Sick of Washington Right Now

I am so frickin’ sick of our supposed leaders in Washington right now. First, you have the Republicans who have been acting like tantrumming toddlers ever since they lost the 2008 election, choosing to destroy the country’s economy rather than show anything resembling leadership. Bloody hell. Get over it. If you want to win another election, do something new–like showing you care about the country more than your personal agendas.

And, Democrats. I’m not any happier with you. Bunch of spineless idiots who couldn’t work together if you were held at gunpoint. Right now I think the country would be better off if an asteroid struck a joint session of congress and we could start over. I’m not voting for an incumbent of either party until you guys and gals can get your act together and start leading the country.

Dammitall already.

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An Open Letter to George Zimmerman

I’m sure you’ve received all kinds of mail and commentary, some of it supportive, and much of it–not. I doubt you’re interested in yet another person sticking their nose into it and giving you their opinion on the whole mess you’ve gotten yourself in. Too bad. It’s my blog and I want to sound off on this particular topic.

Only you will ever know exactly what happened that night. I’ve got to wonder if you even know the truth anymore, what with the requirement that you defend your actions that night. Tell a lie often enough, and you will come to believe it’s true.

Here’s what I think happened based off of what I’ve heard publicized and my own reading of human nature. I think you were out watching the neighborhood, trying to keep it safe from thugs who had been perpetrating crimes. It’s a noble effort, one I applaud. As citizens we should be looking out for one another, and I would find it comforting to have a neighborhood watch in my neighborhood.

The thing is–when you are protecting a neighborhood, it is important to protect everyone in that neighborhood, even when you don’t know that they belong. Law enforcement spends a lot of time training so that they can tell the difference in a split second between a threatening person and somebody who is not a threat. They are also trained exhaustively in the ways to best handle somebody they are not sure about the threat a person poses.

Even with all that extensive training, they occasionally make mistakes. When those mistakes happen, the result is often horrifying for the officer who made the mistake, the person about whom they made the mistake, and the community in which it happens. And, this with extensive training–training that you do not have.

What made you think that you were qualified to follow and confront somebody you were convinced was a threat to the neighborhood? So, no. I don’t believe your account that you were accosted by Trayvon Martin with no provocation of any kind. What I envision is a young man who was as scared of you as you were of him.

He’s walking home through the dark and a creepy, middle-aged man is watching him and starts to follow him. I can believe your account that he jumped out at you and even punched you in the nose. But, did he do that with a similar motivation to yours? Was he trying to protect the neighborhood from a potential predator, too?

We’ll never know, because he’s dead–by your hand.

Yeah, I know you’re life has gone to hell in a handbasket since that night. I know your life has been forever altered by that act. It seems like everyone is against you right now. But, it’s hard for me to feel sorry for you because as much as your life sucks right now, you’re still alive. He is not alive. Any potential he had has been squashed. He will never see the light of another day, and it is your fault.

No, I don’t consider you to be a murderer. I believe you honestly feared for your life when you shot him. But, it never had to happen. If you had just stayed home; if you had just listened to that dispatcher when she told you not to follow the guy; if you had left your weapon in the truck instead of carrying it, you would both be alive right now. One bonehead with a gun, and two lives are ruined–one permanently and the other until everyone forgets–which in America will be any time now.

You still have a future. Use it more wisely than you did the first half of your life.

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Syria–If We Shouldn’t Fight, then What?

I pretty much covered why we should not go to war in Syria in the previous two posts I made about Syria. But, lack of military action doesn’t mean no action at all. There’s still plenty that could be done in Syria. So, let’s start with the question I posed in the previous post–WWJD?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus points out a model we could follow:

“Matthew 5:3-10, 14-15
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

What that means to me in the context of Syria is that there are a lot of blessed people in Syria waiting for somebody to bring the blessing to them. Christians all too often tend to focus on the next life and don’t view the beatitudes as a here and now thing. They forget that Jesus was a huge advocate of bringing the kindgom of heaven here to earth. In fact, waiting for the next life for the kingdom of heaven is downright sinful. Don’t believe me? Have a look at Matthew 25:31-46. People who don’t actively work to bring the kingdom of heaven to the here and now won’t be considered to be a part of it in the next life.

Let me quote just a small part of that last passage which makes it crystal clear what we should be doing in Syria.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

We need to be doing everything possible to help the victims in Syria. We need to be feeding those who are being made hungry. We need to clothe and shelter the ones who are now refugees. Those who have been injured (both psychologically and physically) need help.

