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donald and hillary

Trump’s Man Card Is Self-Loathing Hatred

Earlier in the week, Donald Trump accused Hillary Clinton of playing the “woman card.” It’s a bit hypocrital, don’t you think?

I mean, nobody plays the gender card better than Donald Trump. He is the stereotypical male – and he’s loud about it. For Trump, to be male is to win so much that you’ll get sick of winning. He talks down to Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina, all while saying, “Oh but the women love me!” Do you remember what he said about Fiorina’s face? “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?” He boasts about defeating his male rivals. And do you remember one of the many low points in his campaign when he defended the size of his “hands“? Trump plays the man card more than anyone.

More than anyone except for maybe one group – internet trolls. I recently heard a story on “This American Life” about Lindy West, an author and former columnist for Jezebel. West writes with an honest passion about herself, especially about how she came to accept her body. She’s overweight and has worked through self-esteem issues. She now joyfully accepts herself for who she is.

Men viciously trolled her social media accounts. One man went so far as to create a false Twitter account of West’s recently deceased father. The man googled West’s family and filled the fake Twitter account with information about her father and siblings. Pretending to be her father, this troll tweeted that he was ashamed of Lindy.

Of course, West was hurt by the harmful tweets. She wrote an article about her deceased father’s twitter account and how much pain it caused her. The man who created the false Twitter account read her article and felt a sense of guilt for his actions. He emailed West, apologizing for his harmful tweets. Then they talked over the phone. In their recorded conversation, West asked the man why he trolled her. His response was stunning. He told West that he was overweight, too, but could never accept himself. In fact, he hated himself, and so projected his self-hatred onto her with tweets that seemed strong and aggressive, but stemmed from self-loathing hatred. As René Girard wrote in his book Resurrection from the Underground, “At the source of the hatred of the Other is the hatred of the Self.”

Trump and this troll are essentially the same. They are run by self-hatred. In order to deal with the hatred that plagues their lives, they play their “man card” by demeaning women. They act macho. They claim to be more powerful than they are because deep down they know they lack meaning in their lives. And, like most of us men, they have never been taught how to play the card that will help them manage their self-hatred, so they project their hatred onto women.

There is one difference between Trump and the troll. The troll became more of a man when he apologized for being a jerk. In apologizing, he found a little more self-acceptance.

The humble ability to say I’m sorry. That’s one of the most important cards men need in our deck.

Image: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton During United States Presidential Elections 2016, Wikimedia Commons.

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Let’s Make America Meh

Donald Trump wants to “Make America Great Again.” Hillary Clinton claims America has never stopped being great. But maybe we should just try to make America meh.

Here’s a question, how do we define American greatness? In politics, American greatness is usually described in comparison with other nations. This comparison is part of human nature. As René Girard states in his masterful book on human social dynamics called Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, to be human is to have a tendency “to compare oneself with others.”

What’s true on the personal level is also true on the national level. Historically, the United States has compared our greatness to other nations – England, France, China, Germany, and Russia, for example. But now we also compare ourselves to terrorist organizations. Our greatness as a nation is being defined by our ability to destroy al-Qaeda and ISIS.

To make America meh would be to stop defining our “greatness” in comparison with other nations. On an individual and national level, comparing ourselves with others leads to relationships of constant and escalating rivalry.

Many of us are addicted to that rivalry. We gain a sense of “greatness” by being against our enemies. But that’s a false sense of greatness. It may give us a temporary high, a sense of meaning in our lives, but we will always need another fix, another enemy to be against.

True greatness isn’t formed in a relationship against our enemies. Rather, true greatness is formed in a relationship with our enemies. Or, as Jesus put it, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

When we are addicted to rivalry with our enemies, loving them might give us a sense of meh. Or, even worse, some may claim that Jesus’ command to love our enemies is naïve. But in an age where weapons of mass destruction can be obtained by almost anyone, it’s naïve to think relationships of escalating rivalry will make us safe.

Girard ends his book The Scapegoat with this apocalyptic warning, “The time has come for us to forgive one another. If we wait any longer there will not be time enough.”

Love? Forgiveness? They might make us feel pretty meh. But at this point in human history, they are our greatest hope.

Image: Flickr, Donkey Hotey, Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump – Caricatures, Creative Commons License, some changes made.

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What’s In A Name? On Building Cooperation Beyond Partisan Barriers

“What’s in a name?”

I’ve been asking myself that question a lot recently, and not just because this past Saturday marked the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death! It’s a question that comes to mind when I consider today’s political climate and the enmity between the mimetic doubles more commonly known as the Democrat and Republican parties.

To say that the political parties are the same is scandalous according to mainstream culture, and I acknowledge that there are some real and important differences between most members of the two parties. Yet in the quest for power and profit, leaders from each of the major parties have more similarities than differences, with greed, faith in violence, and a desire to “win” or retain power washing away major distinctions.

Corporate profits dictate policy far more than the will of the people that the elected officials are purported to represent. In fact, a recent study has determined that the will of the vast majority of people has no effect at all on policy making. Instead, large corporate donors contribute to both political parties to insure their interests are met. Because people tend to work for those who pay them, representatives are often more beholden to their donors than the will of their voters, making differences between many of the policies of each party more nominal than substantial.

