Using the Bible to justify selfishness

Luke 10:25-37 (NIV)

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Evangelical Christians were among Donald Trump’s staunchest allies during the 2016 campaign, and they remain a group the President can count on as he implements even the most extreme of the positions he proclaimed would make America great again. Chief among these for Evangelicals are: religious freedom allowing for rejection of liberal mandates such as being forced to serve those with whom they disagree theologically (and socially); the ability to have their children pray in school and be exposed to Biblical absolutes; returning to a culture within which access to safe abortions is illegal, and this despite the fact that the abortion rate is now where it was BEFORE Roe v Wade; eliminating the threat of evangelism from what they view as the false religion of Islam and in the process making sure their neighborhoods will be Muslim-free; and a return to a time when – in their opinion – the voice of Christianity was sought, heard, and embraced as relevant by the culture as a whole.

I remain convinced that this group is the most important to reach with the message of the potential for mischief and danger from an autocrat President of the United States. It also happens to be the most difficult to reach, for their perceived authority comes from a Bible that is taught to them as errorless and to be obeyed by those seeking the promised, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” and a guarantee of an afterlife of heavenly bliss. We will not succeed in efforts to convince this group without attacking certain assumptions they’ve been led to believe are absolute according to Holy Scripture. This struggle is private and behind-the-scenes, because it often takes place in forums not considered by those who view the issues as entirely political. These forums are then passed around for the horizontal consumption by others of their ilk.

Today, I want to delve into one of these private discussions, this one via a simple article on Herman Cain’s right wing website. There are a great many “Christian” blogs and websites, and while many bloggers using that label are not of the political right wing, it is the Evangelicals who make the most noise and speak loudest about the brand. Hence, the battle is entirely with those Evangelicals who represent the political opinions of the far right, which is what writer Dan Calabrese has done in this article headlined, “What does the Bible really say about taking in Syrian refugees?” Here are a few pertinent quotes from Mr. Calabrese regarding the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which he views as wrongly exegeted by those arguing it represents God’s will for dealing with refugees:

“As liberals often do, they take directives aimed at individuals in the Bible and try to make them the responsibility of the state.” He makes the case that, because the Samaritan took the injured man to an inn rather than his own home, he was revealing the wisdom of not bringing a potential problem into his own home. Thus, he reasons, it’s relevant to the discussion of Syrian refugees. Of course, this is Mr. Calabrese’s opinion, his interpretation, not the Bible speaking directly to us, and this, of course, is the problem. The Bible says nothing about the Good Samaritan avoiding danger, so that is an assumption. “As liberals often do” is also a convenient, pejorative, and condescending put down designed to frame whatever absurdity follows as a given, when it’s at best a mere guess.  He goes on to add:

“What the left wants to do in the case of the Syrian refugees is use the power of the state to force an entire nation to welcome people into their midst without any effort to ensure that members of ISIS with evil intentions were filtered out. That’s not compassion. That’s national suicide.” How does one respond to the many assumptions here? One, refugees ARE vetted – often vigorously – so there doesn’t exist a zero-effort absolute when it comes to identifying members of ISIS. Two, the statement assumes that the President’s anti-Muslim initiative WILL effectively rule out those with evil intentions. This is utterly absurd in addition to representing a straw man that serves only to distract, for terrorism isn’t a problem of religion. It’s organized crime and needs to be treated accordingly. Finally, the statement assumes that the matter is black and white, that anything other than a unilateral denial of entry is self-inflicted death. It makes for a good soundbite, but it’s simply exaggerated illogic. But he goes on:

“It would make more sense for them to be resettled in majority Muslim countries anyway, and we can do a lot of things to support that process.” This has nothing to do with the Bible but speaks loudly about the writer’s religious bias. I’m sure the refugees would rather stay with their own homes in their own countries, but each has made a decision that such a proposition is untenable. They seek freedom, not further distress. To which “Muslim countries” would the writer have us divert the stream anyway? Has anybody inquired as to their willingness to participate? How does it follow that their faith has anything to do with where they settle anyway? I understand this absurdity, because it comes from Islamophobic thinking, which is really at the core of Mr. Calabrese’s reasoning in the first place.

The point is this is nowhere near the God I serve, and the interpretation of scripture in this manner is not only without merit; it’s entirely self-centered. It’s redlining on a national scale and against everything for which our country stands.