So, instead spending a couple billion on military might, we should be working with Syria’s neighbors to make those things happen. And, if we send in the military, it should be to protect the refugees from any who would victimize them further.

Too expensive you say? Is it as expensive as the last two wars in the middle east have been? Will it cost as much in American blood and tears as those wars? I doubt it. And, not only that, American will again be able to claim the moral high ground. It’s a place we haven’t been in a long while, and it sure would be nice to reclaim some of the honor we have so carelessly squandered the past 10-15 years. And, finally America would have the chance to bring a small portion of the kingdom of heaven to a region of the world that has existed in a state of hell for far too long.

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To Fight or Not to Fight in Syria–WWJD?

Previously I talked about the question of Syria using a historical perspective, but I didn’t like the conclusion with which history left me. Truth be told, I really want to do something in Syria because what’s going on there is simply horrific. I admit it. I’m one of those liberals who can’t stand to see anybody suffer and who thinks that Americans have some sort of obligation to the world since we’re the last remaining superpower (for now). Yeah, I get the argument that we can’t afford to fix every international squabble. How do we prioritize what we should and shouldn’t do?

I guess this is where I turn to religion for an answer. Many (including me) who would like to do some kind of military action in Syria hold to a Christian worldview. I don’t know enough to speak with authority on what any of the other major religions would have to say, so I’ll stick with what I know–what would Jesus do?

Jesus never talked about war, so the best anybody can do is extrapolate. Some, such as the Mennonites, have taken his teachings to be complete passivism. Others adhere to a just war teaching (first espoused by St. Augustine), meaning that war is allowed if there is a just reason for it. I’m certainly not smarter than any of those guys, so I will have to go from what Jesus’ teachings mean to me personally.

First and foremost, Jesus hated for anybody to be exploited or abused by those in authority. So, he would be appalled to the point of tears at what is going on in Syria. I’m sure he would be decrying it in the strongest terms through every avenue he had available. He’d be on social media posting about it; he’d be preaching it from every pulpit available to him. It wouldn’t matter who he offended, and I expect he would have plenty of words for almost all sides of the debate.

Russia and Iran would catch his wrath for supporting a regime that tortures and kills its own people. The rebels would hear about their own abuses of the weak and powerless. But, his strongest criticism would fall on the shoulders of the Christians. It is a little-known fact that Syria’s Christian community have been very strong supporters of the Assad regime. In a part of the world where Christians are often persecuted by those in power, the Assad regime have offered a fair bit of protection. So, if he were to fall, their lives and livelihoods would be in grave danger. Thus, they support him in spite of his murderous policies. While we might try to excuse them, I think he’d point a finger right at them.

Then, there are the Christians in our country, many of who are the calling the loudest for war with Syria. Jesus would be all over them for thinking in terms of punishing the regime of Bashar al Assad without considering the long-term consequences for the very people they are supposedly calling for this war to defend. Christianity in the US these days seems to be all about rules and punishment and not about offering relief for the oppressed.

For a war to be just, one side must be disproportionately abusing the other. [That's an easy one to check off. Bashar al Assad has killed somewhere around 100K of his own people.]

Military intervention should only be considered to save lives. In other words, we must end up killing less people than would be killed if we did nothing. Remember, Jesus is not a respector of persons. He does not value a guilty life any less than an innocent. So, if the war would end up with more lives lost than if we didn’t intervene, we must stay out of it. [This one's a little harder to call, because we don't know what would happen if we were to remove Assad from power. How many lives would ultimately be lost in the sectarian fighting that is sure to follow such an act?]

The war must be carried out by a competent authority. Now, I know the US likes to think it is a competent authority, but that isn’t necessarily the case. If it were a case of one country fighting another, we might be, but it isn’t. Instead, it is us wanting to take on a regime in a country and attempt to leave just about everyone else untouched. That is a matter for the UN. So, not only must we conduct a war in a way that follows our constitution (i.e., the president in consultation with Congress), we must also follow international law. That means that any justice we wish to exact must also pass muster with the UN.

Wait, you say. Jesus would consult the UN? You betcha. He taught that we were to render due deference to the authorities that were placed over us–just not to act like them.

Now, I sense that many will get their backs up over this. When did the US start taking orders from the UN? Well, when we start military actions in countries that are members of the UN, we are obligated by our word–the promises we made when the UN was founded. The whole idea behind the UN was that countries would cooperate and work things out, leaving the waging of war to the very last option, which brings me to the next criterion for a just war.

