Putin — A Religious Fundamentalist?

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This was an interesting conversation between Piers Morgan and Slavoj Žižek.

I would disagree with Slavoj Žižek on one major point:

I don’t think Vladimir Putin is a religious fundamentalist. He has a mixed motivation of Russian nationalism fuelled by imperialist delusions, and a limitless ambition and lust for power. He merely uses religious fundamentalists as tools, as useful idiots.

In that he resembles Donald Trump, who also has a mixed motivation, of American nationalism fuelled by American exceptionalism “MAGA” delusions, and a limitless ambition and lust for power, and he uses Evangelicals and Christian fundamentalists as tools and useful idiots.

The big difference is of course that Putin has invaded a neigbouring country and has had more than one political opponent locked up and assassinated. Trump hasn’t done that, but judging by some of his campaign rhetorik, the locking up at least no longer seems impossible.

Oh, and I agree with Mr Žižek that the political establishment on both sides of the aisle have made Trump possible because of their failure to listen to the real needs and concerns of the people they are supposed to represent, instead being preoccupied with their pet ideological projects.

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And so it goes on and on …

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    Photo & Clipping Credit: Washington Post website

And so it goes on and on and on …

But private gun ownership with minimal checks and controls remains a sacred right protected by a particular reading of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The right to keep and bear arms is here clearly linked to the citizens being organized as a militia. But for some reasons otherwise rational Americans ignore this and insist that every Tom, Dick, and Harry should be able to walk into a store and buy not just a pistol or a hunting rifle but a machine gun or assault rifle.

An American friend told me that as a European I do not understand that. For a long time I thought I did, but with every incident like this I my understanding wanes.

Some folks tell me that without the right to bear arms the U.S. would still be under the British Crown[1]. But for this to hold true, for freedom-loving citizens to rise up against a despotic government and actually prevail, you would also need private ownership of tanks, fighter jets, war ships – the full arsenal of modern warfare. Ludicrous!

What is most difficult for me to wrap my head around is that many of the people who put forth such (unpersuasive) arguments for this particular interpretation of the Second Amendment are all evangelical Christians, followers of the Prince of Peace, quite a few of whom have served as missionaries in Europe. What a testimony!  Unbelievable!

So we can look forward to more such incidents in 2023, an uninterrupted stream fom 2022 and years past.

When our application to stay on in the U.S. long term was denied in 1989, it was with disappointment and regret that we returned to Austria. It pains me to say so, but today I am so relieved and thankful that we are no longer in that hopelessly polarized and divided country and that our kids grew up without only a minimal threat of a shooter going on a rampage in their school.

  1. Not that this would be so much worse than the current political situation, especially in the past seven years, with no end in sight![]
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No Rule of Law for spies and their spouses in the U.K. and U.S.

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The Guardian reports on the trial, conviction, and sentencing, by video link, of Anne Sacoolas for the negligent, accidental killing of motorcyclist Harry Dunn in August 2019.

  «The mother of the British teenager Harry Dunn has said her promise to win him justice has been fulfilled after his killer was sentenced, but said it was “despicable” that she had failed to appear in court.

Although Anne Sacoolas, a US citizen who was driving on the wrong side of the road when her car struck the young motorcyclist in 2019, avoided jail, she received an eight-month suspended sentence and was disqualified from driving for 12 months.

Dunn’s family had waged a three-and-a-half-year campaign eventually acknowledged her guilt in a British court after a UK request for her extradition was denied.

Speaking outside court, Dunn’s mother, Charlotte Charles, said it was “job done, promise complete” now that Sacoolas had a criminal record.

But she said Sacoolas, who appeared via a video link after her lawyers said her US government employer had advised her not to return to the UK, should have been in court. “I think it’s despicable that she didn’t come over on the judge’s orders … Huge coward,” she said.

“We weren’t cowards. We didn’t back away from the US government or the UK government. We didn’t back down, because we have values. Maybe she doesn’t.”»

What to say?

  • So Sacoolas received a suspended sentence; her 12-month driving ban is a joke, because her U.S. employer will no doubt tell her that the ban doean’t apply in the U.S. and she should go right on driving.
  • Undoubtedly it was cowardly of Mrs Sacoolas to refuse to obey the court’s summons.
  • The way the U.S. government whisked Sacoolas back to the U.S. after the fatal accident and then refused to extradite her was despicable (and no difference there between the Trump and Biden administrations).
  • Especially deplorable is the fact that Harry Dunn’s family did not receive the unreserved support of their own U.K. government in their quest for justice.

