Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Filtering by Category: Religion and Politics

Maria Isabel Bueso, MPS VI, and the Sin of 'Moral Albinism'

In the world of medicine, albinism (being an albino) refers to any of a number of rare, inherited genetic conditions in which the amount of melanin pigment (that which causes skin to tan in sunlight) is dangerously low. Albinism is characterized by almost dead-white skin and hair and - somewhat erroneously - pink eyes. Baby boomers will likely remember rock guitarists Johnny and Edgar Winter and are certainly familiar with journalist Anderson Cooper, all of whom suffer from the condition.

Maria Isabel Bueso: Amerca’s Most Prominent Victim of Trumpain Moral Ablinism

Maria Isabel Bueso: Amerca’s Most Prominent Victim of Trumpain Moral Ablinism

Thus, to be an albino - medically speaking - means to be without any color or shading. It is - without question - a genetic condition. Let’s posit for the nonce that albinism can extend beyond the body, and the term used to describe and define other kinds of human mutations and failings.  What I have in mind is what we might call “moral albinism” - an ethical code utterly devoid of conscience, coloration or nuance, and caused not by an inherited genetic mutation, but rather by intense psychological abnormality - which may or may not be a familial legacy. To my way of thinking ‘45 and most of what passes for his revolving-door, three-ring circus of an administration, suffer from collective moral albinism.  Let’s face it: anyone possessing even a scintilla of “moral melanin” would find it difficult - if not morally repugnant to the max - to lend support to white supremacists, neo-Nazis or racists; to find no problem with separating refugee or asylee children from their refugee or asylee parents; or from having little or no problem deporting children with life-threatening medical conditions to countries which are virtually incapable of treating, let alone saving their lives.   

At this point we introduce one and all to Maria Isabel Bueso, potentially America’s most prominent victim of Trumpian Moral Albinism.  Maria Isabel (called mostly by her middle name, “Isabel”) was born in Guatemala. At age 7, she was diagnosed with  MPS-VI, also called “Maroteaux-Lamy Syndrome” and mucopolysaccharidosis type VI, a rare and fatal genetic disorder. Permit me a sentence or two as a medical ethicist who is not unaware of compassionate use studies involving MPS VI. This rare condition involves the deficiency or absence of an enzyme called arylsulfatase B which leads to the accumulation of complex carbohydrates. It can easily cause life-threatening complications including coarse facial features, corneal clouding, joint abnormalities, skeletal malformations, an abnormally enlarged liver and/or spleen, hearing loss and death, generally by age 20.  This is the disorder  Isabel was diagnosed as having at age 7.  Without treatment (which was all but nonexistent in 2002) there was little hope she could live another decade.

In 2002, Dr. Paul Harmatz, a pediatric gastroenterologist who practices at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, Calif. learned about Isabel and inquired as to  her interest in coming to California in order to partake in a clinical trial of a new drug (Naglazyme®), a first-of-its-kind enzyme-replacement therapy that extends patients’ lives by more than a decade, on average. Isabel and her family’s willingness to relocate to support her - and armed with a V-2 Visa, helped make it possible for the trial to move forward. Two years later, Dr. Harmatz’s trial led to FDA approval of Naglazyme. For the past 16  years, Isabel has been receiving 6-hour weekly infusions.  Not only that; during these sixteen years she has stabilized, graduated summa cum laude from California State University, East Bay, and made other contributions, including the establishment of a scholarship for students with disabilities. Meanwhile, her family members have forged new careers and new connections in their church and community here in the United States.  For the past 16 years Isabel, her family, and tens of dozens of other children having life-threatening diseases and disorders, have continued receiving medical care under a government program that defers action on deportations in order to seek medical treatment.

Then Isabel - and so many other children and families - ran headlong into Trumpian Moral Albinism: the program which permitted them to remain in the United States was about to be discontinued and they all had one month to leave the country or face deportation.  For Isabel and the other children - whose participation in these clinical trials has led to major medical breakthroughs - deportation was tantamount to a death sentence.  Last week Isabel testified before the House Oversight Committee - alongside Jonathan Sanchez, a young Honduran suffering from Cystic Fibrosis - telling them that being forced out of the United States was signing their death warrants.  

