Has a “supreme power” ever intervened in history to liberate the supremely powerless?

Jonathan Sachs in his new book, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence, says that the single God of Abraham did just that, and as much as he may be right about the coming of a single God to the Jews in the time of Abraham, he is not right that this God’s coming, assuming it did happen, meant the liberation of the powerless.

In fact we would ask have the powerless ever been liberated? From my minimal knowledge of man’s history I would say no, with the possible exception in modern times, in particular our own time, with the advent of science. For science, and its first born, technology, much more than any single God, has liberated, and continues to liberate, hundreds of millions of the powerless. For science by its gift to us of knowledge of our world and a resulting material plenty has permitted large numbers of us to multiply, grow, and prosper.

Sachs attributes to the coming Abrahamic monotheism the traits that most of all make us human, traits or beliefs such as, —all lives are sacred, —murder is not only a crime but a sin, —we are or will be judged by the way we treat our weakest and most vulnerable members, —and we are, or ought to be joined to one another by a covenantal bond of righteousness and justice, mercy and compassion, forgiveness and love. In other words the very best of our human qualities, our humanity if you will, are not of our own making but come to us from the acceptance into our lives of the God of Abraham.

And here is Sach’s description of the coming of the single God of Abraham: “Though in its early books the Hebrew Bible commanded war, within centuries its prophets, Isaiah and Micah, became the first voices to speak of peace as an ideal. A day would come, they said, when the peoples of the earth would turn their swords into ploughshares, their spears into pruning hooks, and wage war no more…. Abrahamic monotheism entered the world as a rejection of imperialism and the use of force to make some men masters and others slaves. Abraham himself, the man revered by 2.4 billion Christians, 1.6 billion Muslims and 13 million Jews, ruled no empire, commanded no army, conquered no territory, performed no miracles and delivered no prophecies.”

And he continues, “though Abraham may have lived differently from his neighbour, he fought for them and prayed for them in some of the most audacious language ever uttered by a human to God – ‘Shall the Judge of all the earth not do justice?’ (Gen. 18: 25) He sought to be true to his faith and a blessing to others regardless of their faith. That idea, ignored for many of the intervening centuries, remains the simplest definition of the Abrahamic faith. It is not our task to conquer or convert the world or enforce uniformity of belief. It is our task to be a blessing to the world.”

But this is a single moment in time, the coming of the single God of Abraham. Whether of not it was true that monotheism meant huge changes in how we lived with, how we treated our fellows, whether it did mean a huge growth in our humanity, it was still only a single moment.

And subsequent history has shown over and over again that man was not changed in any lasting or permanent way by the coming of Abraham’s God. Not even are the Jewish inhabitants of present day Israel, the direct descendants of Abraham, changed, who while perhaps true to their own faith, certainly do not try to be “a blessing to others regardless of their faith.” (And in that sense the present day rulers of Israel are not true to their own faith.)

Now the interesting question for me is from whence comes the new man of Abraham’s God, the man who would now judge society by the way it treats its weakest and most vulnerable members? Because, in as much as there is historical evidence in support of my own conclusion, the best of men have always believed this. For the idea is there and well established that both individuals and societies, not to mention nations and empires, should be judged by the way they treat their weakest and most vulnerable members.

How do I know this? Because this characteristic is an inherent virtue, something within me, not something that I was, or as Plato tells us, could have been taught. And in fact, in many of us it may or may not even be there. For as any reading of history will tell us it’s only apparent, visible in some of us, not all of us. And when we speak of progress it’s most of all this that we mean, that more of us now believe just how important it is that we treat the weakest and most vulnerable members much as we treat our own children, brothers, and loved ones. That we not profit from their powerlessness.

Apparently  (for I haven’t yet read the whole book), apparently Sachs and all those on the side of religion would attribute the very best that is within us, our virtues (our courage, compassion, and all the rest) to an external source, to, for example, the Abrahamic monotheism of Jonathan Sachs. But this attribution is without proof, purely arbitrary.

Indeed, the Old Testament itself recounts innumerable atrocities and horrors brought about by just one God. And in regard to our humanity (let alone for now our lack of humanity), there are any number of more convincing explanations. One might be global warming, bringing abundance, or enough food for everyone. Another might be global cooling, the next ice age long awaited, bringing the need for us to work together, to join with one another by “a covenantal bond of righteousness and justice, mercy and compassion, forgiveness and love,” if we would survive.


