The Power to Say “No”

Disclaimer: Entire books have been written on this topic, so my handling of it may seem shallow to some. Sorry, but I don’t feel I’m supposed to write such a project, but I do think it’s worth discussing here.

The most important aspect of human life is consciousness and, especially, the mind. The human mind is the command and control mechanism for all of the systems, processes, and behaviors that make us human. Science doesn’t go here, because it requires grappling with human nature and things that cannot be measured in the scientific way. All we have is anecdotal evidence, and no scientist worth her credentials would be so foolish as to give their stamp of approval to such. Even the science of the mind — also known as psychology or psychiatry — admits as much, and this is across the widest possible slice of the à la carte menu of mental health treatments.

I recall when Sandra Seich and I put together our company ANSIR (A New Style In Relating), we spoke to a great many psychologists, both clinical and counseling practitioners about our instrument. This spectrum is fascinating, for one relies entirely on science and scientific theories, whereas the other offers a more holistic approach. What we discovered was the counseling psychologists are patient-focused and, therefore, open to all kinds of ideas and options. Clinical psychologists, however, are driven almost entirely by scientific methodology. As several people told us in analyzing our personality test, the more scientific the test, the less useful it becomes in counseling actual people. This is because science demands broad, provable categories to study, while counseling psychologists tend to see each individual patient as unique within the symptoms presented. You can judge for yourselves which is for you.

The point is we don’t “know” much about the human mind, even though countless investigators have tried. For this, we must turn to other practices including religion, pseudoscience, countless non-religious yet spiritual institutions, such as New Age thinkers, and even the anecdotal experiences of professionals within the field. This of course fits nicely within the realm of quackery and deviance, which is another reason science wants nothing to do with it.

Even what can be considered breakthrough schools of thinking receive skeptical responses from those colleagues who stick to their scientific guns in defending against the relentless growth of mental health issues within our culture. While mental health is tricky to navigate — and for whatever the cause — those poor suffering souls I’ve known in my life (self included) all seem to have lost the ability to say “no”. The real mystery is why and, perhaps more importantly, what to do about it.

Knowing that it’s not good for us, why do we sneak that piece of cake just before bedtime? Why do we “just have to” gaze at the beauty of comeliness and covet possession of the same? After awhile on the river of alcohol consumption, why is it that the first thing we think of upon awakening from a spree with a hangover is doing it again? Why do we allow friends to convince us to do things we know we ought not to do? And, why do we get so defensive when observers of our behavior try to help us, and why do we agree with those who say that regardless of the cause (if there is one), modifying behavior is the only process that can help.

We do so, because the alternatives are considered beneath our dignity. Perhaps our problems are not the problem but rather our inability to reject a course of behavior that will eventually lead us to ruin. The Apostle Paul wrote that he was perplexed by his own behavior, in that he would do the things he knew he should not do, and that he would not do the things he knew he should do. “O wretched man that I am,” he wrote. “Who can deliver me from this bond of death?”

Trauma only makes matters worse, for our reactions to trauma seem to set us up for future mental health difficulties, such as anxiety and depression. Why does this effect some and not others, or does trauma have a way of forcing an escape from reality? Is it not all wound around an inability to say no, whether it’s forced or assumed? And, is the cause at all related to the cure? Do we simply just need to say no?

Bob Newhart’s wonderful skit about a psychologist who’s only treatment is the use of the words “stop it” is a marvelous illustration of the foolishness of such thinking. That’s because we think of these problems in terms of ownership, and it defies logic to give up what we have. “My” illness. “My” condition. “My aches and pains. “My” anxiety. “My” relatives. “My” ex. “My” helplessness. “My” upbringing. “My” uniqueness. “My” cancer. “My” fibromyalgia. My” suffering. “My” affliction. “My” thorn in the flesh. “My” depression. And so forth.

No, no, no, no, a thousand times no!

Look, afflictions are real. Diseases are real. We’re not talking about the things of the flesh. However, when we take ownership of such, we’ve entered dangerous territory, for such things do not actually define us. If that were the case, we should all hide our heads in hopelessness. The truth is that these things stand in the way of self-discovery, and that is a spectacular piece of self-deception, one that’s based in our senses under the sun. Healing, therefore, is found — is often found — in the here and in the now, for that is the time and place of life, and life rejects all forms of artificial death, e.g. “poor me”. Like many other things in life, it isn’t the affliction that causes our suffering, per se, but rather our reaction to it.

It’s time to talk about the Biblical devil, for evil is always the outcome of self-deception, whether big or small. If the devil is the “father of all lies,” then his realm must be the human ego, for that is the person within us that often makes the decisions for us — for our protection, of course — especially in times of stress. For purposes of this discussion, let’s define evil as that which draws us from the here and now with its incumbent rejection of any life that exists beyond the sun. This results in all forms of inhuman behavior, including those events that seem to lead our news reports hour-by-hour. Man’s inhumanity towards man ought not to dominate our minds as it relates to life, for this is a profound limitation to our lives under the sun. There’s absolutely nothing “new” about it, for the matter of evil is part and parcel of our nature.

Are babies born innocent and later “learn” selfishness? That’s illogical and provably so, because crying when hungry is most certainly a form of self expression. To argue that a baby learns this through trial and error is to deny the first screams and tears. Yes, she learns that it works, but where does that initial behavior originate? The senses demand to be heard, but at the same time, they send false signals of satisfaction that are never enough. Satisfaction may last for a season, but eventually, it requires more and more and more. As Olivia Newton John asked a musical question, “It’s never enough, never never enough. Why is all that we have simply never enough?”

