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Don’t Iraq Iran by David Swanson

 

iraq iran

Cartoon by John Cole

If Iran had spent the last few decades lying about and threatening the United States, and had attacked and built military bases in Canada and Mexico, and had imposed sanctions on the United States that were creating great suffering, and then a lying scheming war-crazed Iranian official announced that he believed the United States had put some missiles on some fishing boats in the Chesapeake Bay, would you believe that . . .

a) The United States was a dangerous rogue state threatening Iran with imminent destruction?
b) Whether or not to bomb U.S. cities really depended on exactly what kind of missiles were on those fishing boats?
c) The sanctions were clearly not severe enough?
or
d) All of the above?

Of course not. You’re not a lunatic.

But U.S. culture is a lunatic. And you and I live in it.

The case against Iraqing Iran includes the following points:

Threatening war is a violation of the U.N. Charter.

Waging war is a violation of the U.N. Charter and of the Kellogg-Briand Pact.

Waging war without Congress is a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Have you seen Iraq lately?

Have you seen the entire region?

Have you seen Afghanistan? Libya? Syria? Yemen? Pakistan? Somalia?

War supporters said the U.S. urgently needed to attack Iran in 2007. It did not attack. The claims turned out to be lies. Even a National Intelligence Estimate in 2007 pushed back and admitted that Iran had no nuclear weapons program.

Having a nuclear weapons program is not a justification for war, legally, morally, or practically. The United States has nuclear weapons and no one would be justified in attacking the United States.

Dick and Liz Cheney’s book, Exceptional, tell us we must see a “moral difference between an Iranian nuclear weapon and an American one.” Must we, really? Either risks further proliferation, accidental use, use by a crazed leader, mass death and destruction, environmental disaster, retaliatory escalation, and apocalypse. One of those two nations has nuclear weapons, has used nuclear weapons, has provided the other with plans for nuclear weapons, has a policy of first-use of nuclear weapons, has leadership that sanctions the possession of nuclear weapons, and has frequently threated to use nuclear weapons. I don’t think those facts would make a nuclear weapon in the hands of the other country the least bit moral, but also not the least bit more immoral. Let’s focus on seeing an empirical difference between an Iranian nuclear weapon and an American one. One exists. The other doesn’t.

If you’re wondering, U.S. presidents who have made specific public or secret nuclear threats to other nations, that we know of, as documented in Daniel Ellsberg’s The Doomsday Machine, have included Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump, while others, including Barack Obama and Donald Trump have frequently said things like “All options are on the table” in relation to Iran or another country.

War supporters said the U.S. urgently needed to attack Iran in 2015. It did not attack. The claims turned out to be lies. Even the claims of supporters of the nuclear agreement reinforced the lie that Iran had a nuclear weapons program in need of containment. There is no evidence that Iran has ever had a nuclear weapons program.

The long history of the United States lying about Iranian nuclear weapons is chronicled by Gareth Porter’s book Manufactured Crisis.

Proponents of war or steps toward war (sanctions was a step toward war on Iraq) say we urgently need a war now, but they have no argument for urgency, and their claims are thus far transparent lies.

None of this is new.

bush iran war

In 2017, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations claimed that Iranian weapons had been used in a war that the U.S.., Saudi Arabia, and allies were and still are illegally and disastrously waging in Yemen. While that’s a problem that should be corrected, it is hard to find a war anywhere on the planet without U.S. weapons in it. In fact, a report that made news the same day as the ambassador’s claims, pointed to the long-known fact that many of the weapons used by ISIS had once belonged to the United States, many of them having been given by the U.S. to non-state fighters (aka terrorists) in Syria.

Fighting wars and arming others to fight wars/terrorism is a justification for indictment and prosecution, but not for war, legally, morally, or practically. The United States fights and arms wars, and no one would be justified in attacking the United States.

If Iran is guilty of a crime, and there is evidence to support that claim, the United States and the world should seek its prosecution. Instead, the United States is isolating itself by tearing down the rule of law. It is destroying its credibility by abandoning a multi-nation agreement. In a Gallup poll in 2013, the majority of nations polled had the United States receive the most votes as the greatest threat to peace on earth. In the Gallup poll, people within the U.S. chose Iran as the top threat to peace on earth — Iran which had not attacked another nation in centuries and spent less than 1% of what the U.S. spent on militarism. These views are clearly a function of what people are told through news media.

The history of U.S./Iranian relations matters here. The U.S. overthrew Iran’s democracy in 1953 and installed a brutal dictator / weapons customer.

The U.S. gave Iran nuclear energy technology in the 1970s.

In 2000, the CIA gave Iran nuclear bomb plans in an effort to frame it. This was reported by James Risen, and Jeffrey Sterling went to prison for allegedly being Risen’s source.

The Trump White House early on openly expressed a desire to claim that Iran had violated the 2015 nuclear agreement, but produced no evidence. It didn’t matter. Trump left the agreement anyway and now uses his own shredding of the agreement as grounds for nuclear fearmongering about Iran.

The push to attack Iran has been on for so long that entire categories of arguments for it (such as that the Iranians are fueling the Iraqi resistance) and demonized leaders of Iran have come and gone.

What’s changed that gives the question more importance than ever is that the United States now has a president who seeks the approval of people who want to bring about the end of the world in the Middle East for religious reasons, and who have praised President Trump’s announcement of moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem for just those reasons.

While Iran has not attacked any other country in centuries, the United States has not done so well by Iran.

The United States aided Iraq in the 1980s in attacking Iran, providing Iraq with some of the weapons (including chemical weapons) that were used on Iranians and that would be used in 2002-2003 (when they no longer existed) as an excuse for attacking Iraq.

For many years, the United States has labeled Iran an evil nation, attacked and destroyed the other non-nuclear nation on the list of evil nations, designated part of Iran’s military a terrorist organization, falsely accused Iran of crimes including the attacks of 9-11, murdered Iranian scientists, funded opposition groups in Iran (including some the U.S. also designates as terrorist), flown drones over Iran, openly and illegally threatened to attack Iran, and built up military forces all around Iran’s borders, while imposing cruel sanctions on the country.

The roots of a Washington push for a new war on Iran can be found in the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance, the 1996 paper called A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm, the 2000 Rebuilding America’s Defenses, and in a 2001 Pentagon memo described by Wesley Clark as listing these nations for attack: Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Lebanon, Syria, and Iran.

It’s worth noting that Bush Jr. overthrew Iraq, and Obama Libya, while the others remain works in progress.

In 2010, Tony Blair included Iran on a similar list of countries that he said Dick Cheney had aimed to overthrow. The line among the powerful in Washington in 2003 was that Iraq would be a cakewalk but that real men go to Tehran. The arguments in these old forgotten memos were not what the war makers tell the public, but much closer to what they tell each other. The concerns here are those of dominating regions rich in resources, intimidating others, and establishing bases from which to maintain control of puppet governments.

Of course the reason why “real men go to Tehran” is that Iran is not the impoverished disarmed nation that one might find in, say, Afghanistan or Iraq, or even the disarmed nation found in Libya in 2011. Iran is much bigger and much better armed. Whether the United States launches a major assault on Iran or Israel does, Iran will retaliate against U.S. troops and probably Israel and possibly the United States itself as well. And the United States will without any doubt re-retaliate for that. Iran cannot be unaware that the U.S. government’s pressure on the Israeli government not to attack Iran consists of reassuring the Israelis that the United States will attack when needed, and does not include even threatening to stop funding Israel’s military or to stop vetoing measures of accountability for Israeli crimes at the United Nations. (President Obama’s ambassador refrained from one veto on illegal settlements, while President-Elect Trump lobbied foreign governments to block the resolution, colluding with the foreign nation of Israel — if anybody gives a damn about that sort of thing.)

In other words, any U.S. pretense of having seriously wanted to prevent an Israeli attack is not credible. Of course, many in the U.S. government and military oppose attacking Iran, although key figures like Admiral William Fallon have been moved out of the way. Much of the Israeli military is opposed as well, not to mention the Israeli and U.S. people. But war is not clean or precise. If the people we allow to run our nations attack another, we are all put at risk.

