Cyruslly: Donald Trump and Cyrus the Great

Apparently, in their own peculiar numerology, some evangelicals have decided that Donald Trump—the 45th president—enjoys cosmic parallel with Cyrus the Great, who is mentioned in Isaiah 45. Cyrus is the Persian emperor who returned the Israelites from Babylonian exile and allowed them to start rebuilding the Temple of Jerusalem. Israel’s own Benjamin Netanyahu drew the parallel after Trump moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And since then, the comparison has picked up so much momentum that, last October, Christianity Today published “Is Trump Our Cyrus? The Old Testament Case for Yes and No.”

Honestly, I don’t know what scares me more: The hubris that makes evangelicals yearn so much to place themselves in the center of cosmic events, or the fact that they misunderstand their own history. I don’t know much about Cyrus the Great, except that, for ending the Babylonian exile, Isaiah refers to him as a messiah (or anointed one). Cyrus commands great respect from a variety of peoples (including Iran, who adopted Cyrus’s clay cylinders as one of their symbols). He has a reputation for being savvy in battle, where among other feats, he conquered Babylon. He is best known for deftly managing the largest empire in history, as it stretched from Asia Minor to India. And he eventually managed a collection of quasi-independent states, where he exercised tremendous religious tolerance. Oh. And he released a lot of people from captivity. The Babylonians—the very people he conquered—called him The Liberator.

So… I’m squinting here, and I still don’t see a lot of Trump. Let’s start with “Military hero.” Well, with Mr. T we’ve got bone spurs, and secret leaking, and suggestions to invade Venezuela. 

How about “respect from many peoples, including Iran?” Well, if we look past the trade wars, and the insults to NATO, and the Baby Blimp, we can focus on last July, when Tehran threatened Trump with the Mother of All Wars. And Trump got out his ALL CAPS tweeter to brandish consequences “few in history have ever seen.”

Right. So, let’s look at “deftly managing a vast empire.” You’re kidding. Moving on…

Next, we have “tremendous religious tolerance.” Oh boy. I bet the refugees from the banned Muslim countries don’t think so. I bet Jewish people take exception to Trump’s refusal to to condemn the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. In fact, some of them reject him so much that they requested he not travel to the Pittsburgh synagogue after it suffered an attack—a request, by the way, that Trump ignored.

So finally, that leaves us with “he released a lot of people from captivity.” Dear dear. Since the start of the child detainments, two of them have died in ICE captivity. In total, 22 immigrants have died in detention during the past 2 years. And then there’s the flip side, where in 2018, Trump deported 98 Mauritanians (compared to 12 deportations, a year ago), where these immigrants will almost certainly return to modern-day slavery.

And… that’s what I’ve got. I mean, what am I missing? Trump is Cyrus because Trump moved the embassy to Jerusalem? That’s it? That and the number 45?

Oh, wait. This took some digging, and the evangelicals will have to bend a little, because it’s from the Quran. But according to this book, Cyrus the Great finds embodiment in somebody named Dhul-Qarnayn. And this guy’s claim to fame is that he… builds a wall.

There. It all makes sense.

EDIT: After some thinking, I’ve decided that maybe the evangelicals pair Trump with Cyrus, because Cyrus was a pagan who nonetheless became God’s instrument when he restored the Jews from their exile. The Old Testament is lovely in how it’s full of gentiles who do godly things. I mean, there’s the sailors who throw Jonah overboard; there’s Moses’ pop-in-law, Jethro. But the exception is that these guys did God’s will out of decency, or at least outright piety. I don’t see that with Trump—I don’t see it at all. I mean, I suppose that the evangelicals hope that Trump will have a Damascus moment, in the manner of its namesake, Paul. But let’s be honest. Trump probably thinks “epiphany” is the name of a lady he once rented.

The Law is Death

If in her desperation, a foreigner breaks a rule of residency whose infraction typically results in a misdemeanor, I don’t see how anyone has the right to punish her by abandoning her to atrocity. I don’t understand this. I don’t think I’m equipped to understand it. And when I consider those who are so able, I’m left thinking that if legality is the true cornerstone of their morality, then they must be simpletons, or henchmen, or devils.

