Thursday, March 26, 2015

Ouroboros Soup

POLS 320
I would like to ask a question and then address a topic that considers this question in a larger political context: Are legality and morality the same? I say no. Plato asserts that “no man acts evilly with a set purpose lest they mistake evil as good.” If this is true, what is the danger to secular government from men who confuse legality with Biblical morality, believing all government necessary only because of the Biblical story of a fall from Grace? I assert that these men mistake evil as good in that destroying secular government is evil, though they believe this is necessary to prepare a way for the return of King Jesus.
I maintain the most dangerous men are those who truly believe that they are most just.  These men are most likely to choose the ring. If they are ‘king’, or, if their King were King…if justice were to be dispensed in all ways as Biblical code requires, then all will be tolerable within the world to God. Perhaps then Jesus would return, and take ‘His Rightful Place on the Throne.’ The backdrop of the recommended reading, the Ring of Gyges, after all, was about deciding justice personally, the intention to become king.
The ‘Prince’ (which stands for the modern state) as described in the Two Swords Doctrine offered by Pope Gelasius says that if a commonwealth is to be legitimate, then the representatives of this commonwealth (elected politicians, the judicial system, the sheriffs who are generally the highest law enforcement officers in our counties, etc.) must be professing Christians. This would seemingly obligate professing Christians to, say, obstruct or oppose any governmental action if the federal branches of government in America or in their municipality is not filled with professing Christians. The definition used for the word ‘Christian’ in this paper, to be clear, describes those American citizens who believe American government ought to be populated exclusively by professing Christians and that the Constitution either was written to reflect Biblical code, or should be changed through Supreme Court precedent to do so. I must add here that I doubt highly however the existence of an American professing Christian who would willingly admit American government has a higher authority over them than their ‘God.’
Reviewing first whether or not legality and morality are the same thing, reason says no. Law and morality are an Ouroboros, which Plato described as “a self-eating, circular being […] the first living thing in the universe” and is commonly envisioned as a snake eating its own tail. Law is moved by morality, in that shared morality becomes state or federal law through a sometimes slow but always pendulum-like manner. The Voting Rights Act of 1965, Brown v. Board of Education, the 1866 Civil Rights Act, and Yick Wo v. Hopkins are all examples of how civil law slowly, through the mechanism of American secular government, began to mimic the transient morality of the American constituency. Morality is indeed an individual habit, but in our society, shared morals have driven specific legislation.
To briefly define them both, a Harvard article titled “Law versus Morality as Regulators of Conduct” by Steven Shavell begins:
It is evident that both law and morality serve to channel our behavior. Law accomplishes this primarily though the threat of sanctions if we disobey legal rules. Morality too involves incentives; bad acts may result in guilt and disapprobation, and good acts may result in virtuous feelings and praise.
That legality and morality begin in separate places and accomplish their ends differently, differentiates them.
To further clarify my position, I lean on what St. Thomas Aquinas called synderesis. Synderesis can be understood as a ‘conscience before conscience’ that tells men to avoid evil, and seek to do good. This truth provokes an inner conversation that transforms into conscience…a process that innately takes place in all but the wicked and the infant (these are the words of Aquinas).
This theory proves that morality comes before law, as law is intended to reflect or codify morality, or at least ought to attempt to reflect or codify what is admittedly a transient societal morality-- much like a zero in a zero one zero sequence commanding a computer program.
 As to the danger secular government faces from such un-intentionally evil men, I have spent my two-and a half years in school assessing the theonomic progress (the ‘christianizing of law’) in current American society. I’ve found a number of ‘men’ who mistake the good of government as the consequence of the sin of man, and see government in any form as illegitimate unless it is run with a Christian by Biblical law; a principle foundation of their faith includes certainty that American government ought to derive any authority from God alone.
When Socrates answers Glaucon, he speaks of the men who choose to abuse the power of the ring as being ‘enslaved to [their] appetites’ and those who do not as ‘rationally in control of themselves. I see this philosophically demonstrated by standard American Christian conservative activists, with their shameless lack of rationality and their immovable pride in believing themselves to be correct at all times, in all arguments—leaning always on their faith. I say these are generally wicked men. They believe that their justice is the most just, that their king alone can dispense appropriate justice. This is what forces them to deny reason. They are wicked as they are constrained by their faith to do this, to believe they are the most just. Here is Plato’s answer:
…justice does not derive from this social construct: the man who abused the power of the Ring of Gyges has in fact enslaved himself to his appetites, while the man who chose not to use it remains rationally in control of himself and is therefore happy. (Republic 10:612b).(wiki)
Discussing reasonably American politics with men of faith who are also political figures is a practice as extinct as the dinosaurs many of these men are convinced man lived alongside. For an introductory example, think of the Grover Norquist Tax Pledge. He isn’t a ‘religious’ figure as much as an economic fellow, but his goal is based on the same philosophy of ‘secular government is evil because it is a consequence of the fall from grace.’ He teaches that when the government taxes you, it takes your dollars by coercion and force. From a CNN profile:
 Norquist views that two-line document -- fewer than 70 words in all -- as something like a blood oath, an ironclad, immutable contract between lawmakers and their constituents that they will not back any bill to raise taxes or revenue.
Famously, he keeps original copies of every signed pledge -- each of which has to be co-signed by two witnesses -- in a fireproof vault for protection.
Political-minded Christians love this argument, and see demanding zero-revenue as a perfectly reasonable starting position when discussing funding of government. The power of the pledge is evident; there was not a single federal-level tax increase since the early 1990’s until the recent Debt Ceiling deal. The universal appeal of the ‘government is the problem’ stance is what I say makes it such an omnipresent and magnetic Ring.
If this effort to effectively dismantle secular government was undertaken just on behalf of Mr. Norquist, perhaps this could be seen as a simple lobbying effort for people with legitimate grievances. Instead, take note that the “the 238 members of the House of Representatives and 41 members of the Senate [that] have taken the Pledge” and the more than 1200 State Legislators who swore an oath to defend the Constitution first signed Mr. Norquist’s ‘immutable’ contract . Each of these elected officials deliberately signed on to the goal of defunding government entirely by 2050. Minus secular government, religious law will (it is my estimation) will begin to rule over first portions, then all of America.
Much of this may seem visible, and to the political observer, perhaps it is. However, some 90 million Americans did not involve themselves in our most recent election, and millions more ignore day-to-day political activity. To the blind, the power of the Christian Reconstructionist (the Ring bearer) is near absolute. My claim here is that those who have separated their allegiance from the legitimate secular government they have been elected to and did swear an oath to defend—and this being an oath absent any mental reservations—separated their allegiance to our secular government. They transferred that allegiance to God. This taking of two oaths, one a contract to destroy the other, shows these ‘men’ are enslaved to their faith, and so are lost to reason. This is incredibly dangerous to secular government.
