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The loss of civic virtue and the fall of the Roman Empire (and perhaps America as well)

ROMAN HELMET - FREE MSWho among you has not read an editorial, op-ed piece or commentary that points out alarming parallels between America and the Roman Empire in decline? Do you believe America’s sun is setting? And if so, why? Is it the shift from democratic republic to oligarchy and/or plutocracy? Loss of our moral bearings? Rampant fear and paranoia? Racism? Xenophobia? Religious intolerance? Other evils? I’m sure you have your own pet theory. Is loss of civic virtue on your list? If not, why not? Need convincing that this belongs there? Then drop down, click the mp3 link under Rabbi David Wolpe’s name, and listen to his powerful sermon.

January
Mishpatim : Why Rome Fell and We Might, Too
keywords: Anton Chekhov, Benjamin Guggenheim, Christianity, civic virtue, Constantinople, Edward Gibbon, Egypt, Herman Cohen, John Jacob Astor, John Lukatz, lead, Mishpatim, physician Roman Empire, Rome Titanic, Tucson
January 29, 2011
Rabbi David Wolpe
mp3 filemp3
drash Rabbi Nicole Guzik
mp3 filemp3

What to do with militant extremists in our midst? It’s a question Americans have faced before

cropped-choices-ms-photo.jpgA lot of people are wrestling with how this country should deal with militant Muslims in our midst. I think most of us have no issue with American Muslims who do not advocate for anything at odds with our US civic virtues and democratic traditions and practices. Concerns naturally arise with US-based Muslims who post, preach and otherwise advocate for the things we hear being said by members of the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL) and other radical Muslim groups. Many advocate deporting anyone who engages in this sort of thing. Of course, we have homegrown militants in our midst, among them neo-Nazis and Klansmen who preach things that inspire hatred and sometimes violence on the part of their members and sympathizers. One could argue are they are citizens and enjoy certain legal and constitutional protections which renders deportation or “quarantine” a nonissue, but then some extremist Muslims in the US also are citizens (Some born here). Deporting a US citizen to the country their ancestors came from might be emotionally satisfying to some folks but it would open a door that could quickly be abused by the state.

Has America faced the issue of how to deal with antidemocratic, intolerant ideologues in modern times (20th century forward)? Sure thing. In the 1930s there were more than a few individuals and organizations that wanted to see Nazism replace democracy in the US. Some were immigrants (many of these, Germans), others naturalized citizens and others US born. More than a few spokesmen for and leaders of prominent pro-Nazi organs wound up running afoul of the law and in jail or prison. A few were deported and others interned in camps built to house enemy aliens and such after America went to war with Japan and then Germany.  The solution then was pretty much this: Outspoken Nazis were rebuffed by their fellow citizens, monitored by law enforcement especially the FBI,  and prosecuted when they did anything illegal and were caught. Yep, the people back then were doing pretty what we are doing now with extremists and antidemocratic elements in our midst (With the exception of establishing internment camps).

Should we do more? I guess your answer to that depends on how much freedom you are willing to sacrifice for your sense of  security. It’s not an easy equation to work out without risking opening the floodgates to terrorism on one hand — and turning American into a police state on the other.

Whatever your answer, I’d wager many of you reading this will find certain remarks made back in 1938 by Assistant District Attorney Lindsey Henry (on the heels of the conviction of a group of Nazis in Suffolk County,  NY State) appealing:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYWlSmn2Ou4

The salient part is 45 seconds into this 1m:23s video. Quoting Mr. Henry, “If these persons prefer some other form of government let them get out of the United States and stay out.”

 

Déjà Vu: Muslim extremist evils should sound familiar

Lightning from Blue CloudFew reading this, I dare say, have any qualms about seeing religious extremists who believe they please the Almighty by dealing with nonbelievers, sinners, so-called apostates and “infidels” with intolerance and especially cruelty and butchery, contained and even eradicated (Mandated when an armed response is the lesser of 2 evils — kill or else have more innocents killed).

At the moment (October 2014) a coalition of nations including many predominately Muslin ones are involved in rolling back the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL) whose atrocities and wanton evil are regularly showcased and discussed on TV and in newspapers, not to mention web, blog and social media outlets galore worldwide.

In the midst of all this most justifiable righteous indignation with extremist violence and monstrous wickedness, there is also a growing hostility towards Muslims in countries throughout the world in which peaceful, law-abiding ones are not only suspected of being sympathetic to Islamic extremists like IS/ISIS/ISIL but are thought to be fellow travelers, even members of planted “sleeper cells” who lurk in the shadows awaiting conditions to favor their popping out and engaging in terrorism.