(Originally posted June 22, 2018)

The Surgeon General Warned Us

It’s a sad (and thoroughly-perforated) troll who wants to “preach” on a gay-rights website, but doesn’t proofread his comment, and then ends up typing that sodium is an abomination.

File under: You Haven’t Read Anything Carefully, Have You?; or Times When Autocorrect Really Corrects; or So That Was the Thing with the Pillar of Salt. 

(Originally posted February 14, 2018)

Over Rules

In my dealings with everyone from students, to acquaintances, to door-to-door political campaigners, I’ve decided that if I have an enemy type, it is the rule follower. Now, the longer you’ve known me, the more you’re probably laughing—because Ms. Meggie has been known to color within the lines. And I still do. When rules are sane, they increase social sanity. I once had a dream that I got a $55,000 ticket for going 55 mph in a parking garage. And even after I woke up, I decided that this was a good rule. But since I’ve grown a little, I’ve decided that following a rule doesn’t make a person good. I mean, we know that, right? The diabolical contract is all about causing great evil within the bounds of the rules. Or perhaps in ways more banal, the rule of law is where the weasels live. We get that. It’s something that occurs to us when we put away the rest of what Paul would call childish things. But the trouble is that I think about half this country doesn’t get it. In my years teaching, I’ve come across students who believe that because they followed all the rules of an assignment, they should get an A. In my years as a voter, I’ve found neighbors who believe that if everyone does what the country asks, nobody will be poor. Rules become a kind of economy—a transaction where somebody believes that if they put in this much discipline, or that much obedience, they’ll receive what a popular TV show just called moral dessert. You get to go to the head of the class. You get to go to the head of the economy. And if you somehow don’t get there, the onus is on somebody, somewhere who did not honor the contract. In other words, someone is not being *fair*. 

There are at least two problems here: First, as that TV show points out, moral dessert makes rule following an exercise in self-gratification. You follow the rule for the same reason that the lab rat pushes the lever: You get a cookie. You get the A. You get eternal life. Second, the rule-follower’s fetishization of fairness pushes everything from ethics, to human capability, to human worth into a sort of vending machine. Everybody knows what they’re supposed to do, and not a jot more. Everybody receives the cookie or not, regardless of anything else. Never mind that not everybody is within the same reach of the vending machine, or that somebody might have given half their quarters to someone else who had nothing for the vending machine, because that someone had to go down the hall and do their laundry. Never mind that closing existence into a system of lawful fairness puts a boundary around the desire to go beyond fairness. There is no reward for that. Or perhaps more damning, there is excessive award—extra credit—for helping someone who, for reasons that must be their fault, cannot achieve enough transactions to thrive on their own*. When you help the unexceptional struggler, you are a saint for feeding him. You are a saint for aiding a refugee from a shithole country. Because—according to your system of lawful fairness—you have already done what’s required of you. As a human, you’ve lived up to the contract. And your god? Well, I gotta tell you: If he really did set up this system, the chances are good that he isn’t around anymore. He set up the vending machine; it drops its goodies to those who deserve it. He’s got you on an automatic feeder. You aren’t his children. You don’t behave like a family of children. At best you’re his workers. And more likely, you’re just an experiment. 

It’s time to grow up. We have the capability of generosity. We have the breadth for imagination and empathy. We have the birthright not just to live life but to uphold it. You—and everything around you—are so much bigger. You—and everything around you—receive so much more attention. And that should scare you at least as much as your worries about not collecting enough tokens to buy the brownies, and their implicit points, to keep you out of hell.

*(Mind you, that when you failed up near the top of my post, the problem was with the system—and not you. You are the exception. Fairness thinking contradicts itself, in favor of the self.)