While Republicans may pride themselves on being more responsible with money, decrying “big government spending,” the fact is that more than 50% of every tax dollar goes to the defense department, which Republicans leaders (along with many Democrats) would like to increase. Social welfare programs, meanwhile, are championed by many Democratic voters but are decreased or privatized under both Democratic and Republican leadership. And on the issue that most concerns me, namely, whether the United States will continue her quest for imperial control of the world or humble herself and become a partner in peace, there is near bipartisan consensus among the powerful to continue to wage wars for resources and power. While the Global War on Terror may have begun under a Republican administration, it has been expanded and extended – with drone warfare killing mostly civilians in seven countries — under a Democratic one. The fact is, from the standpoint of most of the world, it is hard to see much difference between the leaders of both parties when both are covered in blood.

With policies that contradict the rhetoric of both parties, partisan identification is increasingly rooted in a sense of “over-and-against” identity rather than actual policy outcomes. Forces of power and greed, wielded by the most wealthy and the politicians who work for them but beyond even their control, find value in keeping partisan warfare alive while ensuring that many of the policies of both parties are financially beneficial to them, to the detriment of the nation and the world. The enmity between the parties, fueled by the media and conventional wisdom, keeps the public divided by labels while unconsciously united in our lack of influence.

But it need not be this way.

Too often, a mental block against a party label keeps us from seeing the good in a politician’s proposals and actions, and likewise prevents us from being critical of those in the party with which we idenitfy. Too often, we interpret the rhetoric of an opposing party in the worst possible light. While we cannot afford to be naïve, we also cannot afford to be overly cynical and hostile. We cannot afford to nurture enmity, no matter how wrong we may think someone is, because we absolutely need to work together in every way possible to change a corrupt political system that is having a devastating effect on the whole world. And when we nurture enmity in ourselves, we inevitably nurture enmity in others, further deepening the chasm between us.

Regardless of political party, most of us would like to live in a democracy rather than an oligarchy. We can come together to demand the reduction of the influence of money in politics, which would be a gateway for leaders to listen and respond to nearly all other concerns, but often other divides keep us from doing so. But people from wide and various perspectives can come together where they agree, building more respect for each other even in disagreements. Non-interventionist fiscal conservatives can join with anti-war social liberals. Pro-life and pro-choice individuals often share a core of compassion for the vulnerable and could unite in helping to make the world safer and healthier for women and children. There are all kinds of unions to be made across the divides of political labels. When enmity no longer divides us, the forces of greed and domination will have to reckon with a nation waking up to a false dichotomy and working to help each other. Compassion and cooperation can have a powerful and lasting impact, awakening the moral conscience even of those who have been ruled by self-interest (which to a degree is all of us).

The spirit of enmity that is destroying the world is also borne out at home in political parties caught up in both corporate control and mimetic rivalry. Our potential to help the world – to replace warfare with reconciliation, reduce our carbon footprint, and build a prosperous peace — is significantly hindered by an inability to let go of the enmity among ourselves. I believe that political labels encourage us to look past each other rather than work together. If we can’t drop them completely, we must at least be willing to look past labels to the people who hold them, and come together where we can to make our voices heard. Our hope lies in each other.

Image: “Republican Elephant and Democratic Donkey Icons” by DonkeyHotey via Flickr. Available via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

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Clearing the Confusion about God, Transgender, and Bathrooms

I’m going to be honest with you. I’m confused – and I know that many of my fellow cisgender male friends are confused, too. I even hesitate to use that word … cisgender … it’s so new to me. I think it means someone who identifies with the gender they were given at birth. At any rate, I identify as a male, which aligns with the gender I was assigned at birth, which makes me cisgender.

Now that I’ve cleared that up … let me clear up another part of the confusion for my cisgender friends: We are the ones confused. My transgender and fluid gender friends aren’t confused about their gender. For them, once they claim a transgender or a fluid gender identity, it’s like coming home.

So, what should we do with our confusion? First, let me tell you what we shouldn’t do. We shouldn’t create legislation that prohibits the transgender community from using bathrooms of the gender they identify with. We shouldn’t go along with that legislation because the logic is demonically flawed. That’s right. I said demonically flawed. As Erin Wathen points out in her brilliant article “10 Things Scarier Than a Trans Person in Your Bathroom,” the logic is that our women and children will be put in danger by transgender women using the woman’s room.

But here’s the thing. Do you know how many times a transgender person has attacked someone in a bathroom? 0. That’s right. It’s never happened. Ever.

The transgender community is being labeled as violent sexual predators. Whatever our confusion about the transgender community might be, we cannot stand by while the transgender community is falsely labeled as sexual predators. Let’s clear the air of any confusion; where the transgender community pees is not a “public safety issue.” If cisgender men want to have a real conversation about the safety of women, then as Erin says, let’s talk about rape at college campuses. “Let’s talk about the military. Let’s talk about football players and domestic violence. Let’s talk about a culture that worships masculinity, objectifies women and glorifies violence—all adding up to a pervading world of male entitlement that is, always and everywhere, a danger to your wives and daughters.”