Man’s, woman’s story is that of people moving in order to improve the conditions of their lives, let alone their chances of survival.

America’s story

is most of all that of people from other countries, first from England, then Germany, and now Mexico, China, and India, all moving here to create better lives for themselves.
20europe migrants

Europe’s story is no different. The people originally came to Europe from Africa and are still coming in particular to France and England from their former African and Asian colonies.

ellis Island immigrants

If the whole earth is now for the most part inhabited it’s because for most if, not all of the past 50,000 years men and women have been free to move about as they liked and saw fit.


And now? In this country, the country par excellence of immigrants, and of migrants, of all those who have sought out greater life chances for their families far from their family homes what is happening? Well believe it or not there are those in the country, not only Republicans, who would bring to a halt the free movement of peoples.16hungary-web-master675 And they would do so for selfish reasons, believing wrongly that the newcomers from Syria and Irak, from Mexico and El Salvador, would, while in most cases by hard work improving their own lot, take from those who are already here, that is the immigrants of an earlier generation. There are those who would do whatever it takes to keep the newest arrivals to our shores from staying.

Mexico TV Borderland
FILE – In this April 29, 2013 file photo, migrants ride on top of a northern bound train toward the US-Mexico border in Union Hidalgo in Oaxaca, Mexico. Al Jazeera America will air a series titled “Borderland” which takes average Americans with strong opinions about illegal immigration through the same deadly journey that is taken by people trying to reach the U.S. The series premieres on April 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo, File)

When you read almost daily the stories of the horrendous, inhumane conditions of those moving once again from the Middle East and Africa (again because the first Europeans came from Africa traveling through the Middle East some tens of thousands of years ago) doesn’t it make you wonder what is happening to the people already here? Do they have no sense of history, of the constant movement of peoples who by seeking out better living conditions for themselves have always made living conditions better for those already here?






A great religion, or a well of terror

We don’t know. Or at least more and more of us are no longer sure. First there was George Bush, following 9/11, who was super careful by his choice of words not to turn the country against the Muslim religion, against Islam. Now there is Barack Obama who is also super careful not to include the Muslims and Islam within his blanket condemnation of ISIS.

Although most of us would probably agree with Presidents 43 and 44 being super careful and not targeting one of the world’s great religions, yet we have a growing suspicion that the words of the two Presidents go too far in the direction of political correctness, and that they don’t speak enough about the Islam-ISIS connection, plain enough for all of us to see.

Now it is the Donald, for the most part a braggart, a demagogue, at best a popularizer and at worst the founder of a new no nothing party who has brought our suspicion into the open by bluntly calling out Islam and Muslims, faulting them for the terror, and even going so far as to recommend that Muslims not be admitted to our country.

So where is, if not the truth, right opinion in all this? Is the Donald right? Should we listen to him? Again most of us would say no, and most of us are probably expecting candidate Trump to fall out of favor with the voting public, in particular with the Republicans who now in their voting majority may very well favor him. And that will probably happen.

For a similar position to mine on the dilemma confronting Muslims read Ross Douthat in the Times of December 13, The Islamic Dilemma.

But there is something else, something not often said, not often talked about. ISIS and Islam are in fact connected, root and branch. Muslims in their vast majority would probably prefer this not to be so. But ISIS flaunts its connection to Islam, and sees itself as the true successor to Muhammad by its efforts to reestablish the Caliphate in today’s Middle East. And throughout what often seems a “reign of terror” led by Muslim fanatics we hear little or nothing substantial from the Muslims themselves.

ISIS may even recognize its tactics of terror, responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people, as being no different from the Muslim sword wielders who in the 7th. and 8th. centuries of the modern era forced their religion upon all other peoples in their path to world domination.

The “something else” is this (and this is what explains the many admirers of Donald Trump), that the some two billion or so Muslims of the world are not doing enough to wipe out, root and branch, an evil, a cancer, the terrorism that ISIS has made such a huge and ugly version of what ought to have been a beautiful religion of cooperation and peace among peoples.







How do we defend ourselves?