Most at risk, of course, are the people of Iran, people as peaceful as any other, or perhaps more so. As in any country, no matter what its government, the people of Iran are fundamentally good, decent, peaceful, just, and fundamentally like you and me. I’ve met people from Iran. You may have met people from Iran. They look like this. They’re not a different species. They’re not evil. A “surgical strike” against a “facility” in their country would cause a great many of them to die very painful and horrible deaths. Even if you imagine that Iran would not retaliate for such attacks, this is what the attacks would in themselves consist of: mass murder.

And what would that accomplish? It would unite the people of Iran and much of the world against the United States. It would justify in the eyes of much of the world an underground Iranian program to develop nuclear weapons, a program that probably does not exist at present, except to the extent that legal nuclear energy programs move a country closer to weapons development. The environmental damage would be tremendous, the precedent set incredibly dangerous, all talk of cutting the U.S. military budget would be buried in a wave of war frenzy, civil liberties and representative government would be flushed down the Potomac, a nuclear arms race would spread to additional countries, and any momentary sadistic glee would be outweighed by accelerating home foreclosures, mounting student debt, and accumulating layers of cultural stupidity.

Strategically, legally, and morally weapons possession is not grounds for war, and neither is pursuit of weapons possession. And neither, I might add, with Iraq in mind, is theoretically possible pursuit of weapons never acted upon. Israel has nuclear weapons. The United States has more nuclear weapons than any other country but Russia (the two of them together have 90% of the world’s nukes). There can be no justification for attacking the United States, Israel, or any other country. The pretense that Iran has or will soon have nuclear weapons is, in any case, just a pretense, one that has been revived, debunked, and revived again like a zombie for years and years. But that’s not the really absurd part of this false claim for something that amounts to no justification for war whatsoever. The really absurd part is that it was the United States in 1976 that pushed nuclear energy on Iran. In 2000 the CIA gave the Iranian government (slightly flawed) plans to build a nuclear bomb. In 2003, Iran proposed negotiations with the United States with everything on the table, including its nuclear technology, and the United States refused. Shortly thereafter, the United States started angling for a war. Meanwhile, U.S.-led sanctions prevent Iran from developing wind energy, while the Koch brothers are allowed to trade with Iran without penalty.

Another area of ongoing lie debunking, one that almost exactly parallels the buildup to the 2003 attack on Iraq, is the relentless false claim, including by candidates in 2012 for U.S. President, that Iran has not allowed inspectors into its country or given them access to its sites. Iran had, in fact, prior to the agreement voluntarily accepted stricter standards than the IAEA requires. And of course a separate line of propaganda, albeit a contradictory one, holds that the IAEA has discovered a nuclear weapons program in Iran. Under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), Iran was not required to declare all of its installations, and early last decade it chose not to, as the United States violated that same treaty by blocking Germany, China, and others from providing nuclear energy equipment to Iran. While Iran remains in compliance with the NPT, India and Pakistan and Israel have not signed it and North Korea has withdrawn from it, while the United States and other nuclear powers continuously violate it by failing to reduce arms, by providing arms to other countries such as India, and by developing new nuclear weapons.

us military bases surround iran

This is what the empire of U.S. military bases looks like to Iran. Try to imagine if you lived there, what you would think of this. Who is threatening whom? Who is the greater danger to whom? The point is not that Iran should be free to attack the United States or anyone else because its military is smaller. The point is that doing so would be national suicide. It would also be something Iran has not done for centuries. But it would be typical U.S. behavior.

 

Are you ready for an even more absurd twist? This is on the same scale as Bush’s comment about not really giving much thought to Osama bin Laden. Are you ready? The proponents of attacking Iran themselves admit that if Iran had nukes it would not use them. This is from the American Enterprise Institute:

“The biggest problem for the United States is not Iran getting a nuclear weapon and testing it, it’s Iran getting a nuclear weapon and not using it. Because the second that they have one and they don’t do anything bad, all of the naysayers are going to come back and say, ‘See, we told you Iran is a responsible power. We told you Iran wasn’t getting nuclear weapons in order to use them immediately.’ … And they will eventually define Iran with nuclear weapons as not a problem.”

Is that clear? Iran using a nuclear weapon would be bad: environmental damage, loss of human life, hideous pain and suffering, yada, yada, yada. But what would be really bad would be Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon and doing what every other nation with them has done since Nagasaki: nothing. That would be really bad because it would damage an argument for war and make war more difficult, thus allowing Iran to run its country as it, rather than the United States, sees fit. Of course it might run it very badly (although we’re hardly establishing a model for the world over here either), but it would run it without U.S. approval, and that would be worse than nuclear destruction.

Inspections were allowed in Iraq and they worked. They found no weapons and there were no weapons. Inspections are being allowed in Iran and they are working. However, the IAEA has come under the corrupting influence of the U.S. government. And yet, the bluster from war proponents about IAEA claims over the years is not backed up by any actual claims from the IAEA. And what little material the IAEA has provided for the cause of war has been widely rejected when not being laughed at.

Another year, another lie. No longer do we hear that North Korea is helping Iran build nukes. Lies about Iranian backing of Iraqi resisters have faded. (Didn’t the United States back French resistance to Germans at one point?) The latest concoction is the “Iran did 911” lie. Revenge, like the rest of these attempted grounds for war, is actually not a legal or moral justification for war. But this latest fiction has already been put to rest by the indespensable Gareth Porter, among others. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, which did play a role in 911 as well as in the Iraqi resistance, is being sold record quantities of that good old leading U.S. export of which we’re all so proud: weapons of mass destruction.

Oh, I almost forgot another lie that hasn’t quite entirely faded yet. Iran did not try to blow up a Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C., an action which President Obama would have considered perfectly praiseworthy if the roles were reversed, but a lie that even Fox News had a hard time stomaching. And that’s saying something.

And then there’s that old standby: Ahmadinejad said “Israel should be wiped off the map.” While this does not, perhaps, rise to the level of John McCain singing about bombing Iran or Bush and Obama swearing that all options including nuclear attack are on the table, it sounds extremely disturbing: “wiped off the map”! However, the translation is a bad one. A more accurate translation was “the regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.” The government of Israel, not the nation of Israel. Not even the government of Israel, but the current regime. Hell, Americans say that about their own regimes all the time, alternating every four to eight years depending on political party (some of us even say it all the time, without immunity for either party). Iran has made clear it would approve of a two-state solution if Palestinians approved of it. If the U.S. launched missile strikes every time somebody said something stupid, even if accurately translated, how safe would it be to live near Newt Gingrich’s or Joe Biden’s house?

iran wmds

Cartoon by Jeff Darcy

The real danger may not actually be the lies. The Iraq experience has built up quite a mental resistance to these sorts of lies in many U.S. residents. The real danger may be the slow start of a war that gains momentum on its own without any formal announcement of its initiation. Israel and the United States have not just been talking tough or crazy. They’ve been murdering Iranians. And they seem to have no shame about it. The day after a Republican presidential primary debate at which candidates declared their desire to kill Iranians, the CIA apparently made certain the news was public that it was in fact already murdering Iranians, not to mention blowing up buildings. Some would say and have said that the war has already begun. Those who cannot see this because they do not want to see it will also miss the deadly humor in the United States asking Iran to return its brave drone.

Perhaps what’s needed to snap war supporters out of their stupor is a bit of slapstick. Try this on for size. From Seymour Hersh describing a meeting held in Vice President Cheney’s office:

“There was a dozen ideas proffered about how to trigger a war. The one that interested me the most was why don’t we build — we in our shipyard — build four or five boats that look like Iranian PT boats. Put Navy seals on them with a lot of arms. And next time one of our boats goes to the Straits of Hormuz, start a shoot-up. Might cost some lives. And it was rejected because you can’t have Americans killing Americans. That’s the kind of — that’s the level of stuff we’re talking about. Provocation. But that was rejected.”