And, even though Muslims including scholars have come out and denounced the extremist evil of IS including their cherry-picking of the Quran to support their beliefs and actions (Examples: Here & here), this is oftentimes ignored or eclipsed by our all-too-human in-group/out-group sentiments (wiring?) which in many instances has given rise to xenophobia and then paranoia. There is something both ironic and paradoxical in the fact that many who decry the intolerance and acts of cruelty championed by extremists began to treat anyone or anything that “smacks of the enemy” with intolerance and cruelty (ranging from subtle ostracism to physical violence).

It is also tempting to filter out contrary evidence within the Islamic world and conclude that IS/ISIS/ISIL actually reflects the heart and soul of Muslim beliefs and heartfelt convictions. It doesn’t help that stories and accounts come out of how many Muslims actually do believe that certain Islamic extremist groups, often dominated by clerics, are an antidote for deviating from a literal interpretation of the Quran or “creeping liberalism”. This sort of thing is naturally seized upon by those who argue that Muslims who bomb, shoot, crucify, bury alive, behead and otherwise dispatch “infidels” in bestial ways represent the real Islamic McCoy. Here is one of many posted articles on the Web that take this position (This one claims that the Oklahoma Muslim who beheaded an ex-coworker represents the “real Islam”): http://www.wnd.com/2014/09/oklahoma-beheader-represents-real-islam/

If this doesn’t should familiar, you’ve either forgotten your high school history lessons or slept through them. How so? At one time the Christian world, especially many of its leaders both religious and secular, sanctioned draconian measures against “infidels” which included torture, imprisonment, exile and cruel executions. What did these “defenders of the faith” base their actions on? They certainly didn’t need to make up scriptural justification for this sort of thing. The Bible provided them abundant material that when taken literally and narrowly applied, sometimes out-of-context and sometimes not, justified the cruelest imaginable treatment and horrific execution of gays, occultists, nonbelievers, heterodox believers (heretics), infidels (non-Christians) and more. Click to read a rundown of such verses.

Historic examples? Thankfully, a chap by the name of Mark Humphrys saved me having to dig out all the applicable historic incidents and practices and such, as he researched, organized and posted this to http://markhumphrys.com/christianity.killings.html (Readers are also encouraged to peruse what’s posted at http://www.heretication.info/_heretics.html).

Of course, most modern (Western) Christian believers and organizations including churches and denominations would never entertain taking verses such as Leviticus 20:10 as (ahem) gospel and acting on them: If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, both the man and the woman must be put to death (Albeit some especially aggrieved wives or husbands might wish this was the law of the land)

But ask yourself: What stopped the waves of church-sanctioned persecution, torture and cruel execution of heretics and those declared apostates, sinners or such who would not repent or otherwise bend their knee to those who held their lives in-the-balance? History reveals no sudden turnabout. However, over time a number of shifts and changes occurred that gradually undermined and eroded intolerance and forced conformity to orthodoxy: Among these, the church lost secular power and influence while Biblical literalism and militant, extremist Christian policies and actions lost steam as more moderate views won the day (And these because to a great extent religious scholars and others critically examined archaic beliefs and practices and even the scriptures themselves in light of contrary or mitigating factual evidence and reasoning).

This is viewpoint is reflected in comments made by Southern Baptist Theological seminary faculty member Dr. Timothy Paul Jones to the Baptist Press which were incorporated in a July 2014 article titled “Why Christians killed and why Muslim violence continues” by David Roach:

“Christians used to kill with some frequency over matters of doctrine. There was the Spanish Inquisition, Calvin’s Geneva, England’s notorious Bloody Mary, the drowning of Anabaptists, the Crusades and more.”

Dr. Jones, the author of “Christian History Made Easy“, also stated that “it was the intermingling of church authority and civil authority that made it possible for persons who claimed to be Christians to have the state execute others who also professed Christ.”

But,…and this is a big but…..this shift was not without acrimonious debates, calls for a return to “that old time religion” (i.e., a church with secular power that punished heretics and others), fist fights and open warfare, and worse, in various quarters at various times.

Now ask yourself: Does all that’s happening in the Middle East — the theocratic Islamic governments who rely on oppression and cruelty and public executions to hold the pot lid down on dissent, the pitched battles (literal and figurative) between proponents of a Muslim religious worldview that is exclusivist literalist, and radically fundamentalist and those who champion the opposite, etc. — represent the kind of “Future Shock” cultural, social and religious clashes and upheavals that arose from and signaled the transition from a Europe that was ruled by clerics and which burned heretics to one of nations largely democratic and essentially tolerant? (But not without periodic lapses into darkness when conditions favored the eclipse of reason and tolerance by fear, hatred and bigotry). I tend to think so.