Some might think this is male bashing. But it’s not. It’s evidence that we are dealing with scapegoating, which is a satanic mechanism that assigns blame onto an innocent victim. The Hebrew word “satan” means “accuser.” The accusation that the transgender community poses a threat is absurdly, satanically, false. The transgender community poses no threat. They are not the violent ones they are being made out to be. In fact, 2015 “set a record number of transgender murders.” I’m not confused about this point – the transgender community doesn’t pose a violent threat to anyone peeing in a bathroom.

Scapegoating protects accusers from the painful task of owning up to their own guilt. Cisgender males don’t know what to do about our violence against women, so we project guilt upon the harmless and largely defenseless transgender community, who tragically have been victimized by others, including cisgender men. They experience constant threats of violence, exclusion from their families and their religious institutions. And now we’re debating about which bathrooms to exclude them from because they are the threat?

But here’s what cisgender people should do with our confusion. Realize that our confusion is about us, not about transgender people.

One of the most shameful parts of this whole debate is that it’s mostly Christians who are leading the crusade against transgender people. As a Christian, I feel compelled to speak up. This is not what Christianity is about.

Jesus destroyed the barriers that divided people so that they could find reconciliation. Gender even played a role in this. The closest we get to our modern concept of transgender in the Bible is the eunuch. There was a religious law that relegated eunuchs to outsider status.

But other aspects of the Hebrew Bible sought to include eunuchs into the religious community. Jesus, as always, stood within the tradition that sought to include those who were marginalized by religious laws. He brought eunuchs into his community, saying, “For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”

Someone will protest, “But eunuchs and transgender are not the same thing!” That may be true, but look in the Bible and you will never find the word “transgender.” But you will find gender variant “others” who generated a confused, violent, and scapegoating response from the community. The point is this: What did Jesus do with people who were born with a gender variant? Whereas a religious law excluded them from full participation in the community, Jesus included them as full members into his band of followers, the very people through whom Jesus founded the church.

One of Jesus’ disciples, Philip, baptized an Ethiopian eunuch into the early Christian community. And Peter, the rock upon whom Jesus built the church, received the message from God that he “should not call anyone profane or unclean,” saying “I truly know that God shows no partiality.”

Philip may have been confused. Heck, Peter was always confused! But he didn’t let that confusion block him from the truth that – no matter what religious laws said – he shouldn’t call anyone profane or unclean.

So, to my cisgender friends, we may be confused, but God isn’t. God shows no partiality. God doesn’t care where his beloved transgender children go to the bathroom. And neither should we.

Image: Flickr, Samir Luther, “All Gender Restroom Sign,” Creative Commons License, some changes made.

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There’s Nothing New About A Contested Convention

Editor’s Note: As mimetic creatures, we are connected to one another not only in the present, but also across time. Being able to think historically helps us to understand how we are shaped by what we have deemed worthy of memory, while an understanding of mimetic theory helps us to look back at our history and search for the unheard voices. Dr. Tracy McKenzie’s articles provide us with a rich, complex understanding of the past that neither romanticizes nor scapegoats those who came before us. This deeper understanding can inform our present.

In this installment of his series of articles drawing on the wisdom of the past to reflect on our current election cycle, Dr. McKenzie puts political conventions into historical perspective to show us how the possibility of a contested convention is by no means unprecedented.

 

Think of your forefathers!  Think of your posterity!—John Quincy Adams

So what would you make of the following scenario?

In a highly charged election year, the Republican Party faces a showdown at its impending national convention.  The field of presidential contenders has been large, and no single candidate will come to the convention with a majority of the delegates behind him.  Candidate A of New York is the clear front runner, and for months his rank-and-file supporters have considered him the presumptive nominee.  But Republican elites are lukewarm about A.  His reputation as an extremist gives them pause, and despite the enthusiasm of A’s followers, they worry that A will fare poorly in the general election.  They fear that A is unelectable, and by nominating him they will not only sacrifice any chance at the presidency but harm Republican candidates for state and federal offices as well.  The future of the party hangs in the balance.

As the opposition to A becomes ever more outspoken, a “Stop A” movement works frantically behind the scenes to rally behind a single alternative.  The number of potential nominees makes this difficult, however, and the divisions within the “Stop A” movement look to be crippling.  Candidate B is a southern conservative with tenuous links to party leaders.  Candidate C is an economic and social conservative who has risen to prominence in the Senate but made too many enemies along the way.  Candidate D is a northeasterner with a following in his own state but viewed elsewhere as a corrupt opportunist.  Candidate E has none of these liabilities, but as the convention approaches this Midwesterner is the first choice of only one state: his own.

Although candidate A commands a sizable plurality of delegates when the convention opens, candidate E’s campaign team goes to the convention determined to deny A a first-ballot nomination and open the door for E.  Unabashedly pragmatic, their message to delegate after delegate emphasizes expediency.  E is electable.  A is not.  E lacks A’s negative baggage and is widely respected.  He is a unifier who has been careful not to denigrate the other candidates.  E’s promoters encourage A’s delegates to consider E as a good second choice if it becomes clear that A cannot win a majority on the convention floor.  Where it promises to be helpful, E’s team makes thinly veiled offers of future political favors to delegations willing to switch their support to E after the initial ballot.  A significant number of wavering delegates are even willing to shift their allegiance before the balloting begins.