Case in point: David Barton is a pseudo-historian who holds immense influence and power in the Religious Right community. To people who do not enjoy passing their time tracking influential Christian activists, Barton’s power and his influence are invisible. His name and ability are known well by those who believe as he does, that to tear down the legitimacy of secular government is a good thing. From NPR, on the 8th of August, 2012:
In 2010, the Texas Board of Education voted to rewrite the history textbooks to make them more conservative and Christian-friendly. One of the advisers was David Barton. Barton later said on the cable talk show Chapter and Verse that it would take another 16 or 18 years before kids go through the entire curriculum, "then another 10 years after that before those kids get elected to office and start doing things. So we're talking 30 years from now. But, it's in the pipe coming down.
This falsification by Barton is typical. “Jesus has a direct teaching against the minimum wage,” says David Barton, in a talk to the Rediscover God in America Conference, on March 24 of 2011. He cites Proverbs 13:22:  “A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous.
I fail to see the connection between the writings and the teaching—there is, in fact, zero direct correlation when using reason, which makes Barton not guilty of equivocation but of an outright lie. Jesus did not preach against the minimum wage; to know this truth and repeat otherwise is to repeat a lie. But this lie can only be told when seeing evil as good, or, more tersely, while being wicked (besides, in Luke 3:12-13, Jesus advised the tax collector to collect taxes, specifically, only with a caution to not collect more than the law required).
Proof of the power of the Ring is this call of the House Roll where not one Federal level Republican voted in support of a minimum wage increase recently, a bill that would increase the minimum from the $7.25 it is now, to $10.10, over four years.  (Roll Call available here: ).
Barton, of course, and Grover Norquist, and all the signatories and preachers and believing Christians working in state or federal jobs alike are men like any other men thinking they seek to do good, and act to avoid evil. In fact, I do not assert and I cannot prove that Norquist’s pledge, Barton’s views and the vote in the House are related politically. I can only credibly claim that they are recognizably the same, philosophically, in the way they refute reason in favor of faith.
The genius of liar David Barton, again as an example of common Ring bearer belief, he has said, “You look at article two, the quote on where the President has to be native-born, that is Deuteronomy 17:15 verbatim.”  For the record, here is the text of Constitutional Article II, the quote in question:
No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President.
Here is a typical translation of Deuteronomy 17:15:
You shall surely set him king over you, whom the LORD your God shall choose: one from among your brethren shall you set king over you: you may not set a stranger over you, who is not your brother.
This is hard to call verbatim; in fact, my own morality will not allow me to call this the truth. It may be important here to point out that this particular lie is so widely believed that, in this letter to the editor of the Canon City Daily Record dated March 15, 2013, noted: “…54 percent of Republicans and 67 percent of those who identify themselves as Tea Party Members continue to believe that the President was born in Kenya and that he is a Muslim.”
Barton also teaches that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton believed separation of powers comes from Jeremiah 17:9. He teaches that the three branches of government idea is from Isaiah 33:22, and Article 3, section 3, paragraph one of the Constitution are “exactly the same as Deuteronomy 17:6.” I am not going to bore you with the exact texts--these are lies are told and repeated with intention, and he is not the only one telling them.
Legality and morality are not one and the same. Morality comes before law. Aquinas proved this with his theory called synderesis. What makes these men wearing the Ring wicked is their inability and disinterest in separating morality and legality, and I believe this is because their morality comes from their biblical text, which asserts there must be Christian Dominion of all Earthly governments.
For the Christian who believes government needs to be Christian-occupied, is not their only moral decision (seeing evil as good) is to wear the ring, and advance their eventual theocracy?  I believe so. The Randian Republicans in Congress wearing the Ring who give first allegiance not to the laws of this country but to their God and ‘His law’ are not alone. They run as Democrats in Pennsylvania for governor. They also fight for positions on the PTA around the country, and on the City Council, probably where you live. They intend to delay, obstruct, and in the end, entirely defund American secular government.
 I must restate: the man who believes he is most just is most dangerous. I say that the lies told by those who believe their justice to be the ‘good’ justice, the justice based on ‘Christ’—those who participate in the Christian Reconstruction of America are in fact invisible, wearing the Ring. These lies and their liars are so pervasive as to be invisible…or so believed as to be invisible.
Congress wears this Ring too, when they act against the people’s stated interest (this is using the ring to become king, or to at least prepare His way).  That there is dysfunction in Congress may be the least invisible fact in the world; why this dysfunction exists to begin with and who is responsible for the disintegration of trust in the democratic process seems mightily invisible— at times even to those who, like I, believe they wear the goggles that allow them to see the Ring bearers. Men who have chosen to use the Ring to become King in many cases do believe themselves invisible, and this invisibility as an advantage.
These activists that push Barton’s plan (his, and so many others) are dragging America through legal means what seems to be a Randian Slow-Motion Separation/Secession, some sort of Constitutional Coup: a change in our a transfer of power in our country from being a constitutionally limited representative democratic republic (where the people hold the keys to power and how it is transferred), to a theonomy (where law is based more and more on Biblical morality), to a constitutional Monarchy (when, finally, we see the Supreme Court overturn pre-Lochner era decisions.) This will be the beginning of theocracy outright, a time where legality and morality depends on faith over reason. Christianity will then have dominion over American secular government.
These are men whose political ideology is that all ideology to their opposite is demonic, that all who operate politically to their left make laws based upon a lesser love, a non-Christian love, and therefore, can make laws only based on an immoral secular code. Have these Ring bearers not overtaken the democratic process and obstructed progress because they indeed do mistake evil as good? Yes. Even though the stability of Constitutional law revolves around that ‘wall of separation between church and state’?  Yes. The danger of continuing to allow these wicked ‘men’ who see government itself as wicked and so the good to do and the evil to avoid for them is to destroy such secular governments and prepare a kingdom for Jesus is written clearly all over history books: America must fight to remain simply a mechanism for redress, transfer of power, protection of property rights, etc., i.e., a secular government,
The last chance we have before our constitutionally limited representative democratic republic surrenders to God’s Law completely is to shine a bright enough light (reason) on the Ring and those who wear it (which by now is clearly understood to be the lie of Christian Reconstruction) and focus that light on the ninety-plus million uninvolved, uninspired voters in the hopes they are not, too lost to reason already. Considering the vast power of this invisible ‘Dominionist’ network, I can reasonably predict that the process of American Democracy will disintegrate even further before any display of reason is successful in outing the absolute intent of Ring bearers.
 I hope that Plato was right; I hope that these wicked will indeed succumb to their appetites for worldly power, and expose themselves through their imposition of an increasingly hard-line combination of American Law and Biblical Code, and that this happens before we are all willingly lying to ourselves about the Constitution and the Bible being direct descendants of each other. After all, they are shown through reason, to not be. The worst, then, will be that we won’t know we are lying; we will be mistaking evil for good, seeking to avoid the evil and to do the good.