I’m not surprised at all, however, for what we have here is a generation nurtured on the Gospel of Self. It’s bad enough that we’re naturally inclined in that direction, but this is self preservation gone to seed. Not only that, but it also denies the very power that its proponents claim protects them, and it reeks of the very unBiblical “God helps those who help themselves.”

The scope of the battle over the minds of those so inculcated is enormous, but it’s quite likely the one that matters most.

The logical fallacies of Benjamin Netanyahu

netanyahu-ethnic-cleansing-palestine-mondoweissAs Donald Trump continues to campaign using logical fallacies as his daily weapons (e.g. To deflect attention away from his admission that President Obama is a U.S. Citizen, he told followers that the whole idea was Hillary’s in the first place – classic), there is a more ruthless practitioner of fallacious reasoning across the sea. His name is Benjamin Netanyahu, and his latest got virtually zero coverage by media in the U.S.

An important part of Israeli hasbara (official propaganda) is a relentless dissemination of misinformation to American supporters. After all, the United States provides $10 million a day in military aid to Israel, so it’s understandable that the Israeli government would feel obligated to provide “evidence” that the money is being well-spent. The problem is that the money can’t be morally justified, and so the Prime Minister must twist the facts to fit a tired, old narrative.

Netanyahu regularly produces English language videos for consumption here in the U.S. These videos bend current events to shape the narrative that poor, defenseless Israel will ALWAYS need the support of friends to prevent another holocaust. Meanwhile, the IDF continues to perpetrate genocidal crimes against Palestinian neighbors in an illegal land grab in the West Bank. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that “the Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

Those crimes involve “extrajudicial executions” (what we call murder) of Palestinians, the terrorizing of legal residents, and the continued bulldozing of Palestinian homes in order to build Israeli settlements and expand the territory it polices. It is the systematic destruction of a people and their culture in order to remove them entirely from the land. There’s a word for this, and it’s called “genocide” or “ethnic cleansing.”

And yet, in this latest video to Americans, Netanyahu uses the same term in describing the Palestinian wishes to remove the illegal settlements. The Palestinians, he says, want to cleanse the land of Jews! This is a logical fallacy. It’s very clever, and we buy it almost completely.

Netanyahu was roundly criticized for this video – even in his own country – for it’s an obviously outrageous claim, especially in light of the evidence to the contrary. The State Department responded immediately, but again, this was not covered in the U.S.

So we have seen the Israeli prime minister’s video. We obviously strongly disagree with the characterization that those who oppose settlement activity or view it as an obstacle to peace are somehow calling for ethnic cleansing of Jews from the West Bank. We believe that using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful. Settlements are a final status issue that must be resolved in negotiations between the parties. We share the view of every past U.S. administration and the strong consensus of the international community that ongoing settlement activity is an obstacle to peace. We continue to call on both sides to demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to the two-state solution.

Look, let’s be real. There will be no two-state solution in the Holy Land. The best we can hope for – perhaps generations from now – is a peaceful solution that includes both Israelis and Palestinians under a single government that doesn’t discriminate against either. South Africa is the model, but that country was able to get past logical fallacies in facing the reality of its situation.

Israel’s current government is simply incapable of such.

Announcing my new book

contractI’m very happy to announce that OR Books in New York will be publishing my new book about my days as Pat Robertson’s producer with The 700 Club. We’re going to call it “The Gospel of Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP,” and it should be available by December, which is a pretty quick turnaround for a publisher. You will be able to pre-order via the web in a few weeks, and I’ll keep you posted about that.

This has been quite an adventure, and I’m very proud to be associated with OR Books. They are a unique independent publishing company embracing “progressive change in politics, culture and the way we do business.” Believe me when I say we are a perfect fit, and I am so, so excited.

As you likely already know, I’ve been working on this book for 18 months and thinking about it since I left CBN in the wake of Pat Robertson’s run for President in 1988. It’s a book for Christians – especially Evangelicals – although its message will be a very hard sell to this group. It will do well with Christians on the left, but it’s really for everyone who was ever influenced by the hard wind that blew in the era of the televangelists in the 1980s. “The Gospel of Self” is my term for the broad use of the Bible as a self-help manual, a handbook for personal salvation, as opposed to the bigger issue of pleading the cause of the poor and the afflicted. I will get a ton of criticism for my views, but the facts are always what really matters in the telling of history. I provide documentation, including portions of my sworn testimony with the Criminal Investigative Division of the IRS. It’s a compelling story and includes my postmodern predictions for the future of the church.