In the end, the strategy works.  On the first ballot, A takes 37% of the vote to E’s 22% (with candidates B, C, and D trailing even farther behind).  But as delegates are released from their first-ballot pledge to support A, the momentum shifts decidedly toward E on the second ballot, and by the third ballot E claims the nomination over A.  E’s margin of victory?  A razor-thin 50.5% to 49.5 percent.

So how would you evaluate the outcome of this contested convention?  Was it a miscarriage of justice?  An assault on democracy?  A “brokered” behind-the-scenes deal that bartered the wishes of the people? Or was it a politically prudent compromise that secured the best outcome realistically available?

If you say that you don’t have enough information to answer the question, you would be right.  But in thinking through the scenario, it might be helpful to know that it isn’t hypothetical.  It’s my best attempt to summarize the nomination of Abraham Lincoln in 1860.  Candidates A, B, C, and D were Republicans William Seward, Edward Bates, Salmon Chase, and Simon Cameron.  We don’t know how this year’s Republican slugfest will play out, of course, but so far I’d say there are some pretty striking similarities to the 1860 Republican contest.  And although Donald Trump has modestly proclaimed that he is as “presidential” as Abraham Lincoln, right now the person best approximating that role is probably John Kasich.

So what does this analogy prove?  Can it help us to predict how the race for the Republican nomination will come out?  Can it teach us how it should come out?

Absolutely not.  The point of listening to the past is not to get easy answers to contemporary problems.  I cringe whenever I hear someone in the public opining ponderously about what “history proves.”  We study the past not as a storehouse of simple lessons but as an aid to thinking more deeply, more self-consciously, and hopefully more wisely as we meet the future.  History promotes wisdom, when it does, by expanding the range of our experiences to draw from.  As C. S. Lewis put it figuratively in “Learning in Wartime,” the student of history has lived in many times and places, and that greater breadth of perspective aids us as we seek to think wisely and live faithfully in our own historical moment.

I suspect that much of the popular hyperventilating about the prospect of a contested Republican convention stems from the fact that the last multi-ballot nomination of a major-party candidate came in 1952, before the vast majority of Americans were born.  And because we have no memory from before we were born—only people with historical knowledge can have that—we are vulnerable to all kinds of nonsense from those who would prey on our ignorance.

The reality is that the presidential primary model that we take for granted today has been dominant for less than a half century.  The earliest presidential candidates were chosen without any popular involvement at all, hand-picked by party caucuses in Congress.  Beginning in the 1830s (following the lead of a bizarre coalition known as the Anti-Masonic Party), the major parties established the pattern of choosing candidates in party conventions.  And although some states began to hold presidential primaries as early as 1912, as late as the 1950s conventions still effectively made the final decision, and it was possible for a presidential candidate like Adlai Stevenson to win the nomination without running in a single state primary.

And unlike the conventions of the last half century—which are carefully choreographed, excruciatingly boring infomercials—the conventions between the 1830s and the 1950s were frequently contested.  It wasn’t just Abraham Lincoln who was nominated after multiple ballots.

Future president James K. Polk was nominated on the ninth ballot at the Democratic Convention in 1844.  In 1848 future Whig president Zachary Taylor was nominated on the fourth ballot.  Future Democratic president Franklin Pierce was nominated on the forty-ninth ballot in 1852 (and received no votes at all for the first thirty-five ballots).  Among other future presidents, James Buchanan was nominated on the seventeenth ballot in 1856, Rutherford Hayes on the seventh ballot in 1876, James Garfield on the thirty-sixth ballot in 1880, Benjamin Harrison on the eighth ballot in 1888, Woodrow Wilson on the forty-sixth ballot in 1912, and Warren G. Harding on the 10th ballot in 1920.  And although he lost in the general election, Democrat John W. Davis outdid them all, claiming his party’s nomination in 1924 on ballot number one hundred and three!

There was much that was broken about this system of selecting nominees.  Political bargains in proverbial “smoke-filled rooms” were the norm, and I’m not recommending that we return to them.  But these examples should give us pause and lead us to wrestle with some questions that might not otherwise occur to us about the current Republican contest.  Why, for one, would we assume that a candidate with a plurality of popular support has earned his party’s nomination?  Is it wrong to take “electability” into question in selecting a nominee?  Why do we think that a contested nominating convention is automatically disastrous for the party in question?  I have thoughts about all of these, but I’ll stop here and invite you to share what you think.

For more in this series, see also:

Offered In A Spirit Which Will Not Disgrace The Cause Of Truth

Words From The Past: James Madison On The Role Of Elected Leaders

George Washington on the “Spirit of Party”

“Neither Force Nor Will”: Alexander Hamilton on the Supreme Court

Should the American People Have a Say in the Supreme Court’s Direction?

Image: 1880 Republican National Convention by C.D. Mosher. Available via Wikipedia. Public Domain.

Dr. Robert Tracy McKenzie is the chair of the Department of History at Wheaton College. He is the author of The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us about Loving God and Learning from History ​from Intervarsity Press, along with two books pertaining to the American Civil War (published by Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press). He blogs at http://faithandamericanhistory.wordpress.com. 