It has the be the option of last resort. Jesus would never be the one to swing a fist if there were another option available. Think about it. He never raised his hand in anger, except in one incident–where the moneychangers had completely corrupted the temple with their swindling and cheating ways. They were in cahoots with the temple leaders, so Jesus had no option but to drive them out himself. So, that is what he did. But, even then, he used no more force than was necessary. He might have bruised a few backsides, but only to get them to leave.

So, where does that leave us with Syria? Evil dude in power and not about to just walk away. Evil dude is killing off his people at an alarming rate. Looks like the intention is good. But, what are the odds we can cleanly remove or neutralize Assad while preventing harm to more than Assad would harm? In addition, is war the only option left? No, not really.

Russia seized upon a statement made by Secretary of State Kerry and negotiated a deal where Assad will surrender his chemical weapons to the international community. I’ve seen all the people screaming about how the Russians snookered us and made us look dumb. Who cares? We were marching in a way that looked like we were irrevocably moving towards war. Now, there are other options on the table. Instead of worrying about our wounded pride, we should be grateful that we are provided an opportunity to make things better without resorting to violence.

What would Jesus say to all the good Christian men and women who are nattering on about wounded national pride and how we can’t afford to look weak? I think he would point out to him that he looked pretty darned weak in the face of Pilate. Many people seem to think that Pilate was reluctant to execute Jesus because his wife warned him about the dream. Nonsense. He had determined that Jesus was some random nut job who had no intention to lead an armed revolt, not a man worth executing. Was Jesus concerned about how he appeared to others? Not in the least. He was all about helping the downtrodden and oppressed, not scoring style points.

It’s pretty clear to me that attacking Syria is not a just war and that Jesus simply wouldn’t do it. But, Jesus also wouldn’t lie down and do nothing. And, he wouldn’t just use words as I described at the beginning of my essay. He did a lot of talk, but he also walked the walk. What would he do then? I’ll talk about that in my third and final installment.

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To Fight Syria or Not to Fight Syria–A historical perspective

There’s been a lot of heated rhetoric about whether we should fight Syria or not. There are a lot of good arguments both pro and con. There are also a lot of bad arguments pro and con. I, to be quite honest, don’t know what side I’m on–unless it’s on the side of those poor people who have died such a horrific deaths. I’m going to try to work out what I think we (the US) should do.

I tend to go back and read history when deciding what kinds of policies I support.  WWII is a lesson on what happens when countries stand to the side and ignore a rogue country that is murdering its own people. Over 14 million people were slaughtered by Germany before the Allied forces were able to put a stop to it. It’s not as if we didn’t know. Roosevelt regularly received reports detailing the wholesale slaughter of Jews, Gypsies, and anybody else who was deemed to be defective by the Nazis. How many could have been saved if we had intervened sooner rather than waiting until it was in America’s best interests to join the war.Counter that history lesson with the lessons we learned in Iraq. Saddam Hussein was a ruthless dictator who murdered his own people with poison gas long before anybody in the US cared about it, going so far as to do a fair bit of ethnic cleansing. If anybody deserved to be removed from power, it was him. Yet, removing him has proved to be a wholesale disaster that has been anything but in the best interests of the US.

Of course, there are those who will say that the two situations aren’t even comparable. Hitler, if not stopped, was going to take over the world and possibly murder hundreds of millions of people. Saddam Hussein wasn’t going anywhere, and as horrible as his actions were, they were contained in a small region of the world.

If we take that point, then the situation in Syria is much closer to what existed in Iraq than what existed during WWII. It would be easy to make the argument that as heinous as Bashar Al-assad has been, he doesn’t rise to such a level that the United States should get involved.

Still….

What he has done shocks the conscience. Surely, we must do something. Al-assad’s murder of tens of thousands of his own people, including children, should not be allowed to stand. In my next blog post, I’ll try looking at it from a different perspective than history.

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Back from Hiatus

I took an unplanned, 2.5 month hiatus but I’m back feeling quite a bit refreshed. The stress of learning my new job has lessened a great deal, and I can devote my energies back to being opinionated online again. Watch this space for more posts in the near future.

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Dear Human

deisticchristian:

This is simply so awesome.

Originally posted on Anacephalaeosis:

Oldy but a goody from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal by Zach Weiner.

 

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