For its part, the Trump administration has wavered back and forth as to what indeed they are going to do.  First, the administration, in a statement from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), announced an abrupt end to the program which permits non-citizens seeking medical treatment in the U.S.  Then, after Isabel’s congressional testimony brought this sinful, inhumane situation to overall public attention, USCIS backtracked a bit and said they would reexamine Isabel’s deferred action application.  As of today (September 15, 2019) no one knows what the outcome will be.  The one thing the administration has done is to transfer the entire issue from USCIS to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), whose mandate has nothing - I repeat NOTHING - to do with these sort of deferrals. 

So far, the administration has been absolutely closed-mouth about what motivated them to deny medical attention to some of the most vulnerable people on earth.  Trump’s legion of moral albinos have taken to social media and charged that these deathly ill human beings are “milking American taxpayers out of their hard-earned dollars” and that “we should take care of Americans first.”  Of course many of those making these kinds of charges steadfastly favor eliminating Obamacare, cutting funding for Medicaid and mental health services and deporting any and all who “take” so much as a dime in government services.  Then too, they have no idea that most compassionate use studies are paid for by pharmaceutical companies, philanthropic organizations, the National Institutes for Health or national groups devoted to raising funds for  and awareness of various medical conditions, diseases and disorders.  

This sinful act of moral albinism - larded over with good old-fashioned stupidity and abject meanness - is, quite likely, the POTUS’s attempt to keep his political base happy . . . to show them how terribly tough he can be when it comes to and all non-citizens. Although I find this strategy far more than detestable, I nonetheless can understand it . . . as a political strategy; do anything and everything to keep your political base happy. Again, this I understand. But what mystifies and sickens me the most is that this base is made up largely of Evangelical Christians - people who carry a Bible in one hand and the sword of puritanical moral judgement in the other. For reasons which totally elude me, they find no inconsistency in decrying the moral degradation of modern society while supporting the least moral president in history; of urging “In God We Trust” signs and the Ten Commandments (which include the words “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” in every classroom all the while cheering on a man who never goes to church, tells a minimum of a dozen lies a day and doesn’t even know that “Corinthians II” is called “Second Corinthians” rather than “Two Corinthians,” His base contains millions of people who can quote Scripture from here to Tristan Da Cuna but conveniently become deaf, dumb and blind when it comes to verses which implore us to clothe the naked, feed the hungry and care for the sick and the strangers amongst us.

I guess that when it comes to choosing between appointing conservative Supreme Court justices, restricting abortion access and LGBT rights, supporting the right to own and carry automatic weapons and turning a blind eye to the sin of moral albinism, the choice is easy.

Let’s pray that one day, someone will engage in a clinical trial for creating a successful method of moral melanin replacement therapy. Goodness knows we need it.

421 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

Shades of Dr. Max

Dr. Max Rafferty

Dr. Max Rafferty

Way back in 1968, California had a real barn-burner of a senate election pitting Democrat Alan Cranston (the former state Comptroller) versus Republican Dr. Max Rafferty (that’s him in the photo), the then state Superintendent of Public Instruction. Dr. Max was such a “far right reactionary” that many California Democrats actually changed their voter registration to Republican for the sole purpose of voting for the incumbent, the much-admired and respected liberal Republican Thomas Kuchel. Despite the influx of new Republican primary voters, Dr. Max defeated Senator Kuchel, and then went on to lose the general election to Cranston by more than 340,000 votes. (Of course, a vast majority of the Democrats who had re-registered as Republicans, returned to the fold for the general election.)

Defeated for reelection to his state education post two years later, Dr. Max moved to Alabama, where he took a job as Chancellor of Troy State University. Upon learning of Rafferty’s planned move, the beloved San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen wrote “In leaving California and moving to Alabama, Dr. Max is raising the IQ of both states simultaneously.” (Dr. Max would continue living in Alabama, and actually became a surrogate for George Wallace. On June 13, 1982, Dr. Max died when his car plunged off an earthen dam into a pond near Troy. He was 65.