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George Washington on the “Spirit of Party”

Editor’s Note: As mimetic creatures, we are connected to one another not only in the present, but also across time. Being able to think historically helps us to understand how we are shaped by what we have deemed worthy of memory, while an understanding of mimetic theory helps us to look back at our history and search for the unheard voices. Dr. Tracy McKenzie’s articles provide us with a rich, complex understanding of the past that neither romanticizes nor scapegoats those who came before us. This deeper understanding can inform our present.

In this installment of his series of articles drawing on the wisdom of the past to reflect on our current election cycle, Dr. McKenzie reflects upon the wisdom of our first president, George Washington, when he warned of the dangers of partisanship. Has a tool meant to place checks on power become instead a tool of defining one’s self against another, kindling jealousies and consuming us in animosity?

 

“Think of your forefathers! Think of your posterity!”

So what would George Washington think about the 2016 presidential campaign?  There can be no doubt: he would be horrified and fearful for the future of his country.

I’ve promised to share words from the past from time to time that might be relevant as we make sense of this year’s contentious presidential campaign.  The point is not to ask “What would the Founders do?” (WWFD) and then do likewise.  This kind of appeal to the past is what Harvard historian Jill Lepore calls “historical fundamentalism,” and although I find her condescending tone grating, I agree with her basic point.  The Founders have no automatic moral authority, and it is actually a form of idolatry to treat them as if they do.

And yet, at its best the study of the past can be “a conversation with the dead about what we should value and how we should live.”  Apart from sheer arrogance, indifference, or self-satisfaction, why wouldn’t we want to enter into that kind of dialogue?

The passage below comes from George Washington’s so-called “Farewell Address,” an announcement that he released in September 1796 to announce that he would not accept a third term as president of the new nation.  As you read, keep in mind that the members of the Constitutional Convention who had gathered in Philadelphia nine years earlier had not anticipated that formal political parties would come to be permanent fixtures of the American political landscape.  Nor would they have welcomed that prospect.  Though they had accepted the inevitability of informal, shifting coalitions in their colonial legislatures, they were suspicious of leaders who sought to solidify factional boundaries and make them permanent.

To Washington’s chagrin, by the end of his first term as president, divisions within his own cabinet had spread to Congress, and the alliances that would morph into the future Federalist and Democrat-Republican parties were already beginning to crystallize.  And so, as one of his last public acts, Washington warned the nation about the potential dangers of such a development:

. . . Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally. This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

. . . The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.

. . . There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

Some prominent members of the founding generation–James Madison, most prominently–would come to see that permanent political parties could in fact serve a positive role in restraining the government from tyranny, and certainly today’s parties would claim to do so (at least when they’re out of power).  And yet there are aspects of Washington’s description that still sound timely.  I’d say that today’s parties do their fair share of agitating jealousy and kindling animosity, wouldn’t you?  The question for us is whether we should be following Washington’s advice to do all within our power to “mitigate and assuage” such poisonous partisanship.

Dr. Robert Tracy McKenzie is the chair of the Department of History at Wheaton College. He is the author of The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us about Loving God and Learning from History ​from Intervarsity Press, along with two books pertaining to the American Civil War (published by Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press). He blogs at http://faithandamericanhistory.wordpress.com. 

Image: “01 George Washington” by W. Kennedy.  Available on Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 International license.

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Jesus Was Killed For National Security Reasons: Good Friday, Fear, and Muslim Surveillance

Why was Jesus killed?

There is no more important question to ask on this Good Friday. Christians have come up with many answers throughout the last 2,000 years. Some of those answers claim that Jesus was killed by the Father to assuage His wrath or reclaim His honor in the face of human sin.

But that’s the wrong answer. Jesus wasn’t killed to appease God. Jesus was killed because he was a threat to national security.

That’s the answer that the Gospels give. The great religious and political leader of the day, the high priest Caiaphas, explained why Jesus had to die. During a debate among other leaders, Caiaphas said,

You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.

Caiaphas was right about one thing – Jesus was a national security threat. That’s why the political and religious elite killed him.

But let’s be clear – Jesus was not a threat to Israel’s national security because he was a violent revolutionary. No, Jesus was a threat because he challenged the whole political system of violence and death. Jesus preached a different way of life that he called the Kingdom of God. It wasn’t based on fear, death, or violence. Rather, it was based on faith, hope, and nonviolent love.

Caiaphas was a keen politician. Politics has always been based on the expediency of keeping people safe for national security. That’s their primary job. But in order to keep us safe, there has to be a threat, some enemy that has to be exiled or killed in order for us to be safe – lest the whole nation be destroyed!

Caiaphas wasn’t particularly evil. He was simply doing what humans have always done. He was channeling national fears and anxieties against a scapegoat. Two thousand years ago it was Jesus, but we continue the practice of political scapegoating today. Currently in the United States, we have presidential candidates who are channeling our cultural fears and anxieties against Muslims. In the wake of the Jihadist terror attacks in Brussels, leading candidates are suggesting that police need to patrol “Muslim neighborhoods,” because, you know, all Muslims are a threat to our national security…

Did you know that during the 15 years since 9/11, Jihadists have attacked the United States nine times, killing 45 people? My Muslims friends agree that those terrorist attacks are tragedies that never should have happened. But do those statistics reveal that Jihadists, let alone peaceful, law abiding Muslims citizens, are such a massive threat to our safety and security that police need to spend extra time and resources patrolling Muslim neighborhoods?