Absent our ability to actually study the matter, for a very large group of people, the devil is an answer that’s sufficient. Creative attempts to offer a different perspective have come from enormously talented and curious people, especially those who’ve taken the time for individual study of what is commonly known as the human ego. If you are human, you have an ego. He exists to provide answers where none seem possible, and it’s to him that we often turn in times of distress. Thoughtful, intriguing, and soaring books have been written about such things as “ego states,” trauma bonding, and other manifestations of ego study. They deserve our attention, because they come from minds with a lifetime of deep diving when it comes to understanding the human mind. Adam and Eve had egos. It was Eve’s ego that led her to the Tree of Life (“You don’t really think that God would kill you for eating it, do you? I mean, it’s not poison.”). Jesus faced and defeated his own ego in the wilderness. His stomach was growling during the 40-day fast, so the voice of his ego rose to tempt him to turn rocks into bread. It wasn’t a guy in a red suit with horns and a pitchfork. That is the stuff of myths. Hell, we don’t need a devil when we have such an intimate enemy as our own ego.

One of the things that was so different about Jesus is that he recognized the voice of his ego and said a resounding “no”! So, it seems to me that we can do the same. Otherwise, we are most to be pitied, especially for Christians who say they “follow the ways of the Lord.” The first deception of the ego is that he doesn’t exist, and that gives a great multitude an excuse to give up without even trying. After all, their discomfort is greater than any earthly solution, and therefore, we should all just suffer while bearing our own personal thorns in the flesh. Nonsense. Either that, or Jesus was not “the firstborn among many,” and the gate he claimed to represent leads to nowhere.

I fully appreciate the potential for mischief that’s presented with this missive, for we still see through a glass darkly. However, in order to talk back to our egos, we must first learn to recognize its voice, even during times of panic. “You’re going to be abandoned” was a constant, almost unspoken message that I heard throughout my life. Think about that for a minute. It was a marvelous deception foisted on me as the result of an episode of what seemed to me an abandonment in my youth. A mind incapable of separating such a voice from the situation that brought it about is impossible for a 5‑year old, and so it became an essential part of my thinking about myself. I fought it, and I fought it, always to lose and try again.

I learned through AA that what I thought made me unique was all bullshit and that I needed a miracle to overcome it. I got my miracle, and the most obvious evidence is in my sleep. When we give up fighting the deceptions that dominate us, it is an enormous weight lifted from the shoulders of our souls, and the problem of sleeplessness disappears. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous contains the stories of many people who had found recovery from the addiction that drove their lives for sometimes a very long period of time. These stories are filled with addicts trying to explain their drinking to themselves and others. Example episodes of their perplexity often begin with “I had this thought” or “it came to me that I should.” These triggers were, in fact, the voices of their own egos attempting to rationalize or make an argument for drinking.

So, we know it’s important, but how exactly do we learn to recognize the voice of our ego? It’s actually very simple. Deliberately place a temptation in front of yourself. Don’t do anything but listen. Trust me; it’ll be there, perhaps even in thoughts that are profoundly familiar. Listen anyway. We KNOW what the outcome will likely be, so it’s very important that we hear those thoughts as they pass across the horizon of our minds like so many wild horses.

Redemption is what gives us the power to say no to that which is pretending to be us. You might be amazed at how effective a simple “shut up” can be in a conversation with what you think is yourself. As we say in AA, “My mind is a dangerous place, because I’m not alone in there.”

How true, my friends. How very, very true.

Can/will the Virus Open Eyes?

The deception that is Fox News grows more dangerous to our republic as time passes and more and more people are bathed in the lie that it is a news organization. It is warping our sense of unity and pitting American versus American at a scale that wasn’t even present during the Civil War. Add to this the omnipresence of so-called “conservative” commentators who mix news events with their propaganda, and we have a monster storm against “peace and good will” on this Easter weekend.

Well, Terry, but they’re no different than those on the other side of the aisle.

And this, my friends, is the essence of the lie. It’s perhaps too late to fix it, but let me explain.

The news doesn’t care about political affiliation. It is neutral in that sense, because it’s always based upon that which is “new.” If “new” drives the news agenda, “old” drives the conservative point-of-view. This was evident in Donald Trump’s Make America Great AGAIN slogan. We can’t go back as a culture, and everybody should know this, for to run with a perspective that pushes only the good from yesteryear without considering the alternate pressures that were also in play is foolishness gone-to-seed.

Political coverage is certainly a part of any “news” agenda, but only to the extent that news organizations can speak to new events or trends in informing their audiences. It’s very easy to accuse, but when the accusation is required to justify one’s own existence, it ceases to be relevant to the very concept of news. Simply stated, it’s just propaganda. Contemporary marketing is very often a form of propaganda, foisted upon us in the name of commerce. The same is true with conservative “olds”, and that’s the point.

If news organizations spent as much time trying to shape those thoughts as they are accused of doing, we would have left-wing propaganda groups sharing their views in the form of news. We don’t, and ANY attempt to shape a narrative that says otherwise is pure and self-serving folly. It’s simply absurd, so the argument that “both sides do it” is specious, at best. Survey any group of citizens, however, and this is exactly what they’ve been taught to believe, namely that the news industry’s players are either left or right. Nonsense, and I know, because I was there when we created the concept of “conservative news” in the early 1980s at the Christian Broadcasting Network. We wrote the playbook that Fox copied.

