“America first” misses the mutuality of the Christian faith. It falls far short of “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Today’s blog entry continues from yesterday’s. Yesterday, my post was about phrases from President Trump’s inauguration speech. Over the weekend (1/21-22), I thought about the transition from one administration to another. As I thought about the transition, the new president’s words came to my mind. Several phrases jumped out at me. So, I read his speech. Some of what he said was troubling. Let me explain why.
Trump said, “We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones. And unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.”
Proposing to “eradicate” a belief system “from the face of the earth” suggests genocide on those who refuse to give up their beliefs. Invoking the label “genocide” might sound dramatic, but words matter. “Eradicate” means destroy completely. To ‘eradicate poverty’ means ‘to put an end to poverty.’ Thus, to “eradicate completely” means total destruction of “radical Islamic terrorism.”
Unfortunately, attacking terrorism inspires some people to join the terrorists. For example, bombing a village where terrorists are hiding might lead non-radical Islamic villagers to become sympathetic to the terrorists. Terrorists are successful when they invoke terror. Getting frightening and thoughtlessly fighting back responds on the terrorists’ level. It is like fighting fire with fire.
The President should choose his words carefully. Carelessly tossing off words like “eradicate” to sound tough might inspire some people, but when taken seriously, “eradicate” harkens to darker times. So, how can the U.S. respond to terrorists?
First, we can identify the causes of terrorism. Poverty, inequality, cultural changes, and religious fanaticism. When people address poverty, inequality, and cultural changes, religious fanaticism has more trouble recruiting adherents. How do we address poverty? We can buy fair trade, focus on development and education, and ease away from “America first” ideologies. I will treat “America first” later.
Second, we can develop partnerships with countries who are already engaged in fighting terrorism. Regional partners will be more effective than drones and bombs. I do not know the intricacies of defeating Daesh (aka ISIS). But, a thoughtful response will lead to greater success than bombing the entire area or attacking terrorists’ families, as Trump has suggested.
Third, we must not be afraid. Fear is the currency of terrorists. Big talk, like “eradicate,” reveals inner fear. Instead of playing into their hand, we must rise above it. The Bible assures us that God controls the world. If Christians believe it, then we have nothing to fear.
Words matter. Let us engage in thoughtful discourse about complicated problems and avoid vacuous platitudes.
Tuesday, January 24, 2017
As I reflect on the peaceful transition from administration to another, the differences are striking. The Obama and Trump administration have dissimilar approaches. Even the way and they look at the world is unique. In this blog, I would like to look at some of the words and phrases Trump used in his inauguration speech.
The inauguration speech provides an opportunity for a new president to set the tone for his/her administration. In the case of Trump’s speech, he revealed a clear worldview—one that is consistent with his campaign rhetoric. Trump views the world as a zero-sum game. There are winners and losers. To be a winner means beating someone else. Instead of cooperation and mutual gain, Trump sees individual gain. Somewhat ironic, this view is antithetical to trickle-down economics. Trickle-down economics proposes that when the rich get richer, they spend more and the situation improves for everyone. In other words, a rising tide raises all boats.
One phrase jumped out at me. Trump said, “We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones -- and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.”
I will treat the phrase “eradicate completely” at a later date. Right now, I want to focus on “civilized world.” What did he mean? The countries of the North Atlantic? Europe, the United States, and Canada? What about Australia and South Africa? N. B. Each area I listed has a majority of white/Caucasian people. Does he include South Korea and Japan as civilized? What is the President’s view of Bhutan? It is the only carbon-negative country in the world. Of course, he has called climate change a hoax. So, being carbon-neutral or carbon-negative would not be noteworthy to him.
By saying the words “civilized world,” we learn that he holds the antiquated view of some of the world as uncivilized. I can hardly believe that this needs treatment.
If Trump was referring to Africa, a continent of 54 countries, he does not understand the nature of civilization. The 1.1. billion people of the continent have produced 22 Nobelauriates. Four of the ten fastest growing economies in the world are on the continent. One out of every three people who live on the continent are, actually, middle class. Sure, the continent has issues of poverty, inequality, and injustice. But, so does the United States.
We can relegate a phrase like “civilized world” to old books. When we read them, we can overlook it. These words are a relic of a Eurocentric or colonial worldview, like the sexist mankind, instead of humanity or the racist negro, instead of African-America.
Some of Trump’s most ardent followers long for a golden heyday of the United States. They seem to long for something like the world portrayed on Leave It to Beaver (1957-63) or The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952-66). Both television shows portray an idealized America of the 1950s. However, both shows miss the cultural richness of America, even within that era. Neither show portrays the depth of Appalachia and the Southern literature tradition. Both miss the Southwestern mix of a Latino culture growing in the United States. Neither touches African American or Native American culture. And, neither shows the diversity of American cities, like New York and Chicago.
There is no civilized and uncivilized world anymore. We live in a postcolonial world. We live in a world of pluralities and differing viewpoints. We recognize various cultures for their richness and what people can learn from one another. Referring to the “civilized world” and longing for an idealized past might play well with white supremacists, but it means nothing to those of us who feel blessed to live in a diverse land. These phrases miss the truth, beauty, and goodness of seeing other nations succeed with the United States.
The Bible is full of verses supporting helping others and seeing them as sisters and brothers, not uncivilized foreigners. As a Christian, my motivation for calling out this phrase is tantamount to God’s calling in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Thursday, January 5, 2017
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:2
What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”? And, why are the people who are “poor in spirit” blessed? Are they blessed because they are poor in spirit? Or, does the state of being poor make them predisposed to God’s blessing?
If people are blessed because they are poor, then simply giving away all of one’s possessions should lead to blessings. Maybe it would. Maybe the act of giving everything away would yield an openness to God’s blessings. But, then giving everything away would not be the source of the blessing. The act of giving everything away would be transformative. Upon realizing the change after experiencing a willful entry into poverty, God’s blessing would logically follow the state of being poor, not the act of giving everything away.
Poverty is not having enough. We can be materially poor and lack sufficient food and clothing. We can be intellectually poor and lack information or ability to understand complicated subjects. To many people, poverty means the state of being poor—being inferior in worth, value, or self-image. Entering this state means stripping off the trappings of the world.
What is the opposite? And, why would people in the opposite state not be blessed? When we have enough, we do not need more. When we do not need more, the space in our lives for God diminishes. We have what we need; therefore, why do we need God? For many people, the answer is: we don’t! Jesus responds to this self-reliance and self-sufficiency by pointing out the blessings that can accompany giving ourselves away.
Creating space for God means moving something else out of the way. Sometimes we must move our ego. Other times, we need to address our relationship with material things. Even relationships can get in the way of our poverty before God. Almost anything can become a stumbling block: technology, politics, the news, and so one.
When we can meet our own needs, what do we ask from God? More? Then, we being greedy. People who can meet all of their own needs and have a strong sense of self-worth will struggle with placing all of their security in God. The passage is not exclusively about economics or spirituality, but about placing our identity in God.
The words in the text not only refer to literal poverty, what we think of as material poverty, but they also suggest humility. By not having enough, or being in the spirit of poverty, we can come to God with open hands and be grateful for any blessings God gives.
What gets in the way of our dependence on God?