Archive for the ‘Political Statements 2018’ Category

A Modest Proposal   Leave a comment

Or, the Playground Rule

Politics and children’s sports have at least one fact in common:  Children frequently behave more maturely than adults.  Witness, O reader, the continuing, nation-degrading saga of Donald Trump, Il Duce with a combover or whatever one calls that growth on his head.  Nothing ever seems to be his fault, especially when he makes decisions; just ask him or read his tweets.  One might recall President Harry Truman’s motto,

The buck stops here.

Oh, for a President of the United States who understood his personal and official responsibility, and who consistently behaved with dignity!  Really, is public dignity too much to expect from leaders?

In the context of the most recent round of name calling (including the use of animal terms) from the temporary occupant of the Oval Office, I offer a modest proposal:  No behavior that fails to pass muster on an elementary school playground should be acceptable in politics.  Nobody should excuse such behavior, from children or adults.

For the rest of the day I will avoid the news, given that I have heard too much already.  I want to avoid becoming a negative, angry person, after all.  I have managed to get this far into the day with out swearing, and I hope to end the day the day the same way.



Posted August 14, 2018 by neatnik2009 in Political Statements 2018

Tagged with ,

Feast of James Carney (September 16)   Leave a comment

Above:  Honduras and Nicaragua, 1957

Scanned from Hammond’s World Atlas–Classics Edition (1957)



U.S.-Honduran Roman Catholic Priest, Missionary, Revolutionary, and Martyr, 1983

Also known as Padre Guadeloupe


To be a Christian is to be a revolutionary.

–Father James Carney


The national security policy that justifies everything that is done in terms of U.S. security is an evil policy.  Father Carney got in trouble because he fell in love with poor people.  Other people get in trouble because they fall in love with riches and power and glory and pomposity.

–Joseph Connolly, brother-in-law of James Carney


James Francis Carney took up his cross and followed Jesus to his death.

Carney, born in Chicago, Illinois, on October 28, 1924, grew up in a devout and middle-class Roman Catholic family in the Middle West.  He was an altar boy, a football player, and a member of the St. Louis University High School Class of 1942.  Our saint attended St. Louis University on a football scholarship.  While playing the sport he injured a knee; he had a bad knee for the rest of his life.  Myopia and a bad knee did not prevent conscription into the U.S. Army during World War II.  He, serving in the European Theater as a member of the Army Corps of Engineers, found living piously in the military difficult.  The frequent profanity proved especially disturbing.

Carney’s life changed after the war.  In 1946 he resumed studies at St. Louis University for a year.  Our saint matriculated at the University of Detroit, to study civil engineering, in 1947, but left after a year.  Religious life was calling.  While at Detroit Carney first read Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.  He spent the rest of his life synthesizing Christianity and Marxism.  In 1948 our saint matriculated at St. Stanislaus Seminary, Flourissant, Missouri.  Carney joined the Society of Jesus.  He served as a missionary in British Honduras (now Belize) from 1955 to 1958 then studied at St. Mary’s College, St. Mary’s, Kansas.  He became a priest in 1961.

Honduras has a sad political history.  The economically underdeveloped country has a long record of military dictatorships and corrupt and repressive governments.  Poverty is rampant, entrenched, and intergenerational, and institutional.  As in other parts of the former Spanish Empire, relatively few people own most of the land, control the majority of the wealth, and resist attempted at the redistribution of land, wealth, and political power.

From 1961 to 1979 Carney was a missionary priest in Honduras.  He, devoted to Our Lady of Guadeloupe, preferred that the peasants (campesinos) among whom he ministered call him “Padre Guadeloupe.”  Our saint, not content to stop at administering sacraments, became a social and political revolutionary for justice.  He identified with the peasants and lived as they did.  He became active in the peasants’ union, advocated for land reform, became a Honduran citizen, and came to identify as a “Marxist-Christian.”  He criticized the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Honduras for their close relationship with the United Fruit Company, which paid far below a living wage, thereby exacerbating poverty.  Our saint also condemned U.S. imperialism in Latin America.