Now, Dick Cheney is not your typical American. Nobody in the U.S. government is your typical American. Your typical American is struggling, disapproves of the U.S. government, wishes billionaires were taxed, favors green energy and education and jobs over military boondoggles, thinks corporations should be barred from buying elections, and would not be inclined to apologize for getting shot in the face by the Vice President. Back in the 1930s, the Ludlow Amendment nearly made it a Constitutional requirement that the public vote in a referendum before the United States could go to war. President Franklin Roosevelt blocked that proposal. Yet the Constitution already required and still requires that Congress declare war before a war is fought. That has not been done in almost 80 years, while wars have raged on almost incessantly. In the past decade and right up through President Obama’s signing of the outrageous National Defense Authorization Act on New Years Eve 2011-2012, the power to make war has been handed over to presidents. Here is one more reason to oppose a presidential war on Iran: once you allow presidents to make wars, you will never stop them. Another reason, in so far as anybody any longer gives a damn, is that war is a crime. Iran and the United States are parties to the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which bans war. One of those two nations is not complying.

But we won’t have a referendum. The U.S. House of Misrepresentatives won’t step in. Only through widespread public pressure and nonviolent action will we intervene in this slow-motion catastrophe. Already the United States and the United Kingdom are preparing for war with Iran. This war, if it happens, will be fought by an institution called the United States Department of Defense, but it will endanger rather than defending us. As the war progresses, we will be told that the Iranian people want to be bombed for their own good, for freedom, for democracy. But nobody wants to be bombed for that. Iran does not want U.S.-style democracy. Even the United States does not want U.S.-style democracy. We will be told that those noble goals are guiding the actions of our brave troops and our brave drones on the battlefield. Yet there will be no battlefield. There will be no front lines. There will be no trenches. There will simply be cities and towns where people live, and where people die. There will be no victory. There will be no progress accomplished through a “surge.” On January 5, 2012, then-Secretary of “Defense” Leon Panetta was asked at a press conference about the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he replied simply that those were successes. That is the kind of success that could be expected in Iran were Iran a destitute and disarmed state.

Now we begin to understand the importance of all the media suppression, blackouts, and lies about the damage done to Iraq and Afghanistan. Now we understand why Obama and Panetta embraced the lies that launched the War on Iraq. The same lies must now be revived, as for every war ever fought, for a War on Iran. . . The U.S. corporate media is part of the war machine.

Planning war and funding war creates its own momentum. Sanctions become, as with Iraq, a stepping stone to war. Cutting off diplomacy leaves few options open. Electoral pissing contests take us all where most of us did not want to be.

These are the bombs most likely to launch this ugly and quite possibly terminal chapter of human history. This animation shows clearly what they would do. For an even better presentation, pair that with this audio of a misinformed caller trying hopelessly to persuade George Galloway that we should attack Iran.

On January 2, 2012, the New York Times reported concern that cuts to the U.S. military budget raised doubts as to whether the United States would “be prepared for a grinding, lengthy ground war in Asia.” At a Pentagon press conference on January 5, 2012, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reassured the press corpse (sic) that major ground wars were very much an option and that wars of one sort or another were a certainty. President Obama’s statement of military policy released at that press conference listed the missions of the U.S. military. First was fighting terrorism, next detering “aggression,” then “projecting power despite anti-access/area denial challenges,” then the good old WMDs, then conquering space and cyberspace, then nuclear weapons, and finally — after all that — there was mention of defending the Homeland Formerly Known As The United States.

The cases of Iraq and Iran are not identical in every detail, of course. But in both cases we are dealing with concerted efforts to get us into wars, wars based, as all wars are based, on lies. We may need to revive this appeal to U.S. and Israeli forces!

Additional reasons not to Iraq Iran include the numerous reasons not to maintain the institution of war at all, as laid out at WorldBeyondWar.org.

Here’s another way of looking at this:

Iran Deal Prevents Naked Muslim Ray Gun

Nukes get all the attention, but the fact is that intense inspections of Iranian facilities will also prevent Iran from developing a ray gun that causes your clothes to vanish and your brain to convert to Islam.

No, there is not the slightest scrap of evidence that Iran is trying to create such a thing, but then there’s also not the slightest scrap of evidence that Iran is trying to create a nuclear bomb.

And yet, here are a bunch of celebrities in a video that certainly cost many more dollars than the number of people who’ve watched it, urging support for the Iran deal after hyping the bogus Iranian nuclear threat, pretending that the United States gets “forced into” wars, making a bunch of sick jokes about how nuclear death can be better than other war deaths, suggesting that spies are cool, cursing, and mocking the very idea that war is a serious matter.

And here’s an otherwise intelligent guy in a video claiming that the Iran deal will prevent the “Iranian regime” (never a government, always a regime) from “gaining a nuclear weapon.” Well, I say it also prevents Iran from gaining a Naked Muslim Ray Gun!

When you question supporters of diplomacy and peace with Iran on why they focus their rhetoric on preventing Iran from getting nukes, even though at least some of them privately admit there’s no evidence Iran is trying to, they don’t come out and say that they’re cynically playing into popular beliefs, even false ones, because they have no choice. No, they tell you that their language doesn’t actually state that Iran was trying to get nukes, only that if Iran ever did decide to try to get nukes, this deal would prevent it.

Well, the same applies to the Naked Muslim Ray Gun.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Or rather, stop being afraid. Don’t listen to the pro-war propaganda even when it’s parroted by the pro-peace advocates. It doesn’t improve your thinking, your understanding, or the prospects in the long run of avoiding war.

— David Swanson, World Without War, Don’t Iraq Iran, May 19, 2019

War’s Unanswered Questions by Robert C. Koehler

us war machine“Over these last few years, given the wars it has waged and the international treaties it has arbitrarily reneged on, the U.S. government perfectly fits its own definition of a rogue state.” — Arundhati Roy

You have the world’s largest military, you’re going to use it, right? Donald Trump and his team, led by National Insecurity Advisor John Bolton, are playing rogue right now with two countries not currently under U.S. control, Iran and Venezuela.

For those who already know that war is not only hell but utterly futile, the raw question hovering over these potential new exercises in mass murder transcends the obvious question: How can they be stopped? The larger question begins with the word “why” and then breaks into a thousand pieces.

Why is war the first — and seemingly the only — resort in so many national disagreements? Why is our trillion-dollar annual military budget sacrosanct? Why do we not learn from history that wars are based on lies? Why does the corporate media always hop aboard the “next” war (whatever it is) with such enthusiasm, with so little skepticism? Why does patriotism seem to require belief in an enemy? Why do we still have nuclear weapons? Why (as journalist Colman McCarthy once asked) are we violent but not illiterate?

Let’s take a look at bad, bad Iran. As CNN recently reported:

“National Security Adviser John Bolton said in a written statement Sunday that the U.S. is not seeking war with Iran, but was deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group as well as a bomber task force to the US Central Command region in the Middle East ‘to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.’”

And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, addressing the issue with disconcerting and unintentional candor, told reporters, according to CNN, “What we’ve been trying to do is to get Iran to behave like a normal nation.”

How would a “normal nation” respond to endless threats and sanctions? Sooner or later it would hit back. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, speaking recently in New York, explained it thus: “The plot is to push Iran into taking action. And then use that.”

Use it, in other words, as the excuse to go to war.

And going to war is a political game, a decision made or not made by a few important individuals — Bolton, Pompeo, Trump — while the general public looks on either in support or outrage, but either way as spectators. This phenomenon provokes an enormous, unasked “why?” Why is war a top-down directive rather than a collective, public decision? But I guess the answer to that question is obvious: We couldn’t go to war that wasn’t pre-orchestrated by a small group of powerful individuals. All the public has to do is . . . pretty much, nothing.

Elham Pourtaher, an Iranian going to school in New York state, makes this plea for heightened awareness: “U.S. civil society needs to include more global perspectives on the country’s foreign policy. U.S. citizens must become more aware that their votes have grave consequences beyond their country’s borders. . . . (Their) elected administration’s foreign policy is a matter of life and death for the citizens of the other countries, especially in the Middle East.”