A key part of this effort was to position ourselves alongside existing news organizations and claim that a liberal bias was the same thing as liberal propaganda. Hence, we saw no problem with presenting our conservative propaganda as a participant on the same level as CBS, ABC, and NBC. We spent our money on technology and especially graphics to make ourselves look no different than the rest. We were selling this to an audience ripe for the taking by stating our abhorrence with what we felt was a satanic effort to destroy America.

Conservatism is not at all associated with the news except to provide a “side” to developing stories. News organizations have an ethical governor that demands presentation of all sides in any issue relating to political points of view. The organization itself has no political point-of-view, except perhaps from their editorial boards. As anybody who has worked in the news business knows, there is a vast separation between a news organization’s newsroom and its editorial side. But ownership is ownership, and there are plenty of stories of owner pet projects that find their way into the content presented.

The point is that the bias of news is towards that which is new, and if that is seen as political, the only response can be propaganda. It cannot be expressed as “news”, because that would require a bias towards something else. It also requires looking the other way when events — take, for example, the gender identification movement or political correctness — weaken or destroy its propaganda. Again, this is why we cannot use the term “news” in describing something that isn’t “news”.

I was ridiculed and mocked during a talk about this subject with a group of Colorado right-wingers. When it got too uncomfortable for them, they retreated to the gospel to end the discussion. Open minds, these were not. I knew that going in, but the overwhelming and defensive response revealed that the matter is far more important to their worldview than most observers really imagine. Why else use the Bible to talk back to me, the former Executive Producer of the TV program that created the thing in the first place?

This is why I often reference religion in my writing. White evangelical Christians are completely convinced of their righteousness in this or any other argument.

Methinks they doth protest too much.

Thinking About Death During the Great Quarantine

What a better use of time during this isolation than to talk about human death and dying. After all, isn’t that what’s really on our minds as we sit in our own homes awaiting the all clear? We can’t help it. We’re afraid of our own deaths, so as best we can (which is probably not much), let’s take a walk down the path of what that means.

We’ll begin with life, that misunderstood and grossly underestimated aspect of being human. In the Bible, there are several words defined as “life,” including the remarkable book of Ecclesiastes, which describes life “under the sun.” This is the world of our senses, and this book describes it as “meaningless” or “vanity.” Within this marvelous scripture are thoughts of great wisdom for our lives within the context of living here on planet Earth. It describes seasons of living that go far beyond Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. It’s often referred to as the book for cynics, because its wisdom is confined to life under the sun, the world we understand only through our senses.

It’s important we begin with life, because, in thinking about our own deaths, we can only consider that which we know, and that means leaving everything familiar — no matter how good or lousy it is — to move into the unknown. Religion complicates things by attaching future meaning to present behavior and dangling a rich and wonderful afterlife to those who follow. It’s the most manipulative game in town and has been for a very long time, for it asks that we believe only that which our religion teaches, and this can be a serious trial for the very logic and reasoning that life has given each of us. The choice that religion offers us in the West is an afterlife in heaven or its opposite, hell. If offered a deal that connects our current behavior with one or the other, who would choose the latter? Nobody, of course, and that’s the plan to recruit others to our religions, where they pay tithes and offerings that benefit the religion in the here and now. It is impossible to take religion seriously when representatives of the institution benefit so greatly in the process. This ate away at my soul during my years of service at CBN and The 700 Club and eventually led to the writing of my book, The Gospel of Self.

We must train ourselves to seek that which is beyond life under the sun. The problem is that science gets in the way by insisting that the ability to measure something is what gives it meaning or “reality”. Therefore, that which we can’t measure doesn’t belong in our studies. The entire “Make America Great Again” thinking — while fully embraced by White Evangelical Christians — actually gives life under the sun preeminence by wanting to go back to the more ordered times of the past. In so doing, it refuses to acknowledge the prophets of today who are leading cultural progress. We err when we do this, because we’re suggesting that we have the power to control our own lives, and this is quite contrary to our religious teachings.

It’s a part of being human to question, to ask about those who don’t know or believe our religion. What happens to them at death, if we’re all going to “heaven”? If our God is both just and merciful, how does it follow that eternal fire is the end of those who don’t know? This is the fuel that evangelism, regardless of the religion that practices it, uses to motivate people to convince others of their rightness or righteousness. This is sold as an act of love, but benefits to the evangelist include that which profits the evangelist, and this cannot be set aside in our reasoning. We humans can be a sneaky bunch.

It’s important here to note the division in Christianity between those who follow the red words and those who prioritize, for example, the writings of Paul. Muslims question Paul’s contributions to the faith, for the New Testament was penned largely by him. They argue that we only have his word that he ever even interacted with Jesus, and for some, that’s just fine. In asking questions, however, it’s an important perspective for our consideration. Regardless, the words attributed to Jesus, to me, carry weight beyond the other writings, those deemed holy or otherwise.

For example, we learn so much about this “Christ” in three verses of the The Gospel According to John.

I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.

The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.