Carney, after spending a few weeks at St. Louis University in 1979, moved to Nicaragua, where the Sandinistas had recently deposed Anastasio Somoza Debayle, the U.S.-backed dictator.  After spending a few years as a member of a revolutionary society, Carney decided to return to Honduras.  Doing so was dangerous.  The U.S.-supported government there arrested or executed alleged subversives–including leftists, liberals, and union activists.  Death squads were active in the Honduran Army.  This was the government that, according to U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1983, was promoting democracy.  The Honduran government was not promoting democracy while murdering or arresting its politically troublesome citizens.  It was, however, providing a base of operations for the U.S.-backed, anti-Sandinista Contras.

Carney, who resigned from the Society of Jesus in June 1983, had become a committed revolutionary.  He regarded the wealth of the Vatican with disgust and recoiled at bourgeois Christians who supported causes he considered antithetical to the faith.  His pacifism was gone; some violence was sadly necessary, Carney understood.

On July 19, 1983, Carney returned to Honduras as the chaplain to a small band of guerrillas.  The Honduran Army captured or killed the unit quickly; Carney disappeared.  There were, over the years, various proposed fates for Padre Guadeloupe.  The most likely one was that, on Friday, September 19, 1983, the Honduran Army, having tortured Carney, threw him out of a helicopter above a mountain.  Perhaps the priest died when he hit the ground.

Officially, nobody recovered Carney’s physical remains–just his stole and chalice.

Carney’s family has attempted to learn of his fate and what the U.S. Government knows about it.  A federal judge, citing national security, dismissed a lawsuit.  Requests under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed answers, but mostly indirectly.  In 1999 the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) released many pages of documentation; 75 of those pages were entirely blacked out.  Members of the the family have also had good reasons to suspect that the federal government has tapped their telephones.

The truth of the matter seems clear, especially considering the many redactions and the appeals to national security:  The Honduran Army executed Carney with the support of the U.S. Government, which does not want to admit this.

Carney, in his 1983 autobiography, “The Metamorphosis of a Revolutionary,” wrote:

Since my novitiate, I have asked Christ for the Grace to be able to imitate him, even to martyrdom, to the giving of my life, to being killed for the cause of Christ.  And I strongly believe that Christ might give me this tremendous Grace to become a martyr for justice.

–Quoted in Robert Ellsberg, All Saints (1997), 404-405

The United States of America is, unlike many other nation-states, a country founded on high ideals, which the U.S. Government and society has a long record of trampling, unfortunately.  Human nature makes no exceptions because of U.S. citizenship.  When my country is at its best, it seeks to live those ideals, embodied most nobly in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, especially the Fourteenth Amendment.  The case of James Carney’s fate and the subsequent cover-up of U.S. Government knowledge of if poses a difficult question:  If a government founded on high ideals consistently makes a mockery of them, how are citizens supposed to respond to that hypocrisy?


God of the poor, the oppressed, and the powerless,

we confess our sins, which we have committed either in knowledge or ignorance,

and which have harmed those less fortunate, many of them far away.

We acknowledge that, despite our best intentions,

we are complicit in the sins of our society, governments, institutions, and corporations.

We have the blood of innocents, many of whom we will never encounter, on our hands.

As we praise you and thank you for the moral courage of Father James Carney to take up his cross and follow Christ,

we also pray that you will forgive us and grant us the necessary grace

to confess and repent of our sins, and to act, as you lead us, to help the poor, the oppressed, and the powerless.

We pray through Jesus of Nazareth, executed unjustly as a criminal and a threat to imperial security.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Amos 8:4-8

Psalm 15

Revelation 18:9-20

Luke 6:20-26








This is post #1600 of SUNDRY THOUGHTS.


Feast of the Martyrs of Birmingham, Alabama, September 15, 1963 (September 15)   Leave a comment

Above:  Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama, 1993

Photographer = Jet Lowe

Image Source = Library of Congress






Died in the basement of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama, Sunday, September 15, 1963


These children–unoffending; innocent and beautiful–were the victims of one of the most vicious, heinous crimes ever perpetrated against humanity.

–The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., September 18, 1963


This feast comes to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days via Robert Ellsberg, All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (1997).

The city of Birmingham, Alabama, was notorious during the Civil Rights Movement.  There, from 1956 to 1963, the city earned its unfortunate nickname, “Bombingham,” due to the at least 28 unsolved racially motivated bombings.  In Birmingham, in 1963, authorities committed unjustifiable violence against peaceful protesters–many of them juveniles–when they sprayed them with water full-force (sufficient to break bones) from fire water hoses and sent dogs to attack protesters.  In Birmingham, in April 1963, the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., sat in the jail and wrote his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, one of the great texts of moral theology in the twentieth century.  And, on September 15, 1963, a few bombers committed a crime that claimed lives and shocked much of the world.