She also notes that “the war has already begun. U.S. sanctions are producing a level of suffering comparable to that of wartime. Sanctions in fact are a war waged by the United States against the Iranian working- and middle-classes. These groups struggle to make ends meet as unemployment dramatically increases even as the inflation rate skyrockets. The same people that the Trump administration is pretending to want to set free are the ones that are hit hardest by current U.S. policies in the Middle East.”

And, oh yeah, the ones gaining empowerment from the U.S. war games are “the most undemocratic factions of the Iranian state.” This is how it always works. Hostile aggression begets hostile aggression. A war on terror begets terror. Why do we not know this yet?

At the very least, the provocations, including the fact that Trump is considering sending troops to the area, have “created a scenario in which everyone is now very worried that some form of an accidental war at a minimum is very likely because you have too many U.S. forces and Iranian forces into too small of an area,” Trita Parsi, founder of the National Iranian American Council, said in a recent interview.

Human society is organized in such a way that war, intentional or accidental, is inevitable on a regular basis. And in the run-up to these wars, only the smallest questions are asked by the media, centering around: Is this one justified? Never, “Is this wise? Is this the best choice?” If something sufficiently provocative is done by the enemy — North Vietnam attacks a U.S. ship in the Tonkin Gulf, Iraq purchases aluminum tubes — then “we have no choice” but to retaliate on a massive scale.

The large questions only come later, such as this cry from a Syrian woman in the wake of allied air strikes on the city of Raqqa, quoted in an Amnesty International report:

“I saw my son die, burnt in the rubble in front of me. I’ve lost everyone who was dear to me. My four children, my husband, my mother, my sister, my whole family. Wasn’t the goal to free the civilians? They were supposed to save us, to save our children.”

— Robert C. Koehler, Peace Voice, War’s Unanswered Questions, May 19. 2019

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Incest Caused by “Immodest” Dress

gerald collingsworth

The entire eighteenth chapter of Leviticus is on nakedness. Although most Christians still consider bestiality as being wrong, they no longer consider homosexuality as being wrong or dressing improperly as being wrong. Many see nothing wrong with dressing scantily. Many see nothing wrong with mixed bathing, yet God calls it an abomination. How many cases of incest have taken place in homes where passions have been inflamed by immodesty among family members? How many boys and girls have been raised in homes that practiced immodest dress and now live lives of promiscuity?

— Gerald B. Collingsworth, Independent Baptist, Right Living is Not Legalism, May 18, 2019

Gerald Collingsworth is the pastor of Heritage Baptist Church (an IFB congregation) in Mogadore, Ohio

Quote of the Day: Willie Nelson’s “God”

willie nelson

I think God is love, period. There’s love in everything out there — trees, grass, air, water. Love is the one thing that runs through every living thing. Everybody loves something. The grass loves the water. That’s the one thing we all have in common, that we all love and like to be loved. That’s God.

— Willie Nelson, Rolling Stone, The High Life, May 2018

Quote of the Day: Does Morality Require a God or Holy Book?

dr john messerly

Lacking good reasons or armed with weak ones, many will object that their moral beliefs derive from their Gods. To base your ethical views on Gods you would need to know: 1) if Gods exist; 2) if they are good; 3) if they issue good commands; 4) how to find the commands; and 5) the proper version and translation of the holy books issuing commands, or the right interpretation of a revelation of the commands, or the legitimacy of a church authority issuing commands. Needless to say, it is hard, if not impossible, to know any of this.

Consider just the interpretation problem. When does a seemingly straightforward command from a holy book like, “thou shalt not kill,” apply? In self-defense? In war? Always? And to whom does it apply? To non-human animals? Intelligent aliens? Serial killers? All living things? The unborn? The brain-dead? Religious commands such as “don’t kill,” “honor thy parents,” and “don’t commit adultery” are ambiguous. Difficulties also arise if we hear voices commanding us, or if we accept an institution’s authority. Why trust the voices in our heads, or institutional authorities?

For the sake of argument though, let’s assume: that there are Gods; that you know the true one; that your God issues good commands; that you have access to those commands because you have found the right book or church, or had the right vision, or heard the right voices; and that you interpret and understand the command correctly—even if they came from a book that has been translated from one language to another over thousands of years, or from a long-ago revelation. It is almost impossible that you are correct about all this, but for the sake of the argument let’s say that you are. However, even in this case, most philosophers would argue that you can’t base ethics on your God.

To understand why you can’t base ethics on Gods consider the question: what is the relationship between the Gods and their commands? A classic formulation of this relationship is called the divine-command theory. According to divine command theory, things are right or wrong simply because the Gods command or forbid them. There is nothing more to morality than this. It’s like a parent who says to a child: it’s right because I say so. To see how this formulation of the relationship fails, consider a famous philosophical conundrum: “Are things right because the Gods command them, or do the Gods command them because they are right?”

If things are right simply because the Gods command them, then those commands are arbitrary. In that case, the Gods could have made their commandments backward! If divine fiat is enough to make something right, then the Gods could have commanded us to kill, lie, cheat, steal and commit adultery, and those behaviors would then be moral. But the Gods can’t make something right if it’s wrong. The Gods can’t make torturing children morally acceptable simply by divine decree, and that is the main reason why most Christian theologians reject divine command theory.

On the other hand, if the Gods command things because they are right, then there are reasons for the God’s commands. On this view, the Gods, in their infinite wisdom and benevolence, command things because they see certain commands as good for us. But if this is the case, then there is some standard, norm or criteria by which good or bad are measured which is independent of the Gods. Thus all us, religious and secular alike, should be looking for the reasons that certain behaviors should be condemned or praised. Even the thoughtful believer should engage in philosophical ethics.

So either the Gods commands are without reason and therefore arbitrary, or they are rational according to some standard. This standard—say that we would all be better off—is thus the reason we should be moral and that reason, not the Gods’ authority, is what makes something right or wrong. The same is true for a supposedly authoritative book. Something isn’t wrong simply because a book says so. There must be a reason that something is right or wrong, and if there isn’t, then the book has no moral authority on the matter.

At this point, the believer might object that the Gods have reasons for their commands, but we can’t know them. Yet if the ways of the Gods are really mysterious to us, what’s the point of religion? If you can’t know anything about the Gods or their commands, then why follow those commands, why have religion at all, why listen to the priest or preacher? If it’s all a mystery, we should remain silent or become mystics.

— Dr. John Messerly, Reason and Meaning, Professional Ethicists Rarely Oppose Abortion, May 19, 2019

Black Collar Crime: Southern Baptist Deacon Charles Sweet Accused of Sex Crimes

charles sweet

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Charles Sweet, a former deacon at Hays Hills Baptist Church (a Southern Baptist congregation) in Buda, Texas, was accused in 2012 of sexually abusing a female family member. The investigation was suspended due to concerns over the child’s mental wellbeing. Sweet was excommunicated from the church.  Yesterday, the investigation was reopened as new allegations against Sweet have come to light.

The Hays Free Press reports:

A former Hays Hills Baptist Church deacon is expected to face charges of indecency with a child by contact after authorities accused him of abusing two girls, who are now adults, in the past.

During the course of a joint investigation conducted by Austin Police and the Hays County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), authorities believe “multiple” girls, also now all adults, had also been sexually abused by Charles Sweet, 85, of Austin, over the course of several years.

Sweet has not yet been arrested, according to a KXAN-TV report. Sweet had been a deacon at Hays Hills Baptist Church in the Buda area until he was removed and banned from the church following a 2012 sexual abuse investigation conducted by Austin Police, according to KXAN.

Eric Guevara, a detective with the Austin Police Child Abuse Unit, said the Hays County Sheriff’s Office in January received report from an adult woman who accused Sweet of sexually abusing her when she was younger, Guevara said. The alleged abuse took place in Hays County and in the Austin area.

