Article VI Blog

"Religion, Politics, the Presidency: Commentary by a Mormon, an Evangelical, and an Orthodox Christian"

United States Constitution — Article VI:

"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

  • Ignorance and Privilege, Privilege and Ignorance

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:52 am, December 4th 2014     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Here we go again – “protests” over a grand jury decision involving a police officer and an arrest.  One wonders about the spontaneity of these demonstrations, and their true purpose; particularly when one reviews the source materials.  That is to say if you look at the evidence related to the Michael Brown incident or the Eric Garner incident. you can understand why there are questions.  However, given that a grand jury is designed precisely to answer such questions, you are forced to conclude there is something else at play when people are so distrustful of the results of that process.

    This is culture war.  It is not the culture war we usually think of, about abortion and marriage and religious identity, this is a culture war based on different identities.  But more, it is a culture war based on ignorance.  It is clear that the general public, and apparently a good deal of the media, is ignorant of the grand jury process.  Many seem to think it some sort of pro forma butt covering for a prosecutor, when in reality it is a fact finding panel just like a jury in a trial.   People seem to think it is easy to “fix” a grand jury – the whole “indict a ham sandwich” thing.  The burden of proof for a prosecutor is much lower in a grand jury than in a criminal trial, but that also means that when a grand jury fails to return an indictment, there is practically no evidence of a crime.  People seem to be ignorant of the fact that a tragedy is not always a crime.

    It seems clear to me that at least within a large swath of our population there is a general ignorance, despite seemingly 100′s of TV “procedurals” called “Law and Order,” of the role of police officers, prosecutors, and defense attorneys.  Police officers collect evidence and keep the peace.  Police officers are not the people you argue with when you are accused of something – you argue with prosecutors and hopefully you have a defense attorney to help you do so.  Both Brown and Garner were arguing with police officers.  As a part of their peace keeping function police have to control such situations and argumentation can and often does escalate into a less than peaceful confrontation.  One should always cooperate with the police.  If that cooperation, but generally the lack of it, results in a detention it is highly inconvenient, but you will have opportunity to argue with someone who can respond reasonably to your argument.  However, such response is not a police job.

    This is also a culture war based on a presumption of privilege.  I have had the “honor” of serving on a condominium Board of Directors.  One year a small group of disgruntled owners used a technique called “cumulative voting” to put one of their own on the Board.  It was a problem from the get-go.  When the confrontations reached their zenith, the individual finally revealed the heart of the issue.  This person was under the assumption that Board members were skimming and that was why the Board seemed to be perpetually short of funds to address situations that the cabal thought were of dire and immediate importance.  This person finally agreed to stop being obstructionist if granted “a cut.”  Needless to say, the rest of the Board was flabbergasted.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

    I do not think it coincidental that these incidents, always involving race, are occurring in the last days of the Obama administration.  It has long been the source of race-based comedy that white people shared some sort of “code” so that when  police confronted whites over minor infractions they allowed them to go on unscathed, while people of color were arrested, or otherwise abused – the so-called “white privilege.”  While video of the Brown confrontation does not exist, watching video of the Garner confrontation it seems clear to me that Garner expected some sort of privileged treatment.   Anyone that has ever watched “COPS” knows that if you argue with police in that fashion you will get detained, regardless of color. But Garner seemed to expect that because a man of color was now in the White House, he could expect to walk away like he assumed white people always had.  And when he was detained, his protestations escalated the force police used to enforce the detention – with most unfortunate outcome.  All of this based, like my HOA Board experience, on an assumption of privilege that does not really exist.

    There is no question that historically there has been identity group discrimination in our nation.  Being born at the University of Mississippi in 1957 and returning to that state annually for most of my life, I have seen first hand what has gone on.  But negative discrimination is not the same thing as privilege.  The same Southern bigots I knew so well as  a youth were as quick to dismiss “white trash” as they were people of color.  There was no privilege of color.  There may have been privilege based on membership in the Klan or other fraternal organizations, often shared with police, and that of course involved race, but it was not based on race proper.  And even then privilege was limited to Klan interests only.  In the day, your Klan brother cop may look the other way about a cross burning, but not about a robbery or assault.  But that is also history and that is also the South.  That privilege just does not exist today and certainly not in New York City.

