Rep. Illhan Omar (D-Minn) has been under pressure since she suggested that US support for Israel has something to do with money from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Although AIPAC’s influence in the United States is no secret, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi demanded that Omar apologize. Omar did apologize, but she remained firm on her criticism of the lobby. She has subsequently been harrassed by journalists and politicians alike. However, I’m not writing to join the ranks of her defenders. It is increasingly clear that she can handle the pressure. I’m writing because I was personally offended that so many people felt free to dole out this treatment on an elected member of the Congress of the United States.

Some assumed that Democrats were pressured by Republicans to discipline Omar, but it’s more likely they were pressured by AIPAC directly. Maybe the rumors of Israel’s influence in our elections are true. Is it possible that both Domocrats and Republicans know that if they offend AIPAC they could lose their next election?

I propose that we exact a cost for AIPAC’s arrogance. Progressives who object to the undue influence that AIPAC demonstrated this week should spend next week criticizing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. This would inform AIPAC that there are costs for bad behavior.

Nicholas Maduro’s Message

He’s right, this is a unique moment in history. Maduro joins Andrés Manuel López Obrador as an ally of the American people. Let’s discuss how we can best take advantage of this opportunity. We would need to put pressure on the US administration, obviously, but we also need to find ways to counter the tactics of global finance. In our role as consumers we might start by decreasing our spending and boycotting specific products. Anything else?

Why Hillary Will Run in 2020

I’m not surprised about the rumors that Hillary Clinton is thinking about running in the 2020 presidential race. At the same time, I believe her when she says she doesn’t want to run. The problem is, the Clintons don’t have a choice. They have to regain the Whitehouse to fulfill the promises they’ve made to their donors.

If Hillary does run, we should probably assume that a Clinton presidency remains important to the entire establishment. There is no doubt in my mind the Clintons will get help in this endeavor from the Obamas–and maybe from Joe Biden. Hillary’s candidacy may even be the motivation behind the large number of Democratic hopefuls lining up to run in the primary. They are going to run interference for her.

What does this mean for progressives? Desperate people do desperate things or, in other words, 2020 will make 2016 look like a game of croquet. Therefore, we have to be clear about what we are trying to accomplish and the best way to accomplish it.

I recently heard the argument that a Sanders candidacy won’t have the same pinache this time around–that progressives need a new face to get excited about. In my opinion, that argument is not sound political strategy–it’s more like betting on a horse race. This is the establishment’s approach to politics.

If we are fortunate enough to continue the conversation for generations, and to participate in elections during that time, we will probably discover that the exhilaration of Bernie’s 2016 campaign was the exception rather than the rule. What we need in the long term is good strategy, patience, hard work (at the very least, the determination to vote in both the primary and the general election) and a philosophical response to disappointment.

The memory of Bernie’s 2016 campaign is a source of encouragement, but it should not be the basis for choosing candidates. What potential volunteers, donors and voters need at this time is a realistic plan that takes honest account of the obstacles. The truth is, since the election of George Bush people have had every reason to be pessimistic about the electoral process. However, in 2016 they recognized opportunity in a decent candidate, an inspiring vision, and a realistic plan. The only difference now is that we’ve seen the monster up close and personal. No, I’m not talking about the Clintons–I’m talking about the system. If we are going to throw ourselve into the fray again it’s important that we at least acknowledge this.

Is something Fishy About the MAGA Story?

When Pope Francis was in Ireland as part of the World Meeting of Families Archbishop Viganò wrote a bombshell letter that monopolized the news cycle. Now Francis is in Panama for World Youth Day and a story about MAGA hat wearing Catholic school boys from Kentucky is still going stong. Throw in the Koch Brothers and their connections to right-wing Catholic circles, Kentucky politics and Catholic business schools, and it begins to look like a conspiracy.

Okay I suppose it could be a coincidence, but we should probably at least give these boys and their teachers the benefit of the doubt. We know the Kochs control Kentucky, probably including the schools, but we apparently expected them to think like us.