 Roll Call vote for minimum wage increase Background Reading suggested
I rely heavily on Chapters 5,6,7,8 of the textbook Thom Hartmann on Constitutional Monarchy Thom Hartmann creationism Activist Kevin Swanson advising Christian teachers to disregard Supreme Court Decisions separating church and state America is a Christian Nation debate w/ Barton Institutes of Biblical Law review  Definition militant church intent on ruling world politically blood oath- two witnesses- Legally binding Contract Weyrich advising to be more ‘holy’ by separating from secular institutions 

More Metaphors Than Soup Can Shake A Stick At

Conflict Class
More Metaphors Than You Can Shake a Stick At
Choosing an interpersonal conflict for this assignment was extremely difficult, because, as I discussed with my therapist, most conflicts in my life are not with people, but with systems. I previously wrote about a recent outpouring of hot lava from the volcano that is my relationship with my mother-in-law, Elsa, for the midterm. Having done so, I felt rather optimistic about our connection going forward. Acknowledging my conflict styles and how they are different from hers did help me develop a deeper sense of empathy for her. This, of course, is a key component of emotional intelligence. She, by looking at the assessment sheets, had participated in the exercise honestly, and I really thought we might be turning the corner.
However, I chose to write again about this ongoing conflict because, despite my attempts to regulate temperature, the pot has boiled over onto the stove. Given the emotionally sensitive nature of this material, and because I was asked to use a metaphor to describe the conflict, I’ve made the best of this situation by trying to make it fun to write (and hopefully read), at least.
Elsa and I have had an ongoing series of conflicts for upwards of eight years. Over this length of time, we have had topical, relational, identity, and process clashes. I have been in individual and/or family therapy regularly since I was 8, and I’m 36 now. I have gained through this experience a working understanding of how family of origin plays an enormous role in the way different people deal with conflicts. This class, along with that experience, has given me a great number of tools (stop-thought/shift-thought/FIREDRILL…or conflict triangles) to use when I need to control my anger as certain vicious cycles repeat in my life. Every ounce of my self-control was on trial not long after I received my grade for the midterm; the verdict found me lacking. I was the last car in a sixteen car pile-up. I saw the trouble coming, but was unable to swerve in time. I will explain in a moment.
For a bit of background, I need to give some pretty gory details about my wife’s family history. Her father sexually abused her during a four year period from 8 to 12, during which time the mother was a child sexual abuse investigator. Take a moment to let that one sink in. Despite what she calls now her ‘suspicions at the time’, Elsa did nothing to protect Anna or hold her husband accountable; in fact, she never has, even in the face of other stories from women in her life about other ‘suspicious behavior’ exhibited by her husband. When Anna predictably started acting out, she was sent to Guam. Yes, Guam, as in the other side of the world, with the other side of the family, for her entire teenage existence. Not a metaphor.
When I met Anna years later, her father was still lording his high power by constantly making obscene jokes about her body (‘breasts and thighs’), even in the presence of the rest of the family. I found this to be very disturbing, and so I confronted him. I did so mostly because I have experienced sexual abuse also, and am familiar with the cycle of behavior inherent in the actions of a sex offender who has not been held responsible for his actions. My decision to tackle this issue head-on led to essentially four years of arguments, during which time my relationship with her mother slowly devolved. This happened as I realized the responsibility Elsa held for the abuse continuing for so long. I began to see that asking her to change was asking Major League Baseball to lower the average price of beer—not going to happen.
During that four year period, we lived together for one summer, at the very beginning of my relationship with Anna. During our entire marriage we have not lived with them. Being that Anna and I are both full-time students with a child, our financial resources are never enough to cover everything. Since November 2005, Elsa and her husband have provided an immense amount of financial support, which comes in the form of gas, groceries, and pocket money, but never for rent.
I mention rent because of my identity issue with needing to provide in some fashion for the roof over my family’s head. My self-identification as a good father and partner, despite my disabilities, is dearly held. That I even need this help is, in some ways, an attack on this identity; I make an internal effort to deal with those emotional consequences and an external effort to be grateful. Elsa has, with the support and encouragement of her husband, time and again used her contribution through financial assistance as a tactic in attempting to disassemble the coalition that is my wife and I.  As a result, I have connected the donkey-like persistence Elsa approaches the ever-impending conversion of my family with, with her dogged insistence that she couldn’t have known better, couldn’t have handled the abuse Anna suffers from -still- differently.
About four summers ago, Anna and I forbade her father from ever entering our house again. This was around the time that our child was born. When we laid down a condition of him visiting, namely that he could never, ever be alone with the child, Elsa couldn’t seem to understand. See, there has never been a confession that by him that he did molest Anna, and his non-acknowledgement was having a very destructive impact on Anna’s mental health, and our marriage. Our thought at the time was this: if Elsa was not going to confront her husband, and, since she even took steps to prevent me from doing so, enough was enough. To repair the damage done, we would at the very least need our house to be a safe space. Also, under no circumstances will I put my child in such a threatening situation. Here I show the power resource of interpersonal linkage.
This decision put an immense amount of strain on my relationship with Anna’s mom. The whole of the Four Apocalyptic Horsemen rode right through the living room a few times. One example of my stonewalling: I, instead of calling her mom, just stopped calling her, or answering when she called. I also began to strongly encourage my wife to begin coping with her victimization. Over the last four years, we have gridlock, and I have emotionally disengaged with Anna’s family. My goal in this part of the interaction was to Elsa and Anna face up to the consequences of her mothers’ enabling ‘ignorance.’ This is all pretty heavy, but it’s true.
This piece of information, along with the previous paper, is included to show the amount of time and effort that my wife and I have put into solving system-level problems with the relationship. Our conflicts with her have not all been about proselytizing; no, my identity as non-believer is by no means under attack because she has faith. My relational goal of a healthy marriage is at risk because she consistently demeans and judges my family for our lack of faith, all while standing by her man. In truth, we have more interdependent conflict issues than my dog has fleas. Our conflicts have been a roller-coaster, with all of the vomit but none of the fun and excitement!