It seems that the Rule of Law does not always apply when it comes to American spies and their spouses. No doubt the situation is similar in other countries; diplomatic immunity, like parliamentary immunity, is easily and often abused.

But both Britain and the United States like to present themselves as global beacons of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, and it is disappointing (although no longer very surprising) that one finds  George Orwell’s satirical tale against Stalin, Animal Farm, with its conclusion that “all animals are equal—but some are more equal than others” so clearly demonstrated.

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Quo Vadis, America?

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In a recent Facebook discussion on the subject of “Christian nationalism” a commenter said, 

“I sometimes feel we have an attitude that because we do it better than most, we don’t need to make changes. When you believe you are the best, why make changes??”

This was my response, slightly expanded here, which gave me no pleasure to write:

As an Austrian who grew up in a home built with Marshall Plan funds and and who was fully aware that without US involvement in WWII my country would likely be living under either Hitler’s or Stalin’s terror regime, and who therfore used to be an uncritical fan of the US in my youth; as one who was socialized and formed as an Evangelical Christian by American missionaries, spent almost five years living in the US working for a Christan ministry, and still has many dear friends in and from the US, but who now is thoroughly disillusioned with both American society/politics and the American church, I would say the attitude you describe is wrong on two counts:

  1. Of course you need to make changes. Even the best can always do and be better.
  2. But you don’t actually do it better than most. Let’s see:
    • You are almost the worst at controlling violent crime, largely due to a ludicrous misinterpretation of the 2nd Amendment to your constitution;
    • You may have some of the best (and best-equipped) doctors and medical facilities but you are pretty worse than most industrialized nations at providing equal and equitable healthcare access and funding to all;
    • You are a leader in technological research who sends people into space and spends tons of money on your military, but your power grid and road network and telephone network are in deplorable condition;
    • Your education system leaves most of its graduates shackled by debt for many years;
    • Your society is hopelessly polarized and your politics controlled by the extremes of the left and the right:
      • The Democrats are dominated by a destructive “progressive” agenda which seeks to deconstruct human nature as essentially male and female and plays with identity politics which divides rather than unites the country;
      • The GOP is under the thumb of a serial adulterer and liar who has brought the country to the brink of political collapse and possibly civil war and whose followers know only law and order but not mercy and compassion;
    • Vast swathes of the American church, instead of being a prophetic witness speaking truth to power, have got into bed with either the political left or the political right, championing their respective agendas and favouring the separation of church and state only when it suits them while trying to push their own agenda on the state when that suits them.

I could go on, but this is enough to show why in a very real sense you do it worse than most in so many areas that the meaning of American exceptionalism has become inverted, and why there is definitely room (and a desparate need) for change.

It pains me especially that many churches and leaders in my own Evangelical tradition have, in an extreme and especially bizarre form of supersessionism, appropriated the Jewish people’s status as God’s uniquely chosen people not just for the church (bad enough in view of Romans 9–11) but for the United States, claiming the promises made to Israel but disregarding most of the responsibilities such as caring for the poor and welcoming strangers. At the same time they uncritically support the State of Israel as an actor in and venue of their favourite end time scenario but have little use and sympathy for Jews as a people.

So the question posed in the title of this post is a very real one: unless the American nation and the American church drastically change direction, and do so soon, I fear for their future.


The cover image appeared here. The editor of e-International Relations could not find any licensing information so I decided to use it. If anyone claims copyright I will of course remove it.

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Shocked By The Reactions To The Roe Reversal

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I must confess to being a bit shocked by the reactions to SCOTUS reversing Roe v Wade.

On the one hand there are my conservative Christian friends, both Evangelical and Catholic, who celebrate the court’s decision, in a triumphal tone, seemingly without any awareness of how this will increase and confirm the polarization of the USA; many without recognition that abortion is first a spiritual issue, and only then a legal issue. It is very easy to see abortion primarily as the result of self-indulgent recreational sex and to ignore the desparate situation of thousands, if not millions of women who are in borderline abusive relationships where the man can’t be bothered to take responsibility for either contraception or the baby that may result without it — women who simply cannot afford another baby or cannot cope with another pregnancy. The latter is also why adoption is not a good alternative for many pregnant women: as soon as the baby is born there is instinctive bonding that makes it difficult to give the baby up and for many women results in feelings of guilt; relentless propaganda by the pro-choice side during the past half-century has convinced many women that a baby in the early stages of pregnancy is merely a blob of tissue one doesn’t need to feel guilty about.

