewed as a mere intellectual curiosity at best, or at worst a downright assault on the revealed word of god. Increasingly confronted by inconvenient truth, the parochial retrenches finally presenting Darwin and Einstein to the class between clenched teeth explaining that we need to know these things only because we will be expected to know them when we go on to later public instruction. So badly do the parochial schools function as transmitters of science and natural history that the Grand Rapids, Michigan, public schools at one time were providing the area parochial schools with math and science teachers; a practice later ended by a Supreme Court ruling that such a practice violated the separation of church and state. The experiment was, however, an albeit brief admission of the incapacity of these institutions to provide instruction in these fields. In my particular case, nearly a third of the day was consumed in Bible instruction, memorization, and recitation. Math instruction, such as it was, lagged far behind. Science consisted mostly in the study of birds, and then relegated to only a couple of hours a week. So bad was it that when instructed to present a science ‘experiment’ to the class, we were at a loss, we had no idea where to turn, where to begin. One poor soul, presented the class with a standard highway road map. The inference is quite clear, one is led to the emerging technological and informational age through a medieval portal; as the ‘Generation of Swine’ emerged into the dawn of adulthood through the doors of a "New Frontier".

"Between the iron gates of fate
The seeds of time were sown
And watered by the deeds of those
Who know and who are known.
Knowledge is a deadly friend
If no one sets the rules.
The fate of all mankind I see
Is in the hands of fools."
(1)

Knowledge, like technology and indeed government is fundamentally amoral. It can be used for moral or immoral purposes. It can save lives or it can kill millions. It can save our environment or it can lay waste the planet. It is what we make of it. There is a condition in every society that sociologists call ‘cultural lag’; a condition whereby the society in question lags behind technological and cultural evolution. How far the society lags behind depends upon how well-versed and prepared it is to apprehend and, it is hoped, direct the advances of knowledge and technology. We are a nation and a society that functions under an 18th century political constitution, increasingly heeds the siren call of 19th century economics, and has yet to learn the awful lessons of the great wars of the last century. To wrap our arms about the complexities of the issues, to meet the environmental, economic, political and technological challenges before us, simply cannot be done by a people lost in space and in time. As long as we elect to put these people at the head of the class our fate is in the hands of fools.

I have left Act I for involution and, Act II, mired in complexity....

"Confusion will be my epitaph.
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it we can all sit back and laugh.
But I fear tomorrow I'll be crying,"


As I speak the old pubic elementary school that was closed two years ago is being re-opened by something called the "Covenant Academy". Public dollars turned to vouchers transforming a public facility into another American Madrasa. Some of the billion or so dollars that the state is now investing in these institutions.

"Yes, I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying".... (1)

____________

1. King Crimson, "Epitaph" from the album "The Court of the Crimson King" http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/kingcrimson/epitaph.html

2. See posting dated September 20, 2014 for another account on the shortcomings of parochial education.

3. See Gibbon, Edward. "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." Vol. VI, methuen & Co. LTD, London 1912. AMS Press, New York. Pages 323-324.

Apr 27, 2015

April 27, 2015: The One and Only Billy Shears, Suffer the Little Children, American Madrasa


Oh no, I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough.

"So let me introduce to you
The one and only Billy Shears"

----The Beatles "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band"(1)

"Why didn’t you tell me?" Johnny’s dad, changing the subject, drew me up short in the course of the conversation.

"Tell you about what?", I asked quizzically.

"Tell me about that school", was his reply. " I was an elder at the church and I could have done something about it." Plaintively, he repeated the question "Why didn’t you tell me?"

I had met his son Johnny on the first day of class in second grade. It was Johnny’s first day at St. John’s Lutheran and, being a sensitive young lad, he was already feeling the tension. He had been assigned a seat at a desk just behind mine in Miss Kasten’s class and, since I had some experience surviving in the place, he immediately latched on to me and we became fast friends. It was a friendship that has survived the decades. A friendship that has lasted through elementary school, high school, college and into adulthood. Having moved, in the late 50's, into his neighborhood, we spent a lot of time together. I came to know his parents and family. Johnny’s parents, Herb and Fran, were well into middle age when he arrived, appearing to my young mind like grandparents. Judgmental, as all parents are, but wise. Herb was a foreman at the old Story and Clark piano factory and, given his age and his position, presented a middle class household in a working class neighborhood. His home was, to my eyes, a relatively secure place to be. The Hierholzers were like surrogate parents, Herb even allowed us to build a tree house in a large maple tree in the back yard. It was an ambitious edifice, complete with cantilevered porches extending out into mid-air, cabinets, windows and furniture. Most of my carpentry skills, skills that I would later put to good use, were honed on that project. Years later Herb would smile as he related the sound of that aging structure twisting loudly in the wind when they opened the windows on summer nights to let in the fresh air. It is not often that parents make such sacrifices for their son and his friends. In early 1986, I returned to the old neighborhood to introduce my 3 month old daughter and, while showing off my little bundle of joy, Herb was moved to hauntingly ask "Why didn’t you tell me"?