Guevara, who reopened the 2012 investigation and joined the HCSO in its inquiry, discovered “multiple” girls, who are now adults, were victims of abuse by Sweet. Several women were identified as survivors during the course of their investigation, Guevara said.

The alleged incidents occurred from the early 1990’s and into the 2000’s. Guevara said Sweet’s “target age” was prepubescent children ranging from 6 to 12-years old. All victims in the case are female.

During that time period, Sweet was affiliated with Hays Hills and also conducted ministry work outside of the church at a location in Hays County.
That ministry work involved bible study, tutoring and general care for young children.

Charles Sweet is in his 80s. I have no doubt that if investigators dig deep enough they are going to find numerous victims. It wouldn’t shock me to find out that he has been messing with children for decades.

Update

The Statesman reports:

A former Hays County deacon turned himself in Thursday to be booked into the Travis County Jail on two charges of indecency with a child.

Charles Sweet, 85, has since been released from jail after posting a bond toward his $100,000 bail, Austin police officials said.

Sweet is also being investigated in connection with several other allegations of sexual abuse against young girls in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Austin police and church officials have said.

….

Police reopened the investigation into Sweet in January when they learned of other potential victims in Hays County, who said he abused them when they were children.

In one of those reports, a woman told police that Sweet repeatedly touched her genitals when she was between 4 and 6 years old while attending youth ministries for the Hays Hills church in Buda. She said the abuse occurred more than 100 times, documents say. She said she also was abused at Sweet’s residence in Austin, where she would go after church on Sundays, the affidavits say.

Austin police said Sweet was brought in for questioning in May and he admitted to sexually abusing several young children in the early 2000s, including the woman who made the report. He said he loved the victim and did not plan the abuse, but had done it “subconsciously” and suffered from either sex addiction or “uncontrollable impulse control,” arrest affidavits say.

 

What Would a Bible-Based Culture Look Like?

abortion is murder al shannon

There is a staggering lack of Biblically-based knowledge and impact in America’s public square. Secularism, Christianity’s chief competitor, thrives solely in the absence of morality, and Christians have handed over the culture and its mountains of influence to those in rebellion against God. Any casual observer will recognize that secularism’s dominance of academia, newsrooms, sports, the Courts, big business, Hollywood, and medicine is a direct result of Christians ‘not doing politics’. It would seem that modern Christianity is ‘not doing education’ either, given that the secular worldview now is being spoon-fed to 85% of America’s youthUntil Christians step into the public square, reestablishing a Biblically-based culture, the ‘sexualization’ and secularization of youth, allied and abetted by Hollywood and media cliques, will continue to bring the nation to ruin.

— David Lane, The American Renewal Project

Evangelicals, conservative Catholics, and Mormons clamor for a Bible-based culture. In their minds, the Bible is the moral and ethical standard by which all of us should live. If only the United States were governed by the dictates of the Bible, all would be well. Several years ago, a local Fundamentalist Christian wrote a letter to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News (behind a paywall) extolling the wonderfulness of living in a country governed by the Bible. He went on to say that no one should fear Bible-based rule. “Christians,” he said, “only want what’s best for everyone.” Sadly, there are a lot of naive believers who think just like this man; that Christians only want love, joy, peace, and ice cream for everyone. However, history tells us differently; that when church and state are one, blood is shed, people die, and freedoms are lost. And make no mistake about it, theocracy is the goal. Christian apologists might hide their theocratic beliefs with flowery words and philosophical verbiage, but the naked truth is that, in their minds, there is one Lord, lawgiver, ruler, king, and potentate, and his name if Jesus. There is one perfect and infallible law book — the Bible. Knowing these things to be true, perhaps we should ponder what a Bible-based culture would look like?

One need only look at the frontal assault on abortion and Roe v. Wade to see what a Bible-based culture might look like. Anti-abortionists, using an incremental approach, have been chipping away at abortion rights for decades. Their efforts have reached the point of critical mass, and now abortion is effectively and totally banned in numerous states. These bans, of course, are meant to be a vehicle by which to relitigate Roe v. Wade. Now that President Trump has put two conservative pro-life judges on the U.S. Supreme Court, it is likely that the Court will, when given the opportunity, overturn Roe v Wade. This will, then, return the regulation of abortion to the states, and when that happens, many state legislatures will quickly move to ban and criminalize abortion — including abortions in the case of rape and incest. This will not be the end of the matter either. Emboldened by their win, Fundamentalist Christians will demand that birth control be outlawed and public-school students be taught Bible-based abstinence-only sex education. These zealots will also tirelessly work to enact laws that give fertilized eggs constitutional rights — demanding personhood for zygotes. The culmination of their efforts will come when doctors, following the dictates of their conscience, are prosecuted for performing abortions and mothers are arrested and imprisoned for “murdering” their unborn “children.”

Several years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. The same people who tirelessly worked to ban abortion are the same people who strived to criminalize homosexuality and deny LGBTQ people the same constitutional rights afforded to heterosexual Americans. Don’t think for a moment that these people are sitting at home licking their wounds as they watch lesbian porn. Convinced of the rightness of their beliefs and interpretations of the Bible, these Fundamentalist Christians are plotting to force gays back into closets and recriminalize sodomy and other “perverse” sexual behaviors. Now that the makeup of the Supreme Court skews to the right, I have no doubt that these zealots will do their best to afford the Court another bite at the same-sex-marriage apple. Believing that the Bible condemns homosexuality, theocrats demand and work towards a Bible-based culture where the Good Book®, and not personal morality and preferences, determines who may fuck whom when, where, and how. Failing to fuck according to God’s Holy Word would lead to arrest and imprisonment. And if these theocrats are consistent, they will demand that “sodomites” be executed for their crimes against humanity. This, dear readers, is what a Bible-based culture looks like.

In a Bible-based culture, other sexual “sins” such as adultery and fornication would also be banned. In fact, in the Old Testament alone, there are 613 laws. Of course, no Christian has ever kept all of God’s laws. Most Christians, including those clamoring for a theocracy, regularly and with impunity ignore God-given laws. Can anyone say, HYPOCRITES?! That said, even limiting a Bible-based culture to the Ten Commandments, is dangerous. In both versions of the Decalogue — yes there are two versions and they differ from one another — the Christian God demands total and absolute fealty and worship. According to numerous Bible stories, worshipping other gods was considered a capital crime punishable by death. I am quite sure that if Fundamentalist Christians ever gain the power of the state, the first people rounded up and sent to Franklin Graham Reeducation Camps will be atheists and Muslims. Fundamentalist Christians have a deep-seated hatred for the godless and worshippers of Allah. It chaps their testicles that we roam free on the Internet and in public. Every time the Freedom From Religion Foundation successfully litigates a church-state issue, their email inbox is filled with hate mail from offended followers of Jesus. Imagine these same people having the power of the state at their disposal. In a Bible-based culture, there’s no freedom of/from religion. There’s one God — Jesus — one religion — Christianity — and one lawbook — the Bible.

The next time you hear the cacophony of Fundamentalist Christians demanding the United States adopt a Bible-based standard of behavior, ask them exactly what they mean. Peruse the list of Actions Prohibited by the Bible on RationalWiki, and then ask them if their Bible-based culture would include some or all of the listed prohibitions. I think you’ll find that few zealots really want to live by all of the laws found in the Bible. Damn, talk about a miserable life! No, most theocrats just want to legislate and criminalize the big stuff. What they want, most of all, is a return to the 1940s and 1950s — a time when women were submissive keepers of their homes, people of color knew their place, LGBTQ people were not seen or heard, and the only fucking going on was that between monogamous heterosexual married couples. They want a culture where everyone goes to church, loves Jesus, and school children read the Bible and pray every day. In other words, Christian Fundamentalists want to roll back a hundred years of social progress. Never mind that their vision of a Mayberry-like world exists only in their Bible-sotted minds. Does anyone really believe Andy wasn’t fucking Helen and Gomer wasn’t smoking weed in the gas station bathroom?