In comparison, “There are nearly 12,000 gun murders a year in the US.” American gun violence is a far bigger threat to us than Jihadists. But there’s an even bigger threat to our safety and security than guns. More than 30,000 people killed every year by car accidents.

If something killed 30,000 Americans a year, would we call it a national security threat? Of course we would! We would demand that police spend more time and resources patrolling neighborhoods, making sure people were safe from such a threat.

So, are Jihadist the great threat we are making them out to be? If so, the Obama Administration is doing a damn good job keeping us safe! But personally, I don’t think they are. After all, you have far more reason to fear the car coming down the street than any Jihadist, let alone peaceful Muslims.

Of course, it would be irrational for you to fear every car that came down the street. And it is just as irrational for you to fear your Muslim neighbor.

What do Caiaphas and our political leaders have in common? They attempt to channel our fears against a common enemy in the name of national security. But ultimately, they distract us from bigger problems. Our biggest problem is the cycle of scapegoating. Caiaphas blamed Jesus. Our politicians are blaming Muslims. And Christians should know better than to fall for the fearful suspicion directed against Muslims. Good Friday teaches us that when we live by fear, even fearing for our national security, we end up channeling our fear, anxiety, and violence against a scapegoat. In other words, we participate in the violent logic that killed Jesus.

On Good Friday, Jesus reveals that we don’t have to live by the politics of fear. In fact, he frees us from fear, even the fear of death. Faith in Jesus means that we no longer have to kill or exclude others for the sake of national security. Rather, faith means trusting in Jesus, the one who calls us to love and forgive our neighbors, including those we call our enemies.

Photo: Flick: Patrick Keller, Crucifixion INRI – St. Peter’s Cemetery, St. Charles, MO, Creative Commons Licence, some changes made

jesus colt 1

The Political Subversion of Palm Sunday

Make no mistake: the Gospel is political.

Politics refers to “the affairs of the city” and “influencing other people on a civic or individual level.”

Throughout his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus was political. He influenced people to live into the politics of the Kingdom of Heaven. For Jesus, Heaven is not essentially some place off in the distance where you go after you die. No, Heaven is a way of life to be lived right here, right now. We see this clearly in the prayer he taught his disciples:

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a colt on Palm Sunday, he was performing a political act of of subversion.

Let’s contrast the politics of Jesus with the politics of Rome. Rome spread its Gospel, its “good news,” in a very deliberate way. As Fr. John Dear points out,

We’re so used to that word “Gospel,” that it’s lost its original meaning. But in those days, when the Roman empire went off and conquered another land in the name of their god Caesar, and killed all the men, raped all the women, and destroyed all the homes, the soldiers would come back parading through the land announcing “the Gospel according to Caesar,” the Good News of the latest victory of Caesar, that another land has been conquered for their god Caesar, and that Caesar’s enemies have been killed.

Now, I don’t want to pick on ancient Rome because ancient Roman politics was essentially like the politics of every other nation. Ancient Roman politics was about influencing others through power, coercion, and violence.

In spreading its Gospel, Rome was spreading the Pax Romana. Rome genuinely believed that it was spreading peace and its method for spreading peace was violence. They praised their gods that they were able to kill the enemies of Roman Peace.

That’s the politics of Rome.

But that’s not the politics of Jesus.

On Palm Sunday, Jesus revealed an alternative way of being political. A political ruler’s entry into a city was of great importance in the ancient world. Roman rulers would enter a city on a powerful war horse to show their domination. Jesus rode on a colt – a young horse that had never seen war.

As Jesus rode the young horse, a large crowd spread their cloaks on the ground and waved their palm branches as they shouted “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!” The Jewish Annotated New Testament states that the cloaks and branches were meant “to connect Jesus to the kingship of Israel.” The term “Son of David” was also a clear messianic reference that hoped for a new political ruler, but just what kind of king was Jesus?

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he was revealing that the reign of God is in stark contrast to the reign of Rome and every other political system that seeks triumphant victory by influencing people through violence and coercion.

The Gospel of Jesus subverts the politics of violence because the Gospels is the politics of humility, service, forgiveness, and a nonviolent love that embraces all people, but especially those we call our enemies.

Tragically, we tend to live by the politics of Rome, not the politics of Jesus. Whether we are Republicans or Democrats, American or Russian, whenever we seek to influence others through coercion and violence, we are following the politics of Rome.

Fortunately, Jesus revealed the alternative. He called it “The Kingdom of God.” It’s a political way of life based not on triumphant violence, but rather humble service. The politics of Jesus makes sure everyone has daily bread, it seeks to forgive debts and sins, it avoids the temptation to commit evil against our neighbors, and it calls us into a life of forgiveness.