Religion in the Age of Pisces

Do the planets exert an infuence on human affairs? Considering the the way religion has developed in the Age of Pisces I think the answer would have to be yes. I would like to share the observations that lead me to this conclusion. If any of them contradict theological foundations that is not my intention and I would appreciate corrections and/or criticism.

Before I begin, I want to distinguish between two approaches that I have observed in discussions of religion. One is impartial and informational; the other is from the point of view of a believer. The word ‘impartial’ does not imply indifference or lack of belief; believers might use either approach.

According to T.R. Glover’s book, The Conflict of Religions in the Early Roman Empire, none of the religions that we now believe to be ancient are older than 700 BC. (Glover writes from the point of view of an atheist, arguing that the whole point of religion is to organize a society. I disagree with him on that point.) These religions include the worship of Orpheus, Dionysos, and Osiris–all figures with Hermetic attributes. I have come to believe that the Age of Pisces, ruled by the planets Jupiter and Neptune, was bound to have Hermetic characteristics.

Since reading Walter Friedlander’s book, The Golden Wand of Medicine, which attributes a malevolent influence to the symbol of the Caduceus of Mercury (or Hermes), I’ve been terrified of its influence in the United States. At one time I thought I might find a guarantee of safety in Catholic theology, because I have seen theological debates that seem aware of this threat. For example, part of the problem that arose between Père Jérôme and Albert Gleizes was Gleizes’ opinion that Church theology since the thirteenth century had to be thrown out. Gleizes thought Thomas Aquinas had taken everything in the wrong direction and that he could see its effects in sacred art. In other words, all theology since Aquinas had to be redone. But apparently the Church had already decided a debate between these two theologians in favor of Aquinas. As I understand it, part of the reason Aquinas prevailed was the greater degree of St Augustine’s Hermeticism.

Gleizes believed that Christianity was based on an older tradition and that it had lost its knowledge of the sacred. The idea of a basis in an older tradition by itself is not controversial, since it could refer to Judaism, but it was based on Guénon’s idea of a great world tradition of which Christianity is simply a part. The most obvious danger of this stance from a Catholic point of view would be the idea that Christianity had ceased to radiate spirituality, and so it is not exactly surprising that this began to create problems between Gleizes and Père Jérôme. (Albert Gleizes: For and Against the Twentieth Century, Peter Brooke, Yale University Press, 2001. page 221-223)

But to return to the problem of Hermeticism, I think I’ve seen similar considerations taking place in American Indian religion regarding Kokopelli. However, I realize now that it is unrealistic to expect a guarantee of safety. I don’t think human existence works that way, especially under the Age of Pisces.

Jupiter and Neptune rule the Age of Pisces. They are both associated with the Hindu deity Siva, and Siva has associations with Hermes. According to Edward Moor’s book, Hindu Pantheon (J. Johnson, St. Paul’s Church-Yard, London, 1810), “most of the principal Hindu deities might be identified with Jove or Jupiter”(page 47). And, “The Jupiter Marinus, or Neptune of the Romans, resembles Mahadeva (Siva) in his generative character; especially as the Hindu god is the husband of Bhavani, whose relation to the waters is evidently marked by her image being restored to them at the conclusion of the great festival of Durgotsava”(page 48). “In the character of destroyer also, we may look upon this Indian deity as corresponding with the Stygian Jove or Pluto, especially since Cali, or Time in the feminine gender, is a name of his consort, who will be found to be Proserpine” (page 46). 

I’m not arguing that Christianity is just another version of this older religion. I’m arguing that these planets have influenced our age.  Robert Eisler argues for the Jewish origin of Christianity in his book Orpheus the Fisher. In the preface, page v, he says,

Christianity, considering its Greek influences, seems remarkable for its loyalty to the Jewish religion, and at the same time its rejection of the pagan gods of Greece and Rome. Is it possible that both characteristics of the Christian religion are responses to the potential harm caused by Hermeticism under a Pagan system?