Niall Ferguson in an opinion piece, Paris and the Fall of Rome, in the Boston Globe of November 16, cites this passage from Edward Gibbon’s “History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”:

“In the hour of savage license, when every passion was inflamed, and every restraint was removed a cruel slaughter was made of the Romans; and the streets of the city were filled with dead bodies. Whenever the Barbarians were provoked by opposition, they extended the promiscuous massacre to the feeble, the innocent, and the helpless…”

And he goes on to say, doesn’t this passage from Gibbon (actually a description of the Goths’ sack of Rome in August 410 AD) describe very well the scenes we all witnessed in Paris on Friday night?

Well, no, Niall. We may be on the way there, but are not yet there, not even close.

In the same newspaper, the Globe of November 16, Andrew J. Bacevich, writing his piece, A War the West cannot Win, has this to say:

In proposing to pour yet more fuel on that fire, Hollande demonstrates a crippling absence of imagination, ….It’s past time for the West, and above all for the United States as the West’s primary military power, to consider trying something different.In proposing to pour yet more fuel on that fire, Hollande demonstrates a crippling absence of imagination, one that has characterized recent Western statesmanship more generally when it comes to the Islamic world… simply trying harder will not suffice as a basis of policy.
It’s past time for the West, and above all for the United States as the West’s primary military power, to consider trying something different.
Rather than assuming an offensive posture, the West should revert to a defensive one. … Rather than vainly attempting to police or control, this revised strategy should seek to contain….Hollande views the tragedy that has befallen Paris as a summons to yet more war. The rest of us would do well to see it as a moment to reexamine the assumptions that have enmeshed the West in a war that it cannot win and should not perpetuate.

While Ferguson makes no proposal of his own, other than to suggest this is war, war to the death, and that if we would not be overwhelmed we need to “simply try harder,” a lot harder than we have up until now.

The implication of what Bacevich is saying is that Obama’s strategy is the right one for containing ISIS, or better, Daesch.

Here is Obama:

“We have the right strategy and we’re going to see it through,” Mr. Obama told reporters as he wrapped up a summit meeting with world leaders before flying to the Philippines. He has consistently said that it would take time, he noted, and he would not change that strategy simply because of domestic pressure. “What I do not do is take actions either because it is going to work politically or it is going to somehow, in the abstract, make America look tough or make me look tough.”
If he did not gratify a public hunger for retribution, or at least the language of it, the president gambled that his position was actually closer to the broader American reluctance to get entangled in another land war in the Middle East. Sending large numbers of American ground troops to fight the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, would repeat what he sees as the error of the Iraq invasion of 2003 without solving the problem at hand.
“That would be a mistake, not because our military could not march into Mosul or Raqqa or Ramadi and temporarily clear out ISIL, but because we would see a repetition of what we’ve seen before,” Mr. Obama said. Victory over terrorist groups, he said, requires local populations to reject the ideology of extremism “unless we’re prepared to have a permanent occupation of these countries.”
Moreover, he added that sending significant numbers of ground forces into Syria would set an untenable precedent. “Let’s assume that we were to send 50,000 troops into Syria,” he said. “What happens when there’s a terrorist attack generated from Yemen? Do we then send more troops into there? Or Libya perhaps? Or if there’s a terrorist network that’s operating anywhere else in North Africa or in Southeast Asia?”

Conspiracy Theory a la Iranian

In a Times article, Iran President Pushes Back Over Anti-US crackdown, an unidentified operative working for the Revolutionary Guards in an interview with state TV said:

that the crackdown aimed to dismantle a network of journalists that he called “pens for hire,” asserting they had sought to plant articles against national interests. “Their objective,” he said, “is to change the lifestyle of people and shape public minds.”

In other words our “objective,” that is, the objective of the American government including President Obama, is to shape the minds and thereby change the lifestyle of the Iranians.

It does sound like an anti-Iranian American conspiracy. Well not exactly, because we’re not hiding it, we’re not conspiring to change the life style of the Iranians, and in particular the members of the Revolutionary Guards. Rather it is exactly what we would most like to do. So if that’s the conspiracy we’re guilty and should be imprisoned.

Since the Cold War with Russia, and probably before, this has been our intention. For given a closed society, such as Iran, we would open it up. Furthermore, that is probably, although unstated, very much the intended intention of our journalists abroad, —to open up any closed society to the world, and of course thereby, as in this particular instance, bring down those doing the “closing,” the Revolutionary Guards along with their eminence grise the Ayatollah Kamenei.

To this we plead guilty.

Netanyahu’s one-state policy goes on, China’s one-child policy does not.