I’ve been writing about online marketing for over 15 years, and this will give me a chance to try some things that haven’t been done as well as doing things the mass marketing way. Can you tell I’m pretty pumped?

A great big thanks here to Jeff Jarvis, my old friend and colleague from the trailblazing days of early blogging. Jeff is the one who opened this door for me, and I will forever be in his debt.

Another big thanks to my newer friend, Brian McLaren, who has been a strong supporter of this effort. McLaren is a prolific author and the key founder of the Emerging Church movement. His work dovetails nicely with mine over the last 20 years, and I’m proud to call him a friend. He has a new book coming out next month that I’m looking forward to reading. I could not have stayed the course of my vision without Brian’s encouragement.

The false narrative of right wing media

(Excerpted from my forthcoming book “How Jesus Joined The GOP”)

In the early 1980s – during my days with CBN – we innovated “TV Journalism With a Different Spirit,” a news animal that sang a different song from others in the journalism world, whether television or print. We knew what we were doing, and it was very clever. In the process, we built the philosophical model for Fox News and many others. Here’s how it worked:

The idea that the press represented only a liberal perspective was developed in the days of Richard Nixon, specifically by his vice president, Spiro Agnew. Agnew argued that the President ought to be able to speak directly to the American people without going through what he viewed as a liberal filter, one that would distort Nixon’s views through its blurred lens. Nixon’s was the first conservative administration in the golden age of television, and it struggled with its inability to control the message during an incredibly volatile time in history. Many others took up the claim in the wake of Watergate. After all, only a political opponent would strive to take down a sitting President, surely not a press that advertised itself as objective.

These complaints fell on deaf ears, because the complainers lacked a media stage from which to make their case. As a result, they had to rely on that same blurred lens, so efforts to “speak against liberals” were dead before they started. We had such a stage at CBN, one of the original ten transponders on the first RCA communications satellite, Satcom 1. Moreover, ours was a video show, and we had the production chops to create whatever we wanted along the artificial plane known as political perspective. It didn’t matter that the press didn’t really belong on this plane, only that it was convenient for our purposes, which we claimed to be preparing the world for the return of Jesus Christ.

So we publicly moved “the press” in its entirety to the left on this political plane in order to insert a convenient fence on its right edge. We placed ourselves (and the ilk of Rush Limbaugh, etc.) to the right of that fence, which gave the appearance of the bigger overall culture being represented under the banner of “news.” After all, most people were either liberal or conservative politically, and politics – or influencing politics – was our real goal. I can’t possibly overstate this reality. You don’t change the world by changing the press; you simply must make the case that the press isn’t neutral, and the rest is easy. The press, of course, helped us with this, because it was easy to pick news coverage hooks that represented a more progressive view of culture for us to hone in on. We were free to assign bias even in cases where the press was simply doing its job.

Dog bites man, it’s not news. Man bites dog, it is news. This simple old metaphor points to the false narrative we created, because the very definition of news is tied to that which is different, that which is, well, “new.” And new always means progressive, for basic conservative logic is tied to the status quo and the maintenance of tradition and its accompanying hierarchies. Many if not most journalists are educated, passionate about their trade, and ethical when it comes to the rules of professional observation. Only in the sense that some of this can be applied to “liberalism” is the press liberal. It’s a fake moniker given to them without their consent by people who need it to be that way in order to fit their own self-serving narrative. There is no conspiracy. Journalists don’t regularly gather to discuss how they’re going to manipulate unknowing masses with lies and deceit. That is much more likely to be found with those who claim participation in “right wing media.”

Evangelical Christians almost always leave out the original pioneers in the pro-life movement, the Catholics. This is an important element in understanding right wing media, for the Catholic Church is hardly conservative. In addition to calling out the pro-choicers for what was actually taking place in the wake of Roe v Wade, Catholics also pleaded the cause of those “unwanted” babies after they were born, and also opposed the death penalty. That, my friends, is the very definition of pro-life. Catholics also tended to vote for the left, so their voice in the debate about abortion carried far more weight than that of any other group. But that voice didn’t fit the narrative of the right, and the squeaky wheel gets the grease. In seizing upon abortion as an Evangelical Christian cause, the political right gained an emotional grassroots appeal to which it wasn’t entitled. The same thing applies to many of the right’s causes, because political power is the real goal.