I am not an expert in this area, but it seems to me that instead of triumphal celebrations and the feeling that we have arrived at the goal, the challenge for pro-life Christians and their churches is to find good solutions for these desparate situations. This may include making sure that the laws passed by their states do not save the lives of babies at the expense of the lives of mothers but have robust medical exceptions; ramping up existing programs which provide material assistance to pregnant women, and legal initiatives to hold fathers accountable for their offspring, with compulsory paternity tests if necessary.

On the other hand I am astonished at the hysterical reaction of the pro-choice side to this reversal of Roe v. Wade; this includes most of the media, not just in the US but in Europe etc as well. SCOTUS argues pretty convincingly that the US constitution not only contains no explicit right to abortion but that contemporary jurisprudence didn’t assume an implicit right to abortion, certainly not after “quickening”, i.e. when a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

In view of that fact Roe v. Wade invented a right to abortion; all the current court did was to return this issue to the legislatures, which is where laws are supposed to be made in a democracy.

The hysterical reaction also demonstrates total oblivion to the fact that a human fetus is a human being, and therefore is entitled to the protection of the law; making that dependent on viability independent of the mother would take us down a very sinister path because human beings at all stages of life can become so dependent on another that they are no longer independently viable, and I hope no-one other than Peter Singer suggests “aborting” them.

And finally, the hysterical reaction demonstrates a marked lack of confidence in the democratic processes and institutions — or else a very UNdemocratic unwillingness to accept the will of the majority.

The challenge for the pro-choice side, instead of this hysteria, is to engage in the political and legislative processes to achieve their goals; to persuade enough of their fellow citizens of their point of view to pass legislation they can live with (should not be too difficult since they always claim that the majority of Americans want abortion to be legal); and finally, to redouble any efforts designed to give pregnant women such good alternatives that abortions become unnecessary.

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Child Sacrifice: not just in Uvalde, etc.

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Venturing once again into territory where, according to some, even of my friends, I have no business to be, American politics:

It is very easy to be consumed by the horror and tragedy of the Uvalde school shooting (and the many before that), to call it, like Maureen Doed in the NYT, child sacrifice to the god of gun ownership, and to rage at the politicians, mostly of one party, who block all attempts at more effective gun control.

But this atrocious deed and the worship of gun ownership which enabled it should not make us forget the almost 64,000,000 children sacrificed to the gods of sex without consequences, bodily autonomy, and convenience, and the fact that it is mostly politicians of the other party who clamor against the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Now, I do not want to point the finger at the US alone; most Western nations have pretty liberal abortion laws as well, mostly permitting the killing of the unborn for any reason during the first trimester. And typically, as for example in my country of Austria, there is no political party which wants to touch this with a ten-foot pole; and if there is any chance that someone will make an issue of abortion, no party in Austria will put such a person forward as a candidate. At least American society still grapples with this issue while our societies are mostly just shrugging their shoulders.

So the gods of sex without consequences, bodily autonomy, and convenience hold sway pretty much everywhere, and as much as we are horrified by Uvalde and the many similar incidents, to criticize the US without recognizing our own guilt would be very hypocritical.

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Allister Heath on the Fall of the American Empire