(Originally posted February 9, 2017)

Child Sacrifice

Well, the tax scam just became law, and I’m left thinking of the Canaanite god, Moloch. This creature was shaped like a man with bull’s horns, and it demanded child sacrifice. To curry his favor, his followers ritually burned their children to death. They beat drums to drown out their screams. Yeah, happy holidays to you.

As far as we can tell, this cult was real; the Moloch sacrifices persist in ancient literature, and some scholars tie him to Cronus. (Honestly, I wonder if there’s some attachment to the minotaur, on account of the bull head, child-killing thing.) At any rate, it happens that the Bible is extremely harsh on the Moloch cult. If you sacrificed your kid to Moloch, you were supposed to die. The Ammonites were a neighboring tribe that worshipped an incarnation of Moloch, and because of this—and maybe some other things—God basically commanded a genocide against these guys. (Disquieting, yes. But actually, the massacre doesn’t really happen, because despite all the biblical tales of conquest, the Ammonites keep coming back chapter after chapter. And this makes me think the genocide command was maybe a figurative description of God’s hatred, in part, of child sacrifice. ie. I never want you kill your children for me; no really, wipe out that practice entirely.) So.

Why am I saying this? Trump’s tax law. It is true that under this law, the tax credit for each child is doubled. Also, if you want to send your kid to a private—say, Christian—school, or even a home school, you’ll get subsidies for that. But by capping state and local tax deductions at $10,000 per household, there is a very real possibility that local taxes that protect public schools will become horridly unpopular. (Mostly because the deduction cap will make them cost more.) In addition to addling K-12, this unpopularity will likely reach into the public university system where, to compensate, tuition will probably rise. And mind you, this deduction cap affects government-funded initiatives across the board. So if your high school is in trouble, so is, say, your state-run home for disabled adults, to speak nothing of free health clinics. (Hmm…) Now in addition to all this, let’s consider the killing of the health-insurance mandate, which experts say will cause premium rates to soar. Furthermore, the CBO estimates that thanks to this plan, 13 million people will go without health insurance. And as a cherry on top of all that, the cuts will raise our deficit by $1.5 trillion. How does the GOP plan to tackle some of this deficit? Here’s Paul Ryan, earlier in December: “We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit … Frankly, it’s the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt, so we spend more time on the health care entitlements — because that’s really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking.” Health care entitlements. For… CEOs maybe? Well, business just enjoyed the largest tax cut in history. And the super rich now have a 35 percent tax rate instead of 39.6. So maybe not. So are the entitled those who can’t afford insurance? Like maybe single, working mothers? Or those on a fixed income? Or maybe our children, who, in any event, will have to bear the bloated deficit? Oh yeah. The children. That’s where we started. Congress has already shown their hand here, by ignoring the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which starts to run out of money on Jan. 21. Twenty-five states will lose CHIP funding by then, resulting in a healthcare lapse for 1.9 million kids. For those of us keeping score, both parts of Congress will be in session on January 3-5, 8-11, 16-19, and 29-31. So they have eleven days to stop the lapse from happening. If Congress does not renew CHIP by the time all the money runs out, one in eight children will go without health insurance.

I’ve written such a long post that comparatively few people will read, because 1) I’m procrastinating on the last part of my book, 2) because I’m trying to get my head around the tax bamboozle, and 3) because I’m looking for ways to talk to our countrymen who have shut out so much reality in the name of fake news. Scripture has more authority for them than the press, or the universities, or really the public in general. (This might be another reason why they’re taking from the public schools to run their own.) So, with some fear and trembling, I suggest we use scripture too. In fact, I think all of us liberals should strap on the Bible, and become experts at it, and overcome our very-well justified reluctance to use scripture as a tool for argument. Our opponents might listen to us then. And if we don’t start listening to one another, my God we are looking at a civil war. So to the religious Republicans, I say this: If one of them sacrifices our children for his prosperity, then God will turn “against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all that go a whoring after him, to commit whoredom with Molech, from among their people*.” They’ll have committed a crime that should be blotted from the earth. It’s all in the reading. According to their own scriptures, the Republican Christians have used this tax plan to resort to demonism.