The other day, I wrote a post detailing why Evangelicalism is dying. Let me be clear, Evangelicalism IS, most certainly, dying, but it has stage-one, not stage-four, cancer. One need only watch the machinations of Evangelical culture warriors to see that they have no intentions of going quietly into the night. There are times when I tip my cap to Christian Fundamentalists. They know what they are fighting for and are willing to metaphorically and, at times, literally kill everyone who gets in the way of their goal of establishing God’s kingdom on earth. Far too often, liberal and progressives are way too nice and polite. We can learn something from the tactics of Christian zealots: that social progress will only be achieved by stomping the beliefs and demands of theocrats into the ground. Until we understand that we are in a battle for the soul and future of American secularism, we will continue to have our asses handed to us by those demanding King Jesus rule over us all. Way too many secularists, religious or not, sit on the sidelines shooting the breeze while Christian Fundamentalists, in White Walker fashion, wage war against our Republic.

If the very thought of living in a Bible-based culture scares the living Christopher Hitchens out of you, then do something about it. You can start by joining and supporting groups such as the Freedom From Religion FoundationAmerican AtheistsAmerican Humanist AssociationSecular Coalition for AmericaSecular Student AllianceAmerican United for Separation of Church and State, and the American Civil Liberties Union. Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper. Work to elect political leaders who understand the importance of the separation of church and state and who will work with indefatigability to promote and preserve American secularism. And most of all, live out your liberal, progressive, humanistic values and ideals before the world. Let them see that there is, indeed, a better way.

If we don’t wage holy war against theocrats, who will? Passivity is deadly, and if we refuse to fight, we have no one to blame but ourselves when President Billy-the-Baptist and a Christian Congress demand Americans everywhere bow and worship the one true lawgiver, Jesus.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Trump’s War: Evidence Against Iran a Myth in John Bolton’s War-Mongering Mind

john bolton iran

Cartoon by Dave Granlund

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, wants war with Iran. Two weeks ago, Bolton released the following statement:

In response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings, the United States is deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the U.S. Central Command region to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force. The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces.

Recent reports suggest that the United States is planning to send 120,000 troops to the Middle East, purportedly to be used to stem the existential threat the United States faces from Iran (and Islam). On Monday, Trump said:

 Would I do that [send 120,000 troops to the Middle East]? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that. And if we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that.

Supposedly, evidence exists that “proves” Iran intends to attack U.S. military bases and interests in the Middle East. As of today, not one shred of this evidence has been provided by the Trump administration. This leads me to believe that no such evidence exists, and what Trump and Bolton want to really do is show everyone that the United States is still the John Holmes of the world. Trump relishes an opportunity to finally play with “his” army men. And Bolton? Well, he has ALWAYS wanted war with the Persia of the Bible. In 2015. Bolton said:

The inescapable conclusion is that Iran will not negotiate away its nuclear program. Nor will sanctions block its building a broad and deep weapons infrastructure. The inconvenient truth is that only military action like Israel’s 1981 attack on Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor in Iraq or its 2007 destruction of a Syrian reactor, designed and built by North Korea, can accomplish what is required. Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed.

Let’s not forget that John Bolton was one of the main architects of the immoral war with Iraq. In 2002, Bolton said:

We are confident that Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction and production facilities in Iraq.

We now know that Bolton, along with President George W. Bush, lied to the American people about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction. I have long supported President Bush and other war-mongers facing war-crime charges over their murderous actions in Iraq. Alas, the military-industrial complex always wins, regardless of whether a Democrat or a Republican sits in the White House. America’s war machine has long provided cover for economic decline and increased unemployment. Bloodshed is good for our economy. Everyone wins when Middle Eastern women and children die from American interventionism and drone strikes. Well, everyone except the people slaughtered by our military might. Hey, as long as we are fighting “them” over there, and not here, it’s all good — right?

I came of age during the Vietnam War. We now know that this war was predicated on a lie — North Vietnam’s attack of American navy vessels in the Gulf of Tonkin. Wikipedia states:

The Gulf of Tonkin incident (Vietnamese: Sự kiện Vịnh Bắc Bộ), also known as the USS Maddox incident, was an international confrontation that led to the United States engaging more directly in the Vietnam War. It involved either one or two separate confrontations involving North Vietnam and the United States in the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. The original American report blamed North Vietnam for both incidents, but eventually became very controversial with widespread belief that at least one, and possibly both incidents were false, and possibly deliberately so. On August 2, 1964, the destroyer USS Maddox, while performing a signals intelligence patrol as part of DESOTO operations, was pursued by three North Vietnamese Navy torpedo boats of the 135th Torpedo Squadron. Maddox fired three warning shots and the North Vietnamese boats then attacked with torpedoes and machine gun fire. Maddox expended over 280 3-inch (76.2 mm) and 5-inch (127 mm) shells in a sea battle. One U.S. aircraft was damaged, three North Vietnamese torpedo boats were damaged, and four North Vietnamese sailors were killed, with six more wounded. There were no U.S. casualties. Maddox “was unscathed except for a single bullet hole from a Vietnamese machine gun round.”

It was originally claimed by the National Security Agency that a Second Gulf of Tonkin incident occurred on August 4, 1964, as another sea battle, but instead evidence was found of “Tonkin ghosts” (false radar images) and not actual North Vietnamese torpedo boats. In the 2003 documentary The Fog of War, the former United States Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara admitted that the August 2 USS Maddox attack happened with no Defense Department response, but the August 4 Gulf of Tonkin attack never happened In 1995, McNamara met with former Vietnam People’s Army General Võ Nguyên Giáp to ask what happened on August 4, 1964, in the second Gulf of Tonkin Incident. “Absolutely nothing”, Giáp replied. Giáp claimed that the attack had been imaginary.

The outcome of these two incidents was the passage by Congress of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted President Lyndon B. Johnson the authority to assist any Southeast Asian country whose government was considered to be jeopardized by “communist aggression”. The resolution served as Johnson’s legal justification for deploying U.S. conventional forces and the commencement of open warfare against North Vietnam.

In 2005, an internal National Security Agency historical study was declassified; it concluded that Maddox had engaged the North Vietnamese Navy on August 2, but that there were no North Vietnamese naval vessels present during the incident of August 4. The report stated, regarding the first incident on August 2:

“at 1500G, Captain Herrick ordered Ogier’s gun crews to open fire if the boats approached within ten thousand yards (9,150 m). At about 1505G, Maddox fired three rounds to warn off the communist [North Vietnamese] boats. This initial action was never reported by the Johnson administration, which insisted that the Vietnamese boats fired first.”

(The Wikipedia article on the Gulf of Tonkin incident is quite informative. If you are not familiar with what happened, I hope you will take the time to read it.)

On August 4, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson made a TV announcement to the American people about the supposedly unprovoked attacks by North Vietnam on the United States. We now know, of course, that Johnson (and Robert MacNamara) was lying through his teeth. This mythical event fueled what was to become ten years of bloodshed in Southeast Asia. More than two million soldiers and civilians died, and millions more were wounded.

Call me an old curmudgeon or a military-hating commie, I care not. All I know is this: I have not seen one scintilla of evidence that suggests that Iran poses a threat to the United States. Thus, I have concluded that the current saber-rattling is little more than an attempt by Donald Trump to pump up his “manly” image before the 2020 presidential election; to show the American people that he is willing to kill on their behalf. John Bolton is all too willing to help Trump fulfill his destiny. And who will pay the ultimate price? The American people — soldiers forced to shed their blood in yet another supererogatory war; and civilians in faraway lands who can’t figure out why Jesus-loving Americans hate them so much.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Donald Trump Plans to Use “Socialism” to Ameliorate Effects of Tariffs on Farmers

trump tariffs and farmers

Cartoon by Rob Rogers

Local newspaper editorial pages frequently feature letters from right-wing Republican Christians attacking what they believe is the Devil’s economic policy — socialism.  Never mind the fact that few if any of these people could articulately and comprehensively define socialism and differentiate between the various types of socialism. Never mind the fact that the United States has always been to some degree or the other a socialist state. Never mind the fact that many of these letter writers participate in and benefit from socialist programs: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, public roads, public infrastructure, veteran benefits, Food Stamps, vaccines and flu shots, public education, public parks, etc. These letter writers clamor for a libertarian world where government has little to no role to play outside of national defense.  Envision, if you dare, such a world; a world where the moment you pull out of your driveway onto the road, you are required to pay a toll because all roads are privately owned. Imagine a world without laws and regulations; a world without the EPA and FDA; a world governed by one rule: “let the buyer beware.”