The believer in me would put it another way. If there was ever a time that God would find it necessary to make himself known to humanity, it would be at the beginning of the Age of Pisces.

I think it is also reasonable to argue that the Protestant Reformation unwittingly opened the floodgates to aspects of the Age of Pisces that had previously been suppressed by the Roman Church.


Do We Want to Overcome Our Fortress Mentality?

Evangelicals’ dream of an apocalypse in the Middle East. This dream is as dark as it gets. They insist it is based in the Bible, but it serves irreligious neoconservatives and oilmen who want to use religion as a battle ax, so how biblical can it be?

Unfortunately, the blame doesn’t belong entirely to religious leaders and politicians. The fact that this group of voters can be inspired by such a dark worldview reveals much about their own spiritual state, not to mention their understanding of religion in general.

While the Book of Isaiah does call King Cyrus the Lord’s annointed, it says many other things that can be understood to contradict the conservative agenda for Jerusalem. (Cyrus is the Persian king who allowed Israel to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. Evangelicals believe Donald Trump is a modern-day Cyrus.) For example, the Book of Isaiah also tells us that states are unimportant to God.

Who hath directed the Spirit of the lord, or being his counsellor hath taught him?

With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding?

Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing.

And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering.

All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity. (Isaiah 40: 13-17)

The word Apocalypse means ‘an uncovering; a disclosure of knowledge or revelation’. The claim that it refers to physical destruction is a matter of interpretation. But in any case, if you really believe the Bible it shouldn’t matter if you agree on a particular meaning. We should be able to agree that God will reveal its meaning.

If we want to trace a new course as an alternative to the dark vision of the neocons, we would need to decide whether Isaiah’s words have meaning for us today.  I think it is reasonable to take Isaiah’s words as encouragement, not only for Western Civilization but, through Western civilization, for the entire world. However the concept of Western Civilization has become so muddled that it will require an effort to make it so. The important question then would be, do we choose to make it so?

In the last 70 years or so, we have lost the concept of Western Civilization and when we think we have recovered it, we discover it has become a partisan concept.

Western Civilization is a partisan concept in relation to countries and peoples that don’t consider themseves part of the West. It may also be a partisan concept in relation to the Jews. There is a quote from Eric Voegelin that illustrates this problem:

Western civilization, as it emerges from the Middle Ages, rests on the unique and precarious balance between the elements of ancient civilizations that were merged in it: Hellenic rationalism, Israelite spiritualism, and the Roman jurisdictional order governing the private wills and public offices.

This quote sounds straight forward until you remember the West’s long history of discrimination against the Jews. The following is a quote from SYLVIE COURTINE-DENAMY’s article in Voegelinview.  

One can see how Voegelin ends up in a somewhat paradoxical situation since while taking for his basis and point of departure the Revelation to Israel, nevertheless gives a negative appraisal of Isarel’s fate, supplanted as it is by the universal revelation of God in Christ…

But again, partisanship can be found everywhere, even within the Christian Church. Is it possible that we can build something new using this concept as a foundation? Our goal, if we decide that the concept of Western Civilization is helpful to what we are trying to accomplish in this conversation, would be to identify the mistaken thinking that brought us to this point. Our reward would be the ability to read the Book of Isaiah as the encouraging message that he intended it to be.

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40: 1-3)

It can be argued from our own tradition that Isaiah is not necessarily talking about a physical place or race of people. He is talking about a civilization. And the time has passed when it made sense to think of Western Civilization as simply the West.  We need alliances.  We need cooperation from everyone if we are going to survive into the next century. So the next task would be to work out the logic of including peoples that are not normally considered to be a part of Western civilization.  The United States may be the most logical place in the world for this understanding to arise, if we so choose.