John 10:9–11

People of faith can argue as they wish about these words, but let’s just take them at face value. Jesus describes himself as a door or a gate, which is a powerful spiritual metaphor. He equated entry through this door to being saved from the thief. This is because, he said he had come to provide life to those who passed through Him. But “life” here doesn’t mean the same as the word used in Ecclesiastes. The word in this passage comes from the Greek word Zoe, which means the life of God, terribly translated in English as “eternal life”. This is then taken to the extreme by religion to mean the afterlife in heaven, but with these words, Jesus himself describes a life that’s here with us today thanks to the sacrifice of the Son of Man. In this passage, he says nothing about belief in him as a prerequisite for the results of his sacrifice. It’s simply the mission he was given, which has little to do with our response. We — as in humanity — are spiritual sheep who need this sacrifice in order to put an end to the rules and regulations of the church — even God Himself — because we could never fulfill them on our own. Such is the depth of our fallen nature. In this case, Jesus is referring to Judaism, because God knows the heart of man has an evil core and cannot be trusted to love God with all our hearts, minds, and strength and our neighbors as ourselves.

Our views of death are many. They’re reflected in our art, our literature, and especially in our music. Here are the first two verses of the bluegrass tune “Someday” by Blue Highway:

Some day when my last line is written
Some day when I’ve drawn my last breath
When my last words on earth have been spoken
And my lips are sealed in death
Don’t look on my cold form in pity
Don’t think of me as one dead
It’ll just be the house I once lived in
My spirit, by then, will have fled

This is a very common view of death, that we are spiritual travelers who’ve left our human bodies to return to the source of all life. I can’t tell you how this narrative has influenced my own life here on earth through the process known as recovery. I’ve been sober over 20 years, and I’ve learned much in that time. Like, I’m a spiritual being on a human journey, not a human being on a spiritual journey. I can’t do anything in this life to make myself any more spiritual than I already am, but there’s plenty I can do to become a better human being. This knowledge will absolutely change your life, if you’re open to it. It puts everything into a proper perspective, because if it’s true, then we actually are “going home” upon human death, and who could possibly be afraid of that? Known or unknown, we’re going back to the place from which we came, the world of the spirit, no longer prisoners of time and space.

In so doing, all of our happiness, travails, lessons learned, wisdom garnered, truth known, ideas we’ve shared, love that we’ve known, all that we are as individuals separate from our source, gets thrust back into the entity known as life, and everybody else gains through what we bring back with us from our journeys as human beings. That’s because, life, too, is ever evolving and growing, and those who are ignorant of all this tend to stifle that growth by returning prejudice, hatred, lust and the other deadly sins — and above all arrogance — to life, which speaks loudly about the need for us to be more human when we’re here and not trying to be more spiritual. This knowledge would change the world, but there are powerful forces at work under the sun that prosper through this arrogance. They prove a formidable foe in this life.

My most intimate encounter with death occurred in the Spring of 2006, when my beloved Alicia died from an accidental overdose of opiates. It was the worst experience of my life, because it was so unexpected and she was only 41 years old. On my knees next to her empty body, the 911 operator instructed me to give her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and pump her chest. If you know what the “death rattle” is, it’s not something you’d wish for anyone to experience. It’s what comes back from a dead body after deep breaths and chest pumping. Her body lay there before me, but Alicia was already gone and not coming back. I couldn’t even grasp what that meant for me, and I was very afraid of that particular unknown.

Those first few days afterwards were filled with pain and God’s grace, for I was suffering the most awful pain humans can know. Two things happened during the first 24 hours that helped me greatly. The first was the strong smell of sulfur coming from the vicinity of her pillow on our bed. It was also very strong on her mother’s pillow just beneath our bedroom. I can’t describe the feeling of awe when I was later told by a friend with deep roots and connections in the occult that such occurrences are common when someone dies before their time. It’s deemed an attempt by the lost loved one to reach out back to this life to express that they are alright.

The day after her death, Alicia’s family gathered in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee to mourn. I was outside on this otherwise beautiful day crying and in pain. I was arguing with God and begging to know that she was safe on the other side but mostly fearful about what was going to happen to me. “Just tell me it’s gonna be okay,” I repeated over and over. After a period of grieving, I went back inside and sat in a recliner alone in the dining room with her pictures everywhere. Two of her nieces that she dearly loved, ages 8 and 10, came into the room and sat on my lap. As they cried with me, the 8‑year old whispered in my ear, “It’s gonna be okay.” In that moment, I knew she was with us and trying to comfort us. That event led to my eventual acceptance that she was gone, that I’d never hold her and kiss her again, that I’d never again read the Bible to her as she snuggled up against me, and that I’d have to go forward without her.

I also had to forgive her for leaving me alone, and that was made easier by my acknowledgement of her presence despite being on the other side of the veil.

It also helped shape my views about death and dying. For one, I don’t believe we lose our individuality in the process of reuniting with life. In this life, we call it consciousness, through which we accumulated the wisdom and experiences that life needs to advance. Any other view is a stretch for me, because life wastes nothing and our lives under the sun matter. For example, life is currently defending itself against our selfish intrusions into the sanctity and real power of life’s leadership. Think global warming is a hoax? I feel sorry for you and your progeny. Life will protect itself.

When Israel’s first king, Saul, badly needed Godly advice in his battle with the Philistines (I Samuel 28), he tried ungodly means. He traveled to meet a woman known as “the Witch of Endor” to conjure the dead prophet Samuel to advise him. According to the story, Samuel “came up” and was not happy with Saul. He told the king that he and his servants would be killed the next day for disobeying the Lord, just as Samuel had prophesied when he was alive.

This story is remarkable and controversial, for it reveals that the dead don’t lose their individuality or consciousness; they are simply transformed, and this should provide a great sense of comfort to the living. Will I know Alicia after I’m gone? I think yes, although the senses, which are bound to life under the sun, won’t be a part of it, and that has to include emotions. Even the word “comfort” is a word we can only understand as part of our human experience.