September 15, 1963, was to be Youth Day at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.  Addie May Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise McNair, set aside to lead the 11:00 service, were excited.  They had left Sunday School early and gone to put on their white choir robes in the basement.  The new school year had begun; they were discussing that topic.  Upstairs, in a women’s Sunday School class, the topic of the lesson was “The Love that Forgives.”  Then, at 10:22, a bomb exploded in the basement, destroying the outside stone staircase, blowing a hole in the eastern façade of the building, injuring twenty people, and killing the four girls.

Moral revulsion at this act was global yet not universal.  The Vatican newspaper likened the bombing to a “massacre of the innocents.”  The bombing and the four deaths shocked even many of the most hardened segregationists.  In Birmingham that Sunday, however, the bombing inspired social violence–some of it fatal–by whites on African Americans who were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The wrong place was Birmingham.

At the funeral three days later Dr. King condemned the crime and reminded the mourners that

God has a way of wringing good out of evil.

He also stated the necessity of being concerned with the system and society that produced those immediately responsible for the bombing.

King’s words remain relevant.  His speeches and writings have a simultaneously noble and unnerving quality, for they remain germane when we Americans, as a country, should have made more progress toward social justice.  In the context of 2015-2018 in the United States several factors alarm me.  The move of hateful rhetoric and policies, until recently usually relegated to whispers, coded speech, and unapologetically racist wing nuts on the Far Right into the mainstream of politics, but without the coded language, is sinful.  Many election results of recent years confirm this phenomenon.  Yet this period in U.S. history is not unique, the study of the past teaches me.  White supremacy is an indefensible American tradition.  It is as American as motherhood, apple pie, and

…all men are created equal….

Human depravity is, in my mind, a verified fact, not an article of faith.  I need no faith to believe that which I can prove objectively.

King still teaches us, if we listen.  The deaths of the four girls and the injuries of the twenty other people at the church on September 15, 1963, still teach us, if we listen.  Do we dare to listen to the lessons they impart?


Loving God of the Incarnation, you identify with us in our joys and our sorrows.

We thank you for your holy children:  Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise McNair.

We also mourn them, murdered in an act of racism, cruelty, and cowardice.

Burn out of us, we pray, all hatred for any of our fellow human beings, and cast out all prejudice that leads to bigotry.

We pray through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, an innocent man who died violently and unjustly.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Isaiah 69:17-22

Psalm 37:1-13

Romans 12:9-21

Matthew 2:13-18








Feast of Lynn Harold Hough (September 9)   Leave a comment

Above:  Lynn Harold Hough

Image Source =  Drew University Library



U.S. Methodist Minister, Theologian, and Biblical Scholar


Once more we are reminded that only God is to be met with a bended knee.  Even the high must not be given the place of the highest–even the good must not be given the place of the best.  The tragedy of mistaken loyalties is one of the greatest tragedies of the world.  Too late Wolsey realized that he had given to his king, Henry VIII, what belonged only to God.

–Dr. Hough’s exposition on Revelation 22:9, in The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 12 (1957), 545


Lynn Harold Hough, with his Roman collar, Charlie Chaplin mustache, and keen intellect, comes to A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days via Volume 12 (1957) of The Interpreter’s Bible.

Hough owed much to Eunice Richey Giles (1856-June 3, 1937), his devoted, single mother.  She had married Franklin M. Hough, father of our saint.  The marriage had ended in divorce in 1877, and Eunice had moved back home, to Cadiz, Ohio, when she gave birth to her only child, Lynn Harold Hough, on September 10, 1877.  Eunice, a devout Methodist, raised her son in the faith.  She also worked hard to provide him with the best education possible.  In 1898 he graduated (with his B.A.) from Scio College, Scio, Ohio, where his mother worked as a cook.  Hough, ordained a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church (1784-1939), served in churches in New Jersey, New York, and Maryland from 1898 to 1914.  He also became the head of the household, which included his mother until 1936, when he married.

Above:  Drew Theological Seminary

Image Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor from Matthew Simpson, ed., Cyclopedia of Methodism, Embracing Its Rise, Progress, and Present Condition, with Biographical Notices, 6h ed. (1876), 315

Hough continued his education, graduating from Drew Theological Seminary (now Drew Theological School, Drew University), Madison, New Jersey, with his B.D. in 1905.