I first heard of Billy Scheer in the summer of 1954, just prior to entering Kindergarten. In the spring of that year, my father had uprooted the family and, finding employment in the Muskegon area, had moved us from Ludington some 75 miles down the coast to Grand Haven, Michigan. Ripped from the family ‘compound’ on seventh street where we had been living with my great-grandmother, with my grandparents living directly across the street, my great uncle next door and a great aunt several doors down at the end of the block, I found myself on newly ‘developing’ caul-de-sac surrounded mostly by woods but with a few newly constructed homes at the end of the street overlooking Potowatamie Bayou near the Grand River about five miles southeast of the city. I quickly made friends with a couple of boys my age that lived caddy corner across the end of the street right on the water. Leslie Rice became my first real friend in my newly arrived home. Over the course of the ensuing months it was determined that I would be enrolled in the Lutheran School. My family were mostly composed of Catholics and Lutherans and since we had attended a Lutheran Church, by the same name, in Ludington it was quite natural that I would find myself about to enroll in the local Lutheran School. Leslie, it transpired, was also about to go to the same school, joining his older brother. While the adults talked about the arrangements, Leslie, his brother and I, would play in the woods. It was his brother who first presented to my mind the ominous spectre of J. William Scheer, then principal of St. John’s Lutheran School. While off in the woods, far from the earshot of the adults, Leslie’s brother told us about the terrors we were about to encounter. I remember relating these tales to my mother later that summer but she dismissed them as childhood exaggerations and told me I would be just fine. I wasn’t.

I could sense it almost from the first day of class. There was a perpetual tension in the building and I was soon given to understand that it was the better part of wisdom to not be heard or seen and that, by all means, avoid the principal. My earliest memories consist of my first grade class being interrupted as a group of 8th grade boys, representing the principal (who taught the upper classes) barged into the classroom and demanded that all us boys go into the restroom. There we were lined up, slapped around a bit, and interrogated as to who was responsible for plugging up the toilets, as if a first grader would do such a thing. Here was an early example of the terror. Young boys, no more than 12 or 13 taking control from an adult of a classroom. Capricious and arbitrary authority. There was much more of the same. I remember kids, exclusively boys were targeted, being slapped around regularly. Big Bob Hienz, nearly 6 ft tall in seventh grade being slapped by a male teacher along side the head, with his glasses flying across the floor as he walked out of the cafeteria, no one seemed to have an explanation as to why. Then there was the time in sixth grade when we were given time to read. We were all sitting properly at our desks reading silently when suddenly William Scheer walked up behind his son Scott and hit him so hard across the back of his head that he knocked him unto the floor. The explanation given to the class was that he wasn’t reading ‘fast enough’.

The worst of it, as I recall, came in third grade. We had just come in from noon recess and as I moved to take my seat Jackie Nelson and a couple of the other girls were whispering ominously that something shocking and terrible was about to take place. Up before the class was Ernie Melcher, crying and shaking. It had been clear that the authorities had been working him over during recess. Apparently poor Ernie had taken a schoolmate’s model airplane motor, a transgression that called for corporal punishment. Crying and shaking like a leaf, Ernie apologized to his classmate and begged for forgiveness. Notwithstanding it was announced that just punishment was in order and he was instructed to lay across a desk in the front of the class. The teacher, our third grade teacher, who was in his mid thirties at the time with huge biceps, took off is belt and proceeded to beat poor Ernie mercilessly, hitting him so hard that when finished the instructor’s hair was all awry. To this day, I can still hear the screams. "Let that be a lesson", he said as he put his belt back on, "anyone who sins like this will get the same medicine". I looked about the room, every child’s face was ashen white with expressions betraying fear and terror. Ernie was led from the classroom never to be seen again. Word was that he was expelled, which could have been done without the abuse. I prefer to think that his mother, seeing the evidence of his beating had the good sense to get him the hell out of there before permanent damage was done to his body.

Lesson? Medicine? The ‘lessons’ I learned was that authority is capricious and arbitrary and not to be trusted. The ‘medicine’, such as it was, was fit for neither body or soul, for the actions taken and sanctioned by the adults in the room left every child in that classroom emotionally scarred. Many of my classmates, later in life, were to have police records, all of us would have issues with authority; for this is what happens when adults are out of control.