To explain the current nature of the relationship, I must start about a month ago. This was when I overheard Elsa in the kitchen with our daughter, relegating her with yet more whispers about heaven and jesus. It wasn’t until the kid piped up, asking, “When I die, do I go to heaven?” that I, armed with tools from class and therapy, felt triggered. First, I checked my emotions, and remembered to use the emotional intelligence all those years of therapy have provided. Remember, she has her own feelings and issues, I told myself. I used self-soothing talk as an anger management tool, repeating, “Staaaaay cool. Staaaaaaaay cool.” I made sure my wife (who was at the time sitting outside) knew I had overheard what I did and asked for her understanding. I explained that repeatedly going against the universal ‘my rules, my house’ imperative would not be tolerated further without my intervention, particularly given the history.
We came in together, and, using I statements, made known that we needed to talk about what I had overheard, among other things. In a stunning denial of power use, Elsa refused to admit having communicated anything of the sort to our kid. Instead, she immediately began packing up to go, though she had intended to stay at least one more night. This was her attempting to control her power resources. She began storming around the house, leveling personal attacks, telling me to ‘be a man,’ ‘get a job,’ and “I guess Rachel Maddow is your god now!” I didn’t really understand that last one either, until later. I realized she meant that, opposite of her goal for me (come to jesus, bring the family), I had turned to intellectual pursuits, and forsaken the idea of an almighty creator.  In her eyes, and opposite her goal for me (and her identity, to be sure), I am Paul on the road to Damascus no more.
Despite this incredible outburst, I knew that what seemed irrational to me was quite rational for her. I was able to keep my temper in check until she, having put everything by the door in her loudest tone of non-verbal behavior, came to stand in front of me and mocked, with flailing motions and what I can only describe as the face of a half-wit, the sign language I have been teaching my family. Here, I failed. Instead of letting the conflict wash over me the way the morning tide does the sea anemone, I lost self-control. I did not keep my inside thoughts inside. I stood up, used a choice phrase of my own, and invited her to leave. “You wanna go?! Go!! But if you leave, stay gone!” This was a quickly escalating spiral, to be sure, a self-perpetuating bad situation fraught with discord, and in this case characterized by contempt. It was made worse because my fear of being disregarded by this woman as unworthy was being acted out right before my eyes. I got angry. My relational goals with every woman in the house felt at stake.
“How dare you!” I jumped up, screaming. “What are you talking about? I’m not mocking you!”  “You just did!” This ‘I’m right/No, I’m right!/No, I’m right’ went back and forth for a few minutes, during which she continued to refute the power use. She denied both that she communicated something, and that something was intended by the communication. At this point, I took a deep breath, and remembered my plan of action in dealing with my emotions while in conflict (breathing, empathy, counting to ten, using positive imagery like a playing right field in a ballgame under the lights at night as a cool breeze ruffles my long hair and uniform). (Hey, it works.)
“I don’t want my family around your abuse anymore,” says I, “or the scorning, judging, and stubborn unwillingness to deal with your own fury. You can just stay away if this is how you want to handle things! I wanted to read the paper I wrote about our conflict to you, to process this differently for once!” “It’ll all just be an attack on me,” she shouted, standing by the door she had flung open for the neighbors. “Not at all, it was to help see the process as the problem instead of the person” I intoned as calmly as I possibly could. I was still sitting on the couch with Anna and the kid, who were begging her not to leave, to please sit down and talk things over.
“It’s not like that at all. There are ways to repair the contempt we feel for each-other,” I continued, to no avail. From the door she shrieked, “If you don’t want me around, I’ll just send money then!” And that was essentially that. She must have known then that she was going to actively withdraw her support leaving us in quite a lurch. Saying that she would do the opposite of what she actually intended is the non-verbal, passive approach.
My goals in this interaction were to deal with what I had overheard, read the previous paper to her, and discuss what could be done to repair our relationship. I hoped that by showing her I was making an effort to understand her emotions and actions, she would de-escalate. Instead, her goal became apparent: to exercise her financial power (resource control) in response to feeling threatened, and in response to my not ‘softening my heart and accepting the Lord.’ Before she felt threatened, I am sure she held the same goal.
Because of our incompatible goals, Elsa and I have been in basically a hot war, where we exchanged power currencies during periods where we each perceived interference or scarcity. Now, we are in a cold war, where she has followed through on her threat to withdraw financial support (one major reason I have been missing class since the mid-term…no money, no gas, little food), and my daily life teeters on the edge of financial calamity. It would appear she had the last word, leaving a power imbalance.
If I apply the Relational Theory of Power here, I can see that my family’s dependence on Elsa was equal to the power she held over us. As things stand now, I am certain that her money has been interference with our educational goals, not support. She clearly does not value our choice to better ourselves through education. She said as much with the Maddow comment. This can only be seen as destructive, and not just to the relationship I have and wanted to have with her, but with the goals I share with my wife. My daughter, who is four, is a sponge like every child, and my relational goal with her is to protect her and teach her how to deal with conflicts as they arise. Mocking the Deaf is certainly never appropriate; that she has known for the entire period of our relationship that I am hard of hearing tells me this was not just one more attack, but foreshadowing further harmful intent. I wish my daughter hadn’t witnessed that.
Mine has always been either an accommodating or a compromising style, whether with Elsa or with anyone. Thanks, therapy! However, I can only collaborate with a willing partner, and accommodation is really just half of a failed compromise. With Elsa, I have turned to avoidance as a tactic in the past. When that hasn’t worked, I have scripted nearly every line of every conversation, every interaction. I pre-plan my day when she is over to steer clear of conflict with her. Anna and I have tried various solutions: not allowing her husband to be there and agitate, conditions on the subjects that we discuss, asking her look in the mirror regarding the abuse she allowed to continue when Anna was young in the hopes she would more easily empathize with how it still effects Anna today…all to no gain.
So, time for something different. The macro-level, systems-level way of looking at things led me to see that I had said everything to Elsa I needed to say, except one thing: to handle her conflicts better, she needs to get off the merry-go-round and seek professional help. She needs to learn from her history, perhaps even recognize that she ‘avoids-criticizes’ in a cycle that is unproductive and extremely unhealthy.
My therapist, upon hearing this story, offered to provide a family session (minus the husband—he is NOT allowed near my wife). This will provide a safe and private place for Anna and Elsa and I to be guided through our emotional turmoil to whatever the next step might be. As till now, trying new solutions has been a part of the problem. Also, overuse of a solution can reduce its effectiveness. One example is my use of ‘confrontation’ as a tactic.