Above:  Garrett Biblical Institute

Image Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor from Matthew Simpson, ed., Cyclopedia of Methodism, Embracing Its Rise, Progress, and Present Condition, with Biographical Notices, 6h ed. (1876), 389

Our saint, from 1914 to 1918 Professor of Historical Theology at Garrett Biblical Institute (now Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary), Evanston, Illinois, graduated from that institution with his D.Th. in 1918.  Our saint, from 1919 to 1920 the President of Northwestern University, host of Garrett Biblical Institute, established the graduate division of the university’s School of Commerce and laid the foundations, metaphorically speaking, for subsequent improvements at the university.  He resigned for health reasons.

Above:  Central Methodist Episcopal Church, Detroit, Michigan

Image Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor from Matthew Simpson, ed., Cyclopedia of Methodism, Embracing Its Rise, Progress, and Present Condition, with Biographical Notices, 6h ed. (1876), 294

Hough returned to parish work for the period of 1920-1930.  For eight years (1920-1928) Hough served as the pastor of Central Methodist Episcopal Church (now Central United Methodist Church), Detroit, Michigan.  Our saint was, the “preacher to the intelligentsia,” according to his contemporary, Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), pastor of Bethel Evangelical Church, Detroit, from 1915 to 1928, and a fellow anti-Ku Klux Klan activist.  The outspoken Hough was not shy about expressing his opinions and opposing bigotry.  Our saint stated that the United States should have joined the League of Nations.  He condemned the Daughters of the American Revolution for being critical of Jane Addams (1860-1935).   In 1923 our saint described the second Ku Klux Klan as

the most diabolical organization this nation ever saw.

(That unequivocal statement was quite different from Donald Trump’s statement about the alleged presence of “very fine people” on both sides in he context of white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.  That statement’s most avid fans were white supremacists.  This pattern of giving aid and comfort to unapologetic bigots has not surprised me, given Trump’s public statements and over the years, as well as many of his policies, to the present day.  Nativism, xenophobia, and white nationalism have been present in him for a long time.There were no “very fine people” in the Ku Klux Klan, according to our saint.  In 1925 years later Hough’s assertion that Evolution and the Bible were mutually compatible nearly prompted a heresy trial.  Hough was usually a delegate to the denomination’s General Conference, which met every four years, but he was not a delegate in 1928.  The reason for Hough not being a delegate that year was the backlash against his article, “Why Not a Catholic President?” (Plain Talk magazine, 1927).  The article did lead, however, to an honorary degree from the University of Detroit (Roman Catholic).  Of the eleven honorary degrees Hough received, he was proudest of that one.  From 1928 to 1930 Hough was the pastor of the American Presbyterian Church (amalgamated into the Erskine and American United Church, extant 1934-2011; now amalgamated into the Mountainside United Church), Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  During that time he also doubled as the President of the Religious Education Council of Canada.

Hough was active in many organizations, including the Federal Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches, the Society for Biblical Literature, the Masonic Lodge, the Methodist Episcopal Church (1784-1939), The Methodist Church (1939-1968), and The United Methodist Church (1968-).  Furthermore, he traveled across the United States and the world, preaching at prominent churches and, in 1934, addressing the League of Nations, in Geneva, Switzerland, on “The Church and Civilization.”

Hough returned to academia for good in 1930.  At Drew Theological Seminary he was Professor of Homiletics (1930-1933), Professor of Homiletics and Comprehensive Scholarship (1933-1937), Professor of Homiletics and Christian Criticism of Life (1937-1947), and Dean (1934-1947).  Our saint, a well-read Anglophile with an expansive vocabulary, as well as a firm grasp of history and literature, founded the Department of Christian Humanism at Drew.  He retired in 1947.

Hough, like any properly functioning human being, changed his mind as time passed.  He, a pacifist, initially opposed U.S. entry into World War II.  Our saint was not naïve, though; he recognized the necessity of Allied victory, for the sake of civilization.  Hough, with his customary tolerance, supported the causes of conscientious objectors while supporting the war effort and ministering to military personnel.  He remained committed to peace as he adjusted to reality.  Hough’s theology also changed.  He settled into what he called a “new orthodoxy” more liberal than Fundamentalism, more conservative than Modernism, and distinct from the Social Gospel and Neo-Orthodoxy.  The Social Gospel, Hough argued correctly, was utopian, therefore not realistic.  Neo-Orthodoxy, he insisted, went too far by emphasizing the human inability to arrive at Christian faith.