    Culture war is corrosive enough in this nation.  It becomes intolerable when based on ignorance and presumption.  Some in our political class have chosen to play upon the cultural divides discussed here for their own political, and in some cases financial, benefit.  As we have seen it seriously, and in some incidences fatally, threatens the peace.  Moreover, it threatens the very cultural glue of our nation.  Generating and amplifying such divisiveness may be the most heinous acts of all these sad episodes – particularly when doing so enhances, not cures, ignorance and presumption.  I wonder what the nation would look like if the media shamed such acts instead of broadcast them?

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    When Truth Suffers

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 08:02 am, December 31st 2013     &mdash      2 Comments »

    Forgive me while I geek out for a minute.  Most people that read this blog will have made it through at least geometry in high school in their mathematical studies.  This is the first level in mathematical education where we learn how to put together a cohesive system of looking at things in a logical and precise fashion.  If you remember, you did proofs – lots of proofs.  This was how you built the system, each statement that became an important working statement was proven logically, from previously proven statements.  But if you remember thoroughly, you will member there were 5 “postulates.“  These were statements that could not be proven but were simply “assumed” to be true and from which all other geometrical statements are proven.

    The postulates are not arbitrary, they are formulated from a) massive and collective observation and b) an inability to prove them accumulated over the millenia.  To build a comprehensive logical structure such as geometry you have to start somewhere.  So you start by looking at the world around you and making statements about it.  You compare your observations with others to make sure they see the same thing – then you set about trying to prove all your observations to a point where the statements that you cannot prove are minimized as much as possible, but such statements seem to have an inherent “truth” because while you cannot prove them they are always observed to be true.  These are the basic stuff from which everything else is built.

    “What if the postulates are not true?” is a question that every reasonably serious student of mathematics has asked since the list of postulates was first formulated.  Well, pretty much everything we understand about the world around us falls apart.  From geometry we have meticulously built higher forms of math and they are the language of science.  If the postulates are not true we could not have gotten to the moon, or built a building much more complex than a mud hut (much of Euclid’s initial work was in support of the construction of the marvelous and ancient stone buildings we find in Greece still today) or just about anything else technological that we rely upon today.

    There are non-Euclidean geometries (geometry with different postulates) in math and in recent decades they have even proven somewhat useful in forming theories in the very weird realms of science like quantum mechanics.  But when you do stuff in the world we live in and experience on a daily basis without the aid of instruments, Euclidean geometry (what you learned in high school) works very, very well.  The postulates are true in any experientially meaningful sense of the word true.  We may be able to conceive of other postulates, but our daily lives tell us that the ones we have come to know and work with are functionally true.  Those non-Euclidean concepts, interesting though they are, just don’t work in any experience you and I can have.

    This thoughts occurred to me as I read Tom Coburn in this morning’s WSJ:

    The culture that Mr. Obama campaigned against, the old kind of politics, teaches politicians that repetition and “message discipline”—never straying from using the same slogans and talking points—can create reality, regardless of the facts. Message discipline works if the goal is to win an election or achieve a short-term political goal. But saying that something is true doesn’t make it so. When a misleading message ultimately clashes with reality, the result is dissonance and conflict. In a republic, deception is destructive. Without truth there can be no trust. Without trust there can be no consent. And without consent we invite paralysis, if not chaos.

    It seems that in how we conduct our public affairs we sometimes get a bit too interested in the “non-Euclidean” stuff.  We can conceive of it, we can find it fascinating, we can even experiment with it, but in the end it just does not work.  The practical truth of the postulates always seems to carry the day.

    Faith in the Almighty plays the role of postulate in our society.  Of course there will be many branches that spring from that root, but that root is what holds up the entire structure.  I read Coburn’s words on the heal of reading this from the Bible this morning (emphasis added):

    I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord,
    the praises of the Lord,
    according to all that the Lord has granted us,
    and the great goodness to the house of Israel
    that he has granted them according to his compassion,
    according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
    For he said, “Surely they are my people,
        children who will not deal falsely.” (Isaiah 63:7-8)

    This is heavy stuff for New Year’s Eve, a day that is supposed to be about celebration.  But celebration seems difficult when we live in a time where people seem to think the postulates, as Coburn points out, are arbitrary.  Obamacare is a glaring and on-going painful example of that.  As Jim Geraghty pointed out yesterday:

    So . . . we’re still ending 2013 with more people having lost their insurance than gained it.

