Category: Authoritarianism

“Christian” freedom

Historian Diana Butler Bass provides a sequel to yesterday’s post about “Christian” as adjective. Her latest blog post comes from The Cottage, where she wrote about Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis: “The Freedom State or the State of Freedom?

Her first three sentences: “DeSantis calls it the Freedom State,” a friend from Florida recently moaned to me, “but that’s Orwellian. He’s taking freedoms away. It is frightening.”

Bass says freedom is “DeSantis’ slogan, a key part of his political brand. And in the final ad of the campaign season, his campaign specially linked ‘freedom’ to white Christian nationalism.

DeSantis’ efforts to control higher education are troubling, such as “a new state list of every teacher or class that mentions diversity or racism.” Bass cites a Florida statute that defines state universities as “agencies of the state which belong to and are part of the executive branch of state government.”

From the DeSantis campaign ad linked above from the Diana Butler Bass blog post.

“Christian” as adjective

“Christian” is a daunting adjective, as in Christian pastor, Christian church or Christian nation. I’m hesitant to claim it for myself or my group. It’s better, though still a daunting challenge, if others apply it to me or my group.

When this adjective is a label worn too lightly, too quickly or too proudly, it demeans a great tradition. To misuse, or thoughtlessly claim, this adjective for self or group, or to wear it while attacking someone else is profanity–meaningless talk about God.

One Sunday, my district superintendent attended our worship service unexpectedly. A choir member said, “The DS is here. Does that scare you?” I said, “No. But it keeps me on my toes to believe God is listening here every Sunday.”

This 1995 quote from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (sent from my friend Ernie) and a 2022 blog post by Diana Butler Bass, “Christian Nationalism Everywhere?” reinforce my reluctance to use Christian as an adjective, as in “Christian nation.”

The more you know…

I think it was my mother, but I can’t be sure. It’s a version of a thought attributed to Aristotle: “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” The version I internalized in my childhood was: “The more you know, the more there is to know.”

Aristotle’s version implies some humility, which is a virtue, but the version I learned opens the Universe to further exploration. It implies that knowledge is cumulative, that one data point leads to perhaps numerous other data points. The Universe is expansive.

Today, I’ll be part of a meeting where my friend Ernie will lead part two of a discussion about recent rapid advances in science and technology, specifically the impact these advances have had on our ability to adapt to changes they’ve brought about.

A few weeks ago another friend, Burton Flanagan, shared with me his book, The White Rose, about a resistance group in Nazi Germany in the 1940s. The group was unknown to me, but on Saturday I read about the group in a Minnesota newspaper article.

The more you know…

From “‘The More You Know’: There’s More to Know,” by Megan Garber, The Atlantic, December 16, 2014

ноги глины

I try to give people of faith the benefit of the doubt, as I try to give people of doubt the benefit of faith. I don’t speak Russian. Context and nuance do not always translate, so I try to be doubly slow to criticize other-tongued faith leaders. Patience is warranted since we all have “feet of clay” (ноги глины in Russian). However …

Vladimir Mikhailovich Gundyaev, aka Patriarch Kirill of Moscow is widely known as a supporter of Vladimir Putin. This allegiance itself puts the Patriarch’s judgment in a bad light and (in my opinion) degrades the witness of his office. I, and all “people of the cloth” have erred in our allegiances. We all live in glass houses. Still …

The herder Amos reminds all who speak of, or for, faith not to profane what we seek to proclaim. I fear Kirill has moved from profanity (meaningless talk about God) to prostitution, equating participation in Russian military aggression with grace, the central theme of Christianity. He’s charging a high price for a free gift.

See Russian soldiers who die in battle will be absolved of their sins, Patriarch says and Dying for your country brings you to heaven, says Russian Patriarch. Sometimes the best response to bad theology is good humor and an honest look at one’s feet:

Incarnation: messy, but redemptive

On Thursday night, as Winter Storm Elliot arrived, Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” lost all nostalgia. The final report of the January 6th committee was released about ten minutes before Lawrence O’Donnell began Thursday’s edition of “The Last Word” on MSNBC. He described how Cassidy Hutchinson was inspired by Alexander Butterfield to tell the whole truth in her testimony.

Then, Andrew Weissmann, Dan Goldman and Barbara McQuade gave their first impressions of the 845-page report. It was the best hour of live television that I’ve seen in a long time. I downloaded a pdf of the final report and began reading it myself. I concur with other first impressions. The committee has produced a thorough, compelling report, based on the testimony of mostly Republicans.

The story of the magi’s search for a new king and the treachery of the old king, Herod, became eerily relevant as I read passages like page 75 of the report, which described Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and his Deputy Richard Donoghue, refuting President Trump’s claims of fraud, culminating in: “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican Congressmen.”