Looking long-term? I know I cannot ‘change the other.’ I must take personal responsibility for my emotional transformation; I cannot continue to allow incompatible goals and scarce resources define the future for my immediate family. I trust my therapist to mediate the situation appropriately, and help us all develop communications skills-- like gunny sacking! -- through her pragmatic approach. I trust myself to navigate these delicate waters as well as Twain gave my child self glimpses of the Great Mississippi through Tom Sawyer. I am glad I have the resource of expertise in this situation, thanks to my years in therapy, and the resource of interpersonal linkage, in the case of the therapist. Solutions? Who knows? Honestly, I am happy to have made it here. Therapy can only make this better. I hope. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

We Pledge Allegiance to the Flag, Don’t Help Us God (Soup's Wife Wins Again)

We Pledge Allegiance to the Flag, Don’t Help Us God
Compelled speech is any declaration the government requires the utterance of whose truth we reject or find offensive. It can take the form of a prayer, oath, or of a pledge of allegiance to flag or country. Although deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, the government often asks citizens to make declarations that include religious speech, such as “under God” or “So help me God.” Citizens have the constitutional right to amend their oaths or refrain from participating in the Pledge of Allegiance on the basis of religious freedom. For people with no religious beliefs, this becomes a free speech issue. To fully safeguard First Amendment free speech protections for non-believers and believers alike, the government should take the neutral position and omit any reference to God or religious belief from all government prescribed oaths and pledges unless requested by an individual who recites them. In short, the government should allow the choice for religious individuals to ‘opt-in’ rather than requiring non-religious individuals to ‘opt-out.’
In West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (319 U.S. 624 [1943]) the Supreme Court determined compelled speech to be unconstitutional. Writing for the majority, Justice Robert Jackson states, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein." Additionally, the Supreme Court has interpreted the Establishment Clause to mean that Government must be neutral among religions, as well as between religious and non-religious citizens. The government has the authority to limit speech when there is legitimate interest in doing so (e.g.. where public safety is at stake), but there is no constitutionally allowable interest in the government compelling religion or religious speech.
Yet the government continues to compell declarations of belief. The Oaths of Office made by government officials and oaths sworn by prospective citizens, jurors, and military officers and enlistees all include the phrase “So help me God.” The Pledge of Allegiance includes the phrase “under God.” Non-neutral references to a deity are so commonplace as to imply the assumption of universal belief in a god-- specifically, to a belief in the Christian God. Outdated, misinformed, and discriminatory policy allows ‘tradition’ to dictate governmental customs that violate the free speech and expression rights of non-believers.
The Constitution requires an oath from all government officials and military personnel, but the President’s Oath of Office is the only oath explicitly detailed therein. Article II, Section 1, Clause 8 of the Constitution states that before a president assumes office, the following must be repeated: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Noticeably absent is the phrase ‘So help me God,’ though by congressional mandate it is included in every other oath recited by federal employees.
As outlined by Article VI, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution, religious tests for holding public office are prohibited. This was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in Torcaso v. Watkins (367 U.S. 488 [1961]). In this case, the appellant was denied his commission as an appointed Notary Public for the State of Maryland because he refused to declare his belief in God, as required by the Maryland Constitution. In the majority opinion, Justice Hugo Black writes,
Nothing decided or written … lends support to the idea that the Court there intended to open up the way for government, state or federal, to restore the historically and constitutionally discredited policy of probing religious beliefs by test oaths or limiting public offices to persons who have, or perhaps more properly profess to have, a belief in some particular kind of religious concept.
The Court decided the portion of Maryland’s Constitution in question violated the appellant’s freedom of religion and was unenforceable. Justice Black goes on to say, “We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person ‘to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.’” Although cases involving declaration of belief are usually approached from the ‘Freedom of Religion’ standpoint, these words by Justice Black show compelled speech is also a ‘Freedom of Speech’ issue.
Citizens with moral or personal objections may omit “So help me God,” but in doing so are faced with the undue burden of making their objection public. This subjects them to potential discrimination from individuals and institutions with an underlying religious agenda, as in the case of former West Point cadet Blake Page, who dropped out the United States Military Academy five months before his graduation. He describes “an institution which willfully disregards the Constitution of the United States of America while enforcing policies which run counter to the same.” The compelled speech problems at West Point went far beyond a requirement to include religious language in the oath. Page describes mandatory prayer events, proselytizing by officers at all levels of command, rewarding and requiring religious participation, and punishments for non-participants including humiliation of cadets who were openly non-religious.
West Point is not a church-affiliated private university, but a division of the military, making these alleged violations of the First Amendment even more disturbing. In recent years, he military has been at the center of  numerous controversies over religious proselytization and compulsory participation in religious activities. In August 2014, an airman was allegedly barred from reenlisting in the Air Force when he scratched out the phrase “So help me God” from his reenlistment contract. Chris Hoyler, the Public Affairs Officer for the Air Force, said that “reciting 'So help me God' in the reenlistment and commissioning oaths is a statutory requirement” and that a 2013 update to Air Force Instruction 36-2606 “no longer authorized [airmen] to omit the words ‘So help me God’” (qtd. in Ashtari, “U.S. Airman…”). Hoyler was referring to the part of the United States Code which details the Enlistment oath, including ‘So help me God,’ with no mention of any allowable omission of the phrase (10 USC 502, 2006). It would appear that Hoyler was incorrect; United States Code also states that an “‘oath’ includes affirmation, and ‘sworn’ includes affirmed” (1 USC 1, 2012). As defined by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, an affirmation is “a pledge equivalent to an oath but without reference to a supreme being or to ‘swearing’” (United States v. Bueno-Vargas, 383 F.3d 1104 [2004]). These two pieces of law, read together, make explicit that omitting “So help me God” is allowable so long as the person intends to follow through with the obligation to which he or she is affirming.
In November 2014, Derek Giardina, a student at Merrill F. West High School in Tracy, California, was disciplined by his school after omitting “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. As part of an assignment for his Speech and Debate class, students were expected to recite the Pledge over the school’s intercom. Giardina, an agnostic, was uncomfortable with the phrase “under God,” and did not say it. Consequently, he was given detention and only half-credit for the assignment. Sam Strube, a spokesperson for the school district, said of the incident, “A public forum where you’re going to represent the school is not a place where you can voice a controversial issue and force that on other people” (“Tracy High School Student Punished”). Yet it was the school district attempting force Giardina to declare something he does not believe.
The question of whether the inclusion of “under God” is constitutionally permissible has appeared once before the Supreme Court, in Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow (542 U.S. 1[2004]). Michael Newdow filed a suit on his daughter’s behalf claiming that merely hearing the phrase ‘under God’ was a violation of the Constitution. The Ninth Circuit Court agreed that inclusion of the phrase was unconstitutional; however the Supreme Court determined that as a non-custodial parent, Newdow did not have standing. The lower court’s decision was struck as a matter of procedural law, and the constitutional question remains un-addressed.  Various courts have ruled repeatedly that inclusion of “under God” does not violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause nor does it violate state constitutional guarantees of religious liberty. Ronald A. Lindsay, President of the Center for Inquiry, believes the rationale of the courts is that recitation of the Pledge is a patriotic, not a religious activity. The problem for atheists and other non-believers, as Lindsay puts it, is that “it equates being a patriot with belief in God.”
The United States is divided on the matter of religious references embedded within Constitutional oaths and expressions of patriotism. On one hand, there are rights to free exercise, free expression and protections within the Constitution against coerced speech. Barnette established that students who object to the Pledge cannot be compelled to take part. Wooley v. Maynard (430 U.S. 705 [1977]) says the Court’s precedents “have established the principle that freedom of speech prohibits the government from telling people what they must say.” On the other hand, people use religious language, and many claim this country to be a Christian nation founded on Christian principles. There may be debate over what the intentions of the authors of our founding documents were, but this is certain: not one original oath contained references to God. The Presidential and the military oath were both adopted in 1789, and left out “So help me God”  until the Officers’ oath was changed in 1862 during the Civil War. It wasn’t until 1950 that the oath for enlistees was changed, and the Pledge of Allegiance didn’t include “under God” until 1954. Since these words were not essential to the arguably important patriotism involved in uttering an oath or the Pledge, the argument that it is not a religious statement becomes less believable.
Michael Weinstein, President of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, says that only eliminating “So help me God” from military oaths would be acceptable because those who choose not to say it feel pressure. “It exacts an unconstitutional toll on religious objectors,” Weinstein says (Losey, “Academy Makes ‘God’ Optional”). This logic applies to religious language in all Constitutional oaths and the Pledge of Allegiance. To avoid coerced speech, references to religion and belief in God should be omitted unless requested by participants. The inclusion of religious speech by the State is discriminatory against non-believers, which is a matter of free and coerced speech, not just of government endorsed religion.