    It just is not working.  Obamacare is a wonderful, even interesting, idea, but it is from the realms of non-Euclidean geometry.  It may even have some internal logical consistency, but it just does not work in the daily world.

    But there is another glaring example -  Sunday’s NYTimes’ report on Benghazi.  This blog will not attempt to dissect the facts reported, we’ll leave that up to the professionals.  Nor will we assume political motivation, although the political convenience of the piece is extraordinary.  But what seems clear as I read or listen to discussion after discussion with people in Congress investigating the incident is that it is not the whole story; it is not a complete and thorough investigation.  Consider this from the interview with Congressman Lynn Westmoreland just linked:

    HH: Congressman, Hugh here. Did Mr. Kirkpatrick attempt to talk to you?

    LW: No.

    HH: Did he attempt to talk to any of your colleagues on the House Intelligence Committee?

    LW: Sir, I don’t know that.

    That pretty well defines incomplete investigation on the reporters part.  That puts the report in the realm of non-Euclidean geometry – interesting and even internally consistent – but not necessarily comporting with reality of daily experience.  Certainly not tested against it.

    Even more disturbing is when people get all wrapped up in their concepts, the foundations that replace the postulates can be horrifying.  For some, race is the root from which all things spring.  When that happens – stuff like this happens:

    The laughing starts almost immediately in the MSNBC segment. 

    But as the host and her guests yuk it up, I wanted to cringe. 

    The object of their derision, cloaked as it was in pointed humor? 

    A baby. A black baby, to be precise, being held on Mitt Romney’s knee. 

    Hysterical, huh? 

    This was Romney’s adopted grandson, in a big, professionally shot family photo. And yes, Melissa Harris-Perry kept cooing about how the baby was cute. The real target, for her and the guests, was Mitt. 

    As in, isn’t it funny that this white Mormon with a white family would find among his clan a black baby.

    Sarah Palin has this one absolutely right – Despicable.  to that I will add – Contemptible – apologies not withstanding.

    When we view our postulates as fungible we start to run into all sorts of problems.  This is deeper than culture wars or political parties.  This is the soul of the nation.  It is hard to celebrate a year just past where we have been bombarded with news of people in charge that have interesting theories totally disconnected from real life.  A year where the people that bring us the news have been shown again and again to view the world from inside their non-Euclidean theories rather than observe the world as it actually is.

    But the same faith that is our postulates tells us that tomorrow will be brighter.  I choose to celebrate that.

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    Propaganda Escalating The Culture War

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:19 am, January 23rd 2013     &mdash      1 Comment »

    This morning’s email newsletter from the NYTimes contained an “Op-Doc” (Opinion Documentary?) that led one to this video.  (There is no capability to embed, you’ll have to follow the link.)  It was presented with this written introduction:

    The American evangelical movement in Africa does valuable work in helping the poor. But as you’ll see in this Op-Doc video, some of their efforts and money feed a dangerous ideology that seeks to demonize L.G.B.T. people and intensifies religious rhetoric until it results in violence. It is important for American congregations to hold their churches accountable for what their money does in Africa.

    This is pure propaganda that fails to makes its case, but its effects and conclusions remain frightening.  It deals almost entirely in anecdote, citing but a single statistic. (Uganda is 85% Christian.)  It strings together a series of unrelated facts, leaving out one extraordinarily important fact, to build a case that Evangelicals are try to pass laws in Uganda to kill homosexuals.  What are the facts it presents?

    1. Lots of American Evangelicals give money to African mission, and some specifically target Uganda.  No surprise there, Africa is the poorest continent, of course, Evangelicals give money to help them.
    2. Christianity identifies homosexual practice as aberrant and sinful.  Again, this is not news.  Nor, and this is vital, is it a rejection of the individual that feels homosexual impulses.  It simply asks those with such impulses to control them, as those of us with other sinful impulses are asked to control ours.
    3. Because Uganda is 85% Christian, “God’s law often becomes government policy.”  Uganda is a democracy, more or less – no African democracy functions really well, and as such it will tend to reflect the opinion of the majority.  As the continued liberalization and falling church statistics in this democracy demonstrate.  But that is a far cry from the theocratic accusation this video makes – it is simply democracy at work.
    4. A bill was introduced in the Ugandan Parliament that that provided for the death penalty for serial homosexual practice.  OK, that’s a bit overboard, but not as unreasonable as it sounds if you have the missing facts.  The piece does not in a superimposed written admission toward the end, but not spoken out loud, that the bill in its current form has removed the death penalty provisions.
    5. They then attempt to help us conclude that Evangelicals in America and Uganda seek to kill homosexuals, perhaps inadvertently, perhaps not.