This now half-century old memory fought its way back to my frontal lobes while I was in the process of reading various Tweets and Facebook postings from ardent “pro-life” (or rather, “pro-birth”) supporters of the nation’s newest and cruelest total abortion ban - the one just signed into law by Alabama Governor Kay Ivey. Many of these Tweets and postings were aglow with the joy of knowing that as of this coming November, physicians who conduct abortions in Alabama could be sentenced to 99 years in prison, and women undergoing abortions could be held legally liable for their actions. And, as a result, many of these Tweeters were now half-seriously considering moving to Alabama, where “morality is back in style." I responded to several of them that in leaving their home states and moving to the land of Ivey, they would - like Dr. Max - be raising the IQ of two states simultaneously. Not knowing the historic context behind my tweets, they were, to say the least, perplexed. Now, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio and other states are in competition with one another to pass their own pro-birth, anti-woman bans ASAP.

Truth to tell, for many of these state legislatures, rushing to pass regressive anti-abortion ”fetal heartbeat” legislation, the reason for turning back the clock to pre-Roe v. Wade days hasn’t got all that much to do with religion or morality. Rather, it has lots to do with putting a powerful emotional wedge issue squarely on the 2020 ballot. To their way of thinking, this issue will help 45’s reelection bid. But already, there are signs that Republicans themselves - including the POTUS himself - are becoming political contortionists; pols who, while seeking to convince their base that they are still adamantly pro-birth, are also attempting to distance themselves from the cruelest, most testosterone-driven aspects of the newest pieces of legislation.

One might think Alabama legislators and their base would be more concerned about paying attention to the state of their state than whether or not women and their physicians are going to be enjoined and even imprisoned for making decisions about their bodies and lives. If the Republican politicians and citizens of Alabama were really, truly concerned about life - rather than merely birth - they would be appalled at what is going on in the Yellowhammer State. For in poll after poll, Alabama rates dead last - or close to it - in just about every economic and social category. According to recent state rankings by U.S. News & World Report, Alabama is:

  • 50th in education;

  • 46th in health care;

  • 45th in economy;

  • 45th in opportunity and

  • 45th in crime and corrections.

  • Alabama’s overall rating among the 50 states is 49 . . . Louisiana - another state spending the lion’s share of its legislative time on banning abortions - comes in dead last, while on the other end of the scale:

  • Washington is number 1. New Hampshire number 2, and Minnesota number 3.

In passing their worst-in-the-nation anti-abortion bill, Alabama’s Republican legislators and Republican governor are clearly doing everything in their power to ensure continued support from their party’s (read: Trump’s) political base. This is unbelievably myopic. In order to go beyond maintaining their base - let alone expanding it - they are going to need to attract more suburban women and educated urbanites. With passage of this bill - and all the attendant negative press and their increasingly riven party - they are going to lose even more potential voters. If the myopic pols, in turn, say “All we need to do is repeatedly warn our constituents about all the pre-born lives that will be destroyed if we are not reelected, and how we are truly doing God’s will” - they are going to find themselves in even worse shape. For, as bad as education, job growth, farming, infrastructure and healthcare are in Alabama (and Louisiana, Missouri, Georgia and Ohio) right now, things are going to get even worse. How so? Economic boycotting by individuals and corporations who otherwise might visit, build, hold conventions or invest in these hyper pro-birth states. This will give more rational candidates the ability to engage in issues of even greater day-to-day concern.

In last week’s post (“The Death of Biodiversity”) we mentioned the many conservative politicians who refuse to join the growing legions of folks who see climate change as an issue of paramount importance. Their rationale? The “I’m not a scientist” excuse. Why is it that the vast majority of politicians who use this tactic act like board-certified OB-GYNs when it comes to abortion? Why is it that those who argue adamantly against any and all gun safety measures (“It’s an encroachment on personal liberty!”) have no problem with government involvement in - and regulation of - a woman’s right to choose? Could it be that they are too dense to recognize radical inconsistency? Or are there simply more campaign dollars to be had from the likes of pro-gun and anti-abortion PACS than teachers’ unions, Planned Parenthood and the National Organization for Women?  

I bet even a Luddite like Dr. Max would have known the answer.