In today’s Boston Globe the conservative columnist, Jeff Jacoby, writes:  “By almost any yardstick, China’s one-child policy has been a grim failure.” (OK, although what about this “yardstick,” —has the one child policy slowed the country’s population growth, for by this measure it has been a success.)

Jacoby goes on to say, “But the decision to replace the one- by a two- child policy comes far too late to repair the damage the one-child policy caused, or to ease the unimaginable pain left in its wake.”

OK, one and two-child policies are clearly wrong, but not because they were or will not be successful. Success and failure are more business terms, not the proper words to be used here.  The bottom line is that China does not have the right to control or limit a woman’s right to choose for herself the number of her children, nor does Israel have the right to obstruct the peaceful national aspirations of a people.

In both situations, in respect to policies of both Israel and China, there is an absence of moral principles, an ignorance of right and wrong.  Would that Jacoby had turned his anti-China stance to an anti-if not Israel at least anti-Netanyahu stance. For his voice is heard in Israel and he just might be listened to.

Let me say it again, no government has the right to obstruct a people’s natural aspirations to come together and be a people. In particular, the Israeli government does not have the right to impose its own indefensible one-state policy onto pretty much equal numbers of Jews and Arabs now living on the ancient land of Palestine, land that now includes both Israel, the occupied Arab territories, and the disputed capital Jerusalem.

In brief, Israel’s one-state policy is as wrong-headed as China’s one-child policy.  Both policies were meant to be solutions to problems but have instead  created much greater problems for both peoples.  Jacoby while uprighteously writing about the horror of the one-China policy doesn’t seem to have made the connection between what’s happening in China and what’s going on at home.

I’ll give the last word to the former President of Israel, Shimon Peres. Although he doesn’t he might have described the one-state policy of Israel as a no less brutal horror than Jacoby’s depiction of  “the brutal horror of China’s one-child policy.”

Israeli President Shimon Peres speaks at the opening session of the "Facing Tomorrow" Conference, known as The Israeli Presidential Conference, in Jerusalem, Israel, June 19, 2013. This year the conference coincides with President Peres' 90th birthday. UPI/Debbie Hill
Israeli President Shimon Peres speaks at the opening session of the “Facing Tomorrow” Conference, known as The Israeli Presidential Conference, in Jerusalem, Israel, June 19, 2013. This year the conference coincides with President Peres’ 90th birthday. UPI/Debbie Hill

‘Israel should implement the two-state solution for her own sake because if we should lose our majority, and today we are almost equal [in population], we cannot remain a Jewish state or a democratic state. That’s the main issue, and to my regret they [the government] do the opposite.’

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What’s a lover of liberty supposed to do?

In my last blog I asked what would be the result if the 2016 presidential election came down to a choice between killing or not killing the baby? And I said I thought, if and when it were to happen, that our country would choose not to kill the baby, and that Ben Carson would be elected president.

What now, I would ask, would be the result if the presidential election came down to a choice between unfettered gun ownership on the one hand, and a path to citizenship for the illegals on the other, the one the darling of the Republicans and the other of the Democrats? In particular what should, what could one do if one is a Libertarian and holds both positions?

Sheldon Richman describes the dilemma, and asks this question.

Gun Control and Immigration
Restrictions are Enemies of Liberty

by Sheldon Richman

What’s a liberty lover to do? Democrats want the government to restrict the right of self-defense, even if it means considering the confiscation of guns. Republicans want the government to control who may come to the country, even if it means compelling employers to clear job applicants through a national database.

Let that sink in. Two of the most important aspects of liberty are self-defense and the search for a better life. One political party would have the state dictate the terms of the first; the other would have the government dictate the terms of the second.

I ask again: what’s a liberty lover to do?

Ben Carson on killing the baby.

Ben Carson is currently leading the pack of Republicans in Iowa, with some 32% of the caucus voters vs. 18% for Donald Trump. If I were to give a reason for this it would have to come down to Ben’s recent statement below (along with the fact that he always comes across as a very nice man).

What he said was, —

“I’m a reasonable person and if people can come up with a reasonable explanation of why they would like to kill a baby, I’ll listen.”

For when I think about it I wonder if he may be right? Is there ever a “reasonable explanation” for killing a baby? And if the election does ever come down to this, between those who would kill the baby and those who wouldn’t, that election Ben Carson could very well win.