I reject Hough’s critique of Neo-Orthodoxy.

Hough, being a staunch Methodist–a thoroughgoing Methodist, not a Baptist masquerading as one, per the old joke that a Methodist is a Baptist who can read–placed a high premium on the power of human free will.  He came very close to putting the Pelagianism in Semi-Pelagianism.  Karl Barth (1886-1968) and Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), leading Neo-Orthodox theologians, had Reformed backgrounds, however.  Barth, a minister in the Swiss and Reformed Church, emphasized divine actions, not human ones.  Niebuhr, a minister in the Prussian Evangelical (Lutheran-Reformed) tradition, rejected the Social Gospel as placing too little stress on sin and assuming too much human agency.  He emphasized original sin, which he redefined beyond an individual focus to have a strong societal, institutional component.  Barth was probably more optimistic than the sometimes grimly realistic Niebuhr.  Original sin, having corrupted human nature, institutions, and societies, severely hampered one’s ability to act morally, even when one was trying very hard to do so, Niebuhr taught.  My reading of Barth and Niebuhr has convinced me that they were mostly correct.

I am, by the way, an Anglican-Lutheran Single Predestinarian, so my theology makes room for free will to have a role in salvation for those not predestined to Heaven.  My critique of Hough is that he placed too much emphasis on free will.  I hold that nobody finds God, but that God finds people.  Via free will those not destined to Heaven may obey the invitation of the Holy Spirit and say “yes” to God, and therefore find salvation and eternal life, in the Johannine sense of eternal life, which is knowing God via Jesus.

Image Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Hough wrote prolifically.  His catalog included 35 books (about one a year for a while) and many articles.  In retirement he, a visiting professor at various elite institutions off-an-on, wrote for The Interpreter’s Bible in the 1950s.  He wrote the exposition on the Book of Revelation in Volume 12 (of 12), published in 1957.  (I quoted a portion of that exposition at the beginning of this post.)

Image Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Hough also wrote “The Message of the Book of Revelation,” spanning pages 551-613 of Volume 12.

Hough, a Victorian in terms of morality, resided with his Eunice, mother (or rather, she lived with him) until 1936, when, at the age of 58 or 59, he married.  Our saint’s wife was Blanche Horton Trowbridge, a 57-year-old widow of a Congregationalist minister.  She had also been a missionary in Turkey then Egypt for a quarter of a century.  Sadly, Eunice Hough, who had devoted her life to her only child, died in New York City on June 3, 1937, after an automotive accident.  She was about 81 years old.  The Houghs died less than a year apart; the cause of death in both cases was heart attack.  Blanche, aged about 92 years, died on August 3, 1970.  Lynn, aged 93 years, died on July 14, 1971.

One might justifiably ask why Hough, one of the most famous preachers of his time, has fallen into obscurity.


I also composed the collect and selected the passages of scripture.


Compassionate God, you have created us in your image and endowed us with intellect.

We thank you for your servant Lynn Harold Hough,

who loved you with all his heart, mind, and strength, and who loved his neighbors as he loved himself.

May we likewise recognize your presence in history, literature, and each other,

as well as employ our intellects fully, as we confront forms of bigotry;

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who,

stretching his arms on the hard word of the cross beckoned all the world to himself.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 44:1-15

Psalm 1

Philippians 2:1-11

Matthew 7:24-27









Devotion for Labor Day (U.S.A.)   1 comment

Above:  Labor Day, by Samuel D. Ehrhart

Published in Puck Magazine, September 1, 1909

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-26406

Affirming the Dignity of Work in Words and Deeds



The Book of Common Prayer (1979) contains a collect and assigned readings for Labor Day.

Interdependence is a cardinal virtue in the Law of Moses.  Interdependence is also obvious, or should be.  Somehow, especially in the global West, the idea of rugged individualism persists.  Yet, no matter how hard or well one works, one drives on roads other people built, relies on technology other people invented or maintain, and depends on many other people might guess at first thought.  Anyone who can read this post with comprehension relies on hosts of educators, for example.