536 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

 

Be Careful What You Wish For

Mike Pence.jpg

By now, it should be pretty obvious that few Democrats are using the "i" word in the run-up to November's midterm election. Savvy Democratic politicians avoid the word for a couple of good and obvious reasons . . . and a single, terrifyingly not so obvious one.  The first good and obvious reason is that making impeachment a central Democratic issue is both strategically dicey and, from a practical point of view, utterly rudderless. 

Secondly, trying to convince Democrats, Independents and disenchanted Republicans that a "Blue Wave" is all that stands between a strong, small-d democratic republic and a treacherous autocracy is likely a fool's errand. To anyone who's not part of the staunchly Democratic base, it sounds and feels like nothing more than an extension of cable news.  Simply stated, it isn't all that motivating.  Thirdly, the unspoken message becomes "We're going to spend a majority of the next 2 years issuing a ton of subpoenas, holding tens of dozens of investigative hearings and generally putting such issues as education, comprehensive immigration reform, gun safety, the opioid pandemic and climate change - to name but a few - on the back burner."  This is no way to convince the American voting public to put Congress back in the hands of Democrats.

Then there is that terrifyingly not-so-obvious reason why savvy Democrats aren't spending much time talking about indictment . . . let alone impeachment: it might just work.  "How's that?" you ask.  "And what's so all-fired wrong with that?  At least we'd be rid of the most crassly incompetent, most boorishly narcissistic POTUS in history."  Well yes, but wishing, working and praying for such a thing carries with it an even graver, more dangerous reality: Vice President Mike Pence would then become the 46th POTUS.

Famously, John Nance ("Cactus Jack") Garner, FDR's first V.P. described his office as "not worth a bucket of warm piss." Constitutionally, the Vice President could, in less graphic terms, be called "The Waiter-in-Chief." He waits for the chance to fulfill one of two duties prescribed by the Constitution: to break tie votes in the Senate, or to succeed presidents who, for whatever reason, cannot finish a term in office.  Vice President Mike Pence has already fulfilled the former.  After Paul Manafort’s guilty verdict, Michael Cohen’s guilty plea and the immunity deals worked out for the president's longtime CFO Allen Weisselberg and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, (all within a single tumultuous week), it seems that Mr. Pence may fulfill the latter prescribed duty as well. And if it comes to pass, in the words of a recent piece by Los Angeles Times op-ed writers Michael D'Antonio and Peter Eisner, ". . . no one will be less surprised than Pence."  

From where I sit, the mere possibility of Mike Pence becoming POTUS scares me one whole hell of a lot more than the reality of his boss continuing to occupy the nation's highest office.  Why?  Well, where '45 can be counted on to be inconsistent, incompetent, frequently incoherent and largely lacking a moral compass, Mike Pence is dangerously consistent and tethered to an absolutist moral compass which sees  his presidency as preordained by God and the mass of humanity as enemies of the Divine Plan.  Pence has frequently described himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican," in that order. While it may at first blush trouble people that this very, very moral man has amicably stood by and lent sycophantic support to the nation's immoralist-in-chief, once one gets to know the underpinnings of his belief structure, this seeming inconsistency makes perfectly good sense.  To understand Pence, one must first get to know his favorite Biblical verse (Jeremiah 29:11) which is on proud display at the Vice President's residence.  In Hebrew, the verse reads: 

     כִּי֩ אָֽנֹכִ֨י יָדַ֜עְתִּי אֶת־הַמַּֽחֲשָׁבֹ֗ת אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָנֹכִ֛י חֹשֵׁ֥ב עֲלֵיכֶ֖ם נְאֻם־יְהֹוָ֑ה מַחְשְׁב֚וֹת שָׁלוֹם֙ וְלֹ֣א לְרָעָ֔ה לָתֵ֥ת לָכֶ֖ם אַֽחֲרִ֥ית וְתִקְוָֽה

Literally translated as "For I know the thoughts that I think about you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope."  To Vice President Pence and those, like him, who were raised in the Calvinist tradition, everything, which happens - both the seemingly good and the wicked, the moral and immoral are predestined.  To those of us who were not raised or schooled in this translation, the actual meaning of Jeremiah 29:11 is somewhat different:

 “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  In other words, to Mike Pence's way of thinking the Lord has ordained the V.P. to lend support to the grossly immoral Donald Trump so that Mike Pence can become POTUS.  It's sort of like the Bible’s story of Cyrus, a pagan king who served God by protecting the Jews. In this case,  '45 plays the role of Cyrus, who is serving G-d by protecting conservative, Evangelical Christians, who believe themselves to be under mortal attack.  I don't know about you, but this scenario scares the daylights out of me.  In other words, Pence believes that God has a plan for him, and if that plan requires him to temporarily abandon his principles as well as his dignity, so be it.