"Suffer the little children to come unto me" says the Bible, along with "Spare the rod and spoil the child". Such sanctions, in a fundamentalist setting, are apt to be taken, as everything else, quite literally. Punishment was swift and often, ranging from slapping to being struck with rulers on the hands; wooden rulers with metal edges. I speak here from personal experience. The hand would sting, often both hands depending on the number of strikes, for hours. The numbness would not go away until well after I had returned home from school. Protesting to my mother, her reply was that "you must have deserved it". Richie Ohlendorf and I had been playing during class by gathering condensation off the windows and rubbing the water into each other’s faces. There was the pulling of hair, ears, and the good old standby of standing before the class and holding heavy dictionaries until your arms felt like they were about to fall off and woe to the young lad who let one drop.

Such was the regimen at good ‘Ol St. John’s during the tenure of William Scheer. So arrogant were the authorities that Johnny himself was struck on the side of his head and knocked into the isle, then taken down to the principal’s office. You see he had to go to the bathroom and, the place being what it was, he didn’t want to draw attention to himself. Finally, after about an hour he had trouble holding it, and began to shake at his desk. The teacher–the same one who had beat Ernie–asked him what he was doing. He said he had to go to the bathroom and, nervous and anxious, stuck his tongue out. One has a hard time acting appropriately when one is young in an environment like this. The teacher, in a rage, moved quickly down the isle and hit Johnny so hard on the side of the head that he ended up on the floor. Here was the son of one of the church elders sprawled out at our feet. Surely something would be done now. Scheer, it transpired, would move on having been instructed by God to become a pastor. It is difficult to imagine the joy and hope that he would impart to a congregation but, alas, this was not our concern for his departure was our day of liberation and it took the ensuing principal years to establish order and a sense of normalcy in his place.

But Johnny didn’t go home and tell his parents. Later, much later, he would open up and talk to his father about what life was like at the American Madrasa (2). So powerful and so damaging was the conduct of our schoolmasters that Johnny’s father was raising the issue more than a quarter of a century after the fact. "Why didn’t you tell me?" he implored. "I would have got little Billy Scheers fired".

I responded that we wouldn’t have been understood, that our parents would have seen it as being our fault. I know now that I would have had a hearing with Herb and Fran, but I didn’t know it then and neither did their son. I also know that the place did little to prepare us for life and that the lessons learned, such as they were, were most assuredly wrong.

"I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in
and stops my mind from wandering
where it will go
I'm filling the cracks that ran though the door
and kept my mind from wandering
where it will go"

----The Beatles "I’m Fixing a Hole" from the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

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(1). http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/beatles/sgtpepperslonelyheartsclubband.html

(2). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madrasa The term Madrasa in Arabia means, loosely ‘School’ but in the west it has developed connotations denoting parochialism and intolerance, both of which characterize my early education.

Apr 26, 2015

April 26, 2015: Bottom Dollar, Most Scurrilous of Men, Just Call Me Lucifer


"Turning to a man named Dollar for spiritual guidance is like employing a man named Madoff for financial service." 
                                           ---- from "The Quotations of Chairman Joe"

Televangelist Creflo Augustus Dollar Jr, began his career in College Park Georgia with a ‘ministry’ that began with 8 congregants meeting in an elementary school cafeteria in 1986 to what is now one of the nation’s largest "Megachurches". Housed in what he calls the "World Dome", the 18 million dollar 8,500 seat capacity facility is said to be home to a congregation of some 30,000 members producing a gross revenue estimated in 2006 at some 69 million dollars. (1)

Dollar is one of the more prominent, if not more notorious, proponents of the so-called "Prosperity Theology" which teaches that prosperity, for Christians, is the will of God. Some have traced the origins of the movement, which includes the likes of Oral Roberts, Kenneth Copeland and Joel Osteen, back to the ‘New Thought’ movement in the late 19th and early 20th century (2), but its roots may go back further than that.

There has always been, in the Christian tradition, an unseemly connection between wealth, power and salvation. The history of the Catholic church is illustrative with its invention of "indulgences" and other means of separating the parishioner from the fruits of his hard labor. The coming of the Protestant Reformation didn’t give much relief as the "Calvinist work ethic" emerged as a dominant theme in which it was understood that the ‘lord helps those who help themselves’ and that, therefore, to be prosperous is the clearest indication that one has ‘earned’ the favor of the lord.

 It is a small step from here to the movements that emerged in the 20th century leading to the "Prosperity Theology" in which it is held " that Christians are entitled to well-being and, because physical and spiritual realities are seen as one inseparable reality, this is interpreted as physical health and economic prosperity".(2)  A contract of sorts is established between a man and his God in which God materially rewards the faithful and "poverty and illness are cast as curses which can be broken by faith and righteous actions.