Works Cited

Ashtari, Shadee. “U.S. Airman Denied Reenlistment for Omitting ‘So Help Me God,’ Humanist Group Claims.” Huff Post: Politics. Huffington Post, 04 Sep. 2014. Web. 08 Dec. 2014.

Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, 542 U.S. 1 (2004). Web. 09 Dec. 2014.

Lindsay, Ronald A. “Reframing the Debate Over the Pledge of Allegiance: Make God Optional.” Huff Post: Religion. Huffington Post, 02 Sep. 2014. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.

Losey, Stephen. “Academy Makes ‘God’ Optional in Cadets’ Oath.” Air Force Times. Gannett, 23 Oct. 2013. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.

Page, Blake. “Why I Don’t Want to Be a West Point Graduate.” Huff Post: Politics. Huffington Post, 03 Dec. 2012. Web. 16 Nov. 2014.

Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961). Web. 8 Dec. 2014.
“Tracy High School Student Punished for Refusing to Say ‘Under God’ When Leading the Pledge of Allegiance.” CBS SF Bay Area. CBS Local, 12 Nov. 2014. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.
United States v. Bueno-Vargas, 383 F.3d 1104 (2004). Web. 9 Dec. 2014.
West Virgina State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943).  Freedom of Expression in the United States.  Ed. Terry Eastland.  Lanham, MD.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000.  56-64.  Print.
Wooley v. Maynard, 430 U.S. 705 (1977). Web. 19 Nov. 2014.

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As Soup's Wife Would Say--- Usurping Democracy: Modern Domestic Christian Terrorism

“I hate Barack Obama…God wants me to hate Barack Obama…I’m going to pray that he dies and goes to hell. You think I’m just saying that…when I go to bed tonight, I am going to pray for Barack Obama to die and go to hell.”
-Pastor Steven L. Anderson, Fundamentalist Baptist Preacher