Pence is regarded by some as the modern version of another Old Testament figure, Daniel, who safeguarded his fellow Jews while functioning as counselor to another pagan ruler, Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel aided the Israelites by appearing to abandon his Jewishness in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. Pence, the argument goes, sets aside his moral standards to retain access to Trump. From his insider's perch, he can do more good for religious conservatives than from the outside. And if he were to take that final step to the Oval Office, then the ends would justify the means.

Pence, unlike his boss, is not heeding the counsel of billionaires who ordain things to be done in the name of future riches. Rather, he heeds Biblical imperatives which ultimately lead to both a Christian nation and an "end-time" which will bring about the so-called "Second Coming" of the Messiah. (For Jewish people, please understand that in order for this "second coming" to come about, it will require all of us to return to Israel where we will be presented with one of two choices: conversion or annihilation.)  I don't know about you, but to my way of thinking, this is no way to run a government.  

Be careful about what you wish or pray for.  A Trumpless White House means the presidency of a man who firmly believes he has taken over the office because it is God's will that America become a nation devoted to Jesus.  We're all better off with at least one of the two houses of Congress being in the hands of the Democrats; not because we want to specialize in impeachment, but because we want to get on with making American work for us . . . the non-so-rich men, women and children who have the humility to know what they do not know, the strength to overcome their worst traits and the worth to see worth in everyone.  Better than Jeremiah 29:11, is the wisdom of an ancient sage named "ben Zoma," who, in an ancient work entitled פִּרְקֵי אָבוֹת  (pirkei avot - "The ethics of the fathers") we learn the following:

הַבְּרִיּוֹתאֵיזֶהוּ חָכָם? הַלּוֹמֵד מִכָּל אָדָם.  אֵיזֶהוּ גִבּוֹר? הַכּוֹבֵשׁ אֶת יִצְרוֹ.  אֵיזֶהוּ עָשִׁיר הַשָמֵחַ בְּחֶלְקוֹ. אֵיזֶהוּ מְכֻבָּד? הַמְכַבֵּד אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת      

Roughly translated: Who is truly wise?  The one who can learn from anyone.  Who is truly powerful?  The one who can curb their inclinations.  Who is truly wealthy?  The one who is happy with what they have.  Who is truly honorable?  The one who honors all humanity."

Make what you wish for and/or pray for truly count.

583 days down,
894 days to go,
70 days until the Midterm election.

MAKE SURE YOU VOTE!!

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

 

The Odd Couple

trump-and-evangelicals.jpg

From this humble writer's perspective, the president's week-long - and as yet ongoing - jaunt to Europe has been a disastrous embarrassment.  From giving terribly mixed messages about America's future relationship with its NATO allies to making the ludicrous claim  that "Germany is a captive of Russia," giving distinctly bipolar  opinions of British P.M. Teresa May and actually keeping the Queen of England waiting and then walking in front of her, '45's time in Europe has, so far, been more risible than Monsieur Hulot's Holiday.  . . . And mind you this is even before his sit-down with that satanic old pro Vladimir Putin. You can bet your bottom dollar (or ruble) that Putin will be as fully prepared and disciplined as a Trappist Monk, while the POTUS likely be just winging it, seeking to rely on his country club charm . . . which will likely be as potent or useful as a Pomeranian at a dog fight.  One would think - and indeed, might hope - that the week's blunders,  buffoonery,  lies and utter mortifications (added to so many others over the past year-and-a-half) might result in a demonstrable erosion of his vaunted political base.  But no; as of earlier today - 48 hours after a dozen Russian intelligence agents were indicted by the Justice Department for cyber-hacking in the 2016 presidential election - 45's standing with his base is holding steady . . . and with one group in particular: deeply conservative white fundamentalists and Christian evangelicals the two are not synonymous). 