Donald Trump, the buffoon currently inhabiting the White House, is waging a trade war, mainly against China. Using punitive, excessive, and unnecessary tariffs, Trump is causing all sorts of economic and social harm. No one has suffered more under Trump’s delusions than American farmers. Grain prices are plummeting, and will only get worse, especially if China punitively cuts off farm imports from the United States and turns to other countries to meet their needs. Farm bankruptcies are on the rise, leading to further agricultural operation consolidation.

Local TV news programs have been featuring local farmers whining about what Trump’s tariffs are doing to their bottom lines. Farmers already operate on razor-thin margins, so I understand them not wanting to face continued financial loss. The irony here is that most local farmers are registered Republicans and voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. It’s their chosen one who is saying to them, “bend over and take it like a man.” Trump and his on crack economic advisors, of course, know that rural white Midwestern voters are key to their hope of winning in 2020. Lose farm country and one of 2,022 Democratic candidates running for office will be the next president of Christian America. That’s why Trump has been spending billions of dollars subsidizing American farmers. Not that this is anything new. Farmers have always been on the government teat, suckling price guarantees and other programs meant to stabilize prices and ensure profitability. Farmers benefit from commodity buybacks, government-sponsored insurance programs, land set-aside payments, etc. You know, s-o-c-i-a-l-i-s-m.

Last week, Trump asked for an additional $15 billion in socialist funding for farmers. This is in addition to the $12 billion already allocated for socialist relief checks currently being sent to “suffering” farmers, including large, multi-million-dollar agricultural operations. Why should farmers alone get welfare checks from the U.S. Treasury? Trump’s tariffs are causing all sorts of harm to local manufacturing concerns, including the company that employs my wife and several of our children. Shouldn’t these companies also benefit from Trump’s socialist largesse?

Come November 2020 — as sure as corn, soy beans, and wheat spring forth from Ohio farmland — local farmers will line up at polling stations to vote for Donald Trump. No matter what the man does — and war with Iran is looming on the horizon — he will get their vote. Why? He’s their great white hope, the only man who can stave off atheistic socialism from taking over the world. Cognitive dissonance abounds in America’s heartland, and Trump and his fellow Republicans count on this so they can continue their pillage and destruction. Their goal remains what it has always been: to continue to accumulate vast sums of wealth at the expense of working-class, poor Americans.

Duping Americans into believing that socialism is some sort of evil that will destroy all that is holy and good is key to Republicans holding on to power, both at the state and federal level. One of my objectives as a writer is to help people see that Republican economic policies are harmful to the American people and actually impede social and economic progress. Laissez-faire capitalism has miserably failed, and it’s time for a new economic system to take root and flourish.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Irish — And The World’s — Reveille

guest post

Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

‘History’ Stephen said, ‘is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.’

That is one of Jonathan’s favorite quotes. Knowing what I’ve come to know about him, it’s not difficult to understand why: the history from which Stephen is trying to awake in James Joyce’s Ulysses is the same history in which Jonathan (not his real name) came to be. To some extent, it is also my history.

Jonathan is a co-worker of mine, and we have been working on a project. That is how I have come to know a bit about him, and he’s come to know a few things about me. It shouldn’t have surprised either of us to find parallels in our backgrounds.

We both grew up in communities where nearly everyone went to mass in the same Catholic parish. My education was remarkably similar to his, though I received mine in a Catholic school across the street from the church and his took place in a “public” school. Most of my teachers were Dominican sisters. I got a heavy dose of religious instruction and was brought, with my schoolmates, to confession every Friday in the church. We now chuckle about standing on line at the confessional and thinking about what sins we would confess — at age eight.

As an altar boy, I served in the First Holy Communion mass for one of my schoolmates. A couple of weeks later, I served at the funeral of her older brother who was killed in Vietnam. I also served at my brother’s confirmation and, a few days later, the wedding of an older sister of a boy who was confirmed with my brother. I always felt that much in the lives of our community centered on the church.

I would later learn that there are many such communities all over the United States. The churches at their cores might be Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist or some other denomination. They nonetheless dominate the social as well as spiritual lives of those hamlets, villages, towns and urban enclaves in much the same way my former Catholic church cast its net around my old neighborhood.

Even so, those communities, numerous as they are, could never compare to what Jonathan lived in. It’s something that, even with my background, I have difficulty imagining: a whole country in which everyone belongs to, if not the same parish, then at least the same church. “In Ireland, you didn’t just go to church,” he explains. “You were always in the church, wherever you went, whatever you did.”

Jonathan grew up in Ireland during the 1980s and early ‘90s: two decades or, if you prefer, a generation, after my upbringing. At that time, the Catholic Church was still the de facto government, education system and provider of social services. “There really wasn’t any secular education in Ireland at that time,” he observes. Even most “public” schools, like the one he attended, were run, in fact or in essence, by the church. He got an hour a day of religious (indoctrination) instruction, as I did. That teaching was compulsory in all Irish schools of the time, he says. On the other hand, had my parents enrolled me in the public school of our urban American neighborhood, religious education would not have been part of my curriculum.

Another striking similarity between my education and his is that, while instruction in most subjects was rigorous, it included nothing about our bodies—or, of course, evolution. Had I attended public school, I might have learned something about Darwin’s ideas though, to be fair, given the times, I might not have had anything resembling sex education. In contrast, there was really no way Jonathan, in his country, in his time, could have learned anything about the way humans or other animals evolve, reproduce or take care of themselves.

Jonathan left Ireland in the mid-90s, just before it experienced its first (and perhaps only) economic boom — and the church started to lose its grip. He’s been back a few times, mainly to visit family and friends, but has no regrets about leaving, he says. For one thing, he pursued graduate studies and a career that would have been all but unavailable in the Ireland of his youth. Oh — and he met and married a beautiful biracial woman.

Also, he says, even though many of Ireland’s young today find the Church, and religion generally, “irrelevant,” there is still a “residue of religiosity,” mainly among older people and in the countryside. That is one reason, he says, the country was “convulsed” by the sex abuse scandals in ways that people in other European countries or the US can barely imagine. While the young don’t attend church and many don’t believe, the Church still runs schools like the one Jonathan attended. And hospitals. And orphanages. And many other organizations and institutions on which people depend for finding employment and housing, getting healthcare and other things most people consider part of living.

The church had an even tighter grip on Ireland during Jonathan’s youth, not to mention in earlier times. In few other countries was Catholicism as much a part of a person’s identity as it was in Ireland until a generation or so ago. One reason the Church was able to take such a hold of the populace is that, for centuries, their British occupiers tried to obliterate all signs of native culture. Speaking, let alone teaching, Gaelic became illegal. As in Poland during the Cold War and earlier occupations, the Church was the only organized opposition to oppression, mainly because it was the only opposition that had help from outside the country: Priests could go to France, Spain or Germany for their training. Thus, for the people, their religion became a bulwark against a foreign power that sought to subsume their identities. That, from what I’ve read — and what Jonathan has told me — is the reason the Irish held so fiercely to a religion that did as much to oppress them as any occupying army.

If a hierarchical structure like the church can use its representatives’ putative relationship with God to exploit those who are younger, weaker, poorer or in any other way more vulnerable than themselves in a country like the United States, the horrors they could inflict on poor Irish people are unimaginable to most of us. Even the most devout or impoverished American Catholics have never depended on the church for their identity or even sustenance in the way an everyday Catholic in Ireland did just a generation ago, i.e., in Jonathan’s time.