The question of whether such a complete transition will occur may not be one of if but when. But at what cost to the Muslim world and Israel, the EU, America, and other countries before the dust settles?

Beyond containing militant/radical Muslim extremists, there are other variables at play that could up the ante and the “dust” that gets kicked up before it settles to the ground. Assume for a moment that those who warn that Iran is dead set on building nuclear weapons — something underscored by alarming developments such as this — are right and they do. What happens if a major offensive is launched by one or more Arab countries against Israel and Iran joins this? If so, it is not inconceivable that Russia, which has longstanding ties to Iran (not to mention Assad’s Syria), might seize the opportunity to support such military adventurism. This would surely result in America rightfully jumping into the fray to help Israel repel this armed assault and intended invasion. Bingo, WWIII or, if not something this dire, surely a major regional conflagration that will come awfully close to unleashing it.

A major war in the Middle East, too, seems less a matter of if but when. Certainly a great many Jewish and Christian believers view this as inevitable based on prophecies in the books of Daniel and Ezekiel (Among others). Read my blog entry on this by clicking this link.

However, whether a great war hits the Middle East in the near future, later on or not at all, we can all expect a lot of craziness and bloodshed not only there but in Europe, the US, Canada, and elsewhere before the Muslim world breaks free of the forces of extremism, oppression and such.

Our challenge here in the US lies not just encouraging and waiting out the hoped for transition among Muslim countries, but also in preventing terrorist acts by Islamic extremists and their sympathizers in our midst, while at the same time avoiding letting their occasional successes drive us into the arms of authoritarian solutions…or worse.

Dr. Anthony G. Payne (Br. Anthony of the Resurrection)

 

Additional/supplemental reading penned by “yours truly”

Dark times and the allure of evil

How do you kill 12 million people? Evil then and now: Recognizing & containing it

 

The Paula Deen train derails yet again (A Southerner shares his thoughts)

Train 2 - free morguefileNo doubt you’ve come across more than a few TV segments or Web items or both on the many eye-opening episodes from Paula Deen’s past involving racially insensitive words and deeds  (The latest being a just released NY Times story at http://nyti.ms/12mBZaO). What I found troublesome in all this was the argument (rationalization) she offered a while back to the effect that the South she grew up in was in some ways a bastion of antebellum bigotry and thus by extension it is almost expected that folks who grew up in it would harbor such notions. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure this is true. In fact, I know this is true because I grew up in the South (Texas and Louisiana) during the very time Deen did. I am Southern born & bred and have ancestors on both sides of my family that go back to before the Revolutionary war in South Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi. My great, great grandparents and their offspring lived as citizens of the C.S.A. and some actually fought under the stars & bars as Confederate soldiers. However, my Euro-American father and American Indian (Choctaw) mother never used racist terms or tolerated racist jokes nor even once used the N-word. Not once. And while I heard this pejorative word tossed about by other Southerners as both a put-down of African Americans and as a way to defuse their own fears of (I gather) being upstaged by them, I wanted no part of it. So it follows that a Southerner can grow up around racist words & thinking and yet not wind up perpetuating them in word or deed. This lends me to be wholly unsympathetic to Deen’s attributing what she said and did in the past to exposure to what amounted to “acceptable bigotry”.

At this moment many of my fellow Southerners are rallying to Deen’s side and marshaling all kinds of arguments to excuse her past “sins” and in-a-way redeem her person and legacy.   From what I see they are well meaning people, not hood wearing types or sympathetic to these living anachronisms, though most seem unaware that forgiving Deen’s actions is one thing but trying to rationalize them is quite another.

But let me add this: Attacks on the person who is Paula Deen should not be sanctioned or perpetuated. Attack bad ideas and actions, not the person in the sense of interpreting their motivations or what they feel (None of us can pull this off when it comes to our own being much less anyone else, as most of this takes place at a nonconscious level and is not accessible to conscious processes in our brains).

Let us reject racist ideas and actions and any rationalizations meant to excuse them, but not act as if this reveals what is in the hearts of those who toss them about and by virtue of thus defines their character or very soul (Unless the doer flat out says that their actions stem from heartfelt beliefs and convictions and actually does reflect their soul of souls. Then we should pity them and pray they wise up).

Choctaw Doc

Copyright 2013 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. All rights reserved.

   

 

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