         Prosperity Gospelers Cheering On  Their Messiah

         Prosperity Gospelers Cheering On  Their Messiah

Despite 3 marriages and numerous affairs, an all but total lack of religiosity (beyond the rhetorical), ignoring the Biblical dictum to "Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God," and  gleefully embodying all seven deadly sins  '45  is still supported and lionized by better than 80% of white American Evangelicals men . . . and women as well.  Talk about an "Odd Couple!"  In light of how stridently united America’s white Evangelical Christians are in their abhorrence of the Clintons and Barack Obama for their “immorality" and "hatred of all things Christian," this critical subset of the president's political base has all but defied Donald John Trump and actually thank Jesus for his being elected. The question is "How can this be?  What do white Evangelicals see in him that causes them to utterly ignore his sins and vulgar language, his lies, hard-hardheartedness and braggadocio ("I am a very stable genius") his utter disregard for anything but wealth . . .?" 

It certainly is not his religiosity.  For despite having some notable evangelicals  and fundamentalists in his employ - V.P. Mike Pence, A.G. Jeff Sessions and Press Sec. Sarah Huckabee Sanders spring to mind - the POTUS has shown himself to be a religious illiterate . . . both in word and in deed. Back during the 2016 campaign, CNN's Chris Cuomo asked Trump about his being audited by the I.R.S.  Unbelievably, the Republican nominee responded, “I’m always being audited by the IRS, which I think is very unfair… maybe because of the fact that I’m a strong Christian and I feel strongly about it.”  His evangelical supporters likely stood up before their television sets and cheered; their man had "come out" as a 'strong Christian'!  And yet, this was the same guy who bragged about the size of his genitals during a presidential debate and once said he would date his then 24-year-old daughter if they weren’t related.  Then too, there was the time '45 was asked whether he was "more of an Old Testament guy or a New Testament guy?"  His answer?  “Probably equal, I think. It just an incredible…the whole Bible is an incredible…”  At this point, he started talking about how he jokes that his own book The Art of the Deal is only his second favorite book.

So what is it about '45 and his white evangelical/fundamentalist base?  What is it they see in him that keeps them so thoroughly in thrall?  Could it be his full-throated opposition to abortion?  His support for unfettered access to guns?  His opposition to same-sex marriage or permitting Muslims - and other non-Christians and people of color - from entering the United States? His support for funding charter (read: religious) schools at the expense of public schools?  His disbelief in the findings of climate scientists or his unwavering support for Israel (a.k.a. "The Holy Land" in evangelical parlance)?  How about his historic tax cuts which will put millions into the pockets of multi-millionaires and ultimately add trillions to the federal deficit?

                                                Joel Osteen and D.J.T.

                                                Joel Osteen and D.J.T.

Believe it or not, the answer may just have something to with the latter issue: tax cuts.  Although the Christian Bible (Matthew: 19:23-24) states "Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God,"  despite this, there are millions upon millions of God-fearing, Trump-supporting Christians who live, act and vote as if Jesus' words had never been given voice. Strange, no?  Welcome to the world of the prosperity gospel which gives '45 a sort of diplomatic immunity regardless of his many, many carnal sins and transgressions. The "Prosperity Gospel" teaches that the rich are rich because God has blessed them and the poor are poor because God is punishing their immorality.  Prosperity theology is common among white Pentecostal fundamentalists; Pastor Joel Osteen, for example, is a strong proponent. Although the Houston, Texas-based evangelical never officially endorsed his presidential campaign in 2016, Osteen described Trump as a “friend of our ministry” and “a good man.” (BTW: Osteen's Houston-based Lakewood Church has nearly 45,000 members.  His services are seen in more than 100 countries; his net worth is in the neighborhood of $50 million and he and his wife Victoria live in a 17,000 square foot mansion. I don’t hold any of this against him . . . just wanted to let you know that preaching the Prosperity Gospel does pay pretty well.) Osteen is certainly not the only person preaching this gospel; other "superstars" include  Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes, Kenneth Copeland, Rick Warren  and Paula White, to name but a few.)

