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.

Netanyahu’s ISIS claim

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Lieberman visit the scene of the truck-ramming in Jerusalem, January 8, 2017. RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s English language videos have long hinted (to Americans) that our shared enemy is ISIS, while almost all of the violence Israel experiences is brought about by its occupation of the West Bank, its dehumanizing behavior towards Palestinians, and the responding attacks by those being “occupied.” So when he claims a knowing form of solidarity with Western governments over attacks by ISIS, those claims ring hollow at core. The Israeli narrative needs an attack by ISIS to validate its position that their fight is against an enemy bigger than the occupation.

This is why it’s not surprising to read that Bibi is trying to connect the deaths of four IDF soldiers over the weekend to ISIS, although the similarity of someone using a truck to ram a crowd of people is much more likely to have been opportunistic. Here’s the way Haaretz put it.

As far as the prime minister is concerned, the ISIS theory is well suited to the message he tried to convey – which is that Jerusalem, like Berlin and Nice, is just another western city dealing with brutal, uncompromising terror committed by global Islamic operatives. As per this message, this force of absolute evil has no motive or rationale, and has nothing to do with the occupation or any other Israeli policy.

The apartheid state of Israel is a bubbling laboratory of narrative control by governing authorities attempting to justify as righteous their provocative behavior towards the indigenous residents of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The nationalist Netanyahu has found himself a staunch ally in our President-Elect, who has promised to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, to a spot not far from this weekend’s deadly truck ramming.

If you honestly think we’re helping the situation with such a provocation, you’re just not paying attention to what’s taking place.

 

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.

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.

The turd in terror’s punchbowl

TerrorismThe horrible terrorist act in Orlando a week ago brought out the predictable finger-pointing and then some. The concept of assigning blame has become so routine with the press in every event today that contemporary consumers of “news” must think it’s one of the five W’s of journalism. Oh I suppose an argument could be made that this is the “why” of news reporting, but it’s way beyond that. In a world dominated by process and planning, we are driven to “find out” every causal factor, because that’s the way we attack human nature. There are no accidents in life anymore, for example, because everything is cause and effect.

But life isn’t NASA, and the press certainly doesn’t function as engineers.

I’ve seen just about everything associated as causal with this Orlando night club mess. The poor AR-15 assault rifle is the problem. It’s the NRA. Homophobia. Homosexuality. President Obama, Mental illness. Slipping through the cracks in the FBI terror watch list. And my favorite – Islam – and this particular voice is getting louder and louder, led by the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. I’m also reading a lot of “Islam needs to reform” in order to put an end to “these radicals.” Somehow, we naively believe that “the problem” is a religion that has been so demonized by certain forms of Christianity that “it just has to be” the cause! You cannot possibly understand how foolish this assertion appears to Muslims, especially in the Middle East.

In the blaming of Islam, observers are ignoring the great turd in the punchbowl while complaining about the less-than-fruity taste of the liquid. Never – and I mean NEVER – does anyone in the practice of explaining events relating to terrorism ever mention the role of Israel. This American ally is conveniently shoved aside as irrelevant in even in-depth commentary about “why do they hate us.” “Islamic terrorism” may have Palestinian roots, but that’s as far as it goes. Folks, this is one of the great magic tricks of modern life, and it’s time we all stopped pretending that God Himself resurrected Israel, because Jesus is about to come back. This, of course, will automatically be labeled antisemitic, and I’m prepared for that. Having Palestinian family in Jordan doesn’t mean I’m antisemitic; it just means my window on the world is perhaps a little different than yours.

The Shirky Principle, named for NYU professor Clay Shirky, states that “institutions will always try and preserve the problem for which they are the solution.” Zionism was implemented in the Middle East by the United Nations – led by the U.S. – after World War II and the horror of the Holocaust. Israel is considered the solution to the problem of real or perceived antisemitism in the world, but the Shirky Principle reveals that buried beneath all the defensive rhetoric and political propaganda is a real need to keep the problem alive, ‘lest the reason for Israel cease to exist. You see, nobody consulted with the land owners in the region at the time – Arab Muslims for whom the area has profound spiritual meaning – if it would be alright to forcibly remove them. Israel claimed all the good lands and, most importantly, the water rights. Today, Israel functions as an apartheid state, continuing to claim territory that doesn’t belong to it and brutalizing the Palestinian Arabs in the process.

Israel is at the very center of the matter of blame for terror in the Middle East and beyond, and if we’re going to be serious in our attempts to find a solution to future Orlandos, we’re going to have to stop pretending otherwise. Why do they hate us? Because “we” drove the process of Zionism and continue to pour billions of dollars in aid into Israel year after year.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent his condolences over the Orlando massacre in a video to Americans. A careful listen reveals lots of references to terror his country is familiar with – “radical Islamic terrorism.” It ends with this remarkable statement: “We need to stand united, resolute in the belief that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, regardless of their race, regardless of their ethnicity, all people deserve respect, deserve dignity.” Sounds great, but it’s a special form of hypocrisy, for it ignores his own government’s treatment of Palestinians.

There. If you want better tasting punch, we’re going to have to do a more thorough job of straining.

A rant: Wake up, grow up, and shut up!

muslimskilled2Writers write, and so I write.

I am deeply saddened, shamed, and angry over events in Chapel Hill, NC yesterday. I need to vent or rant, so please bear with me and forgive me for that which you might find as offensive in this post. I’m sorry, but this needs to be said, and said by me, for I am absolutely sick over the defensive, sloppy thinking that exists right here in the USA.