As I affirm that I depend on the work of others, just as others depend on my work, I also affirm the dignity of work.  Therefore, I argue for certain propositions:

  1. Nobody should have to work in a death trap or a sweatshop;
  2. All wages should be living wages;
  3. People should work to live, not live to work;
  4. Union organizing and collective bargaining should be inviolable rights; and
  5. Access to affordable, quality health care is an inalienable right.

Nobody has a moral right to exploit anyone else.  No institution has a moral right to exploit any person.  After all, people should be more important than profits.

Furthermore, all work should benefit societies or communities.  By this standard most jobs pass the test.  We need plumbers and bus drivers, for example, but we also need actors, poets, and novelists.  In a just world teachers, librarians, police officers, and fire fighters would be some of the best paid professionals, but that is not the world in which we live, unfortunately.  It can be, however.  A society is what its members make it.  Sufficient force of public opinion, applied well, changes policies.  The major obstacle to positive social change is resignation to the current reality.

Furthermore, the best kind of work is also indistinguishable from play.  Work ought not only to provide financial support for one but also fulfill intangible needs.  Work, at its best, is something one who performs it enjoys.  Work should improve, not detract from, one’s quality of life.

Work does, of course, assume many forms, at home and out like the home.  One should never forget that a stay-at-home parent is a working parent.  One should never forget that one who leaves the labor force to become a caregiver for a relative is still working, just without wages.  One should acknowledge that those who, for various reasons, cannot join the labor force, are valuable members of society, and that many of them can contribute greatly to society, if others will permit them to do so.  Whenever a society holds back any of its members, it prevents itself from achieving its potential.

May we remember also that, as valuable as work is, rest and leisure are vital also.  Ideally one will balance the three properly.  We know that the brain requires a certain amount of sleep–especially REM sleep–to function properly.  We know that the correct amount of rest is necessary for the body to function properly.  We know that leisure makes for better employees.

Work, at its best, is a gift from God.  It is a gift for divine glory and the meeting of human needs.  Work, at its best, builds up (sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively) individuals, families, communities, societies, nation-states, and the world.  One’s work, at its best, is a vocation from God; it occupies the intersection of one’s greatest joys and the world’s deepest needs.

May you, O reader, find your work fulfilling in every way.





Almighty God, you have so linked our lives with one another

that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives:

So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good;

and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor,

make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers,

and arouse our concern for those who are out of work;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with

you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Ecclesiasticus/Wisdom of Sirach 38:27-32

Psalm 107:1-9 or 90:1-2, 16-17

1 Corinthians 3:10-14

Matthew 6:19-24

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), 261, 932


We invoke thy grace and wisdom, O Lord, upon all men of good will

who employ and control the labor of men.

Amid the numberless irritations and anxieties of their position,

help them to keep a quite and patient temper,

and to rule firmly and wisely, without harshness and anger.

Since they hold power over the bread, the safety, and the hopes of the workers,

may they wield their power justly and with love,

as older brothers and leaders in the great fellowship of labor.

Suffer not the heavenly light of compassion for the weak and the old to be quenched in their hearts.

When they are tempted to sacrifice human health and life for profit,

do thou strengthen their will in the hour of need,

and bring to nought the counsels of the heartless.

May they not sin against thee by using the bodies and souls of men as mere tools to make things.

Raise up among us employers who shall be makers of men as well as of goods.

Give us men of faith who will look beyond the strife of the present,

and catch a vision of a nobler organization of our work,

when all shall still follow the leadership of the ablest,

no longer in fear, but by the glad will of all,

and when all shall stand side by side in a strong and righteous brotherhood of work;

according to thy will in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Evangelical and Reformed Church, Book of Worship (1947) 382-383


Ecclesiasticus/Wisdom of Sirach 38:24-34 or Nehemiah 2:1-18

Psalms 124 and 125 or 147

2 Timothy 2:1-15 or Matthew 7:15-27

–General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, A Book of Worship for Free Churches (1948), 409



Legislating Morality   2 comments

Above:  Principles of the Prohibition Party, 1888

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-pga-07977


You can’t legislate morality.

That argument is objectively false.  First, a review of law-making reveals many examples of explicit appeals to morality in legislative proposals, many of which have become laws.  I argue that if someone has done something, doing it must be possible.  Second, all acts of legislation are examples of legislating morality.  One might legitimately question many of the moral codes informing much legislation, but the existence of those moral codes is objective reality.