Sometimes people equate right-wing libertarians with right-wing evangelicals.  In point of fact, they have very different views in some respects. While many libertarians combine extreme fiscal conservatism with socially liberal views on abortion, porn, marijuana and same-sex marriage, the prosperity gospel crowd combines extreme fiscal conservatism with a disdain for all those things—although the ultra-rich are so adored in prosperity theology circles that Trump’s evangelical supporters are quite prepared to overlook his sexual history. To prosperity theologisers, Trump wouldn’t be so rich if he didn’t enjoy God’s stamp of approval. 

During the eight years of his presidency, Barack Obama was detested by the Christian right and proponents of the Prosperity Gospel, despite the fact that he had a much longer history of attending church and obviously knew a lot more about the Bible than his successor. Obama had obviously led a much more clean-cut life than Trump, but to the Christian Right and proponents of prosperity theology, none of this mattered one iota.  Right-wing white evangelicals equate Donald Trump with money and power—and therefore, their understanding of Christian morality— while equating Barack Obama (and indeed, very nearly all Democrats) with socialism and giveaways for poor Americans they consider freeloaders . . . people whose very poverty shows what God thinks about them.

Prosperity gospelers seem to have found their messiah in '45.

I have to wonder what  the good Lord has to say about it.

Perhaps "הזוג המוזר" ("The odd couple")

543 days down, 930 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

WWJD?

WWJD.jpg

One must admit that when stripped of their varying rituals, practices, and fringe crazies, the three great monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - have an awful lot in common.  And not just because the latter two are "daughters" of the first. At base. all three teach love and tenderness; humility and the importance of extending a helping hand to those in need; of "Doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with G-d." To be certain, there are are innumerable differences when it comes to specifics: kashrut (kosher) versus halal; the nature of Sabbath observance; the question of whether to proselylize or to keep things "in house"; the relationship between deed and creed.

This last point - the relationship between deed and creed - is of major concern.  Judaism, as opposed to Christianity (and Islam) is remarkably free (although not entirely so) of doctrine. Ask a group of rabbis or scholars a question beginning with the words "What do Jews believe about . . .?" and what you'll likely get is first a profound silence, and second, something like "Well, some Jews believe 'X' while others believe 'Y' or 'Z.'" (I long ago concluded somewhat in jest that we (male) rabbis wear beards so that when faced with a question about belief, we can stroke our beards and look thoughtfully introspective when we really don't know the answer.)  However, ask the same group of rabbis or scholars a question beginning with "What do Jews do in situation 'X' or 'Y'? and you will likely get a pretty swift response . . . even if the various answers are somewhat variegated.  Then too, as mentioned above, Jews - unlike members of most Christian sects - do not go out of their way to seek converts. It has long been our understanding that Judaism is the best religion on the planet . . . for Jews and those who seek to convert of their own free will.  Indeed, classically, a rabbi's initial response to one seeking conversion is supposed to be rejection - and not once but twice . . . in order to make sure that the potential convert is sincere.

When it comes to secular politics, there are some similarities - and many, many differences - between Jews and Christians. For many Jewish voters the issue par excellent in figuring out who to support is, not surprisingly, Israel.  But though Israel may serve as a political litmus test for many, the specific position a candidate takes may in the long run gain or lose the support of an individual voter. Some Jews (and many on the so-called "Christian Right"), will only support and vote for people who take a hawkish "single state" position. (And mind you, Jews and fundamental Christians don't necessarily express all-out support for Israel for the same reason . . . but that is a subject for another essay.)  Many Jews and Christians will tell you that '45 is ". . . the best friend Israel ever had in the Oval Office."  They base this largely on two things: bellicose rhetoric and moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem.

Other voters will only support candidates who favor a "two-state solution."  For many Jews, there are other issues of equally great - or even greater import - such as climate change, a woman's right to choose, education, healthcare, the need to keep an imprenetrable wall of separation between "church and state" - which will help determine whether or not they can in good conscience support a particular candidate.  Frequently, the positions political actors take find their basis in the more humanistic aspects of Judaism. The same can be said of many Christians, except that the positions they hold near and dear are frequently the bipolar opposites of their Jewish neighbors.