From “The Three Magi,” Biblical Archaeology Society, December 15, 2022

Dressed for the occasion

On December 26, 1941, Winston Churchill said to a joint session of the US Congress: The fact that … here I am, an Englishman, welcomed in your midst, makes this experience one of the most moving and thrilling in my life, which is already long and has not been entirely uneventful.

On December 21, 2022, Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered–in English–to the same assembly, in the same chamber, a memorable, well-received speech. He and Churchill were on the same mission: to thank America for help with resistance to a warring dictator, and to ask for more help.

This was Zelenskyy’s first trip outside Ukraine since the Russian invasion began almost a year ago. Given the current winter hardships being endured by Ukrainians, the simplicity of their president’s clothing lent a sense of urgency and authenticity to his presence and to his message in Washington.

From “Full Transcript of Zelensky’s Speech Before Congress,” The New York Times, December 21, 2022

Democracy as Oasis

I believe historians will record the 2020-2021 “Stop the Steal” campaign as a clever ploy to cover-up an “Attempted Robbery.” It would make a great John Grisham novel. Unfortunately, this story will be in the non-fiction section of the library.

The real-life heroes are the poll workers, county and state election officials, law enforcement personnel, journalists, judges and a few high-ranking officials who did their duty. From Heather Cox-Richardson’s brief, eloquent “first draft” of this history:

Fittingly, on December 15, the Coup d’État Project of the Cline Center for Advanced Social Research at the University of Illinois, which maintains the world’s largest registry of coups, attempted coups, and coup conspiracies since World War II, reclassified the events of January 6 as an attempted “auto-coup.” According to its director, Scott Althaus, an auto-coup occurs when “the incumbent chief executive uses illegal or extra-legal means to assume extraordinary powers, seize the power of other branches of government, or render powerless other components of the government such as the legislature or judiciary.”

The stresses and strains of the US, an old democracy, are lived out in plain view. Many democracies are new, with their own difficulties, such as Ukraine and Mongolia. From “Kerry Calls Mongolia ‘An Oasis of Democracy’,” Voice of America, June 5, 2016.

The price of bondage

Georgia is on my mind. The tragic 1/6/21 insurrection overshadowed the huge impact of 1/5/21 in Georgia–the dual runoff elections that flipped the US Senate by sending Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to Washington. Then, last night, in yet another runoff, Warnock won a full six-year term.

Several Georgians are on my mind: John Lewis, voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams, elections official Gabriel Sterling, all the poll workers who help facilitate democracy, and Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, a panelist during CNN’s coverage of last night’s runoff election.

Duncan is candid about the cost of his party’s bondage to Donald Trump. Duncan said, “If Georgia Republicans want to keep laying in the mud with Donald Trump, it’s going to be a purple state.” The GOP and the nation may thank Georgia for demonstrating the price of political bondage.

From “Ray Charles–Georgia On My Mind,” the Official Music Video, via YouTube

“Preserve, protect and defend…”

On my conservative, Republican grandfather’s 131st birthday, here’s Donald Trump’s latest attempt to put his personal interest ahead of his Constitutional oath. Ironically, his Stop the Steal falsehoods coincided with his efforts to overturn, i.e., steal, the most transparent, scrutinized and litigated election in memory. Some responses:

Trump’s Call for ‘Termination’ of Constitution Draws Rebukes,” by Maggie Astor, The New York Times, December 4, 2022.

Lawmakers react to Trump’s call to suspend Constitution,” by Ivana Saric, Axios, December 4, 2022.

Trump rebuked for call to suspend Constitution over election,” by Hope Yen/AP, The Washington Post, December 4, 2022.

From “Are The Frogs Boiled?” by Joyce Vance, Civil Discourse, December 4, 2022


What drags a person down into anti-semitism? Why does Judaism arouse resentment and fear among some people? These questions flow from yesterday’s post as I reflect on the long history of prejudice, including the Nazis’ anti-semitic strategy to gain power in Germany, 2017 tiki torches in Charlottesville and the appearance of Ye (Kanye West) and Nick Fuentes on Alex Jones’ InfoWar show.

The Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) should be a source of unity for Jews, Christians and Muslims, but cultural prejudice toward the people that produced the OT has damaged the credibility of some expressions of Christianity and Islam. Judaism’s prophetic tradition is rooted in the Law of Moses (Genesis-Deuteronomy) and the writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, etc.

The prophetic tradition stands for justice and against tyranny. Those who aspire to, or support, dictatorship properly understand Judaism as a threat to their power. Judaism’s respect for, and defense of, the “least of these” undermines authoritarian rule. To be anti-semite is to be anti-prophet, or anti-Bible. Anti-semitism tries to make the prophetic tradition into the “bad guys.”

From “The most striking photos from the white supremacist Charlottesville protest,” by German Lopez, Vox, August 12, 2017