This leads us to two important warnings about death and dying, our own and that of others. One, life doesn’t want us to play in this realm, because it’s a path to danger, for deception is likely and we’d be led right back to knowledge gained while under the sun anyway. Hence, it’s a self-centered act, always, and life abhors selfishness. Two, our tendency as humans is to anthropomorphize when we don’t have actual knowledge. This is why we give heaven “streets of gold” and mansions for a dwelling place. We were built to handle the comforts and discomforts of life under the sun, and it’s a fallacy to assume that human methods of living and communicating are even a part of life beyond.

We’re not here to understand fully the things of death, because we were created to serve and rule in the realm of life, human behavior under the sun.

One of the greatest riddles of human existence is why our understanding of life under the sun reaches its greatest depths just before the end comes. This seems such a waste to those in their senior years. It’s also the primary reason Hollywood gives us fantasies of going back to relive our lives while retaining the knowledge discovered in later years. The allegation is that we’d then be able to “correct” mistakes made through those discoveries. This is nonsense, because the purpose of life is to advance life. Everybody gains for our individual knowledge and experiences, and this cannot occur until we leave life under the sun. That knowledge and those experiences are what advances life for future generations, and why we seem to always be struggling with the same struggles as those before us.

Life is waiting for us to learn.

So, everything that’s living comes back through life, and we know so little about what this means. In writing about my experience with a Questionmark Butterfly, I noted the impossibilities of the same butterfly returning to my Louisville balcony a year after I’d first seen the little guy perform, and the only explanation defies logic. These types of occurrences are all around us, but we’re much too busy just surviving to notice. Life is preeminent.

Death is the enemy of human existence, but it is not the end of life.

I don’t believe that readers here will find any of this out of line with their own deeply-held beliefs, but the reality of this doesn’t depend whatsoever on your belief or faith. Death is the way of life, but life under the sun is for us to build towards tomorrow by acting according to the proposition that we’re already joined together throughout our individual journeys here on earth. The author C.S. Lewis understood this more than most, which is why his writings are so useful for all of us. In The Screwtape Letters, he writes that humans are like amphibians, able to live in two completely different worlds at the same time.

This understanding is the gift of people of the moment, for we know that the only place that the present life meets the life beyond is here, and the only time they meet is now, for even time and distance under the sun are vanity.

Can we blame sin as our culture’s underlying problem?

The assertion by the white evangelical crowd that the culture has been lost to sin is worth examining as we attempt to process the disaster that has been Donald Trump. Moreover, if the culture is lost to sin, has it always been that way, or is this merely a contemporary phenomenon? And, if it’s only a modern-day problem, does the slogan “Make America Great Again” reference a period of time in which the culture wasn’t awash in sin? If so, when exactly was that?

In the world of televangelism, few things are as important (and telling) as fundraising telethons. For all the hollering about faith and how God will sustain them, these telethons are methodical, systematic, manipulative, and self-serving. Nothing is left to chance. Hot buttons are pushed relentlessly. Anything goes when it comes to raising money for rich Christian ministries, something I participated in as show producer, senior producer, and then executive producer of Pat Robertson’s The 700 Club during the 1980s. I was there during the height of the televangelists, before scandals ripped the genre apart, and I was there when Pat ran for President in 1988.

The theme of our telethons was always a variation of how the world was going to hell, because we had lost our Biblical guidance. Therefore, the solution was for viewers to give us the money to combat this through “outreach,” ministry, education, and action. I need to state clearly that this strategy was extremely effective, in part, because the culture wasn’t hearing this kind of message from its leadership. Although very old, the message seemed new, because it was on TV in easily-digestible form. The television rule for audio-video linkage was manipulated, so as to match our words about sin to pictures of calamity big and small. Consequently and for a season, we sat in the position of prophets calling down hellfire and damnation on the culture for its dreadful sins, and it’s a short path from there to blaming the sinners, a.k.a. those demon liberals.

We attributed this conflict to cause and effect without proof whatsoever. That gave us license to say anything we wanted about the culture and attribute it to the loss of Biblical “authority” in our society. In so doing, we completely dissed the blood that was shed on behalf of our rights to self-determination, and, frighteningly, rejected all of those battles as being of the devil.

Who knew that one day we would actually be taken seriously?

This is the underlying pretext for everything from the Christian Right, and it’s why people who have no business being yoked to the extremely wealthy find themselves supporting everything the group tells them to support. The most obvious is in the appointing of judges who pass the litmus test of supporting business owners in all matters regarding business. Moreover, when we hear the phrase “religious liberty,” we must translate that as white evangelical Christian liberty.

If we’re ever to truly understand what’s happened to us over the past four years, we MUST not be afraid to examine these kinds of questions in the light of day. This was modern journalism’s great failure in the run-up to the 2016 election, for reporters simply didn’t see it coming. It’s a cornerstone of the Trump phenomenon, so we’re simply unable to get to the truth absent the deconstruction of this critical influence. Is sin the culprit for which we all must repent, or is something else going on? We must examine it historically, but we must also consider basic Christianity.

Basic Christianity
There is no Biblical entry whatsoever — not even one — that suggests it is the mission of believers to force a non-believing culture to repent. The most oft-quoted Bible story concerning this comes at the end of Solomon’s rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, when God spoke to Solomon thusly:

“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land…” 2 Chronicles 7:13–14 (NIV)

In this statement, we learn a great many things. One, that God is the one who’s responsible for those cultural/natural events that believers find so discomforting. Two, the responsibility for these “punishments” is with the believers, not the unbelievers. Three, the land can’t be healed from these pestilences absent the repentance of those He holds responsible, namely those same believers.