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Allister Heath of the British Telegraph newspapers has recently published two compelling – to me, anyway – commentaries in the Daily Telegraph, one on Aug. 4, 2021 on the American “woke” crisis, and one on Aug 18, 2021 drawing conclusions from the chaotic fall of Afghanistan. Because these articles are behind a paywall, here are a few excerpts which seem to summarize his main points.
Despite my growing conviction that the stance most compatible with the New Testament is Christian pacifism, I have nothing but gratitude for the role of America in defeating the Nazi regime and providing Marshall Plan aid to rebuild Germany and Austria, and I thoroughly enjoyed the time we lived in Texas. So I regard the current situation not with “Schadenfreude”, but with sadness and a heavy heart.
(Italic emphasis is mine; “liberal” and “liberalism” does not carry the derogatory meaning in which the terms are used by American conservatives and Evangelicals.)
«America’s elites, led by younger graduates, have abandoned their post-1960s liberalism and embraced instead what Wesley Yang has described as its “successor ideology”: the sinister “woke” secular religion of so-called “social justice warriors” who see the world through the distorted prism of “intersectionality”, oppression, identity politics and the catch-all of “white supremacy”. These people say they want to fight racism but, in reality, are Balkanising America and have no interest in a truly meritocratic, colour-blind society finally at peace with itself, the original liberal ideal.»
«In the authoritarian, anti-democratic worldview which now dominates universities, big business, government and cultural institutions, free speech is dismissed as violence, conservatism as fascism and differences of opinion as “micro-aggressions”. Capitalism is loathed, as is free enquiry. The old elite – whether Left-liberal or Reaganite – tried to help the poor: the new elite dislikes the working class and seeks to deploy “cancel culture” to stamp out dissent. It attacks selective state schooling and campaigns to defund the police, moves that have led to an explosion of crime and are hitting minorities especially badly.»
«The Right, for its part, has also gone mad: too many Republicans have ditched their old principles – be it free markets, limited government or social conservatism – and instead embraced a dumbed-down, populist demagoguery on a long list of issues. Many Republican voters still believe, against all facts and evidence, that the election was rigged; on Covid, conspiracies have been rife. Trumpism could be the death of the Republican party. Left and Right hate each other: they refuse to talk, to live together, and they don’t want their children to marry one another. Race relations are also deteriorating again after years of gradual progress, according to polling.»
«No empire is eternal: all eventually fall amid hubris and humiliation. The heart-wrenching, humanitarian calamity that is the botched Afghan retreat is merely the latest sign that the American era is ending: Washington is no longer the world’s policeman, and an unsettling future of clashes between expansionist, authoritarian regional powers beckons.»
«In the late 1980s–early 1990s America’s global clout peaked.»
«Twenty years on, America’s global plan lies in ruins, its elites confounded on almost every issue, the stupidity and incompetence on display over the Afghan withdrawal confirming that they don’t understand the rest of the world, and aren’t fit to govern their own country, let alone the globe. Blinded by a simplistic universalism, they no longer understand religion, tribalism, history, national differences or why countries want to govern themselves.»
«America’s internal problems are immense: its constitution is broken, its predilection for second-rate gerontocrats such as Biden unrivalled. Racked with self-doubt, its elites in the grip of a bizarre “awakening” centred around a nihilistic, ungrateful self-loathing, it no longer has values to sell, neither capitalism nor democracy nor the American dream. How can people who live in terror of “micro-aggressions” find it in themselves to defeat real evils? As to the public, it doesn’t want to know about the rest of the world: how, under such circumstances, can the US empire not be in terminal decline?»
«The West has lost control: there will be mass population movements, currency wars and battles over natural resources. The American empire at least believed in freedom and democracy; what replaces it won’t even pretend to be liberal.»
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Georgia’s Election Integrity Act

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Critics of Georgia’s new Election Integrity Act are vocal and loud and outraged, while those who defend it sound whining and petulant.
I have read analyses (i.e. here) which suggest that contrary to expectations on one side and fears on the other the provisions of the act will make little difference to election results. If so, both the act itself and the outraged reactions to it are little more than attempts at virtue signalling, with the usual differences of opinion on what constitutes virtue.
Nevertheless one does wonder about the intentions behind it. It seems to address problems that exist primarily in the minds of those who believe that the Nov 2020 election was “stolen”, a claim that has been thoroughly debunked by the courts (including those with Trump-nominated judges) and by officials of both parties.
It is hard to impossible to argue for the legitimacy of provisions like the ban on providing food and water to those waiting in line to vote.
When the legislature reacts to criticism of the act by attempting to punish critics by revoking tax benefits this does nothing to dispel doubts and misgivings. It is just as inappropriate as Sen. Warren threatening Amazon with break-up for “heckling Senators with snotty tweets.”
To a well and widely read outside observer it surely looks like the American political class, on both sides of the aisle, has lost it — and it is no consolation that one can say the same thing of several other countries as well, including my own.
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“Progressive” Stupidity

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I have written a lot about the unspeakable nonsense coming from President Trump and his Republican enablers, and we will see quite a bit more of that on Wednesday.

But the Democrats are also quite capable of producing incredible nonsense. Joe Biden who presents himself as an oh so pious Catholic happily ignores and actively opposes what the Catholic Church has to say on the subject of abortion and sexual morals and ethics. Additionally we had a display of progressive nonsense in yesterday’s (Jan 3) opening of the 117th Congress.

The session opened with Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Miss.) who is also an ordained Methodist pastor, reading a prayer based on the Priestly Blessing (Birkat Kohanim):

“May the God who created the world and everything in it, bless us and keep us. May the Lord make his face to shine upon us and be gracious unto us. May the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon us and give us peace—peace in our families, peace across this land, and dare I ask, o Lord, peace even in this chamber. Now and evermore.”