The American public cannot help but be aware of terrorism as a perpetual and daily threat, here and around the world. Terrorism has had the average American’s attention since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. Media has covered mass shootings and terrorist attacks such as the Boston Marathon bombings to the attack on Fort Hood, always searching for a link between the perpetrators and radical Islam, and only occasionally finding it. When a new ISIS video or other Islamic terror threat presents itself, media attention is focused on which fundamentalist Islamic group is to blame. Yet numerous examples abound of violent acts carried out by American citizens. When the attacker is a white male Christian American, the national conversation tends to label the suspect a ‘lone wolf’, unaffiliated with any terror network, and rarely turns to religion. Whether the breaking news is about shootings at a movie theater, or the killing of two Las Vegas police killed by supporters of ‘Sovereign Citizen’ Cliven Bundy, or the two police murdered recently in New York City, or the two police officers wounded in a shooting even more recently in Ferguson, Missouri, the religious background of the alleged perpetrator seems to rarely matter, unless the suspect is of some vague Arabic descent.
Why these apparently random shootings happen cannot truly be answered; yet the violent, anti-government rhetoric which contributes to these violent acts can be analyzed and the correlation to vitriolic religious interpretations of Biblical law are clear. Many domestic terror incidents, particularly since the election of America’s first Black President, can be traced to an aberrant interpretation of Christianity which targets the secular civic government as the biggest threat to God’s returning Kingdom on Earth. The motivating ideologies can also be seen in right-wing politics today which are aimed at ‘drowning government in a bathtub.’
The motivation behind most acts of domestic terrorism, whether the actors are from the Ku Klux Klan, neo-nazis, or even militia or survivalist groups, comes from the teachings and beliefs of the Christian Identity movement (Sharpe 2000). Other authors, specifically Michael Barkun and James Aho, have noted that the Christian Identity movement is heavily influenced by Christian Reconstructionism. Whether they call themselves Juris Christian Assembly, or the Montana Freemen, or Sovereign Citizens, makes little difference, as these self-applied labels only serve to differentiate each group’s focus within the Identity movement. As we see, there are many precursors to today’s domestic Christian terrorism; most fall into the ‘tax protestor’ category, all are anti-government (Theret 2012).
Sharpe points out a belief system that shows a “common link among these fragmented groups.” Christian Identity explicitly names white Aryans as the only people chosen for grace by God, teaches that Jewish people are the spawn of Satan, and that the entire secular world, because it was not given to God for His rule, is soon to be in the Last Days. Additionally, these domestic terror groups use Dominionist theology, which is to say they believe the complete takeover of American Government and society by biblical law is necessary to give authority back to God where it belongs (Sharpe 2000).
At a closed-door, inauguration night meeting in 2008, journalist Robert Draper witnessed more than fifteen influential Republicans in attendance. He noted that they were preparing a plan to interfere with the newly-elected President’s Executive duties and proposed policy agenda. California Representative Kevin McCarthy, now in House Republican leadership, who was present that night, is quoted as saying, “If you act like you’re in the minority, you’re going to stay in the minority...We’ve got to challenge [the Democrats] on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign” (Draper qtd. in Stein 2012). Intentional or otherwise, the absolute refusal of Congressional Republicans to work with the President-elect, and their subsequent thwarting of the Democratic Party’s policy initiatives, appealed to the modern domestic Christian terrorist and gave legitimacy to their Identity ideology.
It seems that many people who fall on the Right hold these same views, as nearly one quarter of Republicans thought President Barack Obama to be the Antichrist, according to an online poll conducted by Harris Interactive (Schlesinger 2010). This ideological rhetoric culminated in a 2011 assassination attempt on President Obama, committed by Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez. At least one bullet struck a White House window from more than seven hundred yards away; luckily, the President was in San Diego at the time. When questioned by authorities, Ortega-Hernandez reasoned that he attempted to take the President’s life because he believed Obama was the Antichrist.
The Southern Poverty Law Center shows that Christian violence is a very real social problem. There are more than 800 verified hate groups throughout the United States, and many if not most of these groups adhere to the religious philosophies found within the Christian Identity Movement (Popich 2007). Christian terrorists practice leaderless resistance tactics, and this may make individuals within the group more prone than others to commit acts of violence (Chermak 2012). 
The influence of Reconstructionist philosophy on Christian Identity groups towards an extreme anti-government sentiment would be hard to overstate. A quick overview is necessary. Christian Reconstructionism is a fundamentalist worldview of the Christian religion, hinged on the concept that only God has the authority to govern man, and the current secular society is infected with all sorts of demons and generational curses. To truly understand the influence of Reconstructionism on the Identity movement, a quick look at the movements’ leading thinker, Rousas John Rushdoony, will be useful. Now deceased, RJ Rushdoony gained a small amount of infamy late in his life for his book, ‘The Institutes of Biblical Law’ which endorsed stoning of incorrigible children, as well as adulterers and other sinners. His interpretation of biblical law and the ‘spheres of authority’ is most valuable in understanding the worldview of the modern domestic Christian terrorist.