In the United States of America perhaps the example most frequently cited to support the objectively false claim that one cannot legislate morality is the prohibition of liquor (1920-1933).  (Interestingly, the Eighteenth Amendment (1920) to the Constitution barred the manufacture, sale, and transportation of liquor, but not the consumption of it.  One could theoretically drink it legally so long as one did not purchase, manufacture, or transport it.  There were also exceptions in the law for sacramental wine, a large loophole.)  The failed experiment of Prohibition, rooted in morality, nativism, and xenophobia, actually serves best as an example of the law of unexpected consequences more than anything else.  I posit that, in the 1920s and 1930s, the most enthusiastic supporters of Prohibition were the bosses of organized crime, men profiting beyond the most extravagant dreams of avarice from opportunities the law created.

The real questions, then, are when legislating morality is more effective, when it is less effective, and when it is ineffective.  One might point (correctly) to the formal end of race-based chattel slavery via the Thirteenth Amendment (1865) to the Constitution of the United States of America as both necessary and morally correct.  Likewise, one might also point to all expansions of civil rights, from women’s suffrage to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to the Voting Rights Act (1965) to fair housing laws and beyond.  Whenever discrimination is part of the law, part of the remedy must also be part of the law.  But to what extent?  The answer to that question can be difficult to discern.  Furthermore, although laws by themselves cannot change attitudes, they can change actions.  The change in actions can alter attitudes eventually.

Ultimately we in our societies–especially in the global West–need what the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking on April 4, 1967, called

a radical revolution of values.

We need to value people more than property, wealth, and, for lack of a better word, things.  We need to move beyond lip service to that proposition and change attitudes for the better, and therefore improve society.  If we do that, the need to legislate morality will decrease.




Proper Levels of Sensitivity   3 comments

Above:  A Scene from Blazing Saddles (1974)

A Screen Capture


Or, Neither Be a Snowflake Nor Excuse and Facilitate Snowflakism in Others

Maintaining the proper level of sensitivity is crucial; hypersensitivity is at least as negative a force as insensitivity.

Certain statements are always beyond the pale.  These statements are those intended to degrade other human beings.  Reasons for degrading others include race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, and religious affiliation.  Anyone who crosses that line deserves strong condemnation.  Nobody should ever tolerate such statements.  One might, on occasion, quote them (as in academic work; try writing a biography of a segregationist politician without quoting racial slurs, for example) or mock them (as in Blazing Saddles).

Above:  Men Reluctant to Give Land to the Irish; from Blazing Saddles (1974)

A Screen Capture

Some works of art age better than others based on this standard.  For example, Blazing Saddles (1974) depicts unapologetic racists as fools and idiots.  The movie stands the test of time as a masterpiece that argues against bigotry.  We who watch the movie laugh at those ensnared by their own learned racism.  Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) is also a classic, but Mickey Rooney’s performance as an Asian man makes me cringe.  On the other hand, the movie does boast Audrey Hepburn and a cat.  How can I dislike a movie with Audrey Hepburn and a cat in it?

Above:  Holly Golightly and Cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

A Screen Capture

I am sensitive, but not hypersensitive.  Life is too short (however long it might feel in real time) for me to spend it being hypersensitive, either about what others do and say or what I do or say.  No, I aim for a proper level of sensitivity on both sides of the equation.  I find Birth of a Nation (1915) offensive, for the seminal movie does glorify the first Ku Klux Klan.  The work is inherently racist, but it is also a landmark of cinema and a document of sorts of racial attitudes in much of the United States half a century after the end of the Civil War.  I have no regrets about having watched it from beginning to end once, for historical interest, or in having shown clips in classes, for educational purposes, with context.

The guiding principle for me in these matters is respecting the dignity of every human being, a value built into the Baptismal Covenant in The Book of Common Prayer (1979).  This principle explains why, for example, I oppose abortion except in extenuating cases (while I argue that changing minds and making alternatives to abortion easier is a more effective, and therefore, better strategy than outlawing the procedure) as well as homophobia and discrimination against homosexuals.  Whether one places the label “left” or the label “right” on a position regarding respecting the dignity of all people does not matter to me.  Respecting the dignity of every human being is a principle that leads me to refrain from dehumanizing those who are different from me in one or more ways.

That does not mean, however, that I can ever get through day without doing something to offend someone, given that some people take offense more easily than others, and often at matters certain others consider inoffensive.

