Politics and Religion
There is survivability in being emotional about politics and religion. People are very good at killing one another. Feelings that inspire loyalty and adherence to a code help people band together to defend themselves, their families and their tribe against enemies. Survival is the only absolute.
I believe politics is about organizing in ways that makes it possible to feed, clothe, house and protect ourselves while religion makes it possible for like-minded people to live together in harmony.
In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus prescribed how to be happy. According to Jesus to attain happiness one needs to remember that .Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus emphasized love and humility over force and pride
as the paths to happiness.
Thomas Jefferson, and most founding fathers, were lay scientists, businessmen and farmers. Jefferson was also a scholar with an extensive library who studied science, literature, modern philosophers, ancient Greek philosophers and the Bible.
In The Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson focused on attainment of happiness, a subject about which Jesus taught. In the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson wrote
"they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Having personally witnessed political and religious persecution he and a majority of the founding fathers were very concerned about the ways in which hyper-religious politicians mixed religion and politics. He wrote religious freedom into the Bill of Rights after seeing how badly Anglicans treated Christians who worshiped in ways slightly different from themselves.
Ethnocentricity appears to be a universal trait and even within our own tribe we categorize each-other as low-class, middle-class or high-class. According to Jesus, and if one believes what Thomas Jefferson wrote instead of how he lived, people with nice clothes, homes and ice cream are no more worthy than day laborers begging for jobs outside Home Depot. On the other hand I really like air-conditioning and a comfortable cool bed.
The religious culture in which one was raised may make it possible to predict how a person feels about work and politics. I was raised within The United Church of Christ (UCC), a confederation of churches that includes the one brought to America by Pilgrims in 1620.
The first pilgrims had no government officials or priests with them. Before they came ashore each free man signed The Mayflower Compact which guaranteed he and his household could own property and benefit from his worthy endeavors and frugality.
Individual ownership of property,
and earning a living from that property,
is fundamental to attainment of The American Dream.
United Church of Christ pastors are chosen by the people to whom they preach and serve and are expected to be highly educated. The Pilgrims who founded the United Church of Christ almost immediately founded Harvard and Yale to insure there would be well-educated potential pastors from whom to choose.
The United Church of Christ also includes like-minded German immigrants who fled Germany to escape being drafted to fight wars in which they had no interest. The pastor of St John's United Church of Christ, the German rooted church where I received religious training and was confirmed, was shunned for speaking out against the war in Vietnam. I believe Jesus would have been against the war in Vietnam and would have sided with our fired pastor. History is also on our former pastor's side.
Family culture also counts. I grew up in a family of readers in a home that included an eclectic library. A home where the Kankakee Daily Journal was read every day: And at least one popular magazine and one scientific magazine arrived each week. I still subscribe to and read The Economist, The Week, National Geographic, The Smithsonian and The Arizona Republic.
Being raised in a questioning culture influenced how I view religion. What makes Christianity real to me is that Jesus Christ was a real man who lived a well-documented life. That we are still quoting stories he told thousands of years ago is significant to me.
To me the Bible is worth study and quotation as great literature. It describes universal truths in ways that appeal to persons who base their beliefs on scientifically observed facts and persons who believe everything they read in the Bible happened exactly as written in whatever translation of the Bible they own. I consider Jesus Christ to have been the best teacher of all time: I was a teacher who was lucky if students remembered anything I said more than a week.
Age and observation have made me conservative. My first speech as a 1958 high school junior was about how much better off Cubans would be once Batista was deposed. In my youthful exuberance I believed my Cuban relatives when they said no government could have a worse leader than Batista -- Castro was a lot worse.
I am conservative (Not Republican) when it comes to endorsement of political change. Unti 2020, and the insurrection fomented by Donald Trump, we all took it for granted citizens of The United States of America could bloodlessly change political leaders every few years and I am completely in favor of that.
Illinois is "Bipolar" in that about half of all Illinoisans live in the Greater Chicago Area; the rest live "down-state" where I was raised. Many "down-staters," equate Democratic officials who govern Chicago with gangsters.
Where I was raised we were taught Chicago politicians would control the entire state if we didn't keep them at bay by voting Republican. Governors from both the Republican and Democratic parties have been sent to prison for corruption. Party affiliation is less important than personal character.
Brain scans have proven normal human beings are soft-wired for empathy and instinctively nurture and protect children, widows, the poor, elderly and sick which is what Jesus commanded. The only persons scientifically proven to lack empathy are autistic and cannot "fake it" or psychopaths who "fake it" when doing so gets them something they want. In my opinion men and women who use their form of religion to justify mean-spirited inhumanity are mentally ill.
The danger of religious extremism became obvious to me when Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix excommunicated Sister Margaret McBride of St Joseph's Hospital. Sister McBride allowed termination of the pregnancy of a woman who already had five children, and who according to all doctors consulted was 100% sure to die, if her current pregnancy was not terminated.
Sister Margaret McBride
Zealots like Bishop Olmsted would only have been appeased by the death of this mother of five. One excuse for such behavior is that he, and like-minded people, are either autistic and know no better or are psychopaths who enjoy inflicting pain. The Sisters own what used to be Catholic Health Care West but is now Common Spirit Health, the largest nonprofit health care system in America. In reality The Sisters excommunicated Bishop Olmsted and his ilk.
Jesus accepted women into his inner circle. Just a few years after he was crucified male disciples and apostles excluded women from key leadership positions and some churches still discriminate against women which to me is incredibly unChristian. It is my experience it is usually women who perform the most profound acts of Christian kindness.
I am definately not "Holier than thou." While I strive to live in accordance with Christian principles I constantly backslide when it comes to forgiveness. Forgiveness is good for everyone which is why I am so strong a believer in the prayer believed to have been authored by Jesus himself.Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, yours will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Not wanting more than what we need is fairly easy for me; forgiveness is more difficult. Both are good for everyone so I must try harder.
Jesus could be considered an advocate of socialism. In Acts 4:32-35 Paul wrote..."All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And Gods grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need."
Paul wrote the above after Jesus was crucified. Jesus spent the last two years of his life criticizing the cruelty, dogmatism, self-righteousness, greed, selfishness, and pursuit of material wealth by local religious leaders and wealthy lay elite who supported them. It was in response to popular support for his beliefs and actions that rich religious leaders and their wealthy supporters trumped up charges against him that made it legal for politicians to have him crucified.
But pure socialism doesn't work because it negates the human drive to acquire goods as needed to improve the life of oneself and dependents. Northeastern America thrived in large part because the Pilgrims who settled there made it legal for the head of each household to practice capitalism by owning property and prospering from their own hard work and frugality.
Protestant Work Ethic
Protestant Work Ethic facilitated industrialization and general prosperity. This was an earth-changing shift from the autocratic political and religious practice of the day and how most nations are still governed today.
In Southern Colonies well-connected wealthy immigrants were granted royal charters to rule. As a result they used slaves to become rich.
Slave - Master Culture
Worst of all the royal belief that only the elite few deserve prosperity eventually caused this nation's bloodiest civil war and to this day still slows economic development of former slave-holding states.
The same pattern still exists in South and Central America. Colonies settled under the supervision of old world royalty and religious leaders, who considered it acceptable for a tiny minority of chosen people to own slaves have still not prospered.
The legacy of slavery still persists hundreds of years after it was demonstrated to be so destructive. It takes a strong prosperous middle class for a nation to prosper.
On the other hand even modern day North Americans can be destructively selfish and greedy. Many currently elected political leaders and business executives have distorted the protestant work ethic in ways that favor themselves.
America has become a "plutocracy" with 16,000 families at the very top doing quite well while most middle-class Americans find it increasingly difficult to make it economically unless at least two family members work full-time. This is recent development.
America used to be home to a large well-off middle class who owned homes and whose children lived as well or better than they had. Today only 40% of all America earn enough income to be considered middle-class. The well-to-do versus working class income gap among Americans is wider than at any time in recent history and this is having a negative impact on our health, lifespan and basic values like trust.
Income inequality is harmful to all Americans. More than 200 studies prove that societies in which incomes are more equally distributed are healthier and happier than societies with widespread income inequality.
Scholars like Jared Diamond write very descriptively about how excessive use of natural resources, and failure of the societal elite to share with middle class citizens always eventually leads to societal collapse. The official position of the political party that represents the wealthy elite now denies responsibility for protecting the air, water and climate we all depend on to survive. Their justification for this denial is that caring for the environment reduces the amount of money currently being funneled into their bank accounts.
In her book "Empire" Amy Chau documented the historical fact that whenever a society makes it impossible for talented people to rise socio-economically, and ignores superior foreign ideas and immigrants, it becomes weak and declines. The national reaction to the 911 attack on this nation fostered a xenophobic reaction that has reduced the ability of highly educated entrepreneurs, who have been responsible for a majority of high-tech startups, to immigrate to The United States of America.
The 2016 household income of the Canadian middle-class household (5th Percentile) is more than that of the average American household.
In fact there has been a decline in the median American family income and this nation has more citizens in prison than any other nation on earth.
In the early eighties influential business leaders like Jack Welch actualized their belief that patriotism was a fools' game and that corporate executives only owe allegiance to shareholders. In doing so Jack Welch destroyed General Electric which was one of this nation's most successful and largest corporations. Many Americans consider such super wealthy Americans to be worthy role models. Prestigious business schools popularized the ideal that the only responsibility of executives was to maximize share-holder, and their own, profit.
Eliminating jobs and pension plans and moving corporate headquarters to other nations as a way to avoid paying corporate income tax is now considered "good business." American workers have been deprived of the fruits of their labor. Many American business leaders no longer act in accordance with this nation's protestant work ethic heritage.
While the Ten Commandments still hang on the wall behind Supreme Court Judges, and our money still displays "In God We Trust," most leaders apparently no longer live by those beliefs. Some of these men and a few women are doing their best to end Christian support for our most vulnerable citizens - opposite of what Jesus taught. What is most interesting is that some of the men who consider themselves Christian use their warped sense of Christian doctrine to justify their mean-spirited actions.
Until recently upward social mobility was considered the heart of the American Dream. Today few of the wealthiest Americans were raised poor or middle class: Most were born to wealthy parents. According to The Business Insider 83 percent of all U.S. stocks are in the hands of 1 percent of the people: The top 1% only pay the 20 percent capital gains tax on income earned this way. Since the late-1970s, the richest Americans, who make their income from capital gains, have been getting wealthier and wealthier. Two-thirds of American children born to poor parents will remain that way their entire life.
A major reason for the decline of this nation is that political campaigns have become so expensive elected politicians must devote a large part of each day asking wealthy supporters for money. In Perfectly Legal David Cay Johnston explains that since it is wealthy people who have money to donate they have had the ability to dictate rewriting of the tax code to support tax breaks, loopholes, bailouts and deregulation that benefit them. After tax incomes of the very rich have skyrocketed while after-tax income for the bottom 90 percent have plummeted at an increasing rate ever since 1980.
Middle class Americans, most who earn a living from jobs where they work for wages, have gotten poorer and poorer. According to the same source 61% of all Americans now "always or usually" live paycheck to paycheck. In part this is because they pay a 12.4% payroll tax plus an additional 15% to 25% income tax while the super wealthy only pay the 20% "Capital Gains" tax.
This is because most wealthy American's income comes from the buying of stock and property at a lower price than it is later sold for and the profit thereby earned is then taxed at the lower Capital Gains rate; an income earning opportunity unavailable to anyone but the super wealthy.
It has been decades since the economic policies of this nation mirrored Christian principles or the protestant work ethic. America has become a plutocracy like the European nations from which most ancestors fled.
I want religious leaders who consistently act with kindness, only collect property and wealth as needed to take care of the needy and campaign for peace no matter how the majority of their parishioners feel. Mean spirited religious leaders who mistreat women and children, and endorse candidates who do, are beneath contempt.
I want political leaders who realize we need to make it possible for business to generate wealth enough for workers to buy the essentials of a middle-class life, to benefit from their hard work and frugality and to take care of those of us in need. Mother Nature doesn't care if our species survives. We all live on the same planet and irresponsible actions impact the lives of everyone.
I want corporate leaders who realize this nation prospered because of the protestant work ethic and that everyone benefits when everyone benefits from their honest hard work and frugality. In my opinion corporate leaders, like Jack Welch, who make it impossible for American workers to prosper, steal pensions and destroy their ability to earn a living by shipping employment opportunities and ill-gotten wealth overseas to avoid paying a fair share of what it costs to maintain this nation, are traitors.
Ours is an exceptional nation. Only a small percentage of our land is fertile; a lot is uninhabitable. It was because of the unique convergence of this being a secular nation whose leaders embraced the Protestant work ethic that The United States of America became the beacon of light that attracts ambitious persons from around the world.
My hope is our children and grandchildren
will be as able to engage in the pursuit of happiness