The mere suggestion that manipulation can result in rolling back laws that are tagged as culturally offensive to some is folly and a chasing of the wind. This includes the idea that if only conservatives could appoint enough Supreme Court justices, they will eventually overturn Roe v Wade. The odds of this ever happening are remarkably small for many reasons, and wishers would do well to consider anyway that the original opinion in Roe v Wade was written by conservative justice Harry Blackmun, a Nixon appointee to the court. Nevertheless, right wing media needs to continually dangle this carrot in order to maintain the hyperbole in its claims as members of the press, albeit with a different worldview.

Right wing media is not, nor will it ever be, a part of the press, for its core purpose is the manipulation of culture through distortion, the very thing it assigns to the so-called “liberal” media. Moreover, many contemporary right wing media outlets are nothing more than political operatives with the sole purpose of repeating over and over again their purely political arguments. To this end, nothing is out-of-bounds, for baseless and provable lies are fair game in a sea of ethical emptiness. Again, the irony is that these groups practice out loud the very things they accuse their political opponents of doing in disguise, as if that somehow justifies deliberately “balancing” the public square by any means necessary. Even when bonafide “fact checker” organizations prove beyond a reasonable doubt the falsity of certain claims, these political hacks continue to repeat the allegations, presumably because they feel under no obligation to retract or otherwise accept responsibility for such lies. Moreover, they know that as long as they can keep the drum beating, there are people “out there” who’ve been trained to listen regardless of the evidence.

The press is a political animal only insofar as it covers politics, and even I have to admit there can be mischief in this particular hen house. NYU journalism professor and author Jay Rosen has been studying this for 30 years and refers to the Washington Press Corps in particular as the “national press or political press.” He argues strongly for transparency and accountability and against opacity and demagoguery. He’s also acutely aware of the difference between “journalism” and this “political press.”

If your job is to make the case, win the negotiations, decide what the community should do, or maintain morale, that is one kind of work. If your job is to tell people what’s going on, and equip them to participate without illusions, that is a very different kind of work.

The press is the latter and politics is the former. Right wing media, however, claims to be the latter while functioning as the former, and this is why its narrative is a fraud. Again, there is no such thing as “right wing media.” It is entirely political, and we shouldn’t stand for it. Drudge is not a journalist. Hannity is not a journalist. Limbaugh is not a journalist. A thousand websites with “news” in their titles are not practicing journalism whatsoever. They are like the local advertiser who presents his commercial message during the 6 o’clock news disguised as a news bulletin. There are ethical rules against this, but in desperate times, there are also exceptions.

Finally, nearly every attempt to create a “left wing media” has failed, the most visible being Al Franken’s program on the Air America Network. Billed as an alternative to conservative talk radio, Franken’s show never garnered the ratings of his counterparts on the right and certainly didn’t inspire a generation of progressive radio talk shows. While there are some successful progressive programs today, there doesn’t appear to be a wellspring of an audience for this fare, perhaps because it’s so obviously there only to counter the right.

Right or left, these “media” are political activists and not members of any journalistic effort whatsoever. We’ve got our work cut out for us, if we are to educate the public about how they’ve been duped and manipulated by smart political operatives, those who only have their own best interests in mind. We pioneered this in Virginia Beach, and while our motives may have seemed to be just at the time, the truth is we were just another group of social engineers with the political motivations of power and influence.

Chapter One of my new book

As political events began to take shape last year in the U.S. and specifically with the candidacy of Donald Trump, I began gathering all of the documents from my days as Pat Robertson’s producer in the 1980s. I could sense what was happening and felt a sense of responsibility for at least some of it, for as producer of The 700 Club, I had played a key role in our efforts to influence Republican Party politics. I began writing my story – the story of How Jesus Joined The GOP. The book is about to be published, but the need to get at least some of the information into the public debate right now is great. Hence, I’m publishing Chapter One here today for your perusal.

Chapter One: The Seeds of Modern Discontent

If I must publish the whole book online, I’ll do it, for the people addicted to Donald Trump are ushering in something they really don’t understand. Trump supporters represent a serious and significant threat to freedom, and the sad thing is that most of these people formed the core of our audience target back in the early 80s. The fears they express were planted by us, and while I’m not saying it was insincere, cynical, or corrupt, I am stating that it was a deliberate attempt at social engineering. People need to know this, for we preached what I’m calling “the gospel of self.”