The “residue” of which Jonathan speaks was left by that captivity. Let’s call it what it is: slavery. Just as African-Americans still must extricate themselves from the detritus of their ancestors’ bondage, the Irish today are still living with the debris of the Church (and colonialism). And, although the young have made great strides (for example, four years ago Ireland became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote, largely because of the young), they are still awakening to the nightmare of their history: their parents’ and grandparents’ oppression by the church.

Waking from a nightmare is difficult. It is not — contrary to how it may seem — the waking itself that’s difficult. Rather, it’s the nightmare that causes difficulty because it terrifies and tires us. At least the nightmare can end if we wake up.

And so it is with the church sex-abuse scandals, in Ireland and elsewhere. People see it as a tragedy or scandal when it comes to light. But the real tragedy, the real scandal, as Jonathan points out, is that the sex abuse went on, in the Magdalene orphanages, in the monasteries, in the schools and, of course, in the parishes, for centuries—during Jonathan’s lifetime, my lifetime, his parents’ and grandparents’ lifetimes, their grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ lifetimes, and during the lifetimes of their forebears. They lived the nightmare; we have lived it; now we are waking from it. Jonathan knew he had no other choice. Nor do I.

Why Evangelical Christianity is Dying

trump loves jesus

Cartoon by Bob Englehart

Evangelicalism is dying. Oh, Evangelicals still make lots of noise and have a stranglehold on the Republican Party, but their grip on America is weakening and, in time, their hold will falter, leading to epic collapse. The Week reports:

While 63 percent of Americans over the age of 65 are white Christians, only 24 percent of those under the age of 30 are, a group far outnumbered by the 38 percent of young adults who are unaffiliated. Unless there’s some kind of dramatic Christian awakening that produces millions of converts, that means that in the future the ranks of Christians in general and white Christians in particular are likely to shrink.

This won’t happen any time soon, but that train is a coming, and nothing can stop it. Younger Evangelicals, in particular, are exiting their churches stage left, never to return. Those who remain tend to be more liberal politically, socially, and theologically, than their parents and grandparents. These cradle Evangelicals will, in time, seek out the friendlier confines of Liberal/Progressive Christianity. The late Rachel Evans is a good example of an Evangelical who tried to change things from within, but failing to do so, left the church of her youth and became an Episcopalian.

death of evangelicalism

What drives the slow death of Evangelical Christianity?

Evangelical Hatred of LGBTQ People

Evangelical hatred for LGBTQ people is well-known. See an anti-LGBTQ bill and you will find Evangelicals lurking in the shadows. Older Evangelicals lived in a world where homosexuals stayed in the closet where they belonged. Younger Evangelicals have LGBTQ friends. Exposure to people who are different from them makes it hard for them to condemn people to Hell for being “different.” The more that Evangelical young adults read, travel, and attend secular universities, the more likely it is that they will abandon the Evangelicalism of their childhoods.

Evangelical Support of Racist Immigration Policies

American Evangelicals generally support the anti-immigration policies of Donald Trump and the Republican Party. Older Evangelicals tend to live in white monocultures where exposure to non-white people is limited or non-existent. Younger Evangelicals are more likely to know and be friends with people of color. Again, exposure to people different from them forces younger Evangelicals to question the racist beliefs of their parents and grandparents.

Evangelical Support of Creationism

Most Evangelicals believe God created the universe in six twenty-four-hour days. Older Evangelicals are more likely to believe Genesis 1-3 is the de facto scientific explanation for how the universe came into existence. Younger Evangelicals, exposed to non-religious science curriculua, are less likely believe the old Evangelical canard: God Did It! They know the universe is billions of years old, and that evolution best explains the natural world. The more science training young Evangelicals receive, the more likely it is that they will cast aside creationism and its gussied-up cousin, intelligent design.

Evangelical Rhetoric on Abortion

Evangelicals are the power behind the culture war. Most younger Evangelicals grew up in churches where sermons frequently focused on this or that cultural hot-button issue. Abortion is one such issue. Younger Evangelicals are more likely to be pro-choice or support exceptions for rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, and the life of the mother. The continued war against the number one way to end abortion — birth control — is confusing and contradictory to younger Evangelicals. Not wanting to wait until marriage to have sex, many younger Evangelicals know how important the use of birth control is.

Evangelical Opposition to Same-Sex Marriage

Evangelicals stand at the forefront of opposition to same-sex marriage. Younger Evangelicals, believing you can’t help but love who you love, are less likely to have a problem with gay marriage. Again, this goes back to being exposed to people different from themselves. Many younger Evangelicals personally know same-sex couples, and these personal connections make it hard/unlikely for them to oppose same-sex marriage.

Evangelical Denial of Global Climate Change and Global Warming

Evangelicalism is front and center in the global climate change debate. Older Evangelicals, in particular, often believe climate change/global warming is a myth or something not to worry about because God is on the job. Younger Evangelicals see firsthand what violent storms, floods, melting ice caps, and rising temperatures are doing to their planet. They are angered by the “que sera, sera” approach to life of older Evangelicals; tired of “I’m going to die soon” or “the rapture is imminent” indifference from their parents, grandparents, and older church members.

Evangelical Insistence that the Bible is Inerrant

Evangelicals traditionally believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Most older Evangelicals believe their Bibles are they very words of God. Many younger Evangelicals, however, have serious questions and doubts about the nature of the Biblical text. The non-answers they receive from their churches/pastors don’t measure up to their expectations. And when questions go unanswered, young Evangelicals turn to the Internet for answers, finding evidence that their pastors, parents, and Sunday school teachers are lying about the Bible These seekers wonder, “what else are our pastors lying about?”

Evangelical Support of President Donald Trump

In 2016, eighty-one percent of voting white Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. Without their votes, Hillary Clinton would have won the election. Younger Evangelicals tended to vote for liberal/progressive candidates, candidates that better reflected their worldview. Record numbers of young Evangelicals voted for Bernie Sanders in 2016 and Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Younger Evangelicals see that their pastors, parents, and grandparents were willing to sacrifice moral principles to gain political power, and it disgusts them. In 2020, the party that captures this voting bloc will win the election.

Put all of these things together, and what you have is a religious sect that no longer represents younger Evangelicals; a sect that sold its soul for political expediency and power. While scores of younger Evangelicals leave Evangelicalism, never to return, others yearn for a religion that matters.

They are increasingly concluding that Evangelicalism is irredeemable, so they leave. I fully expect this exodus to increase, leading to the eventual death of Evangelical Christianity.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Black Collar Crime: Independent Baptist Worship Pastor Kurt Stephens Busted in Prostitution Sting

kurt stephens

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Kurt Stephens, the pastor for worship and administration at Palmetto Baptist Church in Piedmont, South Carolina, was arrested earlier this month in a prostitution sting. Palmetto Baptist quickly scrubbed Stephens from their website, but he lives on in cached Google pages. Stephens’ church bio states:

Kurt Stephens has served as the Pastor for Worship and Administration at Palmetto Baptist Church since its start in 2010. Kurt’s primary role is to lead in executing plans and programs that support the mission and vision of the church. Kurt also oversees the operations of the church relating to finance, facilities, and building plans.

Prior to joining the church planting team at Palmetto, Kurt served as the Operations Manager at SoundForth Music for four years. In addition to his role at SoundForth, Kurt also worked for two years as Account Manager at Your Creative People, a digital branding firm in the upstate. He previously served as Worship Pastor for a combined total of eighteen years at Oakwood Baptist Church, Anderson, SC; and Berean Baptist Church, Lilburn, GA.

As part of the leadership team, Kurt teaches, pastors, and leads Palmetto in heartfelt worship. His desire is to win unbelievers, and strengthen, encourage, and support the hands of those who serve through music and the Word. Kurt and his wife, ****, are the proud parents of three children: *****.

According to LinkedIn, Stephens is a graduate of Bob Jones University.

Based on a cursory review of information available on the Internet, I have concluded that Palmetto Baptist is an Independent Baptist congregation.