Interestingly, evangelical and fundamentalist Christians are relatively new to secular politics. The biggest boost to getting conservative Christians into politics was the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which made abortion legal in the United States.  With that fateful decision, a sleeping giant came awake and began, in the words of one commentator, ". . . adding grievance to grievance [and] aligning themselves with the Republican Party and its Teapot wing." In other words, the mass entry of evangelical and fundamentalist Christians (now referred to as "values voters") into the realm of secular politics has been at full strength only in the past four decades.  Generally speaking, the Christian Right has thrown its support behind men and women who tend to be pro-life (I prefer "pro-birth"), pro-gun, anti-science, anti Planned Parenthood, and favor money for charter schools.  To their way of thinking these are among the positions Jesus would take.  (Precisely how they know this evades me.) They also support people who talk up their Christian bona fides, are unafraid to tell us of their great devotion and faithfulness, and truly believe that America's creation was and is based on Christian principles; in short, that America is a Christian nation.

The Christian Right's influence on the 2016 election of Donald Trump was and is, to say the least, noteworthy.  It was and is also a high point of hypocrisy on their part. As writer Jay Parini noted in a recent op-ed,  "It didn’t matter that Trump was an unhinged philanderer, a braggart whose own life and example was a mockery of Christian values—as long as he delivered a reliably anti-abortion and anti-gay rights judge to replace Antonin Scalia.  Neil Gorsuch was their man, and Trump delivered."    During the 2016 campaign - and since entering office - '45 has hyperbolically proclaimed "No one loves the Bible like I do." Those who are willing to take him at his word have also heard him state such absurdities as:

Then too, the Christian right was thrilled when the newly-inaugurated president, speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast, vowed to ". . . get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment.” (n.b.: The Johnson Amendment which has been in the federal tax code for more than 60 years, protects the integrity of tax-exempt organizations like houses of worship by ensuring they do not endorse or oppose political candidates.) On May 4, 2017, '45 signed an executive order "to defend the freedom of religion and speech" for the purpose of easing the Johnson Amendment's restrictions. In announcing his executive order, he described his goal of eliminating the prohibition on election activity as potentially his “greatest contribution to Christianity — and other religions.” As it turns out, the repeal of the Johnson Act, which was included in the House version of the infamous tax bill, was removed during the reconciliation process with the Senate version, which did not include repeal.  Nonetheless, fundamental Christians still give '45 high marks for attempting if not succeeding - to get rid of it.

Many have been wondering aloud how in the world so many intensely religious people can continue supporting this man who, by any reasonably objective yardstick, is the bipolar opposite of a humble, moral, honest Christian. 

WWJD? ("What would Jesus do?")

It just might be that Jesus would seek a meeting with the POTUS and pose the question Magister praeses, quo vadis?  -  namely, "Mr. President, where in the hell are you going?"  It just might bet there will be a gathering - and soon - at the White House where the lofiest, most supportive fundamentalist Christian leaders will be asking him to explain himself.  Really.

According to a recent story on National Public Radio (a favorite bugbear of the Christian Right), As allegations continue to swirl about the president and a payout to a porn star to cover up a sexual encounter, evangelical leaders are organizing a sit-down with President Trump in June. One prominent ministry leader who is organizing the session said "The president's tone and personal life remain a concern for many evangelicals . . . .There's things that are like fingernails on the chalkboard to people of faith. That's not who we are; that's not a 'fruit of the Spirit'; that's not leading with humility," This meeting if it actually happens - could be attended by nearly 1,000 religious leaders.  (Family Research Council President Tony Perkins told Fox News' Todd Starnes "It  is not going to be a confrontational meeting, that is absolutely not true. So many evangelicals are frustrated with Congress and they are likely not to show up to vote in the fall. That's really the focus of our gathering."  In other words, according to Perkins, the "values voters" he and his colleagues claim to represent are not concerned about '45's values.  

So WWJD?  Would he attend the meeting?  Would he tell the POTUS to start acting like the fervent man of G-d he proclaims himself to be or else step aside and repent?  Will '45 begin losing the support of the most perfervid members of his political base? Will it finally be revealed to his vaunted "values voters" that the emperor has no clothes?

Truly, only G-d knows . . .

445 days down, 1,016 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone