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Archive for March, 2014

Stand-Your-Ground-LawIn my home state of South Carolina, there has been a movement to repeal the “stand your ground” legislation which gives cover for violence and provides legal justification for people to escalate situations where their lives are not truly endangered. Sadly, this law is on the books in one of the most “Christian” states in the nation. However, it completely stands against Christian principles and is an affront to human rights and basic justice.

We have been taught and indoctrinated in this nation about the importance of protecting ourselves and the inherent righteousness of self-defense and protection of our property. The Christian community has largely lapped this up and has found little problems with U.S. military actions, gun ownership for protection, and using violence to protect themselves (even if there are usually other options available). It is gotten to such an extreme point that many people made a celebrity out of George Zimmerman after he “stood his ground” against Travon Martin.

What does Jesus have to say about it? Well, he first told his followers that the peacemakers would be the ones to be blessed. He told them that if they were struck on one cheek, they should turn the other. When Peter used a sword to cut off the ear of a guard that had come to arrest Jesus, Jesus not only healed the man, but he warned Peter that those who live by the sword will die by the sword.

Those who claim to be followers of Christ cannot ascribe to the ethics of “stand your ground.” Jesus taught us another way. When he was arrested and sentenced to death, he did not lash out in violence. The whole message of the Gospel is undermined once an eye for an eye becomes the standard. Stand your ground is not only bad social and political policy, it is an affront to the values of the Kingdom of God.

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360_women_charity_0210Every once in a while we hear a heartwarming story about a billionaire who gave away a large sum of personal income to help some charitable organization. While this certainly an act which should be applauded and encouraged, we should never accept this as the ideal in society. A sign of a healthy society is not one in which there is massive philanthropic giving every year. A truly healthy society is one where philanthropy becomes increasingly unneeded as justice takes the place of sporadic and often misdirected charity.

Increases in philanthropy can often signal that the society is in a very sick position. It usually accompanies a society of great inequality where an elite class can throw scraps of their fortunes at philanthropic causes (some of which should hardly qualify as charitable or tax exempt). Charity makes the giver feel good. Justice gives the average person a sense of dignity. Charity allows the giver go have a sense of superiority. Justice creates an even playing field where everyone gets to make choices about their society.

As Martin Luther King once famously stated, “On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

Let’s honor those who do give of their incomes, but let’s do so with an uneasiness that comes with us facing the question of why there is such need in the first place. Why have we created such an unequal society? Are those who are giving of their wealth helping to create the poverty in the first place? These are the questions we need to ask if we want to move beyond mere charity to a society of health, justice, and peace.

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0701_010501In the late 19th Century, the U.S. was going through an Era which Mark Twain famously termed the “Gilded Age”. It was an age where government and business acted as one against the rights of the workers and consumers. It was an age of overwhelming corruption where monopolies and trusts controlled the Congress and government regulation was almost non-existent.

However, there became a strong movement against this beginning with the Populist and Labor Movements and later on taking root in the Progressive Movement. People realized that the corrupt system where a few profited while the majority suffered could simply not continue. There needed to be major reforms: worker’s rights, an end to child labor, consumer protections, industrial regulations, and destruction of harmful monopolies.

Theodore Roosevelt, Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson are considered the three progressive presidents. However, the real source of change came from the grassroots movements which were willing to face enormous odds and stand up to a system that was so deeply corrupt that it seemed impossible to change. Because those individuals did stand up for the rights of the common people, some of the worst excesses of the Capitalist system were tamed. The fact that we have a limit on our work week, some type of government oversight of our food and medicine, and basic safety standards is due largely to the Progressive Era.

The problem is that we have forgotten about the progressive reforms which were made. We have taken them for granted. We are slowly drifting back into another Gilded Age where the rights of the workers and consumers are stripped, and a powerful oligarchy (just think of the Koch brothers) is taking control of the nation. Amazingly, there are many in the middle and working class which are indifferent and even applauding of these changes. There is no memory of what life was like before some people had the courage to taken on the corporatized system of 19th Century America. However, if we do not choose to look back we should not be surprised if we find ourselves losing all the gains that our ancestors worked so hard to claim.

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msnbc_hln_fnc_cnnThis past week, a news anchor for the Russian owned television station, RT News, heroically resigned on air after stating that she would not whitewash the stories on Ukraine to defend Putin and his actions. The video went viral, and many in the U.S., including the U.S. media, took this as a sign of the biased reporting which RT News produces.

There is no doubt that RT News tells a particularly narrative, one that is very favorable to the Russian ideas and cause. It is easy for those in the United States to identify this as propaganda. However, what is more difficult for many to see is the biased narrative that almost all major U.S. media, both on the “right” and “left”, have given to the story on Ukraine and give to all U.S. foreign policy.

What would happen if the same situation which transpired at RT News occurred on Fox News or CNN? What would happen if an anchor got on and said that the people of Crimea deserve to have a referendum and join Russia? What would happen if an anchor stated that Russia was justified in going into Crimea to restore the will of the people after an unconstitutional coup? How long would it be before the anchor was dismissed?