    Now, I trust when it is laid out that way without the stirring music, passionate voice over, and impactful images that absolute absence of a causal relationship between these facts is obvious.

    Its the missing fact that is really troubling to me.  AIDS remains a virulent and massive killer in Africa.  Uganda is one of only two nations on that continent where AIDS is on the rise.  Now, while AIDS can be transmitted heterosexually, it remains primarily and overwhelmingly transmitted by homosexual contact.  Further, while advanced and extraordinarily expensive medical treatment has greatly eased the AIDS issues in this nation and Western Europe, such is often not available in Africa.  In a nation with the AIDS issues Uganda has, it could be argued that homosexual practice is an assault with intent to kill.  Under such circumstances, a discussion of extraordinary penalty, rightly rejected by the democratic process, is not so out of bounds.

    What is truly troubling is that in all this there are very real issues for Christians in Uganda and Evangelicals in America to face.  How do we teach about the dangers, both moral and health related, of homosexual practice while keeping the conversation “in bounds?” How do American Evangelicals give their money which is much needed, and insure that it is not used wrongly?  I could go on.

    But reason is not the goal of this film maker.  The condemnation of Christianity, and especially American Evangelicals seems to be the sole purpose of this video.

    Let the record show that it is not the conservative Christian forces that are escalating the culture war.

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    Posted in Analyzing 2012, News Media Bias, Religion and Race, Religious Freedom, Social/Religious Trends, The Way Forward | 1 Comment » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    A Day To Make History

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 03:00 am, November 6th 2012     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Election Day 2008 is a day that we made history, but I do not think we made as much history as people would like us to believe.  Yes, we elected the first African-American president, but did it mark an end to discrimination?  I don’t think so.  Had Election Day 2008 marked an end to discrimination, I don’t think we’d have noticed so much that we elected an African-American.  If you notice things like that, you’re still discriminating.

    We have a chance to make history today, election day 2012, too.  But will it be big history or little history?  The second time we elect an African-American president – little history.  The first time we elect a Mormon president – little history.  If nobody notices race or religion much – big history.  And we will not know the answer to the big or little history question tonight either.  The answer will come in the retrospective and summary pieces published over the next few weeks.

    But today is also a day to reclaim history.  Bigger than questions of race and religious identity are questions about just what kind of nation we want from this point forward.  I don’t need to lay out for you at this juncture the deep differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.  For some months now the differences between the European-style social democratic state that seems to be the vision of Barack Obama and the traditional American vision of small government and self-reliance that Mitt Romney represents have been spelled out for us in excruciating detail.  In the last days, since September, we have seen a stark contrast between the indecision and appeasement reflexes of Obama and the assurances of American strength and resolve routinely offered by Romney.  Unfortunately, we have seen this last contrast spelled out for us in the painful and regrettable deaths of four great Americans serving their nation.

    For those of us of faith, the biggest difference of all is the free practice of our religions represented by Mitt Romney against the use of government coercion to make us act against our most deeply held moral convictions.

    I think today we are going to see Americans make history by reclaiming history – by turning the nation back to the things that have made it great – self-reliance, economic prosperity and our fundamental freedoms.  Be sure and do your part to reclaim history – VOTE!

    Lowell adds . . .

    It’s been six and one-half years since John and I started this blog. What an interesting journey it has been. Now is the day we decide whether Mitt Romney will be president of the United States. Amazing.

    I find myself agreeing with Peggy Noonan. (I don’t always do that.)

    We begin with the three words everyone writing about the election must say: Nobody knows anything. Everyone’s guessing. I spent Sunday morning in Washington with journalists and political hands, one of whom said she feels it’s Obama, the rest of whom said they don’t know. I think it’s Romney. I think he’s stealing in “like a thief with good tools,” in Walker Percy’s old words. While everyone is looking at the polls and the storm, Romney’s slipping into the presidency. He’s quietly rising, and he’s been rising for a while.