Therefore, it’s beyond misleading to claim that God wants to heal the land from sin, so that the righteous can live in peace. Seriously, who do we think we are? Watching people of faith yell and scream about abortion, prayer in schools, and Christian liberty, all the while aligning themselves with the vast wealth of the few is a bastardization of everything that’s truly holy. Period.

This command to repent was directed towards God’s people, not the culture at large. It came at the end of a great accomplishment, which is when humans are most vulnerable to deception. Rather than pat them on the back for such a feat, Solomon called for the Jews to repent, which I’m sure shocked many. The only lesson here for today is that God’s people — if in fact they have won a battle against cultural sin — ought to be on their knees begging forgiveness rather than prayers of thanksgiving and celebration in the White House. The fact that they aren’t is a dead giveaway to the unrighteousness of their behavior.

These are modern-day Pharisees, for God’s book isn’t a message to the culture; it’s a message to individual hearts.

The entire story of redemption is corrupted by the actions of this religious group, for Jesus Himself refused to call for back-up when He was taken to the cross. Spiritual warfare takes place outside the confines of our senses “under the sun,” but these self-centered warriors view the battles as among each other, right here within the whole of creation.

Why is the press unable to argue this? Rationalizations include it’s too complicated, it’s hard to be neutral, and there’s no consensus to fall back on. This is a blight on the practice of journalism, one that has been used to manipulate people and the press itself. There’s no fence to ride here.

Setting Aside History
In their zeal to advance THEIR religion, white evangelical Christians have disregarded the history behind that which we as a nation hold dear. In many of these events and instances, blood was shed — sometimes a lot of it — and lives were sacrificed in order to make these rights worth keeping. However, these elitist representatives of God that we have today think THEIR way is the true path to righteousness and that nothing else matters. It is with haughty, self-centered goals that these people piss all over the sacrifices of history as if they never mattered in the first place.

We fought a civil war over racism, unity, and the extent to which states within the union can try to distance themselves from the rest. The French gave us the Statue of Liberty, and immigration became the bedrock of our fledgling economy. We fought the First World War to spread our thoughts and ideals of freedom to the rest of the world and to protect our rights at home. We went through a Great Depression and came out on the other side determined to protect the poor and the afflicted from ever suffering again due to the lack of basic necessities. We determined that the market for liquor was so strong that we ended prohibition, because that market led to violence and death in the government’s efforts to press an alcohol-free society. We fought the Second World War to again preserve our freedoms in the face of fascism and its intolerance for personal rights. We helped dismantle Communism. Add to these the efforts to secure women’s rights, labor rights, civil rights, gay rights, and even the “rights” of our planet itself. It’s easy to understand why opponents of the current administration are not only opposed to shoving all of this aside but appalled and infuriated at the mere suggestion. Who knew we’d have to fight all of these battles again?

Governmental regulations of businesses, such as environmental mandates, didn’t just suddenly appear in a vacuum. These were hard-fought victories for all of us, as we tried our best to advance not only our culture but the human race in total. Did this burden the business interests of the country? Of course, but it had long ago been determined that they helped foster environmental concerns and human rights violations in the first place. There is nothing inherently righteous or evil about Capitalism. It’s an institution of humankind, and profit can be a highly selfish motive for cultural behavior.

This is now all being set aside by the good intentions of the few, and that is the real tragedy of our current dilemma. Add to this the idea that foreign leaders are willing participants through subversion, and we have very real dangers to consider. It is a real slight-of-hand to incite disputes among us when the truth is that we are not our real enemies. There are others who want what we have and will do anything to disrupt the unity that we struggled so dearly to gain and protect.

Adverbs like forward and backward are used to describe culture but only by those making self-serving judgments as to its governance. Both are pejorative and ineffective descriptors, because cultures don’t actually do any moving. There is only the present. Sure, there’s history and there’s the future, but we can’t do anything about either. We only have the present, and that’s where our efforts are best presented. We must always guard against those who will direct us to the future, for such is a license to deceive.

So, let’s go back and repeat our central question: Is America so corrupted by sin — especially the sins of those atheistic liberals who want to destroy the church — that only a revival of religion (specifically, white evangelical Christianity) will solve what ails us? I’d argue strongly that the answer is no, but even if there’s a grain of truth to it, the correct spiritual response is prayer, not political action.

Today, there are those who think the world is going to hell due to Trump and his cronies pressing absurd demands based on their beliefs in absolute certainties. Those who pointed to corruption of the culture have now themselves become the real corruptors, and it’s going to take more than our votes to sort it all out.

Honestly, we’re going to need the chaos of Life to fix this terrible mess, and that’s exactly what I choose to see happening today. To paraphrase George Carlin, if we’re going to have a disaster, make it so big that we destroy everything and have to start over.

Even so, let it be.

The right plays offense; the left always plays defense.

Image result for sitting on a fence

In the world of politics, the idea of a comfortable fence between the right and the left is an illusion, as is the insistence that there’s a sizable “middle”. That’s because when it comes to campaigning’s end, voters have to pick one or the other, even while splitting tickets. This is the only way in which the right and the left are the same.

The right plays offense while the defensive unit for the left is always on the field.