End the Government Shutdown

I propose a class action lawsuit against the grandstanding conservatives at Fox News who goaded Trump into this ridiculous shutdown. Both houses of Congress passed the necessary bills to keep the government open, but Fox News calmly launched a campaign to make sure that didn’t happen. The law suit should name Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and Steve Doocy in particular. It should also name Republicans in Congress who support the shutdown, like Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan, and of course, Mitch McConnell.

As of January 9, the shutdown had continued so long Fitch warned that it might damage the credit rating of the United States. This means that in addition to the suffering of government employees and the people they serve, the economic potential of the entire nation is on the block. This will affect every citizen of the US, however I would exclude from the list of plaintiffs Republicans and people of other parties who voted for Trump. They should not stand to benefit from this fiasco.

Proceeds could be used to reimburse government workers who wouldn’t otherwise receive back wages, and citizens who have suffered damages because of the shutdown. If the United States’ credit rating is damaged it might be impossible to recover our losses. In that case, I would recommend jail time for all defendants.

Conservatives in Liberals’ Clothing

An opinion published Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal argues that there is nothing surprising about Trump era populism. It is a natural consequence of liberal democracy. This is a strange argument considering the fact that the same article portrays conservatives and their populist supporters as representatives of the liberal tradition. The argument goes something like this: In liberal democracies an ‘imperious ruling elite’ imposes laws, norms and practices that radiate disdain for the people’s beliefs and endanger their way of life. These ‘elites’ conspire across party lines against the less educated and the less wealthy. Their efforts are fostered by the mainstream press, social media, the entertainment industry and universities. Furthermore, all of these institutions are dominated by progressive elites and so they have contempt for conservatism. As a consequence, “…conservative elites and many regular voters find themselves bound together by a common political opponent.”

The solution, according to this article, is a ‘restoration’ of liberal education—by conservatives. The author actually states that the task of a liberal education is to furnish a lively appreciation for the origins of modern conservatism! How have they been able to pull this off, you ask? Are Americans completely crazy? Well, no. Americans are in a maze constructed by some very clever people. One of their tactics in the building of this maze has been pseudo-historical. They ignore everything that happened before the French Revolution. The author of this article traces conservatism back to 1790 when Anglo-Irish statesman Edmund Burke mounted a campaign against the influence of French revolutionaries, who he accused of trying to perfect politics by eradicating tradition and transforming humanity.

“Burke replied that the British people were fine. Their traditions and communities nurtured political freedom, which gave tradition and community room to develop and flourish.”

And the story moves resolutely forward from there. More than 150 years later, William F. Buckley ‘renewed’ this relationship between the Right and the people. He was a classical liberal who favored free markets and limited government; he was also a traditionalist dedication to Christian morality.

At this point we begin to suspect that this alliance between the Right and the people is a top-down arrangement, with conservative elites persuading the people that liberty and limited government advance their long-term interests. This is not propaganda invented by the writer of the Wall Street Journal article. It is a true-to-life snapshot of America’s history through the eyes of conservatives. However, the conservative timeline the article describes is revealing.

The political foundations of classical liberalism go back much further than those of conservatism. The Encyclopedia Britannica article that I cited in the previous article traces liberalism to events that took place in the 16th century.

Due to a slow process of commercialization and industrialization, the feudal stratification of society began to dissolve. This process, together with the influence of the Renaissance and the spread of Protestantism, led to social instability. A remedy was needed and that remedy was monarchical absolutism. Under this system, each ruler tried to unify his realm by enforcing conformity to Roman Catholicism or some form of Protestantism. This worked for a while, but it eventually it culminated in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48), which destroyed much of Europe.

In countries where neither faction was victorious, there was the gradual acceptance of toleration as the lesser of two evils. In countries where one creed dominated it was widely accepted that prosperity and order were more important than the citizens’ beliefs. In this way order was reestablished. But because the economy remained highly centralized and hierarchical, prosperity was limited to the princes.