But this is risky. We know that the politics of Jesus led him to Good Friday, where he suffered and died. And yet he stayed true to the Kingdom of God, speaking words of forgiveness even as he was murdered, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

The Kingdom of God is not just a call to a personal ethic; it’s a political ethic. Indeed, the politics of Jesus seeks to influence our personal lives, but it also seeks to influence our political lives. Wherever personal or political systems use violence, power, and coercion to be triumphant and victorious, Jesus beckons us to follow him into a different kind of politics – into the Kingdom of God that lives and dies by love, service, and forgiveness.

Image: Painting by Hippolyte Flandrin, 1842. Public Domain.

A version of this article appeared in 2014.

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The Real Reason Senate Republicans Are Blocking the Supreme Court Nominee

President Obama recently announced his nominee to fill the seat left vacant on the Supreme Court after the death of Antonin Scalia. By all accounts, Obama’s pick is a politically safe choice in a Republican controlled Senate. Merrick Garland is known as a moderate, so much of a moderate that many Progressives are criticizing him as, “an extraordinarily disappointing choice.”

I don’t know much about Garland, but I have no problem admitting that I think he’s adorable. I mean, after Obama introduced him as his nominee, Garland said this:

This is the greatest honor of my life, other than Lynn agreeing to marry me 28 years ago.

See. He said marrying his wife was the greatest honor of his life. That’s adorable. But his adorability factor only increased the more he talked!

As my parents taught me by both words and deeds, a life of public service is as much a gift to the person who serves as it is to those he is serving.

I know. Your heart is melting. Mine is too! And then he said this:

I know that my mother is watching this on television, and crying her eyes out. So are my sisters, who have supported me in every step I have ever taken. I only wish that my father were here to see this day.

Move over Pope Francis. I have a new crush.

Okay. Let’s get serious for a second. As a Progressive, I wish Obama would have risked nominating someone who would add more diversity to the Court. I agree with that criticism. But I also know that Obama is playing a political game. Whatever noble reasons Obama may have for picking Garland (like the fact that he’s adorable!) Obama is attempting to stick it to the Republican Senate one last time. He chose a moderate because it’s his chance to end his presidency defeating his rivals. If the Republicans pass Garland through, it’s a win for Obama. But if they don’t pass Garland, Obama will still win by claiming it as the capstone to his 8 year relationship with an obstructionist Republican Senate. Even when Obama bends over backwards to appease the Republicans, they obstruct him.

Indeed, soon after Scalia’s death, the Republicans began playing their game, vowing to stonewall any nominee that Obama presented. On the surface, Republicans have argued the same noble reasons as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – they want to wait until the next president is elected to allow “the people a voice in filling this vacancy.”

That seemingly noble reason is not the real reason that Republicans refuse to give Garland a hearing. And as a Progressive, I want to be clear – the real reason that Republicans won’t give Garland a hearing is not because they are evil people bent on obstruction. It’s too easy for us to scapegoat the Republicans. No, the real reason is because our two party system is caught up in a political game of mimetic, or imitative, rivalry for power.

On the surface, it seems as though Obama and the Republicans are fighting over Constitutional policy. Obama states that he wants to fulfill his constitutional duty by nominating a Supreme Court Justice. But Republicans counter with their own constitutional justification that they have the right to reject whomever the president nominates.

But Republicans have taken policy beyond the Constitution by citing the precedent of two “rules.” First, the “Thurmond Rule,” named after the late Republican Senator Strom Thurmond. The “Thurmond Rule” claims that “the party not occupying the White House shall block any and all judicial nominees brought before the Senate during a presidential campaign season.”

As a Progressive, I want to shout all kinds of expletives at the so called “Thurmond Rule”!

But the Republicans have a secret weapon in this game for power. The second rule they employ is the Democratic version of the “Thurmond Rule.” The Republicans refer to it as the “Biden Rule,” which was put forth by then Democratic Senator Joe Biden. In 1992, Biden stated that, “President Bush should consider following the practice of the majority of his predecessors and not … name a nominee until after the November election is completed.”

These “rules” aren’t binding, of course. They aren’t in the Constitution. They are unwritten rules that each party has employed to obstruct the other party. And by referring to the “Biden Rule,” Republicans are invoking a brilliant political strategy in this game – their secret weapon is to turn the words of a high ranking member of the Obama White House against their own nominee.

Underneath the surface issue of following the Constitution or unwritten rules, the real issue is an imitative grasp for power. The irony is that each side claims the noble high ground of fighting for Democracy and the Constitution, yet each side plays by the same “rules” of obstruction when it fits their agenda to gain political prestige. As NBC political analyst Chuck Todd says, “Democrats have played this game [and] Republicans have played this game … If hypocrisy were water when it comes to judicial process, we’d all drown in Washington.”

The irony of political rivalry goes even deeper because as each side claims that their methods are noble and just, each side denies that they are simply playing the same hypocritical game, imitating one another in the grasp for power. It’s that aspect of imitative rivalry that makes each side look like the mirror image of the other.

There is no easy answer to our political rivalries, especially when our three branches of government are meant to check and balance one another. It’s a great system, but it also fosters this kind of political competition for power. Part of the answer to our political problems is to stop denying the reality that we play by the same “rules” meant to obstruct the other side. Admitting that is hard, because when we do, we acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that when it comes to our political rivals, our methods of grasping for power make us more similar than we’d like to admit.

Photo: Merrick Garland with Barack Obama and Joe Biden (Screenshot from Youtube.)