We have this idea in the U.S. that we have an open and free media. The reality is that most major media sources are controlled by a few powerful corporations who have special interests they want to see fulfilled. They also usually have corrupt ties with the U.S. government which causes over nationalistic narratives to always win out. Instead of the press holding the government accountable as Jefferson hoped for, the press has largely become a mouthpiece for the U.S. government, particularly on foreign policy issues.

We should cheer the anchor at RT sticking it to Putin; however, we should not be blinded to the propaganda in our own system. The reality is that on most issues with U.S. foreign policy (whether drones, Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, etc.)  RT News is probably more accurate than Fox, CNN, or MSNBC since they do not have answer to powerful American corporations. In this very complicated situation with Ukraine, let’s be aware of the propaganda that the Russians are telling their people, but let’s also be aware of the biased narrative that we are receiving at the same time.

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Ukraine_MillI was in high school when the war in Iraq was beginning. I was not overly concerned or involved in politics during that time; however, I do remember the media being the cheerleaders for the United States government as it went to overthrow the Iraqi government. They created a narrative that the majority of the country simply lapped up. Unfortunately, it seems the media now in the U.S. is creating a similar narrative, not only painting Russia as wrong in their actions, but portraying them as a crazy, sadistic enemy.

First of all, there is almost a complete blind acceptance of the legitimacy of the new Ukrainian government, even though they just had a coup where they overthrew a democratically elected leader, through at least partially violent and radical means. This of course does not mean that the new Ukrainian government are all radical nationalists like the Russians might want to portray; however, to paint the new Ukrainian government as simply a passive victim is quite an oversimplification of the issue.

On the other hand, Russia and Putin are portrayed as nothing but violent aggressors against Ukraine. There is no thought that maybe a large portion of Ukraine did not agree with the coup and wants to have closer ties with the Russians. There is no real discussion if the people of Crimea should be able to have a referendum to break away from Ukraine. If it was justified for Ukraine to have a coup in the name of the democratic will of the people, why is not acceptable for Crimea to break away from Ukraine if that is also the will of the people? It does not mean that Putin is doing this out of pure, humanitarian motives. I think few people with even an ounce of objectivity would believe that. However, the issue is more complicated than the U.S. media wants to make it out to be.

Now, one would expect this type of over the top, nationalistic propaganda from outlets such as Fox News or the Drudge Report, but even more “liberal” outlets like the Huffington Post seem to be pushing the same exact line. We laugh at the extreme bias in the Russian network, RT News, while not realizing the massive bias that exists in our own media-and we are drinking it up without much thought.

The desire to create heroes and villains is natural and sometimes serves a very useful social purpose. However, when it completely distorts reality and leads us into a very precarious international situation, we should at least realize that we are being told a very specific narrative. It is a narrative that fits our nation’s agenda, but that does not necessarily mean it lines up with the true situation.

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imagesEthnic Russians are protesting in the streets of Moscow and Eastern Ukraine while in the capital of Ukraine, Kiev, there are large demonstrations against not only the Russian government, but against the use of the Russian language and culture in Ukraine. In fact, Russian has been officially removed as the official second language of Ukraine even though a large portion of the population speaks Russian as their first language. There is great anger and pride on both sides of the issue, and the ideology that is fueling the flames of hatred is nationalism.

There seems to be few other ideologies that have left such a deadly trail in the 21st Century as nationalism-the love and pride in one’s nations at the expense of peace and justice for other nations and people. Nationalism was ultimately the cause of both World War I and World War II. It also helped deepen the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. Few other ideologies can allow normally sane people to commit horrific atrocities in the name of protecting and standing for their country.

Of course, in the United States we are not exempt from this danger. As the conflict begins to grow in Ukraine, there are voices in the United States calling for us to wage a war against Russia in order to show the U.S. power and international influence. There is more fear of the United States looking weak in the conflict than of creating a lasting peace and a more just society. We start to see people of other nations as a faceless mass that becomes an enemy rather than individuals who share our common hopes, fears, and dreams.

The true love of one’s nation is to care for the people who are in that nation and desire their peace and good. Waving a flag and calling for war is a cheap love for one’s nation. It is shallow and easy. A true love for one’s nation cares less about singing national anthems and “protecting the pride” of the nation as it does about making sure that all the citizens of the nation have an opportunity to live a good and peaceful life, one free of conflict and war.

Nationalism says I am a citizen of one nation, and I will stand for that nation no matter what it does, good or evil. A healthy love for one’s nation does not simply approve of what the nation does. It calls out the injustice and evil that is in the system. It cares for the people of one’s nation, but ultimately it has the realization that we are all citizens of the world, and all humanity are our neighbors.

Jesus told his followers that the peacemakers will be blessed. Let’s pray for peace in Ukraine-that the forces of nationalism in Ukraine and Russia will surrender to the radical idea of peace. Let us throw off our own nationalism which so easily blinds us.  Let’s stop worrying so much about waving our flags and singing our anthems. Instead, let’s create a better nation for those around us, particularly the neediest. After all, that is the true love for one’s nation.

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