Under absolutism the economic system was controlled by the ambitions of national rulers who based their policies on mercantilism. Mercantilism was a school of thought that advocated government intervention in a country’s economy to increase state wealth and power. Because this intervention served established interests and inhibited everyone else, it led to a challenge by members of the new middle class. This challenge was a significant factor in the great revolutions that took place in the 17th and 18th centuries in both England and France, including the English Civil Wars (1642-51), the Glorious Revolution (1688), the American Revolution (1775-83), and the French Revolution (1789). Classical liberalism is a result of those revolutions.

So you see, revolutions had already transpired in Burke’s England. There were differences in the French Revolution, but they can be explained by the differences in French and English history, mainly regarding the Reformation. The point is that the English did experience violent revolutions.

In the English Civil Wars, the forces of Parliament defeated and executed Charles I. Subsequently, the Glorious Revolution led to the abdication and exile of James II and the division of power between the King, his ministers, and Parliament. Over time, this new structure of the English government became the model for liberal political movements in other countries.

The political ideas behind these revolutions were given formal expression in the work of the English philosophers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Locke in particular believed that revolution is justified when the sovereign fails to protect the person and property of individuals and to guarantee their natural rights to freedom of thought, speech and worship. It is likely that he began writing his major political work, Two Treatises of Government (1690), to justify the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

By 1690, the year Locke published his Treatises, politics in England had become a contest between two loosely related parties, the Whigs and the Tories. These parties were the ancestors of Britain’s modern Liberal Party and Conservative Party, respectively. (Locke was a Whig.) Locke and the early liberals worked to free individuals from two forms of social constraint—religious conformity and aristocratic privilege—which had been maintained and enforced through the powers of government.

“The aim of the early liberals was thus to limit the power of government over the individual while holding it accountable to the governed.”

This is not quite the liberty of which American conservatives speak so fondly. Their version belongs to a political ideology called liberal conservatism.

“Liberal conservatism (represented in the United States by the Republican Party) incorporates the classical liberal view of minimal government intervention in the economy, according to which individuals should be free to participate in the market and generate wealth without government interference. However, individuals cannot be thoroughly depended on to act responsibly in other spheres of life, therefore liberal conservatives believe that a strong state is necessary to ensure law and order and social institutions are needed to nurture a sense of duty and responsibility to the nation.”

This mistrust of the average individual is justified within the corresponding political philosophy. Liberal conservatives hold to the idea of natural inequality. This differs from aristocratic conservatism only in its justification. Aristocratic conservatism rejects the principle of equality as something inconsistent with human nature.

In Western Europe liberal conservatism is usually regarded as center-right, and is the dominant form of conservatism, especially in Northern Europe. It can support civil liberties along with some socially conservative positions. This took a slightly different form in the United States, where the founding fathers were among the most dramatic proponents of the liberal assault against authoritarian rule. The result of this extreme opposition to authoritarian rule seems rather counterintuitive.

“In the United States conservatives often combine the economic individualism of classical liberals with a Burkean form of conservatism that emphasizes the natural inequalities between men and the irrationality of human behavior as the basis for the human drive for order and stability, and the rejection of natural rights as the basis for government.”

Note the contradiction in the claim that natural inequalities and the irrationality of human behavior are the basis for the human drive for order and stability. It seems to refer to two classes of people—those who are naturally unequal, and those with a drive for order and stability. Perhaps it would make more sense if the second mention of the word ‘human’ was changed to ‘elite’: ‘the elite drive for order and stability’.

Progressives often wonder why conservatives vote against their own interests, but now we can see that it isn’t really that surprising. First, there is the confusion of the term ‘liberal’, enabled by the fact that conservative history ignores the events that inspired liberalism. Then there is the conservative program of convincing people that if they vote against their own interests it will be good for them in the long-term.

And there is a third tactic not yet mentioned. If all else fails fear has been proven useful, and the list of enemies is endless: liberals, immigrants, people of color, Jews….