In the realm of convictions, expectations, and faith, the right and the left are polar opposites. The right is all about business and wealth, and their justification comes from a misinterpretation of Biblical promises regarding prosperity. Thusly, the right argues against taxes for the rich — those who allegedly create jobs for everybody else — and regulations for businesses. Its litmus test is presented as favorable to white evangelicals, but it’s actually always the degree to which candidates for government are business-friendly.

The left is a consortium of special interests fighting discrimination, gender equality, poverty, global warming, and a check on the extremes of business without regulation. The “both the same” tag, however, is meant to dismiss deplorable behavior in matters such as corporate benefactors, fundraising, and electioneering. After all, if they’re all the same, then sleaze is just a normal part of the political process in the U.S., and it doesn’t matter which party you pick. The fact that one party says it far more often than the other, however, speaks loudly about the behavior that party is trying to blur.

Thusly, the suggestion that all politicians and political parties are identical entities and that they “all do the same things” benefits the right far more than it does the left. For one thing, it originates with the right, because it obliterates viable resistance to corporations who would rather have a perfectly stable environment within which to do commerce (e.g. Make America Great Again) than one that is constantly changing. The right is very vocal about this and is in a regular game of offense while stating it. When this offense steps out-of-bounds, there is no penalty flag, so the process is repeated ad infinitum. This effort is organized, focused, and coördinated, which is often not the case for the Democrats.

The left sees this relentless posturing as an attack, so their defensive unit is always on the field. It is into this stadium that the flag of “all the same” flies, because it so easily hides the truth that they are not.

It’s a specious statement, because at core the two groups function so differently that the narrative has to fall apart. To get where we are today, the right forced the comparison with the Clintons and then Barack Obama, and the left allowed them to get away with it. As long as the left lets others define them, then the right will always win. This is the great weakness of the Democratic Party. Each element of the left is its own individual institution or social movement, all of whom must work together to produce a force large enough to win elections. While it could be said that these disparate groups have much in common, each’s bottom line is different, so fitting everybody into one, tightly-focused message is much more difficult.

The right has always been comprised of the wealthy and especially those in business, especially the defense industry. The 1% is a very small, hierarchical group, so consensus is fairly easy to establish. Whatever is best for them is what drives Republicans. Of course, because they represent so few, the party must offer bones to a few groups with numbers, but the NRA, white evangelical Christians, Wall Street players, and the fearful don’t call the shots. These groups are only needed for the voters they bring, and if any ever decided to walk away, it would create quite a crisis for the right. This is why business interests will often be cloaked as “for the people” through the use of propaganda, euphemism, oxymorons, such as “clean coal”, and especially outright lies.

With Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and other white guys calling the shots, it’s pretty easy to see that the “right” has its marching orders from a white, hierarchical “top.” The RNC is focused, and the Republican Party platform we’ll get this summer will be one that caters to the extreme wealthy and is hard on the have-nots. Oh, it’ll have the right words to support Trump’s fanatical Christian base, but the point is the Republican Party is governed from the top in a way that is not at all similar to the Democrats.

In this sense, Democratic issues are too small to compete with the grand narratives shouted by the right. One illustration is the term “political correctness,” with which the right can tag the whole party when it’s actually only important to those dealing with gender identity, minority communities, and some women’s issues. Political correctness is not a plank of the Democratic Party platform, but the tag sticks, because nobody will come out and say it doesn’t. The right suggests they are the party of real men, those who hunt and fish, dominate their family units, and are generally considered the smarter of the two genders. I assure you there are “real” men in the Democratic Party, but again, if nobody challenges the assumption, then it will default to the position of truth. To the right, women are here for their real men. Their women are touted as more beautiful than those on the left, and they’re certainly sexier and more playful. The obsession that Fox News has for blondes is simply a reflection of the whole party. Blondes in red dresses are hot, but women on the left wear only pants or dull outfits. Again, this is all carefully orchestrated so as to provide both direct and subliminal evidence that they are somehow better than those ugly, nasty, and whiny bitches from the left. Do not underestimate this, for the images shared with the media of glamorous Republican women — yes, even those who qualify as trophy wives — are calculated and purposeful, for what girl wouldn’t aspire to be just like them (wink, wink)?

We practiced this same form of manipulation when I was producer of The 700 Club. The idea was to recruit beautiful people through the presentation that beautiful people followed Jesus Christ. This was a response to ground-breaking research that revealed America’s true thoughts about white evangelical Christians. Our job was to present the opposite in the hope that we could break through the negative images that people held about Christians.

As of this writing, the GOP’s 2020 tactics include tagging every Democrat as a socialist. This accomplishes several things. It redefines progressive by making it seem extreme. There is no useful comeback for the label. It paints every Democratic Party plank as anti-business. Socialism is defined as an inch from communism, which is a defeated concept. But mostly, it chafes at the idea of non-white progress, because, after all, what self-respecting white family wants their children being forced to attend classes with these aliens? Socialists want to take money from the rich to help the poor, even though the wealthy believe that they can offer greater relief by themselves. What’s most irritating to members of the right is that THEIR money is being taken from them and being used for programs and systems they don’t support.

But mostly, the socialist tag forces the left to play more defense, which means the right is again playing offense.

The left must play offense with a crystal clear focus on the reality that Trump represents a Republican Party that has completely gone off the rails in its disgust with the poor and the afflicted. This path, however, is fraught with danger, for Trump was elected primarily because he was not a part of the status quo in government and that he would do things differently. A part of Trump’s charm with his constituency is the proud proclamations that he is not a part of anything “normal” and therefore able to govern differently, which we must all admit has proven to be the case. While the left complains that Trump doesn’t play by the rules, his supporters are quick to point out that these rules are the biggest part of the problem in Washington and that they voted for Trump to do things differently.