    I hope she is right. What I am certain of is this: Mitt Romney is an excellent man, one of the finest of men. I think the American people have gotten a whiff of this fact, and that has something to do with why many voters have turned to him in the last four weeks.

    But being a fine man is not enough. Jimmy Carter was a fine man, but an ineffective president. Romney is a fine man who is also supremely competent, a man who does not fail a trust given to him. I thought of the Governor when I read these lines by Raymond Chandler, sent to me by a friend:

    …down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.

    I hope that man is elected President today.

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    Posted in Candidate Qualifications, News Media Bias, Political Strategy, Religion and Race, Understanding Religion | 1 Comment » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    Tell Me Again Who Has A Problem With Religious Tolerance!

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 03:16 pm, November 1st 2012     &mdash      2 Comments »

    Fox News:

    The reverend and civil rights advocate who gave the benediction at President Obama’s inauguration suggested at a recent Obama re-election rally that he thinks white people are going to hell — though he later said it was just a joke.

    The Rev. Joseph Lowery spoke at a rally Saturday in Georgia. According to an account in the Monroe County Reporter, “Lowery said that when he was a young militant, he used to say all white folks were going to hell. Then he mellowed and just said most of them were.

    “Now, he said, he is back to where he was,” according to the newspaper.

    A joke?  Really?  Last time I looked it was not funny to suggest people would spend eternity in condemnation.  And just to show the total embrace Obama has given this “gentleman”:

    Lowery was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 by President Obama.

    There you go.  You want awards from the President, just condemn an entire race to hell.  Suddenly Mike Huckabee looks really smart and tolerant.

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    Posted in Prejudice, Religion and Race, Understanding Religion | 2 Comments » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

    Grasping At Straws…

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 01:36 pm, October 18th 2012     &mdash      3 Comments »

    I am beginning to think I grossly overestimated Barack Obama.  Now of course, after almost four years of his administration it is virtually impossible to UNDERestimate his capabilities as president, but I must now call into question his political capabilities.  I have thought him a capable politician – after all, he did get elected on pretty much nothing last time.  But if what is happening now is any judge, his ’08 election was about everything BUT Barack Obama.

    The last years of his non–governance have always had me thinking that he was behind the eight-ball in this campaign.  Therefore, I have expected this to be an ugly campaign.  Chief among the ugliness I have expected the race card and the Mormon card – possibly in tag-team action.  I have expected them to be played slickly and therefore effectively.  We are beginning to see them deployed, but they are being deployed in a fashion reminiscent of a drowning man reaching for anything that floats.  Such things are not useful if they are flung about, they must be carefully aimed and thoughtfully utilized so as to create maximal negative effect on your opponent without getting too much of the mess on yourself.

    Instead, what have we got?

    Well, the race card is being played over a comment Tagg Romney made on the radio.  Come on – after all the death threats and other nonsense Republicans have been treated to in recent years, this is a big deal racial issue?

    And the Mormon card is trying to be played out of the “binders of women” thing – and not as a joke, despite yesterday.  Besides, when it comes to jokes about binders, this is the only one I have found funny to date.  Besides, for the Mormon card to be effective, it has to be aimed at peeling off Evangelicals, not echoing inside Leftland.  But check out these articles.

    Oh, and remember Tuesday night when I said right after the debate:

    Romney’s take down of the Obama lack-of-a-record and failure to live up to his ’08 campaign rhetoric was devastating – DEVASTATING!  That single couple of minutes by Romney decides the debate heavily in his favor.

    Well, looks like the campaign folk agreed with me.

    Folks, this is not a picture of effective political action – it really is a picture of a drowning man.  And so, I’m taking the weekend.

    I’ll be at the Naval Academy watching my “nephew” play basketball and the Midshipmen play Indiana in football.  (Watching the Hoosiers play football is an exercise in futility I have not enjoyed for a couple of decades.)  I will next return to the Internet on Twitter Monday night during the debate and post either afterward or Tuesday morning, depending.

    I leave you in Lowell and John Mark’s most capable of hands until then.

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    Posted in Candidate Qualifications, Political Strategy, Religion and Race, Religious Bigotry | 3 Comments » | Print this post Print this post | Email This Post Email This Post

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