Rushdoony wrote that there are five legitimate spheres of government, and each of of these spheres gets their legitimate authority from God. The five spheres are: Individual, Family, Business, Church, and Civil government. Each, says today’s domestic Christian terrorist, is wrongfully under the authority of man and so the world is bewildered by earthquakes and drought and poverty. The rightful authority, the belief goes, belongs solely to God. Give the nation and society back to Him, they believe, and the End Times will finally be here. Jesus will finally return, bringing an end to all of those illegitimate institutions.
Plainly stated, in Christian philosophy it is God who determines what functions an individual, family, church, business unit, civil government and so-forth is to serve. God sets the boundaries on their activities—He determines what they can do, what they can’t do, and what they must do. These boundaries are revealed completely and perfectly to humanity through God’s law contained in the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible. Rushdoony spent a considerable portion of his life’s work explaining that the source of a society’s law is the god of that society (Fort).
The anti-government stance of most domestic terrorists can be traced to this set of beliefs.
Terrorism is often an act designed to use public reaction and fears to elicit change within the institutional structure (e.g. a government), with the end goal of changing a law or policy (Furlow 2012). The hope is that government will bend to the terrorist’s will. What makes the modern domestic Christian terrorist different is their goal of ending secular government, and replacing it with theocracy. The practice of biblical law through existing law, theonomy, is the end-run around democracy America is currently experiencing. Understanding dominionism is necessary.
 Dominionist theology, the driving force behind Reconstructionism, which is a massive influence on Christian Identity movement actors, is not a simple tax protest. Dominionism is a soft Revolution, the literal usurping of America’s secular Constitutional law. The main idea behind Dominionism is that God has given man dominion over the earth, but only God has the authority to govern man, and man has usurped God’s authority by creating and depending on governments. The problem is that in this view, Christianity is forever at odds with democracy.
This is the oath of office Congressional Members take on inauguration day:
I do solemnly swear or affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: so help me God.”
Note the phrase “without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion…”
            This is the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, signed by hundreds of state and federal elected officials:
I, the undersigned, pledge to the taxpayers of the fill in the blank district, of the state of fill in the blank, and to all the people of this state, that I will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.
On the Americans for Tax Reform website, the organization is clear that even referring a tax referendum to the ballot, direct democracy, is a violation of the pledge (which is signed in front of a witness): “There is nothing subjective about the determination that voting to refer higher taxes to the ballot is a violation of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. A vote to put tax hikes on the ballot is clearly and indisputably a failure to “oppose and vote against any and all efforts to raise taxes.”
This anti-taxation pledge in direct contradiction to their oaths of office; when public officials openly and enthusiastically embrace this particular ideology, it adds fuel to the fervor of would-be Christian Identity terrorists. But it doesn’t stop there; recently, the Republican Congress invited a foreign leader, seeking re-election in his home country, to speak in the House Chamber without following existing protocol (i.e., asking the Executive Office to issue an invitation). Perhaps most dangerous is the letter the Iranian Ayatollah signed by forty-seven Republican senators, which a reasonable eye can see was designed to interfere with sensitive Executive diplomatic relations, far outside the Constitutional scope of Congressional authority.
When considering future domestic terrorism, or even Congressional attitude, it may be instructive to remember the Christian Identity and Reconstructionist movements, particularly the spheres of authority as described by Rushdoony. The convergence of these beliefs with Dominion theology within our political system is a sort of violence against us all, a terrorist act within the state against the state. After all, like the recent Washington Post headline says, Republicans are starting to treat President Obama like he isn’t the President. Maybe this is because almost a quarter of their base believes he is not a legitimate President—he’s the Antichrist.

Chermak, Steven, Joshua Freilich, and Michael Suttmoeller. “The Organizational Dynamics of Far-Right Hate Groups in the United States: Comparing Violent to Non-violent Groups.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 36:193-218, 2013.
Popich, Jennifer. “Because the Bible Tells Me So: Violence and the Christian Identity Movement in the United States.” Westminster College, 2007.
Fort, S. Michael. “Humanist, Dominionist, and Reconstructionist Views of Authority Compared.”, date unknown.
Furlow, R. Bennett. “Extremism and Violence in the U.S. Context.” Report Number 1204. Center for Strategic Communication, Arizona State University, 2012.
Schlesinger, Robert. “Party of Nuts: Poll Shows GOP Thinks Obama is Muslim, Socialist.” U.S. News and World Report, March 24, 2010.
Sharpe, Tanya Telfair. “The Identity Christian Movement: Ideology of Domestic Terrorism.” Journal of Black Studies, 30:604-623, 2000.

Stein, Sam. “Robert Draper Book: GOP's Anti-Obama Campaign Started Night of Inauguration.” Huffington Post, April 25, 2012.

Theret, Michelle. “Sovereign Citizens: A Homegrown Terrorist Threat and Its Negative Impact on South Carolina.” South Carolina Law Review, 63:853-886, 2011-2012.