Those of you who know me well likely follow me on Facebook, where I’ve engaged in a long and heated debate with my friends over the phrases “Islamic Terrorism” and “Islamic State.” This was largely brought about by the Paris slaughter of the staff of the magazine Charlie Hebdo by men pretending to represent the Islamic faith. My 45 years as a professional observer (a.k.a. journalist), my 3 years as an ethics professor, my understanding of human nature from 17 years as a recovering addict, my education as the former Executive Producer of The 700 Club, my knowledge of Life as a senior citizen, and most importantly, the crossover experience I’ve had with my own family in Amman, Jordan all provide a somewhat different view of the Middle East than most Americans. You’re free to pay attention or not.

I am a student of postmodernism and the originator, writer and publisher of the concepts of postmodern journalism. This, too, influences me, because my studies reveal a different world developing after the invention of the internet. This cultural shift is enormous and similar to what happened in Western Civilization in the wake of the invention of the printing press. We can only imagine the possibilities, if we allow ourselves to view culture as permanently altered.

I need to pause here and explain myself, because it will help you understand the perspective I’m about to offer.

Premodernism (before the printing press): “I believe, therefore I understand.”
Modernism (between the printing press and the 60s counterculture): “I think and reason, therefore I understand.”
Postmodernism (today): “I experience or participate, therefore I understand.”

The big change with the internet is that global communications is now 3-way in terms of culture: Up to down, down to up, and, most importantly, down to down. That is what will change everything, and it’s already doing so. If the people of a any culture can talk to each other AND TO THOSE OF OTHER CULTURES, it removes the absolute authority of those who are in charge. The statement: “In war, the victor gets to write the history” is challenged, because truth among humans isn’t so much relative as it is multi-faceted. If you don’t think so, you’ve never taken a Japanese tour of Pearl Harbor.

So back to Charlie Hebdo. People, please. Acts of terrorism, regardless of where they originate, cannot be Islamic. It is impossible, and I don’t care whose religion or philosophy tells you otherwise. As part of my education, I sat with my Palestinian son-in-law for an evening with two Islamic Studies PhD professors from Amman, Jordan. Here is a quote from one of them concerning my issues with terrorism. “If you ever see a bearded man wearing the kuffiya (head scarf), holding a machine gun, and proclaiming ‘The Islamic State,’ you will know he is a fraud.” They went on, “That is as far from the Islamic State as can possibly be.” We don’t understand this, because we’ve been taught to fear any group that is different from us, especially when our religious leaders fill our heads with nonsense about Islam itself. Why do they do this?

It’s complicated, of course, but in the end, it’s all about poverty, power, money, and other selfish considerations. It’s convenient to dehumanize an entire race rather than learn the truth, but, again, the internet has no choice but to challenge that, because we can all talk with each other now. Everything is connected and the mere push of a button away. How could we not learn? And therein lies the problem, for there are many forces across the globe that would rather we not. This includes, especially, the Zionist extreme in Israel. If you are willing to approach the Middle East with an open mind, then I encourage you to make Mondoweiss (“The War of Ideas in the Middle East”) a part of your daily information diet. Founded and written (mostly?) by those of the Jewish faith, it is a truly intelligent examination of the entire region. If you are a thinker who likes to think, you will have your eyes opened here.

And this brings me to yesterday’s tragic, incredibly sad, and totally avoidable events in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where 3 young people (I call them “kids.” They were 23, 21 and 19.) were executed in their condominium by a 46-year old lunatic caucasian named Craig Steven Hicks. The crime of these people? They were Muslims. Their loving hearts were shut down by bullets to the back of the head. And what for? Their religious beliefs. How incredibly un-American, and yet, we should expect nothing less, given the constant drone of pejorative “Islamic this” and “Islamic that.” To paraphrase Richard Dreyfuss’s character in the movie Jaws, “This was no parking lot dispute; this was an execution, a hate crime!”

May God have mercy on us all. If you’re truly disgusted with the news in today’s world, go look in the mirror, and DO something.

It is clear to me that special interests, regardless of their trappings, are incapable of uniting us as citizens of the planet Earth. We are honestly like the “Island People” of the Pacific cultures. When trapped together on a small piece of land surrounded by water, there is an understanding among the local born and raised that “we all need each other.” That may seem utterly idealistic, given the place we’ve found ourselves at the end of the modern era, but the 21st Century has just begun.

Now, to my dear friends in the Christian Right: you especially have the burden of necessary self awareness in this. You have used the Islamic faith as a puppet in justifying yourselves as contemporary Pharisees. You have forgotten your first love and have diminished the teachings found in the red words. You’ve also been misled into believing that Jesus came to Earth to destroy the very things you now practice. “He pleaded the cause of the poor and the afflicted,” Jeremiah wrote of King Josiah. “Then it was well with him. Is this not what it means to know Me, saith the Lord?” Judgement, the book says, begins with the house of God – those who know Him. Can you not see that you have perverted all of this in order to protect and bless yourselves?

You will not argue against me on this, for I was there during the rise of your glory. Pat Robertson himself taught me how to raise money. “Here’s why people give their money,” he said, “and in this order: How does it help me? How does it help my family? How does it help my neighborhood, my community? How does it help my state? How does it help my country? And, the very last, how does it help others?” This is an abomination to Life, and it/He will surely spit you out at some point. Damn you for your lies and how you manipulate others for your own gain. As I said on Facebook, please wake up, grow up, and shut up, for you are not blameless in world events, up to and including genocide.

Stay tuned as history writes itself with everybody’s help. We will either save or destroy each other. The choice is up to us, each of us. Let us make the right decision.

#ChapelHillShootings #MuslimLivesMatter #Islamophobia