*You could say, “Hang on. That whore bit sounds as if what God is really peeved about is the idolatry.” And there’s something to that, the way that homosexuality was seen as a crime of idolatry. But God hates child sacrifice. See that little business with Isaac. See Micah. You can probably see other scripture too. My Bible well goes only so deep.

(Originally published December 22, 2017)

Arafel

This year, especially, I would like to embrace a traditional Christmas. I don’t mean a Downton fa-lalling with Mrs. Patmore’s pudding (although that would be lovely too.) I mean an olde Christmas. An advent. We’ve got a good one at our church; if you’re the churchy type, I hope you do too. I love the darkness, and the bass organ, and a candle—sort of a bookend for Tenebrae. I love a smattering of old languages. I love the craziest scriptures. I love stuff that’s isn’t easy to grasp, because, you know? Reality isn’t easy to grasp. I love it when the mystery and the grandeur of the service is right up there with, say, astrophysics. I don’t mean stuff that’s hard to follow in the bulletin. But I mean a liturgy that goes beyond Happy Birthday, Jesus. The religious right likes to make things simple: Jesus or hell. But the other church—the attractive church—is the religion of quanta. At its best, it acknowledges the crash in the darkness. It emulates the confounded sages who use all their courage and their brains and their camels to follow a star. It doesn’t try to appeal by being new, because what lasts is the old—the ald—which is a word that shares a root with the Latin alere, which means “to nourish.” I don’t favor particularly the high church; that’s not what I’m aiming at. A peasant’s encounter with an angel among his sheep is about as low as it gets. But I love how, at Christmas especially, it’s easy to imagine the Church, through time, as a cathedral. It is immense, and majestic, and venerable. And I think we build a sense of grandeur and continuity when we stand in the old rooms for a while. We need it double this year. We need the mystery of something else coming. We need a chant that, for ages, has bid all mortal flesh keep silent. We, ourselves, need to keep silent, while we sit with all the millennia who also wait.

(Originally posted December 21, 2017)

Death and Resurrection

In the past year, Republican Christianity gained both its victory and its demise. It gained power across the government. And with that power, it did the following: It instituted bans against Muslims; it made inroads against gay rights; it started its attempt to gut women’s health. It turned away the stranger; it took medicine from the sick; it rebuffed those ravaged by natural disasters; it increased the debt of the poor; it opened more ways to degrade the earth; it ignored the cries of criminals’ victims; it threatened to destabilize the world by giving primacy to its own sacred site; and it sacrificed its children and children’s children for the sake of current wealth. You can see how the death creeps in. If there was ever anything Christian in Republicanism, their support of Trump has killed it. And those Christian Republicans who do retain a shred of conscience find they can ease it only by saying that the truth tellers of the world—the media, and the intelligence teams, and the scientists, and the victims themselves—are all lying. Christian Republicanism is dead. 

Now I, for one, do mourn it, because however disagreeable its prejudices were to me, it at least tried, at one time, to take a stand against deceit, and sex crimes, and even some injury to the earth. All that’s gone now. Insofar as they support this administration, the most vocal—the most pious—Christians in this country have lost all credibility to anyone except to themselves. Whatever Christianity they think they stand for now serves to drive others from Christianity itself. Their allegiance to Trump has been their unmasking and their undoing. And their City on a Hill has become the unease of the world.

So now the question is where Christianity—I mean, true Christianity—might speak in their absence. If it doesn’t find a way to do that–and to speak so that it can be heard–then it will least wane, if not die too. For the most part, liberal Christians have been too timid. For the past half century, too many of us have contented ourselves with being the so-very-invisible church. But seeing that Christianity is about rejection, remnants, and resurrection, I think, even now, it could find its voice again. I hope it does. I pray. And if it does, I suspect that it will speak first from those the powerful have abandoned, and second from those who have endeavored to suffer alongside them. And from the compassion of these who have seen suffering, who knows? Christianity may return to its true self.

(Originally posted December 6, 2017)