So far, so good. Then it turned very strange. Here is the closing of this prayer:

“We ask this in the name of the monotheistic God, Brahma, and gods known by many different names by many different faiths. Amen and Awoman.”

This raises a number of questions:

1. Should a Methodist pastor be praying in the name of “Brahma, and gods known by many different names by many different faiths”?

2. Shouldn’t a Methodist pastor know that “Amen” is a Hebrew word which has absolutely nothing at all to do with “man/men” or “woman/women“?

3. Shouldn’t someone educated enough to represent his state in Congress realize that it makes no sense, from a purely grammatical perspective, to ask God for something in the name of God? When you replace the Trinity by many different gods the formula of “praying in the name of …” is not only theologically nonsensical, but from a language perspective as well. If someone comes to me saying, “In Wolf’s name, could you lend me a hundred bucks?” I would assume he’s lost his marbles.

Someone commented on the video below, “If you are going to be woke, at least be an educated woke.” But the use of “woke” for that mindset is an insult to the Black community which coined the term to describe someone awake to ethnic and economic injustices rather than for the fancy-pants ideologies of the leftist elites.


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A Banana Republic?

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In a recent Facebook discussion I had expressed concern at the number of Trump supporters who are unwilling to accept court decisions which reject election fraud claims. They feel that these judges have betrayed Trump and the nation. After the Supreme Court refused to hear the lawsuit filed by Texas against four other states, President Trump himself echoed these sentiments, with a number of tweets, including this one:

In reply to my comment one person commented, “It’s about the voters who need to see a honest, transparent election,” and posted a link to a blog post from mid-2017, Transparency Is Solution to Shameful Lack of Security For US Voting Systems Revealed by NSA Leak .

Another person asserted that the election was rigged because a Biden administration would be “evil, a replay of Obama, it would cater to the Chinese, pay Iran, kill more unborn, USA and her legal citizens be damned.”

Here is my take on all this:

There are basically three views of this election:

One, that it basically worked just fine. Some mistakes may have occurred which are not surprising considering the scale of the country and the election, but they did not materially alter the result, and there wasn’t widespread fraud, and

Two, that the whole election was largely rigged, with fraudulently manipulated equipment and software whose manufacturers are part or wholly owned by the Chinese government, votes transferred to German servers to be altered, all in order to steal the election from Trump, and all with the collusion of state officials, even Republican ones.

Three, the election was rigged because of the outcome. The fact that this person views Biden with disdain and expects decisions and policies which s/he considers immoral and bad for the country and its citizens makes this a rigged election. It really has nothing to do with how many people actually voted for Trump or for Biden, the outcome is what makes it rigged. For this reason, it doesn’t matter what the courts say about lack of evidence of fraud, the outcome is bad, so it’s rigged. This view is so far out there that I am not going to say much about it, except that it re-defines what “rigged election” means — this view of “rigged election” is totally subjective and not subject to scrutiny by the courts. There is simply no basis on which one can rationally debate this view.

Of course, Trump has been incessantly preaching the second viewpoint since long before Nov 3 — but he didn’t do anything about it: no federal investigation, no court cases, nothing. The blog linked above about potential security flaws in the EViD software proves my point: it is from 2017, but apparently nothing was done about the report it cites or the concerns it raises.

The whole point of Trump’s badmouthing of the election seemed to be to make sure that in case he lost the election, his supporters would refuse to accept the result. He also nominated lots of conservative judges and justices, obviously with the expectation that in a post-election showdown they will support him.

So the election happens; he loses, and it all plays out exactly as planned, except that by and large the courts, even the ones chaired by judges nominated by Trump and earlier GOP presidents, reject his claims of rigging, fraud, and manipulation. The Supreme Court will not even hear a case brought by Texas’ Attorney General to invalidate the results in four swing states.

And Trump’s supporters are SO fired up by his incessant tweets that many come to the conclusion that the courts, and especially the GOP nominated judges and justices, have betrayed Trump and thus the country.

This is NOT about an honest, transparent election: if Trump had won they would not have cared one bit about this – they didn’t in 2016. It is about the conviction Trump has drummed into their heads that the only way he could loose is if the election were rigged.

That message coming from Trump for most of a year prior to Nov 3 (and continuing since then) is the hallmark of a sore loser, and while a sore loser is annoying in sports and games it is outright dangerous in the politics of what is still the most powerful nation on earth.

Americans are fond to say, “We’re not a democracy, we’re a republic!” — true, but it’s quickly turning into a banana republic.

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