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Offered In A Spirit Which Will Not Disgrace The Cause Of Truth

Editor’s Note: As mimetic creatures, we are connected to one another not only in the present, but also across time. Being able to think historically helps us to understand how we are shaped by what we have deemed worthy of memory, while an understanding of mimetic theory helps us to look back at our history and search for the unheard voices. Dr. Tracy McKenzie’s articles provide us with a rich, complex understanding of the past that neither romanticizes nor scapegoats those who came before us. This deeper understanding can inform our present.

This article draws on the wisdom of our forefathers and cautions us not to scapegoat or demean those with whom we disagree (politically or otherwise). Alexander Hamilton reminds us that good people will fall on different sides of different issues, and that good causes may be pursued for less-than-honorable reasons as well. Dr. McKenzie hopes that by listening to our forefathers, we may engage in a kind of politics that brings out the best, rather than the worst, of our natures.

At its best, historian David Harlan tells us, history can be “a conversation with the dead about what we should value and how we should live.” The bad news is that most of us live our lives “stranded in the present,” to quote historian Margaret Bendroth.  What is worse, we like it that way.

I’ve been thinking of this a lot as our already interminable presidential campaign season proceeds.  A lot of politically active Americans claim to venerate our nation’s past, but I see almost no evidence that anyone’s listening to our ancestors.

At the end of an impassioned speech against the expansion of slavery, former president John Quincy Adams punctuated his appeal to the nation’s conscience with a fervent cry:

Think of your forefathers! Think of your posterity!

I love Adams’s exhortation on multiple levels.  It exposes our relentless present-mindedness and individualism and calls us to a new kind of connectedness that transcends generations as well as geography.  Adams reminds us that we live in the flow of time, part of a larger story that began before we were born and will continue long after we die.

Adams’s exhortation is also a call to humility.  There is an arrogance to present-mindedness that C. S. Lewis rightly labeled “chronological snobbery.”  By challenging us to recognize an obligation to our forefathers as well as our posterity, Adams is telling us (among other things) to open our eyes and get over ourselves.  Stop patting the past on the head and be open to the possibility that we need to learn from it instead.

Finally, I find that Adams’s words perfectly capture my understanding of the value of history: we study the past to live more wisely in the future.  And this means that we cannot begin to honor our obligation to our descendants until we learn to listen more closely to our ancestors.

In the spirit of Adams’s plea, from time to time between now and election day, I think I’ll share quotes from our past worth chewing on during this contentious political season. My goal is not to be overtly partisan, and you can make of them what you will.

Let’s start with a quote from the Federalist Papers, a series of eighty-five essays penned primarily by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison in 1787 and 1788 to rally support for the newly proposed Constitution.   The Federalist Papers are not an infallible source of wisdom, but they’re one of the best windows that we have into the values of the original framers of our Constitutional system.

The quote below appeared in the very first number of the Federalist.  Knowing that the supporters of the Constitution faced an uphill battle, Alexander Hamilton hit the ground running.  He dashed off Federalist no. 1 within a couple of weeks of the adjournment of the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia.  The debate would be fierce, Hamilton knew,  and the stakes would be high.  The future–even the very existence–of the infant United States hung in the balance.  And precisely because the stakes were high, Hamilton knew full well that “a torrent of angry and malignant passions will be let loose.”  Hear then, how he cautioned his audience:

We, upon many occasions, see wise and good men on the wrong as well as on the right side of questions of the first magnitude to society. This circumstance, if duly attended to, would furnish a lesson of moderation to those who are ever so much persuaded of their being in the right in any controversy. And a further reason for caution, in this respect, might be drawn from the reflection that we are not always sure that those who advocate the truth are influenced by purer principles than their antagonists. Ambition, avarice, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives not more laudable than these, are apt to operate as well upon those who support as those who oppose the right side of a question.

In sum, Hamilton was conceding at the outset that there would be intelligent and honorable individuals on both sides of the coming debate.  And what is more, some on the “right side” would have dishonorable motives.  This is a far cry from business as usual in 2016, isn’t it, where presidential candidates  denounce one another as “liars” and “con artists” and train their followers to see the opposition as either malevolent or stupid.

Hamilton went on to predict that partisan firebrands would strive to prove “the justness of their opinions, and to increase the number of their converts by the loudness of their declamations and the bitterness of their invectives.”  Sound familiar to anyone?

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  Over the next seven months, Hamilton and Madison wrote some 175,000 words about the proposed Constitution.  Together, they crafted a reasoned argument aimed at a reasonable audience about how to perpetuate liberty and justice under a representative form of government.  In concluding the opening essay, Hamilton laid out the approach that the authors would follow throughout:

My arguments will be open to all and may be judged of by all.  They shall at least be offered in a spirit which will not disgrace the cause of truth.

Sounds like an approach worth recapturing.

Image: Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull, 1804. Public Domain. Available via Wikimedia.

Dr. Robert Tracy McKenzie is the chair of the Department of History at Wheaton College. He is the author of The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us about Loving God and Learning from History ​from Intervarsity Press, along with two books pertaining to the American Civil War (published by Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press). He blogs at http://faithandamericanhistory.wordpress.com.