I hope you will take the time to read this, and that you will share it with your friends.

ISIS: Enemy or Frenemy?

I have long been confused about the terror organization that calls itself ISIS. Something stinks to high heaven about this group, and it has nothing to do with its public image and/or its terror campaigns. Nothing makes sense about it, and despite attempts by many to explain the group to us, its behavior just doesn’t match up. So let’s ask a few questions.

Why is ISIS missing its core target?Here’s a cartoon by an Arab political cartoonist that’s been around for about two years. The original cartoon (top) lacks the ISIS label and the Star of David on the terrorist’s headgear, but the rest of the two are identical. The one in English was just recently posted on social media, one presumes, to make a point. As the cartoon illustrates, terror has struck everywhere over the past two years except the stated target of terrorist organized crime. Why is this?

I’m sure that many will point out that Israel has its own terror problems with Palestinians, but that argument is irrelevant as it relates to organizations like ISIS and Al-Qaeda. These groups are getting the vast preponderance of media coverage worldwide. Besides, the terror that Israel deals with directly is internally incited and very different. The best Israel can do with ISIS is publicly align itself with those who are cleaning up terror’s aftermath by stating their shared suffering. After all, an Arab is an Arab and a Muslim is a Muslim, so it’s all the same, right? Well, no.

So why is it that these terror organizations, whose sworn enemy is Israel, constantly direct their terror elsewhere? It’s a question you must ask yourself as you study global politics.

Another argument could be made that these groups are actually targeting “the West” or “Western values.” This, too, is irrelevant in light of the most recent spate of attacks, which are against Muslims and Muslim targets. A highly speculative CNN article today on the bombings in Saudi Arabia – especially the one at the holy city of Medina – describes ISIS’ activity over the last month.

While there has been no claim of responsibility so far for the Saudi attacks, analysts believe that, like a number of other attacks this Ramadan, they could be the work of ISIS or its sympathizers.

For the vast majority of Muslims, the holy month is a time for fasting, prayer and good actions, but Islamist terror groups see it as an especially auspicious time to launch attacks.

ISIS, facing the loss of its territory in Iraq, had called on its followers to launch attacks this Ramadan, and the response has been a string of deadly incidents around the world.

As well as the attacks in Baghdad, Istanbul, Dhaka and Saudi Arabia, extremists have struck in Yemen, Jordan and Lebanon.

Last month, a gunman killed 49 in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida; an attacker killed a police commander and his partner in France and four Israelis were killed at a Tel Aviv market.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for some of these attacks, and authorities believe other perpetrators were inspired by the terror group.

The article cites “analysts” and “authorities” without identifying them, and don’t even get me started on lobbing the Tel Aviv deaths in with the bunch. The point is that ISIS is targeting Muslims, and that makes no sense whatsoever in light of the global fear of destroying the West and Israel. The cartoon nails it beautifully, and the whole thing makes me suspicious.

We cannot look away from what was happening in the Middle East when ISIS first burst on the scene. Let’s go back and review all that for a moment. Remember the beheadings and Jihadi John? The first 75 beheadings were Syrian soldiers. That took place on July 25, 2014. I remember that these videos and the ones that followed were very well-produced for television and that the group used “teaser” promotional announcements to advise what was coming next. For a group angry with “the West,” it sure borrowed from our know-how in the TV production practices it used.

But there’s something very important about that date, because Israel was being bombarded with negative worldwide attention for its inhuman activity in Gaza, where IDF war planes and troops killed over 2,000 Palestinians, including 500 children. Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” began on July 8, 2014. Ground troops were added on July 17, 2014. As the world watched in horror, pressure from governments, charities, rights organizations, and many others began to threaten the moral high ground that Israel claimed in the annihilation of Gaza. But the heinous videos from ISIS – just one week later – immediately took the pressure off Israel by putting the focus back on so-called “Islamic terrorism.” Each ISIS event seemed worse than the one before, including burning a Jordanian military pilot alive. The group augmented its horrendous behavior by destroying sacred antiquities, and suddenly the horror of Gaza was but a distant memory.

Convenient? Coincidence? “God?”

And so we have to ask ourselves, “What gives?” Who’s telling the truth, if there really is any to tell? Why are all these bombings aimed away from the core target of organized terror? Will we ever truly know whose fingerprints are on the business and organizational plans of ISIS?

I wouldn’t count on it.