"Mainstream evangelicalism has consistently opposed prosperity theology as heresy, and prosperity ministries have frequently come into conflict with other Christian groups, including those within the Pentacostal and Charismatic movements." (2) Critics from across the spectrum from the old main-line denominations to Jerry Falwell to Rick Warren, to the General Council of the Assemblies of God, have repudiated the doctrine. 

Accordingly, "Prosperity churches typically reject Presbyterian polity (or governance) and the idea that a pastor should be accountable to elders; it is common for pastors of prosperity churches to be the highest organizational authority figure." (2) This proves a very convenient arrangement and it is, therefore, unremarkable that several of these self-appointed vicars of Christ revel in an ostentatious display of wealth. Proof positive, it would seem, according to this self-serving logic, of one’s growing favor with the Lord. A perfect theological tautology, in which one assumes one’s conclusions; all one has to do is display the growing evidence of one’s favor, and to do that all the good Shepard has to do is turn to the flock and administer a regular sheering.

Accordingly we find Oral Roberts with his "Blessing Pact" in which he promised that the Lord would return a donation "seven-fold", and faith healer A.A. Allen in the early 1950's "promoted merchandise such as ‘miracle tent shavings’ and prayer cloths anointed with ‘miracle oil’. (2) The history of the movement is replete with shameless huckstering needing no further elaboration. It is sufficient to point out that the happy intersection between church, state and non-denominational religion is a safe harbor for the most scurrilous of men.

This, in due course, leads us to one Creflo Augustus Dollar Jr. Dollar has become, in the course of a few decades the bottom dollar in a universe that makes an absolute ethic of the accumulation and display of wealth. Accordingly, he is reported to own "two Rolls-Royces, a private jet, and real estate such as a million dollar home in Atlanta, a $2.5 million home in Demarest, New Jersey, and 2.5 million home in Manhattan".(2) Good work if you can get it, or find people gullible enough to fund it.

 On November 24, 2014, Dollar's private Gulfstream III jet, N103CD ran off the runway at Biggin Hill Airport, United Kingdom. There were no serious injuries. To replace the old jet, Dollar launched a fundraising campaign to get his followers to pay approximately $60,000,000. For a new Gulfstream G650 jet. He suggested his followers each committ to giving ‘$300.00 or more." The jet he wants is the ‘fastest plane ever built in civilian aviation. After receiving immediate backlash, Dollar ended his fundraising campaign. The project was kept as an option on the donation page of ministry’s website." (1) "Creflo Dollar Ministries received a grade of "F" for financial transparency by the organization Ministry Watch" (1)

He also, in 2007, refused to cooperate with the investigation conducted by the Senate Finance Committee chaired by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa into several of these ministries. 

Yesterday a video surfaced on Facebook in which brother Dollar was once again exhorting his congregants to belly up to the bar and fund his new jet, claiming the devil was busy at work preventing him from getting his just reward.

"Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer
Cause I'm in need of some restraint
So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I'll lay your soul to waste"
                                ----The Rolling Stones "Sympathy for the Devil" (3)

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(1). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creflo_Dollar
(2). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosperity_theology
(3) http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/rollingstones/sympathyforthedevil.html

Apr 24, 2015

April 24, 2015: Losing My Religion, Oh No I’ve Said Too Much, I Haven’t Said Enough


“That's me in the corner
That's me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don't know if I can do it
Oh no, I've said too much
I haven't said enough”

----R.E.M. “Losing My Religion” (1)

Deeply influenced by Reinhold Niebuhr,(2) especially his work “Moral Man and Immoral Society”, Former President Jimmy Carter has spent his life conducting himself according to the principles of ‘Christian Realism’.  The following essay, published July 15, 2009 on the website “The Age” (3)is illustrative of the former President’s theological evolution as it relates to the struggles of a moral man grappling with the immorality of convention.

“Losing my Religion for Equality” — by Jimmy Carter


“I have been a practicing Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention's leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.
This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women's equal rights across the world for centuries.

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.

It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices - as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.

I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge. But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy - and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.

The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. We have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights and have recently published a statement that declares: "The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable."

We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasize the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world's major faiths share.

The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place - and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence - than eternal truths. Similar biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.

I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same Scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn't until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

The truth is that male religious leaders have had - and still have - an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions - all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.

Jimmy Carter was president of the United States from 1977 to 1981.” (3)

The long journey from the parochial certainties of youth to the embrace of a much wider universe is indeed the journey of life.

Here Mr. Carter has cataloged his departure from Act I for involution and, embracing the complexities of Act II, he is now writing Act III.

Oh no I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough.
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1. http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/rem/losingmyreligion.html
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reinhold_Niebuhr
3.http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/losing-my-religion-for-equality-20090714-dk0v.html