I am, for example, sufficiently pedantic to insist on always using the words “they,” “them,” “their,” and “themselves” in the plural.  One can be inclusive in the present tense, often by writing or speaking in language that makes one sound educated.  “One” and “one’s” are gender-neutral pronouns, after all.  One might also remain in the singular and substitute the definite article (“the”) for a gendered pronoun.  One can, when one sets one’s mind to the task, identify several strategies for being inclusive in the singular without wrecking the English language.  Alternatively, one might use “they,” “them,” “their,” and “themselves” correctly by switching to the plural forms of words.  Or one might accept the tradition of using masculine pronouns as the inclusive default position and go about enjoying one’s day.  All of the above are feasible options.  I refuse to distort the English language, of which I am quite fond, because of the hypersensitivity of others.

Some people take offense at even the most respectful and polite disagreements.  I have experience with this, usually in the context of teaching.

In late 1991, in southern Georgia, U.S.A., I was at a transitional point in my life.  I was a freshman in college.  I was also turning into an Episcopalian.  I was, for the time being, still a United Methodist, though.  My father was the newly-appointed pastor of the Sumner United Methodist Church, Sumner, Georgia.  One Sunday morning I was teaching the adult class.  There were two visitors, a married couple, Independent Baptists from Savannah, Georgia.  One half of that couple was a child of a member at Sumner.  During the course of that Sunday School lesson the visitors decided that my position on a particular theological point was lax.  Courteously I said,

I disagree.

I learned later in the week that I had offended–upset, really–them.  If these individuals were not prepared to take a polite, respectful “I disagree” well, how did they cope with daily life?  Did they associate most days only with people who agreed with them completely?

I have also offended students with the Joe Friday strategy–

Just the facts.

(Watch Dragnet, if you dare.  The acting was consistently and purposefully bad, but the two series were popular culture touchstones.)  In World Civilization I courses, for example, I have recited facts of ancient comparative religion.  This information has disturbed some students, who have mistaken me for one hostile to Judaism and Christianity, and who have taken grave offense at me.  To quote an old saying many of a younger generation might not understand,

Their tapes were running.

Those who took offense at me were not listening to what I was saying.  No, they were listening to what they thought I was saying.  They were reacting not to me, but to others who had criticized Christianity on false grounds.  In contrast, years ago, when I wrote an article I submitted for publication at an online theological journal with a conservative Presbyterian orientation, I recited many of the same facts about ancient comparative religion, but with no negative response or reaction.  The editors checked my facts and published my article.  They read what I wrote.  They also understood I was not hostile to the faith.

At one of the universities I attended there was a professor who specialized in Latin American history.  One day years ago he taught about human rights violations centuries ago that were matters of policy in the Roman Catholic Church.  An offended parent of an offended student called the department chair to complain.  The professor’s material was factually accurate; he cited examples Holy Mother Church has acknowledged frankly and for which it has formally apologized.  The two offended Roman Catholics (student and parent) took offense more easily and quickly than the institution they defended.

No ideological, political, or religious camp has a monopoly on snowflakism.  If one is to criticize snowflakism while remaining intellectually honest, one must criticize it consistently, without regard for left-right distinctions.

I have a strategy for dealing with that which would ruin my day needlessly:  I ignore it.  If I do not want to hear a speaker on the campus where I work, I do not attend the event.  If I do not want to watch a program or a movie, I avoid it.  Life is too short not to enjoy it properly.

I affirm all I have written in this post thus far as I add to it the following statement:  I understand why many people are hypersensitive.  I understand that many people’s formative experiences have included unapologetic, intentional insults, degradation, and contempt from others.  I understand that many people have felt oppressed because they have experienced a degree of oppression.  I understand that experiences have conditioned them.  I accept that one should acknowledge the unjust realities of many people’s lives and make no excuses for the inexcusable.

I also return to my original thought in this post:  Maintaining the proper level of sensitivity is crucial; hypersensitivity is at least as negative a force as insensitivity.  Something I do (or have done) today is offensive to somebody, somewhere.  The same statement applies to you, O reader.  Our duty is to do our best to love our fellow human beings as we love ourselves.  That kind of love seeks to build people up, not to tear them down.  It respects in words and deeds the dignity inherent in them.  So may we act accordingly.  May we neither cause legitimate offense not take offense wrongly.