If the Democrats ever want to put an end to this, they must be prepared to hire a new offensive coördinator to craft a new strategy, because a defensive posture that is governed by logic and reason doesn’t stand a chance against propaganda that asserts the opposite.

It begins with recognition that while defense wins championships, it’s the offense that gets all the glory, the fame, and the money.

Debunking the Right’s Straw Man Fallacy, Part 1

“A straw man fallacy occurs when someone takes another person’s argument or point, distorts it or exaggerates it in some kind of extreme way, and then attacks the extreme distortion, as if that is really the claim the first person is making.” Excelsior Online Writing Lab’s Argument and Critical Thinking curriculum

This is the strategy of the extreme right in the U.S., which I deconstructed in part in my argument regarding the response of James Dobson to Christianity Today’s editorial about removing Donald Trump from office. This is the first in a series of discussions about the Right Wing Straw Man Fallacy.

The most heinous of the fallacies promoted by the extreme right (which includes our current leadership) is that the have-nots somehow only want handouts — usually from the pockets of the haves — rather than working in the same way that the haves have. These “conservatives” are truly disgusted by those who “refuse” to take care of their own. These people are likely well-intentioned, but this perspective is so addictive that people will follow it to sometimes bizarre conclusions.

This position is but a single facet of the straw man created by the right to justify its extreme positions, and the problem with straw men is that they don’t have to be real to be bullied. This straw man is multi-faceted and represents the extreme of everything the right “hates”. Borrowing in large portion from Dr. James Dobson, here are a few of the characteristics of this “opponent” of the Christian Right:

Pro-abortion
Anti-family
Promotes laziness for the poor
Hostile to the military
Dispassionate toward Israel
Supports a socialist form of government
Promotes confiscatory taxation
Opposes school choice
Favors men in women’s sports and boys in girl’s locker rooms
Promotes the entire LGBTQ agenda
Opposes parental rights
Distrusts evangelicals and anyone who is not politically correct.

In attempts to cloud reality, these people mash all of these into one enemy called “the left”. They are highly adept at promulgating such a fallacy, because their Bible tells them they can make sweeping judgments in the self-serving name of God’s prosperity.

This was recently revealed in a Brookings analysis paper “Low unemployment isn’t worth much if the jobs barely pay.”

Some will say that not all low-wage workers are in dire economic straits or reliant on their earnings to support themselves, and that’s true. But as the following data points show, it would be a mistake to assume that most low-wage workers are young people just getting started, or students, or secondary earners, or otherwise financially secure:

  • Two-thirds (64%) of low-wage workers are in their prime working years of 25 to 54.
  • More than half (57%) work full-time year-round, the customary schedule for employment intended to provide financial security.
  • About half (51%) are primary earners or contribute substantially to family living expenses.
  • Thirty-seven percent have children. Of this group, 23% live below the federal poverty line.
  • Less than half (45%) of low-wage workers ages 18 to 24 are in school or already have a college degree.

These statistics tell an important story: Millions of hardworking American adults struggle to eke out a living and support their families on very low wages.

My own research confirms the position that unemployment numbers are extremely unreliable as a measure of our economy, and the Presidency of Donald Trump has exacerbated the problem. Here’s a graph revealing that in 2019 poverty shows up in unique ways. This graph reveals the growth of people in the labor force working multiple jobs. The source is the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

MULTIPLE JOBHOLDERS 10-YEAR TRACK

Of course, this only reveals about 5% of the labor force. However, other employment categories combine to tell the bigger story:

“Even with sunny job statistics, the nation’s economy is simply not working well for tens of millions of people.” (Brookings Analysis)

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 48.8% of the labor force are dual income families. 63% of families with children had both parents working, Even 65.1% of mothers with children under 6 are working. A BLS profile of the working poor in 2017 offered five points worth noting:

  • Full-time workers continued to be much less likely to be among the working poor than were part-time workers. Among persons in the labor force for 27 weeks or more, 2.9 percent of those usually employed full time were classified as working poor, compared with 10.9 percent of part-time workers.
  • Women were more likely than men to be among the working poor. In addition, Blacks or African Americans and Hispanics or Latinos continued to be more than twice as likely as Whites and Asians to be among the working poor.
  • The likelihood of being classified as working poor diminishes as workers attain higher levels of education. Among those with less than a high school diploma, 13.7 percent of those who were in the labor force for at least 27 weeks were classified as working poor, compared with 1.5 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • Individuals who were employed in service occupations continued to be more likely to be among the working poor than those employed in other major occupational groups.
  • Among families with at least one member in the labor force for 27 weeks or more, those with children under 18 years old were over four times as likely as those without children to live in poverty. Families maintained by women were more than twice as likely as families maintained by men to be living below the poverty level.

The point of all of this, of course, is that silly arguments that present poverty as single dimension are extremely misleading, for nowhere is there a way to nail down the laziness of one group of people over another. Margaret Sanger, in speaking about men, once said, “Women have just as much right to be lazy as men,” and that generalization is just as false as the one presented as part of the left-wing boogieman that the Republicans reference.

But that’s the way it goes when political manipulators paint horrendous pictures of their opponents. Beware the straw man of the right, for the character is quite unbelievable.